eing an American in Europe these days means treading water when it's time to pay the bill. You want immersion in travel, but you may end up in over your head. Get a similar international flair - without the euro shock - at these US destinations.
Sausage and beer amid Buckeyes
Columbus, Ohio's 19th-century German Village neighborhood, just south of downtown, is the largest privately-financed historic district in the country and a mecca for Teutonic tastes like sausages and pilsner-style beer. German settlers first came here in the 1830s to work in breweries and brickworks, laying the area's cobblestone streets and European-style squares like Schiller Park, which is crowned with a man-made miniature hill built for sledding. The German Village Society sponsors special events year-round, including the annual Haus Und Garten Tour of the neighborhood's historic homes, and the German Village Oktoberfest, with its barrels of suds and Munich-style big-top tents bouncing with polka and oompah bands. Schmidt's Restaurant und Sausage Haus, a village landmark since 1886, serves bratwurst that outshines any hotdog and is a tradition at Ohio State football games. Entrees start at $9.95. One of the neighborhood's few small inns, Lansing Street Bed & Break fast, has plenty of homespun touches thanks to German-accented innkeeper Marcia Barck. Rates start at $80. German Village Society, 588 South Third St., 614-221-8888, germanvillage.org; Schmidt's Restaurant und Sausage Haus, 240 East Kossuth St., 614-444-6808, schmidthaus.com; Lansing Street Bed & Breakfast, 180 Lansing St., 800-383-7839.
Vermeer and tulips where corn is king
Be assured that Pella, a town of about 10,000 in central Iowa, will probably never suffer an identity crisis. Inspired by its heritage (it was founded in 1847 by Dutch settlers), residents in the 1960s began transforming the downtown into a replica of a village in the Netherlands. The Royal Amsterdam Hotel has views of Molengracht Plaza, which features a canal and working drawbridge. There's also the 124-foot-tall Vermeer Mill, which grinds wheat into flour using only wind power. The Klokkenspel, a 147-bell carillon clock, has 4-foot mechanical figures that perform throughout the day. Pella even manages to neatly showcase the decidedly non-Dutch boyhood home of gun-slinging lawman Wyatt Earp. The most powerful
Dutch influences, however, are found in the hearty food: try "saucijzenbroodje" (puff pastry filled with minced sausage) and hickory-smoked Pella bologna at Ulrich Meat Market or Dutch spiced beef at the Strawtown Inn. Save room for Dutch letters (flaky, buttery pastries in the shape of an "s" and filled with almond paste) from Jaarsma Bakery. You can attempt to work off those excess calories shopping for souvenirs: wooden shoes, Delft pottery, and homemade chocolates in the shape of little windmills. The more ambitious can take to the water at nearby Lake Red Rock or play 18 holes at Bos Landen Golf Resort. Pella's old-world charm kicks into high gear the first weekend in May during its annual Tulip Time Festival. Residents don traditional Dutch costumes to scrub the streets together in celebration of nearly 20,000 tulips in full bloom. Over three days, there are parades, historical tours, crafts, and Dutch dancing. Royal Amsterdam Hotel, 701 East First St., 641-620-8400, royalamsterdam.com, doubles $99-$209; Ulrich Meat Market, 715 Franklin St., 641-628-2771, dutchmall.com; Jaarsma Bakery, 727 Franklin St., 641-628-2940, jaarsmabakery.com; Strawtown Inn & Restaurant, 1111 Washington St., 641-621-9500, strawtown.com; Bos Landen Golf Resort, 2411 Bos Landen Drive, 641-628-4625, boslanden.com.
Danes in a golden state
In 1910, a group of Danish educators met in the Midwest and decided to form a colony in Southern California. They chose the fertile countryside of Santa Ynez Valley, ideal for their desire to farm and ranch. Nine thousand acres were purchased and they named their town Solvang or "Sunny Valley." Today, this community of 5,100 people about an hour northwest of Santa Barbara is dotted with windmills and thatched roofs. The downtown area is reminiscent of an old Danish village with small bakeries and gift shops. The surrounding verdant hillside is laced with wildflowers. For a quick snack, stop by Olsen's Danish Village Bakery, owned by the same family for four generations. Try aebleskiver, a pancake-like ball, the yummy almond-raspberry tart, and chocolate florentine cookies. For heartier fare, head to Red Viking Restaurant for their gluttonous smorgasbord. On a quiet street two blocks from the restaurants and shops is the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art. The small museum delves into the history of the Danes in the area with a collection of period rooms, art, and photographs. Back on Mission Drive, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum gives kids the opportunity to look at the books, paper cutouts, and sketches created by the man many consider the father of the modern fairy tale. The buildings that form the Royal Copenhagen Inn are exact duplicates of ones found on a street in Copenhagen. Olsen's Danish Village Bakery, 1529 Mission Drive, 805-688-6314,olsensdanishbakery.com; Red Viking Restaurant, 1684 Copenhagen Drive, 805-688-6610; Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, 1624 Elverhoy Way, 805-686-1211, elverhoj.org; Hans Christian Andersen Museum, 1680 Mission Drive, 805-688-2052; Royal Copenhagen Inn, 1579 Mission Drive, royalcopenhageninn.com, rates from $79.
