Travel and Adventure Show 2014!

A few weekends ago I attended the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show, which I have also attended a couple times in the past. For about the price of a movie its a full day of talks, demonstrations, freebies and ideas, and I’ve always found the day well worth it.

This year was no exception. I had the chance to hear travel guru Rick Steves speak on his personal travel philosophy, with perhaps a little more irreverence than his PBS television shows allow him. But Rick Steves has been entering uncharted territory recently. Three years ago he presented on his latest book at the time, “Travel as a Political Act”, and now he is working on new television programs for Israel and Palestine. I can also mention that I got his autograph in my new ‘Croatia and Slovenia’ book – no trip planned yet, just an idea!

Rick Steves presenting to an attentive audience at the Travel show

Rick Steves presenting to an attentive audience

Signing autographs in a “hurry up, I want my lunch” kind of way 😉


My autographed travel guide – ideas for a future trip?

Always another highlight of the Travel and Adventure show is the cultural performances, which I use as a nice breather between the many other activities – just sit, watch and enjoy. Below are two pictures from the “Global Beats Stage”.


A Canadian folk band, with an adorably energetic fiddler.

A lovely Classical Indian dance number.

A lovely Classical Indian dance number.


European Rail Adventures: Salzburg, Austria

The last episode in the saga of my ‘European Rail Adventures’ led me to Salzburg, Austria, best known to some as the site of ‘The Sound of Music’. Although not done intentionally, I did not make an effort to visit any Sound of Music sights, or sing any Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. The history of the place, and the beauty of the landscape were enough for me. The first thing I did on arrival was find my hostel and check in. The view from the hostel was glorious!

Room with a view - at the Stadtalm Hostel!

Room with a view – at the Stadtalm Hostel!

Some places just renew your faith that not all hostels are full of creepy people and indifferent proprietors. All the same, after this entire trip, I am wondering if I have perhaps outgrown hostels. But my budget will make that decision in future… as soon as I was checked in, I headed back down the hill in search of food and entertainment! Food came in the form of a hip little cafe full of Austrians near the Mirabell Palace. I had my first real conversation with a local seated at the next table over, who in his limited English told me he had been to Chicago and rode a Harley… and thought it was indeed a very windy city.

I had to cut out on the conversation early to make it to my last stop of the night: a live classical concert inside the Mirabell Palace. I barely made it before they shut the door to the small gilded hall where a pianist and violinist presented a few Baroque pieces (with the ubiquitous Mozart thrown in there) to a very appreciative audience. And all without being too touristy or pretentious. What better way to spend an evening in Salzburg? After the concert I stumbled back up the hill in the near-darkness to my hostel, and drifted off to sleep while gazing out the window at the city lights below.

Attending a concert in the Mirabell Palace

Attending a concert in the Mirabell Palace

With such limited time left on my trip, I had big plans for my one full day in Salzburg. I already know that I could easily have allowed myself more time in this historic city. And can I just say how cool it is that I could wander around listening to a Rick Steves walking tour on my ipad, and stop to take pictures on the ipad, and then skype my Dad at work?! I used the audio tour as the form for my day, and made prolonged stops at places that interested me. For instance, the Salzburg Museum for a look at the city’s history and an interesting take on the Salzburg landscape in Romanticism…

After my morning spent in the museum, I again got sidetracked (this time by something a little less cerebral) when I discovered a festival outside the Cathedral, and thought it would be a perfect spot to stop for lunch. It claimed to be an ‘eco festival’, but it was really a festival with barely a few eco-friendly vendors thrown in. I spotted one of the food vendors with the longest line and judged this must be the best food in the place, though I don’t even know what it was: a fried dough frisbee with sauerkraut?

Fried dough and kraut deliciousness

Fried dough and kraut deliciousness

To go with my lunch I ordered a half liter of the local brew! The older couple sharing my bench in the tent seemed to think it was a lot of beer for such a little lady. The beer did embolden me to try out a sentence in German, and they kindly agreed to take my picture, whether or not they understood me. I did in fact finish my glass, and listened to some funky live music before moving on.

Chilling at the outdoor festival with a stein of Stiegl

Chilling at the outdoor festival with a stein of Stiegl

Last order of the day was to burn some calories and check out the hilltop fortress overlooking Salzburg. Again, I walked up, but passed on paying to go inside the actual fortress, and walked along the hill instead. It was not too cloudy and I was blessed with these spectacular views south into the mountains, and looking up at the fortress. My little hike eventually led me back down to town, and to the train station where I caught my last overnight train towards a flight home out of Frankfurt, Germany. Another whirlwind visit, and another beautiful city explored.

The view south along the Monchsberg

The view south along the Monchsberg

Hohensalzburg Fortress in the clouds

Hohensalzburg Fortress in the clouds

Rick Steves, Iran, and the Travel Expo!

Rick Steves talks about these Irishmen in his presentation on 'Travel As A Political Act'.

On Sunday, January 30th I attended The Travel and Adventure Expo at the Rosemont Convention Center in Chicago, which was exciting but not necessarily geared towards someone without a couple thousand dollars set away for their next vacation. My main motivation is going was to see one of my travel heroes, Rick Steves, as he gave a presentation on relating to his latest book, “Travel as a Political Act”.

As a first impression, Steves’ talk was filled with the kind of fun anecdotes that many have come to expect from his guidebooks and his TV series. A favorite was his interaction with two old Irishmen he met. The exchange went something like this:

Rick: Were you born here?

Irishman: Well, uh, about 5 miles down the road actually.

Rick: Well, have you lived here all your life?

Irishman: No, not yet…

Steves used other amusing or surprising anecdotes about life in foreign countries to impress upon his audience the point of his book; that the best souvenir we can bring home from our travels is a broader world perspective. In fact, I am surprised to admit that his worldviews are far more liberal than I imagined them to be, including his views on legalizing marijuana. But more importantly Steves used the premise of broadening our perspectives to introduce one of his more recent projects, a TV episode and booklet on Iran.

In typically candid fashion Steves stated he thought it was important to know more about people we are going to bomb, so that we feel bad when they die. Well, yes, I suppose so Rick. I probably would not have said it that way, but his intention was to humanize a people and a nation that the media has largely demonized, and that remains dangerously mysterious to the average American. And yet to do it through the same lens as every other Rick Steves TV series and guidebook, through art, culture, history and just simply talking with people.

After I returned home I watched the Iran video online, and read through the free booklet he had handed out after his presentation. It felt like an eye-opening experience, even though I’ve done my own reading on the country and had an Iranian friend in college. I suppose whenever a foreign country seems a lot more like home than you expected it to be, it’s striking. And then with my new revelation I turned to tell my mother what I’d learned and she promptly told me she hoped I’d never go to such a backward place. Waa waa.

Some other photos from the Expo:

Camel rides are what tourists really want.

See what it's like to scuba dive in the middle of a convention hall!

Mexican Dancing and and some beautiful dresses.