The banks of the Danube are soaked in history, having witnessed the rise and fall of countless empires. Today, within the cities along the Danube, the past remains visible in stunning clarity. An imperial glow is embedded within the very masonry of capitals like Vienna and Budapest. One stands at the footsteps of the Hofburg Palace or the Hungarian Parliament and senses how it must have felt to be a provincial subject from some far-flung corner of the empire, awestruck by their imperial grandeur. The Danube has retained this aura of historic wonder and it flows like a gateway into the past for all travelers who tread its banks.
It’s said that long ago in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, there were two monasteries at the top of the world. One, on a peak called the Jungfrau (the virgin), is where the women would stay. The other, called the Eiger (the ogre), housed the men. In the middle stood the most formidable of the three peaks, called the Mönch (the monk), to keep the sexes apart. These mountains tower over the village of Grindelwald. The Eiger in particular, with its steep exposed north face, has long been a test piece for serious mountaineers. Last fall another Backroads leader and I hiked in the shadow of the Eiger–and you can too!
The North Atlantic waters off the coast of Iceland are frigid, rough and can turn on a dime, yet within them live some of the region’s most precious resources: fish and crustaceans. Each year more and more visitors are being exposed to the region’s marine cuisine, from pickled herring to dried fish. Eating Icelandic seafood can take a bit of an open mind and an adventurous palate, but when you find your preferred taste it’s pure glory.
There’s a place in Turkey where I descended into the bowels of the earth, terrified I’d never resurface, then flew to the highest reaches of the heavens, afraid I’d plummet to my doom. I laughed and made jokes, yet I was also silent, pondering the sacred. I felt corporeal and ethereal, often at the same time. Where was I? Cappadocia, of course…
There’s nothing quite like hiking in the Swiss Alps. Over the years, I’ve thought about what makes hiking in Switzerland unique and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not merely the perfect signage. Here are a few of the elements that make the land of cheese and chocolate an exceptional place to hike.
Waffles in Belgium have a distinct connection to the city or town in which they were developed, and many families and regions guard their recipes as precious secrets. When my Belgian grandma made waffles, drafts of warm air would billow out of the kitchen, filling the house with a delicious smell.
Like many first-time travelers to Ireland, I had a vision of what lay ahead as my flight cruised towards the Emerald Isle. Lush hills and the rugged coastline, sheep and their shepherds, whiskey and Guinness, the melodic Irish lilt. What I didn’t yet realize was that, while the landscape and natural beauty of Ireland are majestic, it’s the Irish people who make the country truly captivating. It’s the Irish spirit–a magnetic, almost irresistible pull–that drives visitors to return again and again.
Though the Dutch may claim the title for Amsterdam, Copenhagen is considered by many to be the biking capital of the world. In fact, half of all Danes commute to work by bicycle. While bicycle commuting is gaining momentum in many major cities in the United States, touted as a mode of transportation that is friendly to the environment and the waistline, it hasn’t quite infiltrated American culture in the same way. If one looks closely at Danish society, you’ll see that the impact of bicycles on the physical and cultural landscape of its cities runs deep.
As the plane begins its final descent, I lean my forehead against the Plexiglas and try to catch my first glimpse of the island. For a moment, the outside world is nothing more than a blur of white before we break through the clouds and the harsh scenery opens up below me. A blackened lava bed consumes the skyline, filling my field of vision with sharp edges and a wild landscape belching thick grey pillars of steam.
Amsterdam is full of canals, exhibitions, museums and nightlife. The Hague is where the King lives and where all the political life of the country takes place, whereas Rotterdam will shock you a little bit if you compare it to any other Dutch city. It got completely destroyed by bombing during WW2, and now it has such a modern and futuristic look because it was rebuilt from scratch.
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.
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.