Each year, the European Union designates two of its cities as Capitals of Culture. Lesser-explored or smaller burgs get a turn in the spotlight; more venerable destinations have the opportunity to show off what’s new. And with so much media focus on the problems of Southern Europe, it’s perhaps fitting that the EU Commission decided this year to highlight two relatively tourist-free cities from the continent’s northern tier: Umea, Sweden, and Riga, Latvia.
Some years, given a world full of tempting travel choices, I have a tough time honing in on the top five or so destinations. Not this year. 2014 looks to be an exciting year of Jewish rebirth and rediscovery for places as far afield as Latvia, Jamaica and Poland. Meanwhile, as Jewish life continues to coalesce and flourish in the big New World cities, L.A. and Sao Paulo offer some clear advantages this year. These are the places I’m most excited to explore in 2014 – and here’s why:
It’s Christmas Day as I write this column from a hotel room in Los Angeles. Outside, the weather outside is 85 degrees, and crowds are mobbing every public space that is open on the holiday: Rollerbladers whiz down the beach boardwalk, the Persian cafés are full of Muslim and Jewish families enjoying a free afternoon for tea and pastry, and nearly a month after Thanksgivukah, little blue-and-white Stars of David still dangle in the neighborhood fro-yo store. Just the right atmosphere to contemplate the best and worst travel experiences of 2013 (stay tuned next week for suggestions about the hottest Jewish destinations of 2014.)
When friends and family in Northern Europe pressed me for a wintertime visit, I confess to a certain reluctance. I thought that if the brief, pallid afternoons of a New York winter give me the blues, Berlin and Rotterdam were likely to do me in altogether.