Q. I'm 78 and no longer comfortable traveling overseas, but I've always loved the food and culture of foreign countries. I just returned from a trip to Solvang — the Danish capital of America. This was the next best thing to actually leaving the States. Are there other U.S. cities with European themes that I can visit?
A. What a great idea. Although not as authentic as getting a stamp in the old passport, trips of this nature could help those on a budget or with travel limitations still enjoy the international flavor of going abroad.
Solvang is an excellent starting point, especially since it's less than 300 miles south of San Francisco. With a windmill and streets lined with half-timbered buildings, Solvang feels like a slice of Denmark. Several restaurants serve tasty Danish cuisine, from aebleskiver (a cross between a pancake and popover) to open-face sandwiches. Plan a visit for March to check out the Taste of Solvang, with Danish fare aplenty, or Sept. 16-18 for the 75th annual Danish Days, complete with concerts, street dancers and a torchlight parade. Details: www.solvangusa.com; 805-688-6144.
Solvang is just the tip of what you can find throughout the United States, thanks to our diverse immigrant history. Here's a small sample of other places worth checking out:
New Glarus, Wis., bills itself as America's "Little Switzerland." Founded as a Swiss colony in 1845, the small town is nestled in woodland pastures and sweeping hills. Alpine chalet-style buildings feature flower window boxes. Restaurants serve delicacies such as cordon bleu and fondue. An original settler's log home and 13 other buildings tell of the town's history. There's also an award-winning brewery and dozens of festivals. Details: www.swisstown.com; 800-527-6838.
Frankenmuth is Michigan's "Little Bavaria." The shops, restaurants, clock tower and festivals throughout the year all speak to its German heritage. But Frankenmuth has a lot more to offer. The Bavarian Belle is a 150-passenger paddle wheel boat that takes visitors for a narrated tour down the Cass River. Bronner's Christmas Wonderland is a holiday-themed shop the size of 1 1/2 football fields. And horse-drawn carriage rides are available downtown. Details: www.frankenmuth.org; 800-386-8696.
For a shorter trip, Mt. Angel, Ore., has Bavarian-style storefronts and the gorgeous Benedictine Abbey. It really gets into the German spirit with its renowned Oktoberfest, Sept. 15-18 this year. Details: www.mtangel.org; 503-845-9440.
Beyond its Mardi Gras-party reputation, New Orleans is a city that still benefits from French influence and features incredible Creole dishes. In Jackson Square is the St. Louis Cathedral, named in honor of St. Louis, King of France. There's the French Quarter (although some argue this has more Spanish features than French) and Cafe Du Monde serves the best beignets outside of Paris. The old homes are worth seeing in the Garden District, too. Details: www.neworleanscvb.com; 800-672-6124.
And to see an Americanized "Eiffel Tower," head to Paris, Texas, where a 65-foot replica of the famous French tower features a cowboy hat. It may not be authentic, but it's definitely unique.