Category Archives: Cultural Curiosities

On a Winter’s Day in Copenhagen

It's the second winter that I'm spending in Copenhagen, the city that also happens to be the destination of Backroads' Stockholm to Copenhagen cycling voyage. Up here in the North, the winter days are short, sunrise is late and counting the hours to sunset does not require all fingers of both hands. Sometimes it seems as if the cold is not only freezing the lakes and ponds in the countless parks and city gardens, but it is also freezing time. The hands of the watch slow their pace, as if they want to save energy for the long awaited summer, when suddenly music festivals, foodie fairs and street galleries pop up at every corner as if they were tulips and Copenhagen was not a city, but a large, fertile field. While summer is the perfect time to explore Copenhagen's art and food scene, the slow winter is well-suited to chat up the locals and engage in some philosophizing, especially when a few sun rays manage to break through the cloudy sky.

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Rabelos and Wine on Portugal’s Douro River

When I first visited Porto on a backpacking trip nearly 20 years ago, my primary interest was to explore the charming neighborhood bars of the Ribeira quarter, enjoy some fado music and savor Porto's namesake wine. Over the years, my returns to this captivating city have matured and each visit has allowed me to uncover another surprising layer of this World Heritage city situated on both the Atlantic and the Douro River. While I originally regarded the Douro as just an ordinary river, I've since come to appreciate its significance for the soul of Porto and as a transport conduit for an entire region. Instrumental in moving goods and people up and down the river were the rabelo boats, a type of cargo boat unique to this river.

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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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Discovering Ancient and Mystical Bali in Ubud

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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