Rick Steves Travel Blog: Blog Gone Europe
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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Today I flew — as I have every year at this time since the 1980s — to Europe to kick off another spring of exploring, checking, learning, tasting, and sipping. This photo features a bit of my “Welcome to Rome” meal — or what’s left of it — at Ristorante Fortunato. Oh, baby, I’m in for some good eating in the next couple of months!
I’m already enjoying thinking of the euro as being worth a buck. I’ve done this in the past (when a euro cost $1.35) in order to con myself into splurging a bit… but now, with a rate of $1.10 to the euro, that shortcut is almost honest.
Landing in Rome, I reviewed my guidebook for tips on getting into the center by taxi. It says, “The legal fixed rate to anywhere in the center of town is €48. Cabbies will complain and say it’s more. But insist. Say with confidence, Quarant’otto euro — è la legge (which means, ‘Forty-eight euros — it’s the law’).” Curbside at the airport, I asked the waiting cabbie the price. He said €56, maybe €60. I used my phrase and he nodded, opened his door, and we headed into town. A few minutes later, he offered me a mint and we were friends. Good information + confidence = smarter travels.
Starting on April 1st — this Wednesday — I’ll be posting entries daily for the next hundred or so days, reporting on my experiences. First I’ll be in Italy and Greece producing our Easter special, then researching my guidebooks in Rome, Tuscany, Florence, and the South of France. Then I meet my television crew in Germany to film our upcoming Reformation special before heading for London, South Wales, and southern England. Finally, in August, I’ll meet the crew again and film three shows on great German cities.
I hope you can enjoy stowing away with me here on my blog. Please share a link to the blog with your traveling friends and let them know that 2015 promises to be a great year of travel…and I’d love to have them come along, too.
Ricksteves.com may have my name on it, but it’s yours, too — a thriving meeting place where independent-minded travelers can meet, compare experiences, and share travel dreams. I’ve always enjoyed the notion that we’re all in the same travelers’ school of hard knocks, and it’s perfectly legal to share notes. And our lively Travel Forum community — so buzzing with activity — is made to order for exactly that. Whether it’s advice on a rail connection, a pesky scam you uncovered in Barcelona, or the perfect spot for a picnic overlooking the Seine in Paris, sharing experiences on our forums makes us all travel partners.
One of my favorite dimensions of our forums is the way travelers use our “Travel Group Meetings” section to actually get together in their hometowns. All over the USA, Rick Steves-style travelers are connecting in person. Right now, posts are up about meetings across the country, including ones in Nashville, New York City, Denver, and St. Louis.
Each year at this time, I perform a ritual sacrifice of guidebooks before heading off on a two-month research trip. If you don’t want to see a travel writer giddy with boxcutter joy as he slits the spine of his latest guidebooks, don’t click play. But out of this destruction comes new life, as we set out to bring forth a new season of lovingly updated Rick Steves guidebooks.
Between now and the end of May, I’ll be in Greece, Italy, and France, plowing under the old and bringing forth the new — all so we can enjoy happier travels. And for those who’d like to travel along with me, I’ll be posting nearly every day here on my blog and on my Facebook page. So get set and let your traveling friends know: We’ve got a lot of vivid (and shocking) travel thrills on the way, right here.
Rick Steves Travelers’ Café — A “Third Place” Where Travelers Inspire Travelers through Blogs and Journals
When I was in my twenties, my first really big media break came when I was invited to New York City to be on Arthur Frommer’s cable TV show. I remember Arthur putting his arm around my shoulder, looking into the camera, and — as if introducing me to the world —declaring, “Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Steves, the new Steve Birnbaum, Eugene Fodor, Temple Fielding of the travel guide industry.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I was just a scruffy kid who loved to travel and share my experiences. I was scrappy for publicity, and here Arthur was using his show to boost me. (By the way, those names — Frommer, Birnbaum, Fodor, Fielding — are from a bygone age when publishers were more willing to promote individual authors rather than brands.)
Today, a generation later, I find myself getting great joy from sharing my audience with other travelers who are, perhaps, the new Frommers, Birnbaums, Fodors, and Fieldings themselves.
