France

We didn’t forget about our final “F” country! We’re back to alphabetical order again with France.

I think most Americans can identify something French in origin. Whether it’s crepes, Monet, a specific film, a wine, a cheese, an expression that’s been adopted into English vocabulary like “a la mode“–France has long been a cultural trendsetter.

This Parisian structure is one of the most photographed landmarks in the world. (This particular photograph is one of Derek’s, from a trip he took in 2008). You know what it is even though I haven’t called it by its name, and of course, you already know that it’s French.

Rather than just resting on what we already know about France and French culture, we wanted this weekend to be about learning new things and acquiring a deeper understanding of things we may only have known on a superficial level. So, let’s get started. Bonjour!

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Detour: Germany

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Guten Tag! Another June weekend brings another globetrotting detour to a country whose name begins with a G—in this case, Germany. And once again, we were making the detour because of a local festival: not Greek Fest but Wurstfest. I had the pleasure of touring Bavaria (the country’s largest state) in 2008 with the Brandeis University Chorus, where we visited the famous Neuschwanstein Castle that I photographed above.

Our adventures began on Friday night, when we took Jess’s brother to The Black Sheep, a restaurant on Buffalo’s West Side that features modern European cuisine. Among other things, we enjoyed a selection of fresh breads and international cheeses that we could imagine being served in a traditional German household. A couple of us also ordered dishes that featured pork, which we would learn is something of a German specialty. Continue reading

Detour: Greece

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Yassas!  This weekend found us globetrotting to Greece. We haven’t forgotten about France, or the five other “G” countries that alphabetically come before Greece. We’re taking our first detour ever since we moved to Buffalo (and first detour since November 2015), because the Greek Orthodox church in our neighborhood, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, was hosting their annual Greek Fest this weekend.

I don’t think the expression “It’s all Greek to me” is very accurate for when people don’t understand something at all, because ancient Greek culture has had a lasting impact on Western cultures. Many people have had exposure to foods of Greek origin, like gyro and spanakopita (the spinach and cheese phyllo pie). We often see elements of ancient Greek architecture around us, like these Ionic columns (meant to evoke ruins) that are Derek’s favorite lunch-eating spot on his university campus. We use letters of the Greek alphabet in math, science, and for the names of fraternities and sororities–not to mention that there are words in the English language that have Greek origin.

I may be biased because I took two years of ancient Greek in high school–while I don’t remember that much of the language, what’s stayed with me is that you can still see many traces of ancient Greek culture today.

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Finland

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Hyvää huomenta! Good morning from Finland! Finland is one of the Nordic countries—together with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland—but is not a part of the region known as Scandinavia. That distinction belongs to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark alone. While Swedish is also an official language of Finland, the Finnish language itself shares more in common with Estonian, the language of Finland’s neighbor to the south (Estonia). As you can see from the hyperlinks above, we had already visited several nearby countries, but this weekend we naturally hoped to discover what makes Finland unique. Continue reading

Fiji

Bula! We’ve now reached Fiji, the first of the “F” countries (of which there are only three). Fiji’s islands are known for their beaches and year-round warm weather, and are a popular tourist destination. Even if you haven’t visited Fiji, you’ve most likely seen Fiji Water in your local stores, which actually is from Fiji.

Derek and I normally drink tap water, but when globetrotting to Fiji… buy Fiji Water?

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Estonia

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Tere! Our second globetrot of the spring took us to Estonia, one of the least-populated countries in the European Union and the northernmost of the three Baltic states, which also include Latvia and Lithuania. Today known for its booming tech industry (home to companies such as Skype) Estonia has had a long and delicious history at the cultural crossroads of the Baltics, Scandinavia, and beyond. Continue reading

Eritrea

When I think of Eritrea, I think of Asmara, a restaurant in Central Square, a neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass, that I lived in during two periods of my life, first in my later college years and again when Derek and I moved in together. The restaurant was there during both periods, and was where I had Eritrean/Ethiopian food for the first time as a college junior. Derek and I also had one of our final meals there before moving from Cambridge to Buffalo, a fitting end to my days as a Central Square resident. (Even if Derek and I return to the Boston area someday, it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to afford the Central Square rents, which always seem to be increasing.)

But, I digress. Even though I’ve long been familiar with Asmara the Central Square restaurant, I hadn’t learned a lot about its namesake, the Eritrean capital also called Asmara, or about Eritrean culture in all that time. I had assumed Eritrea has similar food to Ethiopia, because Asmara the restaurant’s menu is similar to the menus of Ethiopian restaurants I’ve also tried. We’ve already globetrotted to Ethiopia on a detour over two years ago, so here was our chance to zero in on Eritrea.

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Equatorial Guinea

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¡Hola from Equatorial Guinea! Aside from being the only Spanish-speaking nation in Africa, this country is also unique because its capital city lies on a large island, Bioko, located off the coast of Cameroon. Equatorial Guinea is infamous for being one of the worst governed (and least visited) countries on the planet, but this weekend we hoped to learn about its charms as well as its difficulties. Continue reading

El Salvador

Hola! This weekend found us in Latin America once again, this time in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The country tends to have a bad reputation for being a dangerous and violent place, but I don’t think we’re being Pollyannas by believing that there are good things about El Salvador, its people and culture, that don’t get as much attention.

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Egypt

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صباح الفل  Sabah il-full from Egypt! This colloquial greeting literally means “morning of jasmine” in Egyptian Arabic. With a history spanning more than twelve thousand years, Egypt is one of the oldest and most populous nations in the world. Today, evidence of its global influence is easy to find in Buffalo’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery (above) where we discovered not only a stately sphinx but also dozens of pointed obelisks rising high into the air. Continue reading