Pocket-sized travel tips
The one drawback to hauling a travel book along on your vacation is that it doesn't always fit into your pocket or purse, and may demand an undue proportion of your packing space. Now comes a clever new series from Fodor's Travel Publications called Fodor's to go, a group of tiny (2 1/4 by 3 1/4 inch) accordion-fold packets that not only fit in your pocket but have magnetized backings so that you can literally stick 'em on the refrigerator itinerary and memento in one.
So far the series includes eight titles, each a piddling $4.95, including four 48 Hours booklets, covering New York, London, Paris and Rome; and three Languages for Travelers, mini-phrase books in French, Italian and Spanish. The eighth is a How to Pack manual that every woman ought to stick in every man's Christmas stocking, and that every business woman ought to have in her own top drawer.
The packing book is actually quite handy. As the author of several travel books, I have to keep telling people not only what to take but how much NOT to pack. (Who are you trying to fool, and why lug all that weight around?) I happen to keep a travel-sized cosmetic/bathroom case packed at all times, but for those who don't travel as much, or who are inveterate worriers, the lists of suggested items, first-aids and even kid's distractions are very useful. I'm particularly glad the authors keep pointing out the infinite uses for the zipper-lock plastic bag, the other item you should never leave home without. The language guides are fairly smart as well, covering pretty much where you're trying to go (that fateful restroom included), how to go and how much it will cost, along with the little pleasantries that make the residents of other countries more inclined to overlook your linguistic shortcomings.
The city guides are a little trickier, however. I'd have to say that the authors expect you to move at least as fast as Eddie Murphy. Day One has you strolling from the Guggenheim Museum to the Metropolitan to Central Park (lunch at Tavern on the Green, perhaps?), to the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Frick and then across the park at Lincoln Center.
However, if you want to go inside these great museums, you may have to fiddle with the itinerary: You can stand outside the Guggenheim at 9 a.m., but you can't go in until 10 a.m., when it opens. If you head toward the Whitney at about 4 p.m., which seems to be what the time line has in mind, you might pass the Frick at 5 p.m., but it will close at 6 p.m., so get a move on. (If your particular 48 hours involves a weekend, some hours might even be shorter.)
Still, having the addresses and some bus and subway stop info is helpful. And the London version seems to have a much easier attitude, and will get you to the changing of the guard on time.
If you're looking for suitable wines to compliment your next outing, here's my own to-go series, a line of great pocket-priced selections from R. H. Phillips, produced in the Dunnigan Hills area east of the Napa Valley.
No. 1 on the hit parade is the Night Harvest Mistura, easily the best $7 wine in America. A Rhone varietal blend (a personal fave), the '96 included Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Carignane. (Other vintages will vary.) It has a bright clear ruby color, flavored with cherry, black pepper and a portobello finish altogether a remarkably satisfying mouthful.
Not quite such a bargain but equally intriguing are Phillips' Kempton Clark Mad Zin (at $12) and the EXP Syrah ($14), both big, rich and ingratiating wines with lots of character and surprise perfumes. The Syrah is predominantly an Australian clone, and has that easy, mild-tannin manner.
The EXP appellation is short for "explorature," referring to the winemaker's experiments in growing Mediterranean varietals. R.H. Phillips' 1998 Dunnigan Hills Estate Bottled EXP Viognier ($14) is a meadow in a bottle: it has a bright green nose, a clear green and gold body and an explosion of green and gold flavors.
And finally, for those of you who can't resist Chardonnay, R. H. Phillips' Toasted Head chards (about $14) are proof that there is life and caramel, and melon, and vanilla beyond oak.
Eve Zibart is a restaurant critic for the Washington Post.