Stay tuned for our new Travelers’ Café: a collection of blogs and travel journals designed to share the voices of people I consider inspirational travelers…people who may well travel with a gutsier spirit of adventure than I would these days, and who have a super-experiential approach to travel that’s well worth sharing. (And, OK, and some of them will be relatives whose trips I am personally thrilled with.)
Here’s an example: My niece has an uncle who loves her passion for inspiring children in the developing world to open up their hearts as they embrace life. She’s just flown to India to kick off an amazing project called “Hearts of the World,” which will result in a gallery show in New York City (where she works as an artist). She just landed in India and shared this quick note after half a day on the ground there:
Wow! We arrived in Delhi at 5:30 this morn… and already have had the craziest time, with so many hilarious scammers and nonsense and roundabouts. We’ve met a Sunny, a Chopra, an Ali, and a Rocky… We’ve learned how to say thank you, sorry, and crazy in Hindi, have been offered and drank three masala teas, and have found that in our hotel, nothing works. We are having such a great day! I feel so so alive and present. Based on this one morning alone it is clear that the blog is going to be immensely rich with content. Even the smallest task here is often a ridiculous and winding journey. This is my first chance at internet since we left NY and right now I am setting up the first blog and will email you and the crew when it is posted. :)
I already have soooooo much material and it’s only 1pm. Thanks for your support. I’m excited to make this project amazing.
You can follow Nicolina’s upcoming adventures at nicolinaart.tumblr.com.
On my first solo-trip to Europe, in 1973 — just after high school graduation — I wrote postcards home nearly every day. I packed so much information onto each card it was a challenge to read them without a magnifying glass. Looking back on these exuberant little reports back to my family (42 years later!), I can see a travel writer in waiting. While the writing is pretty goofy, the passion for experience was solid. Here’s a card from Greece.
My dear folks back home. This is the roving reporter writing. How’s everything with you? That’s a stupid question ‘cause you can’t possibly answer it. Right now I’m sitting on the bow of a rather small boat heading from the Island of Salamis back to Athens. I’m alone, have a stuffed stomach, I’m hot with a tan + I’m in great spirits. I guess I left you in Delphi. OK. I slept fine on the roof + then I had a breakfast in the rough with a nice view. I caught the bus to the small port of Itea on the Bay of Corinth. The town really wasn’t much but I had a restful time + a nice swim. I love to swim down here. Well, I caught the 12:45 bus back over the mts, past Delphi + Arachova + on to Lavadia where I spent 3 hours doing my standard wander trick + I really got up to my neck in Greece. The place was like a ghost-town with chickens running around everywhere. I met these 2 girls from France + at the station I had a neat chat with a bloke from Britain + his girlfriend. He was a real neat guy. After a while the bus took me to Lavadia’s station (out in the hicks) + I began my standing up 20 drachma train ride to Athens. It seemed I was in for a long ride but at the next stop, my British buddies got on (They were kicked off their train) + we had a blast talking about the Queen, Heath, Nixon, Agnew + comparing British + American cops, cars, politics, music, laws, lifestyles + so on. It was really neat + before I knew it we were back in Athens. Still looking for action (to salvage a somewhat blah day) I caught the bus to Dafni + went to the wine festival. For 30 drachs ($1.00) I got all the wine I wanted, plenty of neat people + fantastic interesting meal! There were kegs everywhere labeled + over 60 local Greek wines to taste! It was really an experience. I found a great sweet wine called Moschato that I like more than any others. I spent an hour talking with a New Zealander who traveled all across southern Asia + I really learned a lot. While watching Greek folk dancers I met a great group. Then I decided to dance a little + had great fun. The funniest thing is watching all the “sloshed” Greeks dance + goof around. I slept in a forest by the Daphni Monastery, it was great ‘cause it was free + in the morning, after taking in the Monastery, I caught the bus + it just happened to be going to Piraeus the port, not Athens like I thought so at the port I bought some bread, fruit + olives + took a boat to the Island of Salamis which is amazingly rural for how close it is to Athens. After 45 minutes I landed + took the bus to the other side of the island + looked for a nice beach. I asked this girl named Maria + her friends where a good beach was + they showed me. I had a great sleep in the sun, swim + picnic. It was weird ‘cause everyone stared at me but I didn’t mind. One lady from Athens invited me to her house, to sleep free! On the way back I stopped by Maria’s looking for a little Greek hospitality. Boy did I get it. We talked + goofed around for a while + her mom brought me a drink + lots of chocolates. Then I met all the relatives, there were lots of them + just when I was about to leave, I was invited to stay for dinner! That was great. I had a fantastic meal (soup, fresh fish, Canadian salmon, raw clams, wine, salad, cake + chocolates) with Maria translating, we all had great conversation. It was really a cool evening. I took everyone’s picture, gave Maria one of me + they took me to the bus stop. After goodbyes I bussed back to the port, looked around + caught the boat back to Athens. I’ll meet Gene + the Hanbys either tonight or tomorrow. Bye, RICK.
