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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Sound-and-light shows are so 1970s to me. But, with new laser technology, they are coming back and coming back strong. In the old days, travelers would gather on folding chairs in courtyards (at a temple in Luxor, the Invalides in Paris, or a château in Amboise) and listen to thundering voices of great historic figures (a pharaoh, Napoleon, Leonardo) tell stories as colored lights made the stony walls more evocative. Today, the power of laser projections is so strong and the images so vivid that a cathedral facade (in Reims) can be filled with workers treading in mills and carrying stone. And now, in Rome, we can walk through the ruins of a forum under the stars and see shops peopled with merchants, the Curia filled with senators, and fire sweep the Eternal City as Nero just fiddled. What are your old-school sound-and-light show memories? And what new shows have you enjoyed in Europe?

Below is the listing for the new sound-and-light show options in Rome (excerpted from the upcoming 2018 edition of my Rome guidebook). This is truly big news for people visiting Rome:

Sound-and-Light Shows: Forum of Caesar and Forum of Augustus

For an atmospheric and inspirational sound-and-light show giving you a chance to fantasize about the world of the Caesars, two similar and adjacent evening experiences are offered. With each of these “nighttime journeys through ancient Rome,” you spend about an hour with a headphone (dialed to English) listening to an artfully crafted narration synced with projections on ancient walls, columns, and porticos that take you back 2,000 years and bring the rubble to life. Each show is distinct and worth the €15 (or do both for €25, nightly from mid-April through mid-November, bring your warmest coat or sweater, tickets sold online and at the gate, tel. 06-0608, www.viaggioneifori.it). If planning to see both shows, do the Forum of Caesar first and allow 80 minutes between starts. While shows can sell out on busy weekends, generally there are plenty of seats.

Forum of Caesar Stroll: For this show you’ll stroll a few hundred meters on a wooden sidewalk, making about eight stops over the course of an hour, as the narration tells the dramatic story of Julius Caesar. During this nighttime walk, you are actually on ground level in normally closed-to-the-public archeological sites, enjoying views you’d never see otherwise. This show starts at Trajan’s Column, with departures every 20 minutes from dark until nearly midnight.

Forum of Augustus Show: At this show you’ll sit on wooden bleachers for the duration while looking out at the remains of a vast forum. Its surviving rear “fire wall” provides a fine “screen” upon which to project the images telling the story of Augustus. Showings are on the hour from dark until 22:00 or 23:00. There is plenty of seating and shows rarely sell out. Enter on Via dei Fori Imperiali just before Via Cavour (you’ll see the bleachers along the boulevard).

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This is Day 35 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





With each trip to Europe, I look forward to the new tech innovations that’ll pump up my experiences. This year I’ve noticed new iPad applications that reconstruct ancient frescoes when you focus the iPad on the scant remains of the original — like here at the Mamertine Prison in Rome, where the faithful believe Saints Peter and Paul were imprisoned. Astounding as this app is, I have to say that such tech developments no longer surprise me — they’re becoming commonplace.

One of the great joys for me these days is checking in with travelers in Europe who’ve enjoyed my new (and much improved) free audio tours. In fact, when I meet someone on the road one of my first questions is, “Have you used the free tours from the Rick Steves Audio Europe app?” I’m so high on these audio tours because people absolutely love them. And we’re making new tours all the time. So, when considering the blessing of new tech for travelers, don’t forget to download Rick Steves Audio Europe and stick me in your ear. I promise, you’ll like me there — just look how happy these travelers are.

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This is Day 34 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Why am I in such a giddy mood? Because I’m in Rome, updating one of my favorite guidebooks. From spilled artichoke splatter outside the kosher restaurants in the Jewish Ghetto, to saints bullying pagans off their obelisk-capping perches, to the spritzing breeze that fountains give off as they do their Baroque song-and-dance, to the way elegant locals share their world with rumpled tourists, to soldiers hanging out at all the most romantic piazzas, to children honing their spaghetti-slurping skills in the trattoria, I take moments between sightseeing and writing to simply stroll with all my senses wide open. I hope you can, too.

This is Day 33 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Facism vs. Individuality: Lessons from Italy

I’m hoping to shoot a TV special about fascism in 20th-century Europe this fall. So, I spent a day in Rome with my friend and fellow tour guide, Francesca Caruso, scouting possible images that might help us tell the story.

