As I head to Europe for the first time in eight years, my only fear -- a half rational fear -- is that the process of Western cultural homogenization will have advanced to the point where small towns in Spain will barely be distinguishable from small towns in Texas, that the Ligurian Coast will no longer be all that different from the Oregon Coast. Not that cultural homogenization is uniformly bad: I am happy with the prospect of being able to use my cash card in a Spanish ATM, or of checking my E-mail from a cybercafe in Madrid. For that matter, I am happy that you can now get quite a decent espresso in most small towns on the Oregon Coast.
Still, a McDonald's does not become exotic merely because it serves beer and the staff speak German. I find myself intending to travel farther from the major tourist routes than in the past: Budapest instead of Paris [post-trip addendum: OK, I got there anyway], Vernazza instead of Nice or even Ventimiglia. Not that I intend to entirely avoid the beaten path: I'm sure Barcelona will remain one of my favorite places in the world, and I'm long overdue to see Berlin and Prague.
Hungary and the Czech Republic will be the first places I've been in ages where I just plain do not speak, or even read, the language. Hungary, especially: not even Indo-European. This is probably good, but a little daunting when travelling alone.
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