Category Archives: Cultural Curiosities

To Know van Gogh

I don't think that I fully understood Vincent van Gogh's paintings until I stood in an olive grove in St-Rémy de Provence, France. This particular olive grove sits outside the walls of St. Paul de Mausole, a 12th-century Augustine monastery that became a psychiatric hospital in the 1800s...

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Bohemian Beer

Beer is a big deal in the Czech Republic. Per capita, the people here consistently consume the most beer in the world and the region's rich brewing history dates back to the mid- to late-9th century.

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Whirling Dervishes

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...

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A Guide to Italian Coffee

You might think of coffee as just a hot beverage you drink from a paper cup in the car on the way to work. Here in Italy, coffee is not simply a drink, it's a key aspect of the culture. It's a social event and a tradition that Italians proudly preserve. If you find yourself looking for a pick-me-up in Italy, here are some helpful tips on what--and when--to order.

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Cycling Copenhagen

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.

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Vietnamese Coffee Culture

In Vietnam, coffee culture is as deep and rich as just about anything else. On old brick sidewalks and in old colonial shops adorned with art deco tiles, old men sit on small stools in the morning and afternoon. They sip little cups of iced-coffee rocket fuel, or as they would say, cafe sua da (or ca phe sua da), while playing checkers and cards.

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Convent Cookies

One warm and lazy afternoon, I found myself meandering about the twisted and narrow pedestrian streets of downtown Seville. As I made my way back toward the main square, I spotted a tiny nun (almost a full head shorter than myself), nearly doubled over with what looked to be an incredibly heavy picnic basket, disappear into a small doorway. Surprised--and more than a little intrigued--I followed in the nun's laborious path to sneak a peak around the door she had left ajar.

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Ubud, Bali

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.

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Colpo d’Aria

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.

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King of Schwingen

One of the greatest things about working for Backroads is being able to experience unique cultural events around the globe. Ever since I first set foot in Switzerland, I’ve been fascinated by Swiss national sports–particularly Schwingen (Swiss wrestling).

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