Cascades of things Bavarian
Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, 2 1/2 hours east of Seattle, the small town of Leavenworth, Wash., transports visitors to Germany with its gingerbread-style architecture, alpine-like setting, and Old World flair. In this quaint village,
KARI J. BODNARCHUK
Their Pacific mission was mainly Spanish
The year that East Coast Anglos penned the Declaration of Independence, a Franciscan padre was laying the foundation of an adobe mission in the hills of Southern California. The Franciscans called it "the Jewel of the Missions." Some of it crumbled in an 1806 earthquake, but the town that grew up around it kept much of its historical architecture and its musical Spanish name: San Juan Capistrano. Maybe its out-of-the-way location - not quite on the coast, not quite in the desert - about 60 miles north of San Diego, has kept it culturally intact. Today, this city of 34,000 errs on the side of sleepy, except for the annual two-month-long festival to welcome las golondrinas, the swallows, every March. Parades, contests (Hats! Hairiest Man!), and pancake breakfasts keep the economy humming while the cliff swallows nest. And in the summer, the Jewel of the Missions hosts concerts under the stars. Chamber of Commerce, 949-493-4700, sanjuancapistrano.org, or sanjuancapistrano.net.
JANE ROY BROWN
Where Spaniards lived among the first Natives
Spanish influences join those of Native Americans to flavor the character of the small village of Abiquiu, N.M., best known as the adopted home of noted 20th-century artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Time appears to have stood still in the open space anchored by the Pueblo Revival-style adobe St. Thomas Church. O'Keeffe's Spanish colonial-style home on the edge of the tiny plaza is much as it was in 1984 when she moved to Santa Fe, some 50 miles away. O'Keeffe's home with its glass walls and many fireplaces is open to visitors, and area artists host a village-wide studio tour Columbus Day weekend. A dozen miles away amid the spooky red canyons are the adobe buildings of Ghost Ranch. Once also an O'Keeffe home, it is now a retreat offering classes from painting to conversational Spanish. The center has two museums, one showcasing dinosaur remains and the other a Spanish ranch re-creation with Native American arts. Ghost Ranch, 877-804-4678, ghostranch.org.
Some Georgia with your Deutsch
The craziest thing about tiny Helen, Ga., is that it's a fabricated Bavarian village based on nothing in the town's Native American and gold-mining past. The marketing scheme was introduced in the 1960s as a way to save the dying mill town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town went crazy with it, and the tourists were soon to follow. On weekends a steady stream of visitors mostly from the Atlanta area 90 minutes away arrive not by the autobahn but on two-lane country roads choked with day-trippers. Families and gaggles of teens fill Main Street sidewalks, which stay crowded from midmorning to midnight. Buildings have been done over in Alpine fashion, including banks, drugstores, and even City Hall (on Alpenrosen Strasse). Specialty shops both nice and kitschy offer clothing, trinkets, candies, and food from Northern Europe, and nearly every restaurant carries bratwurst and German beer. Next month sees the start of Helen's six-week-long Oktoberfest, when the action heats up even more. Let the polka begin. helenchamber.com/oktoberfest.htm; Black Forest Bed & Breakfast and Luxury Cabins, 8902 North Main St., 706-878-3995, blackforestvacationrentals.com, doubles $150-$250.
A Bohemian streak finds rich soil
Short of flying to Prague, the place to experience all things Bohemian is Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A wave of immigrants landed in this city after 1848, settling the farmland and building a distinctly Czech-style community. To see an example of the 19th-century log homesteads the immigrants built, spend some time at the city's Czech & Slovak Museum, one of three in Iowa devoted to a specific culture (there's a Norwegian one in Decorah, and a Danish one in Elk Horn). Downtown, in the "Czech Village" on 16th Avenue SW, is a three-block ethnic enclave of Bohemian bakeries, butcher shops, and restaurants. Al Zindrick prides himself on the authenticity of his restaurant, Zindrick's, which serves the traditional pork and dumplings and peerless Czech beer. City tours take you to the two original Czech churches, St. Wenceslaus and St. Ludmila, and past the many storefronts with Slavic names. During festivals, you can occasionally hear Czech spoken on the streets. The recent flood by the Cedar River hit this neighborhood hard. The museum, the Czech village, and the Czech restaurant are closed, and won't be reopening until next year. Flood updates are available at the museum's website. The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 30 16th Ave. SW, 319-362-8500, ncsml.org; Zindrick's Czech Restaurant, 86 16th Ave. SW, 319-365-5257, dinner entrees $11-$15; Belmont Hill Victorian Bed & Breakfast, 1525 Cherokee Drive NW, 319-366-1343, belmonthill.com.
