NEW YORK: The holidays may not yet be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning the next one – especially with 2014 shaping up to be a bumper year of world-class events. The Olympics, the World Cup and commemorations of World War I, D-Day and the fall of the Berlin Wall are putting destinations such as Sochi, Brazil, Sarajevo, Normandy and Berlin in the spotlight. While museums and film sets across the world provide slightly more relaxing attractions.
Here are some dates to keep in mind when you plan next year’s holidays:
THE HEAVYWEIGHT EVENTS The Winter Olympics, Feb. 7-23, take place in Sochi, a Russian Black Sea resort that’s one of the least-known Olympic destinations in years.
The indoor events will be held in ice arenas on the coast, while skiing and snowboarding are in the Caucasus Mountains 50 kilometers inland. With its subtropical climate and lush greenery, the coastal area of Sochi has long been a popular destination. Some elaborate worker resorts from the Stalinist era remain, and new winter resorts are under construction.
The World Cup games, June 12-July 13, will be held in 12 cities in Brazil: Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cuaiaba, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo.
The most exotic destination, Manaus, a steamy city in the Amazon jungle, may also be the most controversial: England soccer coach Roy Hodgson called it “the place ideally to avoid,” while London tabloid the Mirror called it a “crime-ridden hell-hole.”
Regardless, loads of soccer fans are likely to travel there to attend some of the tournament’s top matches, including England-Italy and Portugal-U.S. The city is also a gateway to Amazon tourism, with Manaus-based operators offering boat trips and tours into the jungle.HISTORIC MILESTONESThe summer of 2014 marks a century since World War I was triggered by the June 28, 1914 assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, now the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Events are planned across Europe to commemorate the centenary – www.1914.org – and tour operators, such as Road Scholar, are offering itineraries visiting places connected to the war.
Famous battlefields include Verdun, France; Gallipoli, Turkey, and Western Belgium, where red poppies still bloom in Flanders Fields, a battlefield immortalized in the famous poem: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row.”
June 6 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, which marked a turning point in defeating Hitler in World War II. Past milestone anniversaries have drawn veterans of the invasion, but that generation is rapidly dwindling. Nevertheless, President Obama, Queen Elizabeth and other heads of state have been invited to mark the solemn day on the Normandy coast.
Nov. 9 marks 25 years since the Berlin Wall was breached, a potent milestone marking the end of the Cold War and communism in Eastern Europe.
The wall, built in 1961, not only physically cut East Berlin off from the West, but also symbolized the division between Western Europe and communist-controlled Eastern bloc countries. Although its destruction began in 1989, it wasn’t completely torn down until 1990.
In the years since, reunified Berlin has become a trendy tourism capital – described as “poor but sexy” by its mayor. Events and exhibits are planned to mark the 25th anniversary, including an installation of illuminated balloons on a 12-kilometer path where the city was once divided.
For something a bit lighter, St. Louis in the U.S. marks the 250th anniversary of its Feb. 15, 1764 founding with celebrations in February including a re-enactment, parties and a music festival.
CLANS, VERMEER, FILM SETS In Europe, Scotland hosts its yearlong “Homecoming” in 2014, inviting emigres and their descendants to return for clan gatherings and other events, including a reenactment of the Battle of Bannockburn, an important victory 700 years ago in the Wars of Scottish Independence. The event is held every four years.
In Holland, the Mauritshuis museum reopens in June in The Hague. This small but important museum, housed in a 17th-century palace, is home to Vermeer’s masterpiece, “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which has been drawing huge crowds at showings in the U.S. The painting has been traveling with “The Goldfinch” and works by Rembrandt and other Dutch masters while the Mauritshuis underwent a two-year renovation.
In Norway, the Geirangerfjord will get some additional visitors as Adventures By Disney adds the destination to a new itinerary inspired by the movie “Frozen.” The film’s fantasy kingdom of Arendelle was based on the fjord.
On the other side of the world, New Zealand is hoping for an increase in visitors inspired by the second movie in the “Hobbit” trilogy, all of which was filmed entirely in the island country. Mount Cook and it’s surrounding alpine peaks, for example, are used in the backdrop of some of the aerial filming in the first film, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Tourism connected to “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films has become a big business in New Zealand. A survey by Tourism New Zealand showed 13 percent of international visitors earlier this year took part in some kind of “Hobbit”-themed tourism such as visiting a film set.
Finally, Harry Potter fans will get a treat next summer when the Universal Orlando theme park opens a new area with attractions inspired by the books’ scenes in Diagon Alley and London.
A train called the Hogwarts Express will take visitors back and forth between the new Potter attractions – including a restaurant called the Leaky Cauldron – and Universal’s existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter.