In late December, my wife, son and I went for a walk to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall just outside our village. I grew up here, right along the border between East and West Germany. You might be thinking, “But the Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.” And so it did, in Berlin. However, I lived along the further westward inner German border–the 870-mile double-barrier of steel mesh fencing, anti-personnel mines, barbed wire, watchtowers and dog runs. The opening here began on December 22nd 1989, with just pedestrian access and only in specific towns.
Travel offers a deeper understanding of the world and I try as often as I can to make the leap from tourist to Insider. And that requires a commitment to always wanting to know and see more. To always asking questions and pausing long enough to listen to the answers, whether they come or not. It’s just as much about the people attempting to provide the answer as it is about what exactly they have to say. And the folks that might answer honestly tend not to be the ones on the main avenue selling trinkets or day tours.
Starting with the Danube, Europe’s second-longest river, we set out to see how Backroads-quality biking could be combined with a luxury floating hotel. We quickly realized that this is the perfect blend. The Danube is known for having the longest bike path in the world along its banks, known as the Donauradweg. But our job was to look for more than that, to find “backroads” so guests can get off the well-ridden path and really get to know the region via bicycle.
Panadería La Uníon in Tolhuin, Tierra del Fuego. A magical oasis in the midst of a vast, windswept, sparsely populated landscape. Part tourist center. Part museum. Part bakery. Part zoo. Panadería La Uníon is quirky, to say the least, and the constant stream of hungry travelers who frequent this establishment is a testament not only to its notoriety as the premiere bakery in Patagonia, but also to its prime location between the tourist destinations of El Calafate and Ushuaia, a barren stretch of road with limited options for dining.
Your Backroads trip to Peru and Machu Picchu starts and ends in Cusco, which was the beating heart of the Inca Empire and is still a hub for adventures in the Andes. This lofty Incan capital, colonial wonder and World Heritage site sits at 11,200 feet above sea level and offers bountiful cultural attractions, opportunities for adventure and delights for the palate.
These books, along with an insatiable desire to explore, led me down an unconventional path to world travel, exciting (and sometimes insane) adventures and an active lifestyle that I parlayed into a career as a Backroads Trip Leader. So which stories have inspired me to explore, seek adventure, change the world for the better and do so confidently? Here are my top five.
The hike to Tiger’s Nest–a challenge for some, a pilgrimage for others–is an essential part of any visit to Bhutan. Nestled into a cliff 3,000 feet above the floor of the Paro Valley, and resting at an elevation of over 10,000 feet above sea level, Tiger’s Nest (or Paro Taktsang) is one of over 40 monasteries in the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.
Elephants amaze us. They draw us to circuses and zoos. They make us cry in movies and books. And in Thailand, they have great historical, religious and cultural significance. It’s no wonder that on our Backroads’ Thailand Biking trips, we spend a day learning and playing with these incredible native mammals. To have such an intimate experience with this endangered species is truly an honor.
I love cycling and pushing my physical limits, but I’ll admit that my training tends to drop off around the holidays. Winter weather hits, I don’t eat as healthy as I’d like and social engagements take up most of my weekends. By the time spring rolls around, I want to kick it into high gear to get in shape for my summer cycling season. I start doing my typical after-work loops and venture a bit farther away from home for longer rides on the weekends. But this routine can become…routine. That’s why I helped develop Backroads’ new Spring Training Biking trips.
Nutella is the mass-produced version of something much more sophisticated: gianduia chocolate hazelnut spread from Piedmont, Italy. Yes, the land of Langhe and Roero vines is also pretty famous for its hazelnuts.
In the weeks before the race, I spent a lot of time basking in the glory of telling my friends that I’d be riding a 12-speed steel-frame bicycle on gravel roads in Tuscany. I did not, however, spend a lot of time actually visualizing myself riding a 12-speed steel-frame bicycle on gravel roads in Tuscany. Ten minutes into the race, I found myself flying down a loose-gravel hill in predawn darkness with only dim candles lining the curving road, and it became apparent why this famous bicycle race is called L’Eroica, or “The Heroic” in English.
Austin is a place you must see for yourself. Even if it’s just for a mere 24 hours before or after your Texas Hill Country Biking trip, there’s so much to experience… First there are the people. Texans are Friendly (with a capital F). Their Southern drawl and the way they say “Ma’am” had me eating out of their hands. Then the gentle evening breezes warmed my cold Canadian bones and the Southern breakfasts and bountiful Tex-Mex food filled my belly.
Last week our Cuba Trip Expert Lara and I returned from our annual Cuba “dry run,” where we prepared for our upcoming Backroads Cuba trips starting in November. We were once again reminded that the vibrant personalities, artists and friends we encounter on this trip make an impact that lasts a lifetime. Cuba is changing so rapidly that the time to visit is now, and our Cuba Insider Trip is the best way to experience it!