Even if you’re not a football fan, you can’t have missed the build-up to Euro 2016. This Friday, it’s all kicking off – and 24 countries will go head to head to battle for the top spot.
There’s such an eclectic mix of countries taking part, we thought it would be good idea to find out some little-known trivia about them. Why not drop them into conversation mid-match and amaze your friends and family? Try to keep chatter to a minimum during tense moments, though. That’s our advice. Anyway, on to the facts.
A word to the wise if you’re ever planning on visiting Albania; nodding your head in Albania means ‘no’ while shaking it means ‘yes’. Tourists are often caught out by that one.
The Austrian team may well outshine their doubters; football’s a hugely-popular national pastime, and the national team came fourth in the 1934 World Cup Finals, as well as coming third in 1954. The country also co-hosted the 2008 European Championships with Switzerland.
If Brexit’s on your mind and you’re concerned about the UK populace failing to exercise their right to vote, look to Belgium to see how it’s done. Belgians are very civic minded – in the last election, 89% of registered voters turned out to vote.
There are over a thousand islands in Croatia; the exact number varies according to definitions, and they cover a total area of about 3,300k. However, less than 50 are inhabited.
It’s fair to say that this lot enjoy a party – Czech people hold the record for consuming the most beer on a yearly basis.
Let’s nip over to London town, and do some imaginary sightseeing. Did you know that Big Ben is not actually the name of the clock, it’s the name of the bell inside it? The clock’s a much-loved London icon, but it’s had a few dramas over the years. In 1945, a pesky flock of birds landed on the minute hand of Big Ben and put the time back by 5 minutes.
Louis XIX was the king of France for just 20 minutes, the shortest ever reign – he ascended to the French throne in July 1830 after his father Charles X abdicated, and abdicated himself 20 minutes later in favour of his nephew, the Duke of Bordeaux. Well, it’s better to nip these things in the bud if you’re not 100% on board.
We owe Germany a huge round of thanks for so much modern tech. Germany boasts some of world's most famous inventions – the light bulb, the automated calculator, and the car are just three of their ideas. That's not all - the Germans are credited for the discovery of insulin, the invention of the clarinet, the pocket watch, the motorcycle, the jet engine, the LCD screen and the Walkman.
Hold on to your hats – Hungary has its very own cowboys. Horsemanship in Hungary has a long history, going back to the Magyars, the first Hungarians. They rode from central Asia to settle in present-day Hungary. The tradition is best seen on the Great Plain (Puszta), a vast flat plain reminiscent of the American Old West.
Iceland is a progressive place – they banned strip clubs in 2010, and there’s not a single McDonalds to be found in the country. However, they’ve got their vices. Consumption of Coca–Cola per capita is higher than in any other country.
On the subject of McDonald’s, when the first restaurant opened in 1986 in Rome, food purists outside gave away free spaghetti to remind people of their culinary heritage. Italy’s got every right to be proud of its food; Parmesan cheese originated in the area around Parma (not just a clever name, then). Gorgonzola, mozzarella, provolone, and ricotta are all Italian creations.
You’re wondering about pizza, aren’t you? Well, nobody knows when the pizza was invented, but the people of Naples are credited with making it so popular.
Game of Thrones fans, take note – lots of the series is filmed in Northern Ireland. Game Of Thrones employs more locals than the civil service. Petyr Baelish wopuld definitely approve.
This fact always seems to come up in pub quizzes, so make sure that you take a note; Poland shares its borders with no less than seven countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Germany.
The Portuguese are a somewhat fatalistic bunch. Portugal has a tradition of fado – a cheery idea that one’s fate or destiny cannot be escaped, and it’s the name given to a form of traditional Portuguese singing that’s been given UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage status.
You’ll often hear fado in bars, cafes and restaurants – melancholic songs of love, loss, hopefulness and resignation – accompanied by soulful guitars, mandolins and violins.
Republic of Ireland
Will they get through to the finals? It’s anyone’s guess, but if the Republic don’t make it, they can rest easy that their talents like in another area.
Ireland has won the Eurovision Song Contest seven times - more than any other country.
Romania is a country dedicated to excellence; the first-ever first perfect 10 in the Olympic Games was given to Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci.
She bagged the score after her performance in Montreal, Canada in 1976.
If you’re looking for love, give Russia a go. There are approximately 10 million more women in Russia than there are men.
The capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, lies on the borders with Austria and Hungary. That makes the city the only one capital in the world that borders two independent countries.
Nudity is legal in Spain – all the better to enjoy the country’s hot dry summers, mild, rainy winters and more than 3,000 hours of sunlight a year. Bear in mind the old adage, though – just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that you should.
Sweden, much like Iceland, is a country with progression on its agenda. Sweden has the smallest gender employment-rate gap in the developed world, with only 4% more men in employment than women.
Switzerland is the best place in the world to be born – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) 2013 Quality of Life Index, which measures how happy people say they are, crime levels, trust in public institutions, quality of family life and material well-being.
Oil wrestling is Turkey’s national sport. Essentially, two bulky men stripped to the waistcover themselves in oil and roll around under the sun.
Camel wrestling tournaments, held throughout the Aegean region in the winter, and bull wrestling near the Black Sea, are also popular.
Ukrainians are the fifth-heaviest drinkers in the world. Only Moldavians, Russians, Hungarians and Czechs drink more. An average Ukrainian drinker works their way through 15.6 litres of alcohol per year.
That is one litre more than an Irish person and two litres more than a Norwegian.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch is the name of a town in North Wales which translates as “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave”. Short and to the point, no?
If you’re planning your own trip around Europe to see all these countries for yourself, remember that our annual travel insurance is the ultimate holiday must-have. Kids go FREE, we insure people aged up to 74 and pre-existing medical conditions can be covered. 15 million travellers have trusted their wellbeing with us since 1988. It’s your turn to join them!