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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Traveling by car is often the best way to discover off-the-beaten-path destinations and engage more easily with the locals. Auto Europe has earned a reputation that I trust when I’m planning a European road trip — so I’m delighted that they are now a sponsor of my Rick Steves’ Europe video podcasts.

Auto Europe knows the value of smart and reliable service. They also know the value of a good guidebook. So, to celebrate our partnership, Auto Europe is offering a free Rick Steves eBook with any car rental. I think I feel a road trip coming on.

Rick Steves driving

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Here’s a Throwback Thursday musical interlude for a little inspiration. The first line — “I’m goin’ to Europe in just a couple of days” — has been my theme this week as I pack up. With PBS working to attract a younger market, what do you think of my new travel wardrobe? (This actually was produced a few years ago, when my daughter Jackie needed funding for her high school radio station. I said “Sure, you can have some money…but you and your friends need to write me a rap jingle for a radio ad and let me sing — for lack of a better word— the last verse.”) Might this sell any tours? Happy rapping.

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Wow, there’s lots going on in our Travelers Café – where I enjoy highlighting travelers I find particularly inspirational.

My traveling alter ego, Beacon Bell, just biked across the USA from the East Coast to Seattle on nearly zero money and reports on his adventures. His latest post: Having a “zero day” doing absolutely nothing in Bozeman, Montana, and actually considering it a trip highlight (so different from me…yet so intriguing).

Beacon Bell

Cameron Hewitt reports from Sarlat, in France’s Dordogne Valley: It’s market day and the world is a wonderland of tapenade, fruitcake, and wheels of cheese the size of tire trucks.

Nicolina has finished her Hearts of India art tour: Read about her finale in Delhi, how she turned a five-hour layover at the Istanbul airport into a life-long memory, and her homecoming in NYC.

Jackie Steves and her brother Andy report from Bali: They’re luxuriating in a posh “yoga” hotel and climbing a volcano for the sunrise. From here, my kids head for Vietnam.

Enjoy these as a traveler’s amuse-bouche in my Travelers Café before I fly to Germany to begin part two of my 2015 travels. Coming up: 45 days of travel in Germany and England with daily posts from the road. Thanks for traveling with me!

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My daughter Jackie’s latest journal entry takes us to the top of a Balinese volcano for sunrise and illustrates the value of hiring a local guide — whether in Bergen, Budapest, or Bali.

Climbing Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Batur, they reached the summit just in time for breakfast before greeting the sun.

Sunrise on Mt. Batur

“The top of Mt. Batur is probably the only time on this trip we will be cold. The fog was wisping along with the wind around us. Our guide cooked our breakfast on the hot steam of this active volcano: soft-boiled eggs and cooked banana slices sandwiched between Wonder bread. As Andy put it, ‘Breakfast of Champions.’ We warmed our hands on our glasses of sweet, milky coffee, staring at the still-night sky, eager and waiting for sunrise.” Read the full story.

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It’s cat-poop coffee and monkeys looking for hair lice in humans as my daughter Jackie and son Andy continue reporting on their Southeast Asian adventure.

In his latest video clip, Andy has produced what feels like a 10-minute TV show on Bali, ranging from Kuta Beach to the capital of Balinese culture — Ubud. Travel with Andy and Jackie as they explore a world where cars have no “heat” option on air-conditioner knobs, where parking lots are designed for two-wheeled traffic, and where the finest coffee is “cat-poo-chino” with beans eaten first by kittens. And watch as an aggressive monkey crosses a ravine with one mission: to pick lice out of Jackie’s hair.

In Jackie’s journal entry called “A Crash Course in Balinese Culture,” she reports on her adventures on that amazing island. Here are a few random bits:

“Nyoman, our trusty guide, was truly trustworthy. He let us in on all the secrets of what things should really cost, what is expected of visitors, the proper thing to say, the down-low on all things Balinese, and so on. Here are a few tidbits we learned from Nyoman:

“In Bali, for your firstborn child, you have just three choices of names: Wayan, Gede, or Putu. The second-born is named Made or Kadek, the third is Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is Ketut. The name selection for your fifth child is the same as for your first, for your sixth child the same as your second, and so forth.

“While Indonesia as a whole is predominantly Muslim, most Balinese are Hindu, sometimes blended with Buddhism. The way he explained Buddhism neatly stacking on top of Hinduism in history reminded me of Christianity offshooting from Judaism with the addition of a Messiah and New Testament.”

Read more on Jackie’s blog!

Jackie, Andy, and their guide in Bali

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I am really committed to our Rick Steves Audio Europe™ app — to be honest, probably more committed than I should be. It’s free to our travelers, but expensive for us, and requires lots of work on our end. But providing free audio tours of 40 of Europe’s top museums, sights, and neighborhoods is one of the most gratifying projects we do, and I just love it.

Gene Openshaw (who co-authors the books the tours come from) is spearheading a major upgrade of all our Paris, London, Rome, and Venice audio tours. Along with Lyssa and Suzie from Cedar House Audio Productions, who expertly produce these tours, we’ve spent 15 hours in the studio this week recording new bits that make sure each tour is right up to date and easy to follow.

Our new initiative is to make tours that you can enjoy in real time, without pausing and re-starting as you walk from stop to stop. Gene traveled to each destination this spring, followed the tours, and has filled the walking time with great new information and appropriate music.

