Tripatini Surveys Hot Destinations for 2010

December 28, 2009 at 11:03 am | Posted in Africa, Asia, Barbados, British Columbia, Canada, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Central America, Colombia, Croatia, cruising, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Florida, Honduras, Iceland, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macau, Mexico, Middle East, Montenegro, New Mexico, Panama, Rwanda, Slovenia, South Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Suriname, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe | 2 Comments
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by David Paul Appell

It’s that time when the travel-hungry are scouring the media for word of the coming year’s “it” spots. We can play that game too, so, besides popular perennials, here are 29 we see looming larger on twenty-ten’s worldwide vaycaydar:

For Americans at least, tight times mean Florida will tempt folks sticking closer to home; better deals down south include  Fort Lauderdale and up north the Panhandle. The latter’s now marketed as the “Emerald Coast,” trying to softpedal the “Redneck Riviera” image; comparisons to Sardinia’s glam Costa Smeralda are laughable, but there are some fetching towns, inns, and some interesting attractions — but above all sugary beaches along a stretch including  Destin, Fort Walton, Apalachicola, St. Joe Beach, and Pensacola. Another hotspot due for a boost this year is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is popping the corks for its 400th anniversary (and while you’re out here, add a couple of days to explore some cool nearby towns like Acoma Pueblo and Gallup.

The big story this year is inevitably the province of British Columbia, with cool cities Vancouver and Victoria, stunning coastal and mountain scenery, eco/adventure tourism, and swell snow sports. The reason is, of course, is the attention focused on Vancouver and ski resort Whistler Blackcomb, hosting this February’s Winter Olympics.

The so-called Maya Riviera, on the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coast stretching southward from Cancun, continues evolving whether big luxury resorts, mass-market all-inclusives, exquisite small inns, or budget digs. Some also see a bump for Mexico City, whose pollution and security issues can be finessed with some common sense and which offers one of the world’s great urban experiences — and what other burg has not just a stunning Aztec pyramid complex (Teotihuacan) on its outskirts but several right in town — one smack in the middle of downtown?

This winter/spring, more ships come online and cruising is likely to stay strong, thanks to heavy discounting. Beyond the usual suspects, keep your eye on buttoned-down Barbados,  where some resorts and dining spots have been updating of late, and scenic St. Lucia, with luxury properties coming online fairly recently (Jade Mountain, The Landings) or refurbing (Cap Maison); there’s also a movement toward sustainable — and less pricey — town and country tourism. Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos also keeps adding fab resorts without sacrificing its limin’ vibe. Finally, could this be the year for Cuba, when the self-defeating, un-American, yet stubborn travel ban is dropped or relaxed for all U.S. citizens? Hold not thy breath, but anything’s possible, and if it happens, go — unsavory regime notwithstanding, it’s one of the world’s great travel and cultural experiences.

Eastern Europe has been on a major upswing ever since the Berlin Wall fell. But even 20 year later, some destinations are still growing or even just emerging. Examples of the former include Croatia and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And lately we’re hearing more about Croatia’s neighbors, Slovenia and Montenegro. Both serve up stunning mountains with eco/adventure, historic cities and towns, and Adriatic seacoast with fine beach resorts. And this year, Montenegro welcomes AmanResorts’ fancy-schmancy Sveti Stefan, on an island of medieval architecture. On the western side of things, Icelands a nice land, with its superb eco/adventure, cool capital Reykjavik, short flight time from Europe and New York City, and some of the most affordable prices in years, thanks to the recent economic meltdown.

In Central America, everybody’s jockeying to be “the next Costa Rica” — even El Salvador (who knew?). But watch Honduras; ’09 tourism plummeted due to its political crisis but should be back on track — and hungry — once the new elected government debuts in January. Highlights: Maya ruins, colonial towns, exceptional eco/adventure, world-class diving.  Panama, too, with great rainforest, beaches, one of the hemisphere’s loveliest colonial quarters (Panama City’s Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and barefoot Caribbean isles like Bocas del Toro and the San Blas, home to the autonomous Kuna Indians. In South America, Colombia‘s overall continuing security and economic progress will feed that diverse country’s tourism, especially to another colonial stunner, Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, and happening capital Bogotá (whose colonial quarter’s also nothing to estornudar at). Rising on the radar is the continent’s smallest and only Dutch-speaking country, Suriname, a multi-culti charmer with a cute, sleepy little capital and some of the hemisphere’s most unspoiled eco offerings.

With the steam let out of Dubai, look to UAE capital Abu Dhabi, also developing a-plenty yet without sacrificing traditional culture and flavor. On the Mediterranean, with political crisis at bay for now, Lebanon is still rockin’ the casbah — well, at least Beirut is, while the beach resorts, Roman ruins, and even wine country outside the capital provide a lower-key counterpoint. Up on Turkey‘s “Turquise Coast,” meanwhile, a resort town and region called Dalaman is currently hot, for example outstripping Spain’s Majorca as among the Brits; allures include beaches, soft adventure, nightlife, and historic/archaeological sites.

