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January 17, 2022

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Fests and bests

Planning a trip to Europe? Grab a calendar and make tracks to the top 10 places to visit in 2009

We’ve poured over the brochures, scoured the Web and grilled tourism officials (so you don’t have to) to unearth a list of the most anticipated events and attractions that lie ahead. This is a year without mega-events — no World Cup, Olympics or World’s Fair — which, in a way, makes Europe all the more appealing.

So, grab your calendar, choose a destination and make tracks to the 10 countries that top the list in 2009.

Great Britain: Great men

The United Kingdom has a bumper crop of reasons to visit this year. And with the pound almost matching the euro in exchange rates — for the first time in years — how can you resist?

Scotland dedicates the year to the 250th anniversary of the birth of the country’s bard, Robert Burns. The Homecoming is an invitation to the Scottish diaspora, estimated to be 50 million strong, to return to their roots. It culminates July 25 and 26 in Edinburgh with one of the largest clan gatherings in history.

It’s been 500 years since the crowning of King Henry VIII, that means you’ll find everything from ghost tours to Tudor cooking classes, a Dressed To Kill exhibit at the Tower of London (where most of his eight wives ended up) as well as visits of the king’s Council Chamber at Hampton Court Palace, which will open to the public for the first time.

Everything will be coming up roses — and orchids, bromeliads and insectivorous plants — at Kew Gardens, which turns 250 this year. The 132-hectare Royal Botanical Gardens will also feature a spectacular and sprawling crocus carpet in the spring.

In September, London’s Victorian-era Natural History Museum opens a new wing named after Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago. This open laboratory is where hundreds of scientists will continue to identify and add new species to the 70 million specimens in their collection.

Germany: Remembering walls

Yearlong festivities celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West Germany and the occasion will be marked with highly inventive activities. How about staying in a former Soviet-era bunker at the Waldhotel Rennsteighöhe? Or touring the length of “No Man’s Land,” a network of trails, cycle paths and kayak routes through what was once in the heavily guarded zone between the two Germanys? Street fairs, outdoor exhibits and art shows in Leipzig and Berlin lead up to November 9, the day the Wall came down, which will feature a giant street party at the Brandenburg Gate.

This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the Bauhaus movement, a design revolution that signalled the era of Modern architecture, art and design worldwide. The town of Weimar is where it all began, and exhibits and walks will take place all year.

In Berlin, the retrospective exhibit, Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity runs from July 22 to October 4 at the Bauhaus Archives.

Italy: Angels, demons and the Biennale

The tide of tourism that followed in the wake of The Da Vinci Code is likely to be repeated with the release of the film version of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (May 15). This time, Robert Langdon (again played by Tom Hanks) chases villains through Vecchia Roma where famous sculptures and paintings reveal clues to the killer’s path. Rome will be bracing for an onslaught of fans eager to retrace the route — from the Pantheon to the Piazza del Popolo.

It’s rare that Venice gets a new gallery, never mind one dedicated to contemporary art. But the two-year-old Centre for Contemporary Art is getting new larger digs designed by powerhouse Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The new space in the Punta della Dogana opens June 6. The date coincides with the 53rd edition of the Venice Biennale (June 7 to November 22), the dazzling international showcase of contemporary art.

France: Picasso homecoming

The world’s most visited nation mounts one of the most anticipated art exhibits of the year, Picasso-
Cézanne 2009
(May 25 to September 27). The Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence will show 70 works by the Spanish master and 30 by the French artist who inspired him.

The celebration continues with the opportunity to tour Vauvenargues Castle, where Picasso and his wife Jacqueline lived and are buried. It will be open to the public for the first time (reservations required).

Another nearby exhibit, Picasso 1945-1949, runs until June 28 at the Picasso Museum of Antibes, while the Cathedral of Images in Les Baux-de-Provence will project Picasso’s works on the walls of this former quarry all year long.

And the first satellite branch of Paris’ Pompidou Centre opens later this year in Metz, along the German border, where an impressive collection of contemporary art will be housed in a stunning postmodern building. The high-speed TGV line makes Metz a 90-minute commute from Paris.

Switzerland: Van Gogh, hockey and Calvin

The alpine nation is ramping up for some of the biggest events on the Euro calendar this year. Switzerland hosts the 73rd IIHF World Hockey Championship in Bern and Zurich (April 24 to May 10). There will be 300,000 spectators and another 8 million viewers watching as 16 teams, including Canada, battle through 56 games to the championship.

