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The first thing that strikes an American visiting Europe is how improbably tiny everything is — not least Europeans themselves.
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updated 3/23/2011 9:24:28 AM ET 2011-03-23T13:24:28

For as long as there’s been an America, Americans have been flocking to Europe. From the moment our colonial compatriots escaped that oppressive old museum-piece of a continent, they began plotting their return on a 10-country all-inclusive tour. We still call it “The Continent,” as if there weren’t a half-dozen others. Sure, counter-intuitive types will stray off now and then on some exotic fling — to Brazil, New Zealand, Japan — but is it ever quite the same? Our fantasy landscapes will always be planted with Dutch tulips, Italian cypress, and Provençal lavender.

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Some say we’re drawn to Europe because so many of our ancestors came from there. They’ll tell you Americans and Europeans retain a “common bond.” But come on — look at them. Look at us. We say potato, they say ziemniak. They say Campari, we say Tequiza. We could not be more different.

Slideshow: Why Americans love Europe

Though their influence has waned considerably, Europeans had quite a run for a while, inventing democracy, the printing press, gravity, and Krautrock. No wonder Americans have a long-standing inferiority complex. As soon as we set foot on the Continent, we lose all our powers, like Superman returning to Krypton, or Rudy Giuliani to New York. Our basic verbal skills fail us. Our ATM cards, mobile phones, and hair dryers cease to work. Our daunting American swagger is reduced to a tentative “mi scusi.”

Of course, historically speaking, we’re barely teenagers by comparison. Americans in Europe tend to feel like the gawky, wide-eyed prepubescent visiting the hip older sibling — the prodigal brother who learned to smoke unfiltered cigarettes and habituate subterranean jazz clubs. (Jazz! For crying out loud, they play it more than we do — and we invented it!)

Video: Vacation villas you can afford! (on this page)

So what explains our unwavering obsession? Why — in spite of rising airfares, a still-high exchange rate, and the scarcity of rental cars with automatic transmission — do Americans insist on vacationing in Europe?

Well, because it’s Europe. And it’s awesome.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Video: Vacation villas you can afford!

  1. Closed captioning of: Vacation villas you can afford!

    >> up next, affordable villas for your next vacation. first this is "today" on nbc.

    >>> we're back at 8:45. this morning, affordable vacation villas may sound expensive but they can be a little bit cheaper than hotel rooms . conde nast traveler takes a look in its upcoming edition. kate, nice to see you.

    >> nice to see you.

    >> villas sound very la-di-da but we are saying they are any rental property or house.

    >> you think of a sprawling tuscan estate with the price tag to match but villa is a generic term for vacation rentals .

    >> what kind of traveler are they suited for?

    >> they are good for big groups. they sleep 10 people. also a slightly more independent traveler. you're not going to be able to call to get your club sandwich at 3:00 a.m . but you can make it yourself because they have full kitchens which is a way to save money because you don't have to eat out three times a day.

    >> it's more authentic because you're living in a house, someone's neighborhood. let's look at examples you brought. the first is in sonoma, california. this comes at under $100 per person.

    >> the villa specialist, we have a list of the top meticulously vetted villa specialists. beautiful places and sonoma is west of napa. classic wine country . it's on the sebastiani winery. you have views of the vines, orchards. it's $97 per person per night.

    >> that's a good price. you have housekeeping?

    >> and a great pool. for a sophisticated bachelor party or a cross generational trip which is increasingly popular.

    >> that's a contradiction in terms. sophisticated bachelor party . this one's in costa rica . has a private pool, housekeeping, access to a beach club and still under $100 per person.

    >> $90 per night. fantastic houses on the pacific coast of costa rica . they can set up zip lining, surf lessons and visits to volcanos.

    >> this place will be booked ten years in a row now.

    >> they have multiple properties, sometimes 300 in the area.

    >> let's move to montana. this villa is like a log cabin . the towering pines on the madison river . tell me about this one.

    >> villas come in all shapes an sizes. this is on the madison river . if you like fly fishing this is for you. 30 minutes from yellowstone. it sleeps six and works out to $65 per person per night. it's a mountain home .

    >> does that company mountain home also allow you to connect to fishing guides and things like that? do they help with the other part of travel?

    >> they are like a friend on the ground. they can organize that stuff for you.

    >> let's get more exotic, not that the first ones aren't. now to tuscany in europe which people think the dollar isn't great there. not a good time to go. what do you say?

    >> it's $122 per person per night. compared to the hotels it compares favorably. this is casa gertrude. it's close to sienna which is a stunning city. absolutely gorgeous. it has a lovely pool and lovely al fres codining area.

    >> looks gorgeous.

    >> it's lovely.

    >> finale one in the caribbean on st. martin. you have a good tip. you say if people are trying to book a villa in the caribbean, best in terms of price, be willing to take something not right on the beach but steps from the beach.

    >> that's a common sense way to save money. thisle villa means honeymoon in french. it has a stunning wraparound pool. three minutes' drive from the beach. a gorgeous island with great food. it's $135 per person per night. it sleeps four people, so two couples.

    >> but your point is well taken. for people rushing to the phones now to book these particular villas the companies that rent the villas have other great options as well.

    >> they have loads of options.

    >> good information, kate. thank you

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