We hope you can enjoy these tours with our Rick Steves Audio Europe™ app on your next trip. It works just fine now, and by the end of the year, we plan to upgrade some of the features…stay tuned.

(As you enjoy this video clip of our recording session, note the expert “selfie skills.”)

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My niece, Nicolina, is just finishing a three-month, 7,500-mile trip around India. Her life’s mission: to bring young people in humble villages a chance to explore their inner worlds through the meditative act of painting.

Nicolina and Orien pose with their van alongside Indian children

Nicolina has brought her empowering show on the road to all corners of our planet. Along with her partner in artistic evangelism, Orien, Nicolina is a kind of Johnny Appleseed — planting not apples, but a joy of art as a way to better embrace life. I was right there with her in spirit — and painted on the tailgate — for the entire adventure. I’ve enjoyed some fun sponsorships over the years…and this is my favorite.

Ride with Nicolina through her Indian adventure. And remember, Nicolina is just one of several lively and inspirational travel blogs featured right now in our Travelers Café.

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“What about your duck pond?” asked Cameron Hewitt while updating the Rick Steves France guidebook. Gérard’s eyes fell as he said, “Sadly, we no longer have ducks in our pond. A hawk moved in and began picking them off, one each day, until they were all gone.”

Cameron spends as much time as I do researching and updating Rick Steves guidebooks. As I pack and finalize plans for my next trip (less than a week now), I’m featuring travel blogs from our Travelers’ Café for a few days. On his latest trip, Cameron has been working on our France guidebook and reporting from the field. In this excerpt, Cameron (who’s clearly recovered from his bout with cassoulet) shows the joy and care we bring to our work, particularly when it comes to making connections with accommodations that have personality:

I had one particularly lengthy, but very enjoyable, interaction at a countryside hotel near the Dordogne River Valley, called Moulin de Fresquet. The owners, Gérard and Claude, have converted an ancient mill into an idyllic retreat. Gérard greeted me in the driveway and proceeded to show me each of their five rooms — all of them different, but all of them equally well cared for. He told me about the ghost who haunts the mill, showed me a copy of the innkeeper’s memoir he wrote and published (unfortunately, so far available only in French), and took me on a guided tour of the lush, parklike grounds. The place is less a hotel than an enchanting fantasyland.

When I was leaving, Gérard asked me, “Excuse me. Do you know what happened to Karen Brown?” It took me a moment to realize who he meant. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Karen Brown wrote a series of guidebooks highlighting romantic, upscale, characteristic inns. (Back then, Rick used to say, “My splurges are Karen Brown’s slums.”) She had a very devoted following, but her niche became one of the casualties when printed guidebooks were eclipsed by online sources.

Genuine affection filled Gérard’s voice as he described how Karen would come personally to visit and update her guidebook each year, and even brought her entire family on holiday once. This wasn’t just a business relationship; it was a friendship. “I wrote a letter to her several months ago and never heard back,” Gérard told me. Since Karen and I are both in the guidebook biz, he figured maybe I knew her. (Karen, if you’re reading this, get in touch with Gérard and Claude! You know, they worry.)

To read the rest of this entry — and lots more from France — be sure to check out Cameron’s blog.

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While I don’t read much “travel literature,” I love to read other travelers’ blogs and journals. And at the Travelers’ Café on my website, we’ve lots going on right now, with live blogging from my kids (Andy and Jackie in Southeast Asia), my niece (Nicolina in India, with her “Hearts of the World” project), and my favorite partner in travel writing these days, Cameron Hewitt (currently traveling in France).

Cameron co-authors several of my guidebooks, and is one of our most prolific in-house writers. He’s reporting from France and boldly sharing his take on places he’s researching. Anyone who can write, “The most famous local dish is a bland casserole of beans and old meat called cassoulet, which I believe is French for ‘bowl of farts’”…gets my respect. While he loves France, he’s not so sure about Carcassonne. Be sure to visit his blog for his frank appraisal, and to enjoy much more of his hard-hitting and insightful reporting.

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My daughter Jackie continues her blog reporting on her Southeast Asian adventure. Here are a few random bits from her latest entry. After reading these excerpts, you can head on over to get the full story of her first day ever in that amazing hemisphere:

When I experience a new place for the first time, I want to find all of the reasons to love it and to embrace even the apparent “negatives” as opportunities to step outside my comfort zone. From what I have heard (from friends, pop culture, and Eat, Pray, Love), Bali was going to be heaven on earth. My first evening here, however, was less than blissful.

Airport ATMs that take Visa — all broken. Seas of men approaching me, saying, “Taxi? Transport? Where you going?” “No thank you,” I would reply. But then they would follow me. Dude, no means no.

Imagine streams of motorcycles and cars braiding in and out. No one bothers to check their blind spots. At multiple-lane intersections with no stoplights, cars don’t stop — and barely yield — creating a massive convergence of vehicles absent rhyme or reason (at least, to my Western eyes).

We were fairly warned: Kuta is where Aussies go to party. We somehow found the exception: a quirky local surfer party. Balinese surfing instructors rocking Billabong and long wavy locks. Love it.

Read more about Jackie’s Southeast Asian travels!

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