In the tiny corner of the Balkans where Greece, Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia meet, ethnic identity is as fascinatingly diverse as the climate.
The historical region and population of Macedonia today sprawls across three countries — Greek claims on the name notwithstanding. It is not unusual to find ex-Yugoslavs with cousins across the mountains in Bulgaria, Bulgarians who speak a local Macedonian dialect, Muslim Slavs whose ancestors converted during Ottoman days, and Sephardic Jewish teens from Thessaloniki crossing the border for ski weekends.
Two and a half hours east of Warsaw, Lublin lies in Poland’s far east, near the Ukrainian border. Step off the train in Lublin’s central station and you emerge into a palette of dark gray — from the leaden skies of Europe’s far north to the shadowy cobble-stoned streets of Old Town, with its soot-stained prewar buildings.
Maybe it’s because I’m a born-and-bred East Coaster from a long line of born-and-bred East Coasters who rarely, if ever, ventured west of New Jersey.
I guess that’s why for me, the West Coast feels like the far edge of the world — a rugged frontier where the sun sets over the unimaginable vastness of the Pacific, where people wind down at night while most of the world is firmly into the next day.
More than once, taking in all the chaos of 2012, I thought about making a year-end list of destinations to avoid rather than places to go.
But optimism got the better of me. And so the theme for 2013 is renewal — seeing the familiar with fresh eyes, uncovering novelty in well-trodden regions. Here are my top picks for travel in what I hope will be a wonderful year for all:
St. Thomas, the cosmopolitan hub of the Caribbean, is for New Yorkers who want to get away — but not from it all. In a region of sleepy cays and solitary beaches, St. Thomas bustles with commerce, nightlife and the Caribbean’s liveliest dining scene.
The peaceful bays and pristine beaches are there, too, for those who want them. But in this duty-free outpost of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where people drive on the left, there’s plenty to do even on a rainy day — including visits to a spectacular aquarium and one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas.
While my relatives were improvising with leftover turkey, I spent the recent holiday obsessed by a remote outpost of the Russian Federation: Chukotka.
Chukotka is the easternmost peninsula in Asia, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska (this is the part of Russia Sarah Palin might have seen from her window). The vast, frigid territory is larger than Texas but has only about 50,000 residents. And amazingly, those locals are trying to persuade outsiders to come visit — despite a lack of transportation, a brutal climate, and a location not too far from the North Pole.
Last year, I wrote about Chanukah activities in San Francisco.
This year, the topic is Christmas.
Yes, Christmas. Those ever-hip San Francisco Jews not only know how to celebrate Chanukah in wildly original style; they’ve also got Christmas covered. An array of events around town ensures that no bored Jew, in town for a visit and staring into closed shop windows, has to make do with Chinese and a movie.