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.
In this week’s special pullout section on Jewish lifecycle events (Celebrate), I write about Cyprus — and its resort town of Larnaca — as a hotspot for Israeli weddings. But with the island’s first synagogue in modern times, an inviting seafront and a culturally diverse historic district, Larnaca is an intriguing vacation choice even if you’re not getting hitched.
My friend Kathy recently returned from a trip to France. It was her second trip to the country, after perhaps a 20-year interval; for her husband, who was there to collect a journalism prize, it was the first time in France. They spent a few days in Paris, and then traveled up the Norman coast.
I was driving through the faded-brick center of Morgantown, W.Va., when I spotted something incongruous: Hebrew lettering. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the West Virginia University Hillel building — hardly a surprising sight in a college town.