Sometimes I enjoy thinking that I’m “roughing it” and “off the beaten path.” But I’ve never done any travel as rough and untouristy as my sister, Jan. She’s a couple of frigid days into her fourth Iditarod race. She and her dogs are doing great — and I’m so proud of her.
With the disturbingly warm weather lately, the route was shifted north, starting from Fairbanks, after a slushy ceremonial start in Anchorage (shown in this photo). As it’s not allowed for mushers to be reporting in from the trail, communications will be sketchy as Jan and her team drive through the arctic wilderness a thousand miles to Nome. But her dog race blog gives a fascinating insight into this amazing race. Click on over and see how she’s doing. Go, Jan!
On my first solo-trip to Europe, in 1973 — just after high school graduation — I wrote postcards home nearly every day. I packed so much information onto each card it was a challenge to read them without a magnifying glass. Looking back on these exuberant little reports back to my family (42 years later!), I can see a travel writer in waiting. While the writing is pretty goofy, the passion for experience was solid. Here’s a card from Rome.
Hi Folks back home, we’ve just about polished off Rome. Man we’ve seen a lot! I don’t have the time, ink, or paper to tell you what we’ve done completely but, for instance, last Sunday’s schedule was: 7:30-10:00 Flea Market, 10:30-11:30 Coliseum, 12:00-2:00 Forum, 2:00-3:30 Capitoline Hill, Mussolini’s headquarters, Victor Emmanuel monument, 4:00-5:00 train station to cash checks, 5:30-7:30 eat dinner, take showers + dress for opera, 8:00-12:00 Tosca opera with Frank, our landlord, 12:00-12:30 tour with Frank by wild car of Rome, 1:00 plop into bed. The opera by Puccini was really a thrill. It was in the ruins of the baths of Caracalla + it’s the biggest stage for opera in the world! There was a full house, full orchestra, + great cast. We had the Tosca script in English to follow along. Then Frank, our landlord who can’t speak no English, screeched around Rome like the Grand Prix for a tour + then we slept. Monday we saw the Vatican City, gigantic St Peter’s Cathedral, the Pieta by Michelangelo (we’ve seen about 70% of his work now) the Sistine Chapel + Vatican Museums + then we saw what everybody sees when they come to Rome – Fountains, Parthenon, Spanish Steps, churches, Moses, etc. We had a splurge of a breakfast on the steps of St. Peters, we took a bus out to the Appian Way + walked around + while waiting for the bus we got a neat 22 yr old Italian to pick us up. Most Italians are real friends. We had a great time + he took us right to the Coliseum. We got tickets to Aida opera Tues night + then I got the bug to bargain + haggle. We haggle for everything now + I’m getting OK at it. I got 60 Kodak slides of Rome – reg 5,000 lire, for 1,300 lire ($2.20)! It’s so much fun to talk prices. We sat around the Forum waiting for a sound + light spectacle that never came + then, after goofing around with some more sellers, we walked home. The only problem is that, I sweat so much + get so dirty. It’s awful. When my arm gets wet – mud forms + that’s the truth. I did have a great bath before Tosca. We found a great way to eat well + cheap. You go into a pizzeria + point out your pizza + how much you want, then pay by the weight, and you have a feast. We ate tons of pizza last night for 40 cents each! Well well well, Goodbye – RICK
On my first solo trip to Europe, in 1973 — just after high school graduation — I wrote postcards home nearly every day. I packed so much information onto each card that it was a challenge to read them without a magnifying glass. Looking back on these exuberant little reports back to my family (42 years later!) I can see a travel writer in waiting. While the writing is pretty goofy and the spelling may be off, the passion for experience was solid. (I would even tuck a little piece of sauerkraut under the postage stamp in an attempt to share the wonder of my experiences.) Here’s a card from Austria.
