Rick Steves' Travel Blog

I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick

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From time to time, we share a random video to fuel your travel dreams. In this clip from my TV episode about Tuscan side trips, I join a friend for a lazy pedal around the top of the Renaissance wall in Lucca, Italy.

The wide, fortified wall effectively keeps out both traffic and, it seems, the stress of the modern world. Within the wall, which now functions as a circular community park, visitors find a relaxed Old World ambience, elegant streets, and pristine piazzas.

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I decided long ago that life is too short to work with people you don’t enjoy. I realize some people aren’t as blessed as I am to be in a position to choose their coworkers. But it’s a luxury I treasure. I work hard in Europe, and to do it with talented people who are just as committed to our excellence — people like Steve, Cameron, Simon, and our local tour guides — is like skiing with just the right wax, skating with sharp blades, playing on a newly tuned piano, sailing with a nice steady breeze, or bungee jumping with a short-enough cord.

Rick Steves and Steve Smith

Co-authors like Steve Smith (in France), who help craft our guidebooks with love.

Rick Steves and Cameron Hewitt

Cameron Hewitt, who takes me through Eastern Europe without shooting myself in the foot, and artfully makes my writing concise and well-structured.

Simon Griffith

Simon Griffith, the producer with the big tripod and a “cool” light on the TV production warpath. Simon ventures fearlessly where no tripod has gone before (and his is huge!).

Rick Steves and Cristina Duarte

Local guides everywhere in Europe (like Cristina Duarte in Portugal) who take my passion for helping American travelers create vivid and meaningful experiences and amplify our work to thousands — on our bus tours, hired privately by people with our guidebooks, and by helping me update our guidebooks for travelers who can’t afford the luxury of a private guide.

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It’s the people that carbonate your travel memories. Say yes to any opportunity to meet people. Here are some of my favorite recent interactions.

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The hairstylists who make the frightening visit to get a haircut in a foreign land an enjoyable experience…even when you don’t have the necessary vocabulary.

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American students in Orvieto whose teacher uses my TV shows in their classroom.

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Bulgarian folk troupes who still dance and share their culture for visitors.

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Isabella and Carlo at their farmhouse B&B (Agriturismo Cretaiole), who provide a cultural boot camp for our travelers and make sure everyone (including our TV crew during a four-day stay there this spring) creates lifelong memories, drinks some amazing limoncello, and brings back a little Tuscany in their hearts.

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In light of Tuesday’s terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, it’s understandable that those dreaming of travel to Turkey are concerned about their safety. I would not fault someone for thinking now is not the time to vacation in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia
But personally, I would travel to Turkey tomorrow with no more concern than if I were traveling in the USA. The tragedy of 41 innocent people being killed during the Istanbul airport bombing is heartbreaking. But so are the more than 30 people killed every day, on average, in gun homicides in the USA.

Turkey is a huge country of 80 million people that faces some serious challenges. And being an ally of Europe and the USA while being on the border of so much sadness in the Middle East (and recently coming to terms with a friendly agreement with Israel) all combines to put Turkey in the target of terrorist groups.

Should I react by not traveling there and, in doing so, contribute to Turkey’s economic hardship? Is traveling there after the recent bombing reckless from a personal safety point of view? Should I embolden the terrorists by reacting the way they want me to? How you answer depends on your perspective. But I choose to answer with a hearty “no.”

 

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I travel alone most of the time. But I’m lucky to have plenty of good friends in Europe. Many are guides, hoteliers, and restaurateurs who are my partners-in-arms in helping Americans travel smarter (and tastier). Consider how local friends, both new and old, have made your travels sparkle.

Rick Steves and Frederico

Federico is my man in Madrid. When I need a tapas crawl with expert help, he always finds me just the right pimientos de Padrón.

Rick Steves, Roberto Berchi and family

When I want to drop in on a farm and be part of a Tuscan family, all I need is Roberto Bechi. It seems Roberto can create the quintessential family farm fantasy at the snap of a finger. And those he guides get to come along for the ride (and the prosciutto, and the pecorino cheese, and the finest Tuscan wine). Bravo, Roberto!

Rick Steves and Loris

For 30 years of visits to Venice, Loris (at Trattoria da Bepi) has been steady in the kitchen, adept at satisfying the dreamy expectations of my hungry readers, and always there with a friendly welcome. He taught me to dunk biscotti into my Vin Santo.

