Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hero Worship at the Javits Center

I left the NY Times Travel Show today feeling exhilarated. I'd attended talks from two of my heros: Rick Steves, possibly the world's most successful travel writer, and Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for the New York Times.
One of my travel writing teachers had recommended attending the travel show, a yearly event at the Javits Center. So I headed into the Lincoln Tunnel with family in tow, as children get in for free. My husband split off to see animal shows and eat empanadas with the kids, and I headed into a large seminar room to see Rick Steves.
I've been reading Rick Steves' Europe Through the Backdoor books since I traveled to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in 1988. I still turn to his books when I go to Europe: last year I bought his France book. To me, he epitomizes the kind of travel I love: get off the tour bus, stroll through lesser known neighborhoods, eat with the locals, and basically eschew the tourist traps and "sanitized" versions of travel (don't get him started on cruises). His passion for intelligent traveling, his knowledge of world cultures (he was a history major), and his insights about how America is viewed by the rest of the world left the audience enraptured. I was fascinated by his comparison of the "energetic" new European Community versus the U.S.: while the our country pours money into wars, Europe is investing in major infrastructure projects, from highway systems to sleek new rail stations. I walked away from his hour lecture incredibly inspired by his wit, charisma, and world view.
Next I strolled through the cavernous exhibit hall to the cooking demo area, where Eric Asimov spoke about traveling to lesser known wine regions. Joining him on stage was Doug Duda, host of A&E's The Well-Seasoned Traveler and executive director of the recently-opened Astor Center, a gorgeous-looking facility with classes in the culinary arts, wine tasting, even wine smelling! Definitely something I need to check out.
Eric was impecably dressed: from his houndstooth jacket to his mod black turtleneck he looked every inch the sophisticated wine journalist. Yet his presentation was anything but austere. He grinned his way through describing the up-and-coming wine region of Slovenia. We all sipped a buttery wine from the Ribolla Gialla grape, another great showing from the Fruili region I so recently became exposed to from Wine Blogging Wednesday. We also tried a bracing white wine from Santorini, Greece, and, as Eric put it, an "agile" red wine from Austria made from the unusual zwiegelt grape. After the talk I was able to chat with Eric and tell him about my little old blog. Unbelievable. Another reason I am so grateful to live a stone's throw away from one of the greatest cities on earth.
So cheers to NYC and the NY Times Travel Show. I can't wait to go for two days next year.

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