Hi Grandma + everyone. I’m in the Salzburg Train Station now + we just finished a beautiful stay in the music capitol of the world. Well now – where was I? I think we were leaving Reutte. Well we got to lnnsbruck late + the hostels were all full so we decided to spend a free night on the porch of the hostel. We left our packs there + walked around the town, rather aimlessly, just killing time till it was dark + everyone was asleep. We saw the old + nice section of Innsbruck, bought their version of a hot dog + returned to our hard, cold, but FREE bed. We had some bouillon + then went to sleep. We got up around 6:00 + quietly packed + left. We checked our packs at the station + saw 3 more hours of Innsbruck. It’s a nice town but it didn’t deserve any more of our time. We bought another grocery store feast + caught the 9:30 train to Salzburg. The ride was a real experience. We snuck into the first class section + in our room we had a rich pansy stuck up lady from New York, a Vienna Monk trying to convert the world to the universal language of Esperanto + 2 nice Austrian girls who spoke a little English. The lady from New York was a real character to say the least (she told me I wouldn’t look so Bohemian if I’d cut off my beard + then she wanted me to carry her bags off the train for her! – No way.) Well we got to the Salzburg by 12:30 + that was lucky ‘cause the place was jammed. We found a nice double in the beautiful old part of town for $7.20 (That was the best price anywhere) + then we took off to take in the town. We tried to find out all about what concerts there were tonight + we were lucky to find a ticket to a chamber music concert in the palace at 9:15. It cost us 66 shillings or $4.50. Then we just strolled around one of the world’s neatest towns. We saw a Tyrolean band in the street + listened to music coming out of the walls everywhere. We went back to our hotel (must be a good 400 yrs old) + had a nice dinner in our room (bouillon, peanut butter + jam + Ginger Ale), dressed up the best we could + hobbled back to the center. We were doing so much walking that our feet rattle + legs are killing us. We walked around some more (that in itself is an experience) + then walked through some Royal gardens to the Palace + upstairs to a solid gold, fancy room where the chamber music takes place. We heard a sextet from Munich (2 horns, 2 clarinets + 2 bassoons) + they played Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, another one + an encore. Whoever thought I’d spend $4.50 for a chamber music concert. It was really a thrill – one of the highlights of our trip + a cultural highlight of my life (along with Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger + The Who). It was just unbelievable how good they were. Then we walked home + I stopped by a discotheque for a few minutes to keep well rounded. We slept like logs + even overslept till 9:30. Then we gulped breakfast + dashed to the huge 1,200 yr old Salzburg Cathedral to see + hear a Mass. The music was a concert in itself. They had 3 choirs a pipe organ a brass ensemble + a small orchestra + the acoustics were heavenly. Ooo if our high school band director, Mrs. Dezzle, could see me now! Then we climbed to two castles to see two different + cool views + then we checked out of our hotel + headed to the station where we are now. The sun is finally out so everything’s cool. It’s back to Germany tonight (Passau) + then Rödhammers (Jan’s ski teacher’s parents) + then Vienna. Ooo ooo Tuttie! Have fun + see ya in 4 weeks. Love – RICK.
I enjoyed speaking at the LA Travel and Adventure Show this weekend. And a highlight was meeting the many teachers and students who incorporate travel into their classes and studies. For example, Shannon Northcott, who teaches at Whittier Christian High School in La Habra, Calif., took her students to see my talk. And from the looks on their faces, they are enjoying some pretty fun travel dreams. Happy travels — especially to parents and teachers who help their young people embrace our big wide world.
This is travel show season when nearly each weekend I visit a big city’s convention center and give talks at a travel show. If you always wondered if these are worth the time and money (around $10 to get in), here’s a quick tour from the Santa Clara show in California.