Georgia

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გამარჯობა! Gamarjoba! Greetings from the country of Georgia. Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains in the traditional border zone between Europe and Asia, this small republic sits at a crossroads between some of the world’s oldest civilizations. With that in mind, we knew that this weekend was going to be a real treat! Continue reading

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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

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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