From time to time, I like to revisit noteworthy stops along America’s great cross-country Interstates. Many such stops wouldn’t normally come to mind as vacation destinations, which make their offerings all the more serendipitous.
There are certain ideas that New Yorkers take as articles of faith. We think of ourselves as the world’s savviest, able to pinpoint the genuine and bypass the second-rate.
But as I’ve spent more time in Europe over the past several years, my assumptions have been upended, one after another, by the way my Continental friends and relatives actually see their turf. Along the way, I’ve made a mental list of these truisms – a catalog of classic mistakes that New Yorkers (or any well-informed American travelers) make abroad.
Las Vegas is hot in July — really, really hot. That didn’t stop the pioneers, though, or the gold miners, or the railroad investors. And it certainly didn’t stop legendary Jewish mobsters like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. They weren’t the types to stop and shvitz when there was good money to be laundered.
It takes patience and a little imagination to explore the narrow, hushed streets of Barcelona’s Jewish District. Deep in the Gothic Quarter, the medieval heart of the city, more than a thousand years of Jewish history reveals itself in tiny fragments here and there, like a scavenger hunt.
Five hundred years after Spain expelled its Jews, it wants them back.
I stepped into the brilliant sunshine of a plaza in Catalonia, and the first thing that caught my eye was a banner — in Hebrew. Above it, in Catalan, read the translation: “Noah’s Ark: A Holiday Exhibition” at the Museum of Miniatures and Microminiatures.
The ancient Romans were an ambitious lot. At the zenith of their empire, they controlled a good swath of the world’s prime real estate, from London and Iberia all the way to Cairo and Jerusalem.
All around the Mediterranean rim, the heart of Roman territory, you stumble across ruins of this once-mighty civilization. The Roman Forum is just the best-known example of a genre whose brick walls, stone burial markers, and still-solid archways are visible from Salamanca to Sofia.
According to that most scientific of sources, Wikipedia, the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in Germany is the fourth-largest metro area on the Continent — eclipsed only by such marginally European burgs as Moscow, Istanbul and London.
In other words, Rhine-Ruhr is the industrial heart of the country lately in the public consciousness as Europe’s economic engine. A drive through this West German sprawl reveals the scale of German enterprise — and a devotion to the local beer, Kolsch, that borders on obsessive.