Nude Beaches and Fruit Cocktail Bombers: piran café’s Top Trips of 2005

best1.jpgA couple nights ago I got together with a few colleagues for a belated New Year celebration, and over a few bottles of wine and shots of grandma’s slivovec, we reminisced about some of the places we’d been to in the past year. Our chosen profession means we all spend quite a bit of time on the road. The notion seems romantic to some but more often than not we don’t get to see and experience these places nearly as much as we’d like. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes I spend more time getting there and leaving there than I actually spend there.

I usually do make an effort to get out and about, but haven’t kept particularly adequate notes. [That will change this year, now that I’ve finally begun keeping real journals.] This past year was nonetheless brimming with little mental post cards that will be filed away for some time. Some of those, in no particular order:

August: Zurich. Continued feeding my Van Gogh habit at the Kunsthaus, home to his Thatched Roofs near Auvers, one of his last paintings, and the well-known Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe. Realizing how much I’m beginning to relate to this guy –besides his religious zeal– is beginning to scare me. Nice street music in the afternoon and evenings along the Zurichsee just beyond the Bellevue tram stop.

July: Kanegra Beach, Savudrija, Croatia. My first nude beach. Just a long stone’s throw from my old place on the Slovenian coast, but it was a transcendental experience. I will never –ever– swim clothed again.

best2-donetsk.jpgFebruary: Donetsk, Ukraine. This southeastern Ukrainian city is hardly a tourist Mecca, but it was my first trip to the former Soviet states, so it’s got to make the list. The timing was good as well, just a few months after recently-elected president Viktor Yushchenko’s face started peeling off after he was fed some poisoned soup. The women there are absolutely stunning, adding more ammo to my historic crossroads theory. Surprise! February is cold there. Surprise 2! There’s lots of good, and cheap (to westerners) vodka.

August: Tallinn, Estonia. I was only here for about five hours, and those came on the tail end of two solid weeks of ass-busting work. But it was enough to really want to go back and spend some time. Medieval Europe comes alive here, seemingly a world away from other former Soviet Republics.

best3-joyce.jpgMarch: Over the course of a few late winter days, saw my first Stradivarius at the Palacio Real in Madrid and spent an afternoon following in the footsteps of James Joyce in Trieste. The violin was an absolutely gorgeous piece of work; the Joyce walk was beautifully interrupted by Julia, another absolutely gorgeous piece of work.

August: Brussels. Getting there involved sharing a cheap flight with The Village People. Once I got there, I ran into a suspected fruit cocktail bomber on my favorite tram ride ever.

September: Berlin. I visited the German capital three times in the space of a month, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite European city. Precisely why is difficult to pin down. I always feel like a minor character in a Wim Wenders film there, and it’s a good feeling to be able to blend into one of his long, deliberate pans. Most taxi drivers here don’t care much for George Bush, making drives around the city a particularly pleasant experience. I was never one for fashion photography, but the exhibit, A Gun For Hire, at the Helmut Newton Museum, helped change my mind. A little bit.

August: Helsinki. First visit to the Finnish capital, a place that appears to be home to more drunks per capita than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Despite the price, it’s mind-boggling how much Finns can drink; one recent conservative estimate puts it at about a bottle of hard booze per week per capita. I added the The Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery, to my museum list.

July: Paris. Caught Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent at the Centre Pompidou, a phenomenal attempt to describe the soul of a vast indescribable continent. I spent nearly two hours lounging in a chair of a makeshift typical urban “African” bar –part of the exhibit, or course—next to an old-style jukebox gushing with 60 CDs worth of amazing music. [Here’s a link to the same exhibit but earlier in London.]

July: First visit to Oslo. Besides being one of the most expensive cities I’ve ever been to, it was also one of the nicest. Friendly folks, lively street music and night life into the wee hours. The night I arrived coincided with U2’s show there. No, didn’t fork over a huge pile of cash for a ticket, but did enjoy the street musicians jamming U2 tunes until dawn. Visited the Munch Museet –once home to The Scream before it was stolen in August 2004. It’s next to the Toyen Park, a sprawling lush botanical garden.

June, July and August: Piran, Slovenia, home for most of last year. More specifically, concerts in the courtyard of the 700-year-old Franciscan Monastery. I attended two small ensemble classical performances and a solo classical guitar concert, all of which were so soothing, so relaxing, that I definitely felt at home.

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