Rick Steves and Nikos

Nikos at Albergo Doni in Venice is symbolic to me of the new generation taking over fine hotels run by their parents and doing a great job. While I’m always sad to see old friends retire, the next generation brings fresh energy and a creative boost.

Rick Steves and Gigi

Gigi at Osteria al Mascaron is still cranking out the cicchetti. I’ve grown up with my friends in Europe, like Gigi. I took my minibus groups to his bar in the late 1970s when we were both just kids. His bar’s a bit bigger now — and so are my buses — but we’re both still doing exactly the same work…together. How could it get old when you’re inspiring travelers to embrace life — specifically, eating ugly things on toothpicks and washing it all down with sprightly white Venetian wine?

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In this political season, I’d like to say that it’s important for our safety — our national security — that we understand and connect with the rest of our world. If you’re afraid of the other 96 percent of humanity, you likely have yet to meet it. While good people can differ, it’s my firm belief that, if motivated by the safety of you, your family, and your children’s children, building bridges is smarter than building walls. And I think it’s fair to say that there’s a strong correlation in our citizenry between wall-builders and those with no passports.

So, in the fun spirit of helping America get a grip, for years we’ve made it our policy to pay the $135 fee for any American who signs up for a Rick Steves Europe tour, and does not yet have a passport.

You may think, “That’s just a tour sales gimmick. Where’s Rick if we just want to travel on our own and don’t have a passport?”

passport-RickI’d love to buy you a passport, too. If you’re a “travel virgin” in need of your first passport, here’s your chance: Take part in my “Rick Steves, Pay for My Passport!” challenge on Facebook.

Here’s the deal: In the comments section of this Facebook post, write two sentences explaining how international travel will be a life-changing experience for you. I’ll reimburse the $135 passport fees of what I judge to be the two most compelling and creative entries.

To enter you must “like” the Rick Steves Facebook page (if you haven’t already) and you must be in need of your first US passport (renewals not valid).

So travel veterans, tell your first-time-traveler friends! This is a great opportunity to help your friends see the world as their playground.

Please submit your entry by the Fourth of July (midnight Pacific Time). I’ll announce the winners on Bastille Day (France’s national holiday, July 14) on my Facebook page.

Good luck and happy travels!

 


No purchase necessary to enter or win. Open only to residents of the 50 United States and Washington, D.C. 21 or older. Void where prohibited. To enter, post your comment on the Rick Steves Pay for My Passport post on the Rick Steves Facebook page or in your Facebook news feed between June 27, 2016 at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and July 4, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. Winner selected from all eligible entries received based on how compelling and creative the comment is and will be notified via Facebook by July 14, 2016. Two winners will receive reimbursements for their USD$135.00 passport application fee. Odds depend on the number and quality of eligible entries received. For details, restrictions and Official Rules, visit ricksteves.com/about-us/rick-steves-europe-pay-for-my-passport-contest. Promotion not sponsored or endorsed by Facebook. Promotion sponsored by Rick Steves’ Europe, Inc.

 

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From time to time, we share a random video to fuel your travel dreams. In this clip from my TV episode about Edinburgh, meet me at a local pub for a pint of ale — and join me in celebrating literary greats Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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facebook-brexit

Since 1066, the English Channel has been a very effective moat for Great Britain. But during our generation, Britain has seen a new kind of invasion from the Continent — a peaceful, political one. And with the Brexit vote, the British people have decided to pull up the drawbridge.

I remain a staunch supporter of the European Union. But with the UK’s decision to leave the EU, my idealism has taken a serious blow. I’m flying to Europe this weekend. And from a practical standpoint, for travelers heading to Europe soon, I don’t see much of a difference…other than a cheaper pound sterling, and plenty to talk about with your new European friends. But what about the long-term consequences? Here’s my take.

For years in my lectures, I’ve said this about the European Union:

Imagine Europe amid the ruins of World War II. As people began to dig out, they thought, “Twice in our lifetimes, we’ve gotten into horrific wars. We have to do something drastic, or our children will be digging out again. We need to weave our economies together — especially France and Germany — so that going to war in the future will be inconceivable.” So European citizens got together and created the European Union, a “United States of Europe.” It’s been a stuttering evolution — two steps forward and one step back — for nearly 70 years. Of course, there’s no meaningful union unless you can talk sovereign nations into giving up real sovereignty. That’s a tough sell — especially in Europe. But the EU is here to stay. And even with its cumbersome political correctness and its almost comical excess of regulations, the EU has created a free trade zone big enough to compete with the USA and the emerging economies of China and India. But the real triumph of the EU is that Europe is at peace.