At the top of Switzerland’s cultural events is Vincent van Gogh — between Earth and Heaven: The Landscapes in Basel (April 26 to September 27). Seventy paintings from the master — including rarely seen works — and an additional 40 works from Monet, Cézanne and Gauguin will offer reflections on nature and how it is depicted in art.

Who knows what John Calvin would think of Van Gogh’s work if he were alive today? The French-born Protestant Reformer will be commemorated in Geneva on the 500th anniversary of his birth. The International Museum of the Reformation (which won the 2007 Council of Europe Museum Prize) will host A Day in the Life of Calvin which allow visitors to the follow the Reformer in a virtual exhibit.

Greece: Acropolis now

Athens will finally open the Acropolis Museum at the foot of the Parthenon on June 20. The long-awaited building was supposed to be ready when the Greek capital hosted the Summer Olympics in 2004, and it’s been 30 years since the first competition was held to design a new home for the precious stones and statuary of Ancient Greece. By all accounts, it was worth the wait.

This contemporary glass-and-concrete structure designed by the Swiss-born architect Bernard Tschumi will house more than 4000 antiquities. Glass floors reveal archeological remains and a stunning rooftop deck will provide views to the Parthenon and across the city.

In creating this showcase, the Greeks are upping the stakes for the return of the Elgin Marbles, seized from the Parthenon by the British over 200 years ago. Britain has often used the excuse that there was no suitable and safe place to display them in their native land, and clearly that’s no longer an issue.

Austria: Media and music

Little-known Linz gets the spotlight with a year of cultural programming when the city on the Danube celebrates its title as one of two European Capitals of Culture. Linz is home to the new Ars Electronica Centre, which combines exhibits in media art, technology, design and science and hosts one the world’s foremost media art festivals (September 3 to 8).

Linz’s galleries will host Biennale Cuvée, a showcase of the world’s most important biennial contemporary art shows of 2008.

The centennial anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn means the composer (often overlooked in the land of Mozart) will have his day. Vienna has a year’s worth of musical attractions in its splendid concert halls, while the city’s music museum hosts free concerts on summer weekends. The composer’s residence has a special exhibit, as does the Austrian National Library. The city of Eisenstadt, where Haydn wrote many works will also be a pilgrimage point for classical music lovers.

Lithuania: Celebrating the solstice

Vilnius, Lithuania shares the title of European Capital of Culture and has hundreds of events set amid its UNESCO World Heritage-designated historic centre. The beautiful Baroque city was chosen to commemorate 1000 years since the creation of Lithuania. The largest of the three Baltic states hopes this year’s celebrations will help it overcome an image problem — namely that, as a travel destination, it doesn’t have an image.

Vilnius’ Old Town is one of the largest historic centres in Europe with narrow cobblestone streets and intimate café-lined courtyards built in medieval times. A modern city also rises on the banks of the Neris River. During the year, Artscape presents concerts and exhibits that link Vilnius with past and future European Capitals of Culture. And on June 20, the shortest night of the year, city squares will turn into dance schools, parks will become cinemas and churches will become concert stages for the nocturnal celebration.

Ireland: Hoist a pint

Few drinks are as closely identified with their place of origin as Guinness is with Ireland. The dark stout that defines the Emerald Isle’s liquid culture celebrates 250 years in 2009. Gaelic craics are sure to keep the suds flowing and beer lovers will make the pilgrimage to historic St. James’s Gate in the heart of Dublin. This is where Arthur Guinness signed an historic 9000-year lease on his brewery in 1759.

Today, the site is home to the Guinness Storehouse, a visitor centre that has become one of the most popular destinations in Ireland since opening in 2000. Sales of Guinness are actually declining in its home country and in the UK as drinkers increasingly switch to lagers and wine. To counter the trend, many pubs pour two versions of the brew — the classic tepid style or ice-cold. A commemorative stout will also be on tap to mark this year’s anniversary.

Cyprus: Diminutive games

Here’s an Olympics with a twist: the bi-annual Games of the Small States of Europe (June 1 to 6) bring together the continent’s tiny nations, principalities and duchies for some big-time sporting events. To qualify, the eight participating jurisdictions must have populations of less than one million and have National Olympic Committees, which means they get to compete at the games for the big-boy nations, too.

With events like sailing, mountain biking, beach volleyball and swimming, these games are sure to show off Cyprus’ natural attractions. Add to this a millennia’s worth of history and culture, and the home of Aphrodite just may end up taking first prize as the most scenic small state of Europe.

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