Before heading out to lead Backroads trips in Italy, I had already gathered that Italians have an ongoing love affair with olive oil. However, I was almost completely ignorant of the pepper to this salt: balsamic vinegar. “Italian dressing” in my household was a mix of spices shaken with olive oil and white vinegar–no balsamic included–and I wouldn’t consider putting the bitter stuff on ice cream. Not even in my dreams would I suppose that some balsamic vinegars cost hundreds of dollars for just a few ounces. I had a lot to learn.
Imagine a fruit so creamy it might be considered a part of the custard family. And so key to survival that it might be grouped with the apple. And there you have my favorite fruit, the cherimoya. I’ve loved cherimoya since I first laid taste buds on it in Costa Rica in November of 2005 (yes, I remember the date-this fruit is that impactful). I drank it in batidos (delicious Costa Rican fruit smoothies), I ate it fresh from the market and I made sure that it took part in every picnic I prepared. You might say I was obsessed.
Nestled deep within lush tropical foothills sits a cluster of over a dozen tiny villages that comprise the tranquil town of Ubud–the artistic and cultural center of Bali. The jungle-covered hills and terraced rice paddies surrounding this laid-back locale are dotted with ancient temples and palaces that still play a central role in the country’s complex culture.
The punctually repetitious ezan (Islamic call to prayer) will forever ring distinctly in my ears–that shrill wailing cry echoing from loudspeakers perched on minarets towering above nearly every town throughout Turkey. And never will I forget the hospitality that I experienced during my six weeks of cycling from the rocky eastern Black Sea coast, through the historic hills and caves of central Anatolia, and along the rugged sun-drenched Mediterranean coast before eventually turning north to Istanbul–the geopolitical gateway between Europe and Asia.
Trying to stay upright, I slowly place one foot in front of the other, and I focus on the encouraging face of my Malagasy guide. One false step and I’ll be in the drink with all my gear. I’m crossing a stream on a slippery log in southern Madagascar on my way to learn how to develop sanitation projects in remote communities. This is pretty incredible, considering that just 48 hours earlier I was staring at two male lions in the comfort of a Land Rover while leading one of Backroads’s most impressive trips: South Africa & Botswana Multisport. Now, here I am trudging through the lush green countryside of one of the poorest countries on earth: Madagascar.
If you’re taking a Backroads trip through Tuscany or Umbria, your pick-up city will be Florence. Before you meet up with your fabulous Backroads leaders, we strongly suggest that you take a day (or 2 or 3!) to acquaint yourself with this timeless city.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” For me, this is travel. As a soon-to-be junior at Wake Forest University, constantly bogged down by the pressures that come with college, the opportunity to travel is something that I could never turn down. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a family that makes travel a high priority (active travel in particular), but it wasn’t until recently that I began to fully understand why I appreciate travel so much.
Oh, Canada…such a beautiful landscape, which we get to ride our bikes through! While the land of the maple leaf is known for its incredible scenery, what you don’t often hear about is the fantastic cuisine that can be found here.
Cycling in the ridiculously hot region of South East Asia for months on end with no support, camp assistant Brant Haflich and I figured we’d be spending a good amount of time in search of clean drinking water. We had just finished cycling across our own country and we wanted to continue our bicycle adventures while learning something along the way. We wanted a purpose for our pedal strokes and we had questions about global water issues.
We at Backroads know bikes. Those of you who travel with us know bikes. We are bike people. We love our world on two wheels. They give us great joy and take us behind the scenes. We speed through the countryside along quiet trails. We feel empowered with the wind in our hair and the strength of our pedals.
A hint of a sea breeze fills the air. The sky is a deep blue. From where I’m sitting I can see Table Mountain looming overhead. The waiter casually walks in and places my food in front of me. I look down, and I know I’m in for an exciting new culinary experience.
The first experience I had with the Italian fear of wind came after a gym workout with the host mom for whom I was au pairing. We both took showers, and she emerged with her hair dry. I knew we were tight for time, but I had a case of grease-head so I had done a thorough wash. I’m accustomed to walking outside while my hair air-dries, so I grabbed my stuff and met my mamma at the door. She looked at my wet hair with a horrified face. “Go blow-dry your hair, the wind will make you sick!” So I did.
For me, the last few years have been nomadic to say the least, as I have lingered in no particular place longer than a month or two at a time. And the few phrases that I know in various Asian languages scarcely afford the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation. So, while traveling I choose to experience a culture in a different manner. I choose to experience a place through its cuisine. And that’s exactly what I did in Vietnam.
Minarets and church spires. The call to prayer and tantric beats of lounge music. These are just a couple of the contrasts you’ll encounter wandering the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. The dynamics of this city have been thousands of years in the making and while it’s known for its history, this fascinating international hot spot is quickly gaining a reputation for its contemporary culture.