For someone who loves seeing the world—and I do—I have a great job. But please don't ask me to name my favorite spot, because I often stumble and stammer: the place I love the most may be the one I last visited. Asia is always at, or near, the top of the list, and for many reasons—including a delicate string of pearls I was given as a young girl by an aunt who brought them back from Japan when she was stationed in the region during World War II, and a finely etched Chinese pewter plate I inherited from my much-loved first boss, Rachel Mackenzie, a legendary fiction editor at The New Yorker and the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary in the Far East. For someone like me, who surrounds herself with tokens and travel treasures, these objects possess special power to transport.
I didn't get to Asia until I came to this magazine, 11 years ago, but since then the romance has grown, fueled—and in no way diminished—by experience. In February, during the tidal wave of publicity about avian flu, I visited that continent for the first time in over a year. The flights on Singapore Airlines (where I received a birthday cake in the lounge—they had been tipped off by my passport information) and Cathay Pacific were dazzling, and the airports clean and easy to navigate. Even Cambodia was a snap. Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Bali had never seemed more welcoming. People were thrilled to see Americans,and the hotels and restaurants were better than ever. In spite of the economic downturn, which had been exacerbated by the SARS epidemic raging 10 months before, there were lots of expansions, renovations, and openings, which we report on in this issue's lead story, "Asia Made Easy: What's New Now" (page 202). Unlike in Western Europe, the dollar appears to have retained its value here; in fact, shopping, eating, and staying in Asia seems wonderfully affordable.
And since September is the kickoff month for a new school year and a new travel season, the editors of T+L got down to business to bring you even more news. As part of our Ultimate Fall Travel Guide, herewith the latest from Italy, Paris, Eritrea, and Napa, as well as explorations that are more personal in nature: novelist Scott Spencer researching his edgy forthcoming novel in Reykjavík and Oslo, and contributing editor Henry Alford frolicking, in his own wry fashion, in the footsteps of that fabled girl on Rio's Ipanema Beach.
Because we know that readers of this magazine love seeing the world, too, we again feature T+L's A-List of 125 top travel super-agents. This handy 14-page compendium offers more ideas and destinations than ever before, with agents' responses to our inquiry about where they want to go now. Their selections—ranging from Bhutan and Sri Lanka to Russia and the Baltic States, along with Slovenia, Croatia, and Dubai—present some fresh contenders for my own ever-changing and always enthusiastically embraced favorite spot.