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

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

Denmark

Hej! This weekend took us to the first of the “D” countries, Denmark, which has also become known in recent years as the happiest country in the world. Derek is one eighth Danish, through his maternal grandfather, so we already knew a little bit about Danish culture. I’ve also made a few Danish desserts in the past, including this little guy:

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Danish children celebrate their birthdays with a kagemand (“cake man”), so I had decided it would be fun to make one for Derek’s grandfather’s birthday a few years ago. I made Danish pastry dough from scratch, and a raspberry filling, and shaped the pastry into the shape of a man. Derek helped decorate the cake with some glaze, red licorice and other candies, plus a printout of the Danish flag attached to a coffee stirrer. (A more traditional kagemand might also have marzipan, either as a filling or decoration, but we had skipped it because Derek’s allergic to almonds.)

Although the cake had been a success, we decided not to make another one this weekend. Globetrotting is about learning and trying new things, and we had plenty of other Danish recipes to try. In addition, there was still a lot we didn’t know about Denmark or Danish culture. So–onward!

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Czechia

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Our next destination was the central European nation of Czechia, better known to Americans as the Czech Republic. Czechia was part of Czechoslovakia for most of the twentieth century, until it separated from neighboring Slovakia in 1993. Continue reading

Cyprus

Ya sou! Merhaba!  This weekend we globetrotted to Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean. Over the centuries, Cyprus has been a part of many empires, including the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British Empires. The two major ethnic groups in modern-day, independent Cyprus are the Greek Cypriots, who make up about three-quarters of the country’s population, and the Turkish Cypriots, who are about 18 percent of the population.

Since Derek and I like both Greek and Turkish cuisine, we knew we were in for a treat with Cyprus. But, of course, we were wanted to know more about Cypriot culture than just the food. We vaguely knew that the country was divided, with northern Cyprus being predominantly Turkish, and southern Cyprus predominantly Greek, but didn’t know the backstory.

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Croatia

Dugo se gismo vidjeli! Long time no see! This weekend finds us in Croatia–and in Buffalo, New York. While we’re just globetrotting to Croatia for the weekend, Derek and I will be living in Buffalo for the next two years, as Derek has a teaching appointment at a local university. Our knowledge of Buffalo is still pretty limited, but globetrotting can definitely motivate us to explore the area.

We’ve already globetrotted to one of Croatia’s neighbors, Bosnia, while we were still living in Boston, so we were interested to see what Buffalo could offer us for another Balkan/southern European nation.

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One thing that sets Croatia apart is that Croats are credited with the invention of the necktie–the word “cravat” is very similar to the Croatian word for Croats, Hrvati. When Croatian mercenaries teamed up with the French during the Thirty Years’ War back in the 1600s, the French took notice of the neckerchiefs the mercenaries were wearing, and a trend was born. The Croats even celebrate International Necktie Day on October 18.

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Detour: Bulgaria

Zdraveyte! We’re skipping ahead a bit this week to Bulgaria. In the past, it’s been pretty clear when to do detours: we hear about a cultural event, decide if the representative country is obscure enough (could this be the only cultural opportunity we’ll find for this country here in Boston?), and then start planning. With Bulgaria, though, we saw two possible weekends: last weekend, when there was both a 15th anniversary party for Divi Zheni, a Boston-based Bulgarian women’s chorus, and a benefit concert for the Bulgarian Center for New England, and this weekend’s Bulgarian Rose Festival. Maybe this is a sign that the Bulgarian community in Boston is active enough that we wouldn’t have to do a detour, but we didn’t want to take a chance and miss all of these opportunities.

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Detour: Iceland

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The snow is finally melting, and spring is in the air, but Jess and I decided to venture once more into the bleak winter with a globetrotting detour to one of the northernmost countries in the world, Iceland, in coordination with Boston’s annual Taste of Iceland festival. Geographically, this country is about the size of Maine, but has only one fourth the population. Lying in the North Atlantic on the continental divide between Europe and North America, Iceland was first inhabited by Norse settlers around the year 900. Continue reading

Belgium

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Hallo! Bonjour! Wilkommen! One of the things that makes our next country, Belgium, so interesting is that that many things seem to happen in threes. It is comprised of three main regions: Flanders, which primarily Dutch-speaking, Wallonia, which is mostly French, with some German-speaking communities, and the Brussels-Capital Region, which is a mix of French and Dutch. Dutch, French and German are also the country’s official languages. Belgium’s tricolored flag, which we’ve tried to recreate above, also follows the pattern of three (though many countries’ flags also have three bands of colors).

With wintry precipitation in the forecast for yet another weekend, Derek and I welcomed a sojourn in Belgium, even if it was more a mental escape than a physical one. If we had the ability to bring the weather of our globetrotting countries to us, I’d gladly welcome Belgium’s, where winters are typically mild, with more rain than snow.  Continue reading