Berlin to Bannau Brycheiniog National Park in Wales. 1,400 kilometers or 870 miles by train and bus to a new country––Wales––for a little trail running and hiking and to learn a bit more about Welsh culture and heritage. I also met up with Jodie Bond, a writer and the head of communications for the park, to find out why they dropped the English from the park names, what it has to do with climate change.
Whimsical. There’s no other way to describe Spreewald with its never ending maze of canals and rivers that cut through the surrounding wetlands. Even Venice is like, “Whoa… Easy with the canals!”
Spreewald is at the top of any list when you look up day or weekend trips from Berlin. But embarrassingly, it’s my first time. I’ve traveled plenty around Brandenburg––the state surrounding Berlin––with excursions to the likes of Bückow, Chorin Abbey, and I even ran 100 kilometers across northern Brandenburg along the Märkische Landweg. Yet Spreewald continued to elude me… Until now.
When you picture the kind of quaint Medieval German village worthy of a postcard, you’re picturing Quedlinburg and it’s roughly 1,200 half-timbered homes. This pristine level of preservation landed the town on UNESCO’s list of world heritage cities, which is essentially bureaucratic recognition that this place is gorgeous.
I know what you’re thinking. How did Quedlinburg stay so well preserved? Two factors come to mind…
Bavette pasta alla trapanese, bucatini with broccoli and muddica atturrata, stigghiola or sheep intestines, spleen and panelle chickpea fritter sandwiches, and busiate corkscrew pasta al pistacchio. The cuisine of Sicily is varied, simple, and above all, deliciously satisfying and comforting.
But few dishes are as ubiquitous on Sicilian menus as caponata––an eggplant salad of sorts often with tomatoes, olives, onions, and capers cooked in sugar and vinegar.
In this video, I dig into the Jewish roots of Sicilian cuisine.
I came to Sicily first and foremost for, well, the sun. I can’t lie. Berlin can make a balled-up postcard from 1970s Florida look absolutely euphoric in January. Sicily, I knew, would provide a reprieve from my seasonal depressive dysfunction.
That aside, high up there on the list was to find the world’s best cannoli.
I was listening to a podcast about Lithuanian history and food culture just days before my relatively impromptu trip to Vilnius, the capital. The hosts devoted two episodes to the country. I remember thinking to myself in between sets at the gym (yeah, I go to the gym, no big deal), “I’m not really absorbing any of this.” There were lots of mentions about potatoes, potatoes, and some more potatoes. But the list of dishes in the Lithuanian language stumbled incoherently past my ears.
Of course as soon as I had that thought, one of the hosts mentioned something that did stick with me––a fellow by the name of Ragutis.
It’s the first sunny morning of my trip to Swedish Lapland. This time I’m with Inger, who’s driving me back to the Tornio River that etches out the border between Sweden and Finland. Her English is so-so, the kind where sometimes I ask “either or” type questions and she responds, “Yes, mhmm” without elaborating. Having struggled with languages myself, I know that move.
But she’s sweet, pulling over on the highway at one point to show me Instagram photos taken by, I want to say, a local photographer. As we near the Finnish border, she asks me if I’ve ever been to Finland. When I say that I have not, she makes the executive decision to drive me over the border and back around the next roundabout where you can see IKEA welcoming travelers into Sweden.
“Now you’ve been to Finland,” she smiles.