Be welcome

Only 21 miles (34 km) across the English Channel from France, England is separated from Europe by geography, language, currency and culture. Formerly the heart of the vast British Empire, it is one of four nations that make up today's United Kingdom (UK) or Great Britain, the others being Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is the fount of centuries-old Anglo-Saxon civilization yet its multi-cultural capital - London - has elected its first Muslim mayor. "Merrie Olde England" gave the world the stereotypical English butler but also the Magna Carta, Shakespeare, the Victorian Era, the Beatles, Wimbleton, Princess Diana, Alexander McQueen and Elton John. While some travelers could spend a lifetime of vacations exploring London's urban delights, England is a land of pastoral landscapes, formidable fortresses, soaring cathedrals, misty moors, crystalline lakes, broad golden beaches and Roman archeological sites. Smallish as countries go - about the size of Alabama in the US, it has good transportation networks, which make it easy to get around whether traveling from city to city or wandering through villages.

England is one of the most gay-friendly destinations in the world. The diversity of London is an obvious draw, but Manchester in the north west has Canal Street, a gayborhood with an active nightlife for gays and lesbians and the setting for the British TV series "Queer as Folk" in 1999. The country's gay capital may be Brighton, a seaside resort about an hour's train ride south of London. Its beach, nightlife and pier amusement park are outstanding. The Brighton & Hove Pride Weekend in August is the biggest Pride festival in the UK.

The country decriminalized homosexuality in 1967 and legalized same-sex marriages in 2014 after a long history of discrimination and persecution. Even celebrity and prominence could not always protect. Oscar Wilde, one of the most popular playwrights of his time, was sentenced in 1895 to two years at hard labor for sodomy. Alan Turing, the computing and artificial intelligence genius, underwent chemical castration rather than go to prison after being convicted of indecent exposure in the early 1950s. Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed him in "The Imitation Game" in 2014. Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon the same year.