The tourism offerings in staid ol’ Singapore are getting something of a 2010 shot in the arm, with the elaborate, Vegas-style casino-resort Marina Bay Sands; the also elaborate Fullerton Heritage Complex crammed with shopping, dining, and lodging; and Sentosa Island’s Resorts World, with a Hard Rock Hotel and a Universal Studios theme park. Another “city-state” (now a semi-autonomous part of China) seeing some new action is Macau, where, again, it’s Vegas-style casinos that’ve been complementing the Portuguese colonial architecture and fueling a local boom. On a less glitzy, more laid-back note, since Sri Lanka ended its civil war last May, more travelers will be returning to its historic towns, Buddhist temples, and breathtaking beaches.

From Kruger Park to Cape Town to the winelands, South Africa is on the upswing again, thanks to interest generated by Hollywood hits like Invictus and District 9, and especially June’s soccer World Cup. Lower on the radar, the story of the year may well be the rebirth of safari tourism in Rwanda, 17 years after its genocide, and, believe it or not, Zimbabwe, despite still being a political and economic basket case.


Return to Estonia

August 4, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Posted in Estonia | 2 Comments
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by David Paul Appell

Europe Estonia Tallinn RaekojaplatsAlthough I’m not Estonian, I must admit to a lump in the throat on a cool, overcast morning recently as the gargantuan green-and-orange Tallink ferry pulled into this tiny Baltic country’s capital after a two-hour sea crossing from Helsinki.

I was embarking on my introduction to the shiny new Tallinn, 17 years after my last visit and 27 years after my first — as a student studying Russian in Leningrad, then as a travel writer visiting shortly after Estonia‘s independence. Even then, under layers of Soviet gloom and grime, I was seduced by the city’s medieval and neoclassical Kesklinn (Old Town). This time around, as you might expect, the transformations were both dazzling and incredibly moving.

Old Town was downright caffeinated, with both tourists and locals, all day and long into the night. The pioneering Maharajah Indian restaurant (which in ’92 I found served a not bad chicken tikka) has been joined by some 75 others, from the admittedly touristy, medieval-themed Olde Hansa to nouvelle Estonian and a plethora of world cuisines. The Hotel Viru, a high-rise ’70’s eyesore, has been refurbed, redubbed the Sokos Hotel Viru, and even tarted up with a flashy shopping mall (they’ve kept intact the KGB bugging room on the 23rd floor, but it’s not always open to the public). And my digs this time, the Telegraaf, is a Leading Small Hotels of the World member second to no other boutique digs I’ve ever experienced, and more affordably priced than many.

My local faves were still there, of course, including the city walls; the Kiek in de Kök (“Peep in the Kitchen,” a round 15th-century tower so named for its views over the Old Town); Peter the Great’s Kadriorg Palace; the Russian-built Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; the evocative ruins of the Pirita convent; and the Estonian Open-Air Museum, with buildings transplanted from villages throughout this country the size of New Jersey plus Massachusetts. Plus there’s tons more, both old and new. One wry new attraction is the “Soviet Tour,” conducted in a 1960’s bus with ratty seats and stinking of gasoline. Our guide was a youngish chap in a Soviet military getup who demanded to see passports and kept shouting, “Who you are working for?” Eventually he graduated to plying us with vodka; holding forth on the superiority of USSR to the decadent capitalist West whilst waving pictures of Leonid Brezhnev; trying to sign us up for “Communist Party membership”; and warbling a Red Army marching song or two (fortunately, it was an old warhorse called “Katyusha,” to which I just happened to know the words).

Beyond all this, these days a good chunk of Tallinn is also spit-shined to a sparkle, and boasts a kicky nightlife that has folks out on the cobblestones till 2 a.m. and beyond (in summer, of course, when the sun this far north barely sets — quite a different story during the dark winters, I suspect). Inevitably, there are a few less than classy aspects, too. On one visit to Raekojaplats (Town Hall Square), I came face to face with a bunch of soused Finns; a noisily hopping gaggle of Hare Krishnas; and one of those cheesy tourist choo-choos. And speaking of soused Finns, the ferry port area is crammed full of liquor shops, since the stuff’s cheaper here than in Finland, and watching the Finns returning to Helsinki loaded down with booze was simultaneously astonishing and depressing.

So while it’s true that no rose is without its thorns, on the whole the revitalization of Tallinn has been truly inspiring to witness, and nowhere more so than in the area of theater, the arts, and especially music of all kinds. Tallinn’s bursting with all sorts of concerts and happenings, and during summertime, music festivals. If that’s the kind of thing that floats your boat, give a thought to coming over here in 2011, when it shifts into overdrive as Tallinn takes its turn as a European Capital of Culture.

By the way, Tallinn’s no longer particularly hard to get to. Besides that two-hour ferry ride it’s also reachable by air, connecting from the U.S. via Czech Airlines, Finnair, KLM, and Lufthansa, also from Europe on easyJet and Estonian Air.

Anyway, this was a big summer for Estonia’s big national dance and song festivals, and as I sat in a stadium among 20,000 spectators of all ages watching 8,500 folk dancers from all over the country twirling their hearts out, it was apparent that despite the economic crisis, despite the bumps in joining the 21-century West, despite the fact that conditions in some other parts of the country aren’t quite as impressive as they are in the capital, Estonia’s national soul is finally flying free. And that was a beautiful, beautiful thing to behold.

photo: David Paul Appell

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