The Travel Section in last Sunday's NY Times was entitled "Where to Go in 2006." I was intrigued to see that one answer is, apparently, eastern Europe.
ESTONIA--The new "hot spot" is Tallinn, the capital, which they bill as "Vegas on the Baltic." Cheap alcohol attracts hordes of nearby Finns on "booze cruises," and now many Brits on packaged bachelor-party junkets. Gee, they make it sound sooo enticing. I believe I will pass.
LATVIA--They are now being billed as the "next Czech Republic." If Riga is the "new Prague," can Minsk be far behind as the "new Riga?" ;)
LITHUANIA--Not wanting to be left behind by its Baltic neighbors, Lithuania is capitalizing on its Soviet past. A theme park near Grutas is known as "Stalin World," and is "styled after a Siberian labor camp, with statues of Marx, Stalin and other Communist icons..." Okaaaay.
MONTENEGRO--Yes, Montenegro, which they say is poised for a major comeback and is the "fastest growing travel and tourism economy in the world." The article shows a picture of a tiny island in the Adriatric, capped with terra-cotta cottages and villas behind its medieval wall. But they note that the European glitterati have already been spotted on its cobblestone streets, which means, of course, that it is too late for the rest of us.
BULGARIA--I was glad to see some notice finally taken of one of my favorite places. They touted Bulgaria as offering "vistors a rare chance to see Europe as it once was--before the euro, before World War II, before electricity." Ouch. That's a little harsh, I think. They do give credit to bustling Sofia, but note that Bulgaria "is a nation that can celebrate a refreshing lack of progress." The writer is quite enthusiastic about visiting Bulgarian monasteries and their growing interest as a tourist destination, which he equates to "casle-hopping in Tuscany." I do believe this is happening. When I visited Rila Monastery in 2003, it was a life-changing experience. When I returned in 2004, I shared the experience with a busload of Japanese tourists. But with much of Bulgaria, you have it pretty much to yourself. For a while, anyway.
And now, a little further afield:
ETHIOPIA--I was intrigued by the picture of the royal palace at the old city of Gonder, which is known as "Africa's Camelot." They also reference the historic churches at Axum, where the Church of St. Mary supposedly contains the Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopia is one of the few places in Africa that I want to visit someday.
BODRUM, TURKEY--The Times touts this town on the Aegean coast as the "next St.-Tropez." I have been to Bodrum, briefly. When my Turkish tourist agent botched my ferry reservations to Samos and then on to Patmos, I had to make a midnight dash to Bodrum to try and catch the hydrofoil to Cos, from which I could make connections to Patmos. Bodrum is appealling--an idyllic setting nestled between the bay and an old crusader fortress. It could just as well be on the Cote d'Azur. The ubiquitous call to worship which blares from the minarets 5 times a day, however, reminds you that you are in Turkey, not the South of France. Sadly, given demographic trends in
western Europe, and the general wishy-washiness of many, it may not be long until this call to worship is a familiar sound there, as well.
KABUL--This piece, describing the opening of the 5-Star Serena Hotel in downtown Kabul, is my favorite. The writer observes that "the hotel is surrounded by a perimeter wall, and, at the entrance, an obstacle course of barriers--wide metal tubes filled in with concrete--leads to a thick steel gate garded by three men with Kalashnikovs." If you book a room at the Serena Hotel, you might want to consider spending the day in the bar, as "explorations on foot in the area are considered risky, according to the hotel guards." All this for only $230 a night.
Finally, this quote from Simon Doonan, creative director, Barneys New York:
I'm longing to go to a place, preferably by a warm ocean, where nobody is fashionable or groovy or hip or has as iPod or a pierced tongue. This place would have no trendy shops, only dusty old emporiums with out-of-date dead-stock merchandise through which I could rummage unhindered. The local cuisine would be plain and uncomplicated, and the indigenous people would be neither friendly nor hostile. In other words, I am looking for a place that has not been tainted by people like myself.
If you find it, Simon, please let me know. I promise I won't tell anyone else :)