Lots of Russian dressing in a sunshine state
The coastal city of St. Petersburg, Fla., is mainly known as a beach lover's paradise, but it also has a significant Russian community. It's the sister city to their St. Petersburg and "that's why my grandparents came here," says Ilona Sakovich. She runs the Russian-themed restaurant-nightclub St. Petersburg Nights, featuring recipes that have been in her family for more than 200 years. There is live music from Boris Tsatsakian (who sings in five languages), Russian music videos and karaoke, a DJ named Funkmaster Dima, and a folkloric ensemble called Russian Accents. There are 10,000-15,000 people from former Soviet bloc countries in the Tampa Bay area, Sakovich says, and plenty of what she calls "Russian Bostonians" who own condos in St. Pete and visit frequently. St. Andrew's Russian Orthodox Church holds Russian language classes, the souvenir shop Vladimir's Collection offers handmade woodwork and jewelry, and there is the International Deli. The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg presents occasional Russian exhibits; and the famed Salvador Dalí Museum has paintings of his Russian wife, Gala, who became his exclusive model. The Moscow Ballet brings its "Great Russian Nutcracker" to the city's Mahaffey Theater Dec. 19-20. Sirata Beach Resort, 5300 Gulf Blvd., 727-363-5170. Many international guests stay here, amid 13 acres, three swimming pools, and a fitness center. Rates vary; summer specials $93-$126.
Soak in some Greece on the Gulf
Forget the euro and head to Greece by way of Tarpon Springs, Fla., a whitewashed Greek fishing village located just 25 miles northwest of Tampa International Airport. Settled in the 1880s when Greek sponge divers and their families immigrated here to work in the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs is the sponge diving capital of the world. Stop by the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center for a dose of local history, then head out on a boat with a diver demonstrating the art of picking sponges off the ocean floor. The village of 20,000 has cafes, art galleries, and the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, a Modernist waterfront structure that displays works of Picasso and Rouault. Pay a visit to St. Nicholas Cathedral, a Greek Orthodox Byzantine beauty patterned after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. And don't leave without a taste of authentic Greek cuisine at the family-owned Mykonos restaurant, featuring specialties like flaming cheese, moussaka, fresh grilled fish redolent with lemon and garlic, and of course, baklava for dessert. Mykonos, 628 Dodecanese Blvd., 727-934-4306; Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, spcollege.edu/central/museum, 727-712-5762; Ashley's Victorian Haven B&B, 313 North Grosse Ave., ashleysvictorianhaven.com, 727-505-9152, from $119.
German roots in 'So Big' country
Lederhosen, dirndls, and cowboy boots mingle at the annual Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas, at one of the largest German festivals in the country. At nearby Naegelin's, the oldest continuously run bakery in the state, sink your teeth into the freshest 140-year-old strudels this side of the Black Forest. Tackle the two-step at Gruene Hall; at 130 years, it's the oldest dancehall in Texas. The lives of the German pioneers are on display at the Sophienburg Museum and the Lindheimer Home, where the town's founder and the botanist who scouted the area planted their legacies. Slip and slide at the Schlitterbahn (German for "slippery road") Waterpark Resort or float down the placid Guadalupe River, which flows like a sidewinder through this decidedly Deutsch-flavored town. German pioneers settled the area in 1845 and their enduring accent reverberates powerfully in the art, fachwerk architecture, and cuisine here deep in the heart of Texas. The Prince Solms Inn, 295 East San Antonio St., 800-625-9169, princesolmsinn.com, $125-$175; Gruene Hall, 1281 Gruene Road, 830-606-1281, gruenehall.com; Sophienburg Museum, 401 West Coll St., 830-629-1572, sophienburg.org; The Lindheimer Home, 491 Comal Ave., 830-629-2943, nbconservation.org/lindheimer.htm; Schlitterbahn Waterpark, 400 North Liberty Ave., 830-625-2351, schlitterbahn.com.