With the Brexit, I realize my statement that “the EU is here to stay” may be wrong after all. Suddenly, the future of the EU is murky. What I do know is that the EU is about to shrink from 28 to 27 member nations and lose 17% of its economic clout. The world’s gateway to the EU is logically London — as English is the language of globalization and London is the world’s financial capital. The EU has lost that. Britain has lost it, too.

I also see the Brexit vote as a symptom of the populism and nativism that is sweeping the Western world. This is a big day for those who believe cooperation is for losers. It’s a good day for Putin, and it’s a good day for Trump. Is it as good day for the white, working-class, less-educated, rural and rust belt voters who cast the deciding ballots? Time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: At home and abroad, those voters feel their voices are not being heard.

The referendum didn’t instantly pull the UK out of the EU. That will require a long negotiation, likely lasting years. So now Britain and Europe have to deal with the reality of an acrimonious divorce. Both parties will try to come out on top, both will be attempting to compromise with an undercurrent of anger, and both will lose the shared efficiencies they’ve enjoyed as a couple. One thing is clear: It will be messy, and there will be no winners.

You can also think of this unlinking biologically: When something has grown together, it’s painful to tear it apart. No matter how slow and careful you are, it’s going to hurt.

Nobody knows exactly what will come of the Brexit. But let’s try looking into our hazy crystal ball:

When the dust settles, will the UK be better off? It depends on your thoughts about free trade and immigration. One way or another, my hunch is that it will become poorer. And I believe British voters will suffer from “exiters’ remorse” when the consequences of their protest vote sink in.

Will Scotland break from the United Kingdom? Hard to say. But I believe that, had they known about the Brexit when they voted to stay in the UK two years ago, the Scots would have voted differently.

Northern Ireland — which voted to stay in the EU — suddenly has more in common with Republic of Ireland. Will this be a nudge toward a (finally) unified Ireland? Or will it destabilize a delicate peace? Stay tuned.

And what about the future of the EU? It’ll always be Europe. But the momentum toward further integration and expansion has hit a wall. Nationalistic, isolationist movements are on the rise across Europe, and the Brexit vote will only embolden them. The potential domino effect — for Europe and beyond — is unknown.

And finally, how will this affect travelers? For now, nothing has changed (except that the pound is on sale). For the time being, travel to the UK and Europe remains as it was. And down the road, I imagine there may be a few more borders to cross and a little less shared affluence. In a few weeks, I’ll be in England, where I’m looking forward to hearing — and sharing — local opinions on the Brexit.

I’m famous for saying “Keep on traveling” during times of upheaval in Europe. And that’s my response now, too. I don’t want to be glib or naive about the challenges that face the UK and the EU in the coming months. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. But as I head for the airport, I’ve chosen to look on the bright side of life: For American travelers, Europe just got even more interesting.

Keep on traveling!

 

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This week, we’re giving you a peek into some of the fun we had filming Season 8 of Rick Steves’ Europe. Hopefully watching all of my on-camera screw-ups will brighten your day just a little bit. Today, we’re sharing clips from Turkey. You can also see bloopers from France and Italy here, and bloopers from the Netherlands, Prague, and Berlin here.

Watching these, I can’t help but smile. I’m so thankful for how Simon Griffith (our producer/director) and Karel Bauer and Peter Rummel (our cameramen) make it both gratifying and enjoyable to bring home the wonders of Europe. I can’t wait to join them again later this month to continue filming Season 9. Thank you for traveling — and laughing — along with us.

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This week, we’re giving you a peek into some of the fun we had filming Season 8 of Rick Steves’ Europe. Hopefully watching all of my on-camera screw-ups will brighten your day just a little bit. Today, we’re sharing clips from the Netherlands, Prague, and Berlin. You can see yesterday’s bloopers from France and Italy here. Stay tuned for more from Turkey.

Watching these, I can’t help but smile. I’m so thankful for how Simon Griffith (our producer/director) and Karel Bauer and Peter Rummel (our cameramen) make it both gratifying and enjoyable to bring home the wonders of Europe. I can’t wait to join them again later this month to continue filming Season 9. Thank you for traveling — and laughing — along with us.

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