Of course, Europe went through a difficult period between the world wars when fascist dictators came to rule Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And in Rome, plenty of Mussolini souvenirs are still standing.

monument

Mussolini was a braggart and a publicity hound. He celebrated every new law and initiative he signed with great pride and wanted all to see. Each of these stone blocks, for example, is inscribed with an order Mussolini signed into law.

writing in cement

For some reason, fascist dictators thrive on creating enemies. Mussolini actually celebrated this notion by having this slogan set in a stone mosaic: Molti Nemici, Molto Onore (Many Enemies, Much Honor)

logo in cement

The symbol of Italian fascism was a bundle of sticks bound together along with an ax. My Italian guide made it really clear that the ax is a critical part of this symbol, as it represented harsh punishment. One stick is easy to break. But many breakable sticks bound together are unbreakable…and anyone who strays will be dealt with harshly. This symbol also adorned the back of America’s old Mercury dime.

statues along boulevard

Fascist dictators find both comfort and inspiration in other autocrats who know how to wield power. In anticipation of a visit from fellow fascist tyrant Adolf Hitler, Mussolini built a grand boulevard and lined it with statues of ancient Roman emperors who ruled with appropriate gusto.

large building with statues

Mussolini’s futuristic planned city, E.U.R., was fascism in stone — stern, monolithic, no questions asked…designed to make individuals seem small…to make you cower at the force of the state.

mussolini carved into facade

This is part of a relief carved in stone celebrating “Great Building of Rome” — from ancient times until the 1930s. The culmination of the story, Mussolini, is depicted being adored by his populace: workers, women, children, and soldiers.

genius of sport statue

This perky bronze statue of an athletic young man was originally called “The Genius of Fascism.” After Mussolini was overthrown and Italy’s fascist nightmare ended, Romans saved the statue by putting ancient boxing gloves on him and calling him “The Genius of Sport.”

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This is Day 32 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I’ve been in Europe now for a month and my most vivid memories are of the fun I’ve had with people. Simple things like getting a haircut in a foreign country, meeting the child of a guide, and going back to a restaurant again because I really like the restaurateur. These are the sparkles that keep the memories of a trip alive. (And all of these people are listed in my guidebooks.)

Rick Steves, tour guide, driver and son

In the Amalfi Coast region of Italy, I find that many couples work as driver/guide teams. Here Giovanna Donadio is my guide and her husband, Francesco del Pizzo, drives. He’s quiet and she loves to talk — a good mix. And their little boy is adorable. If someone is listed in my guidebooks (like Giovanna and Francesco), chances are I actually enjoyed their services.

Rick Steves and barber

A week before meeting my TV crew I always get a little stressed out when I need to get a haircut from someone I don’t know, in a land where I don’t speak the language. This year I had a brainstorm: I asked my favorite Amalfi Coast driver, Raffaele Monetti (you can see him looking on in this photo), to book me a time with his barber. I figured: good enough for Raffaele…good enough for me. And it was great.

Rick Steves and barbers

I dropped back into my new favorite hair salon in Sorrento, Satisfhair (run by Luca and Tony, the guys in the hats), to get the details. I added it to my book. But I’m not terribly systematic when it comes to this sort of thing. In my books, if there’s a clinic listed in a town, I likely got sick there and needed it. If there’s a masseuse listed in a town, I was likely really exhausted and in need of a good massage there (and enjoyed it). If there’s a hair salon listed…I needed a haircut (and liked the one I got).

Rick Steves and Claudio

In Rome, my personal treat is having dinner at Ristorante il Gabriello, where delightful Claudio always greets me warmly and I dine very well. He’s one of those lucky people who found his niche and really enjoys his work…and his patrons are the beneficiaries.

Francesca Caruso, Sarah Murdoch and Rick Steves

My favorite Rome guide, Francesca Caruso (on the left), spent the better part of a day with me checking sights and restaurants in Rome for the new edition of my Rome guidebook. We knew that tour guide Sarah Murdoch was treating her group to a wonderful last dinner of their trip that night — so we popped in to say hi between our many restaurant visits that evening. I love to see a group beaming at the finale of a wonderful tour. (Nice work, Sarah!)

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This is Day 31 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Why do we travel? It’s costly, time consuming, and — frankly — lots of work. On my recent Best of Sicily tour, the answer became happily clear as we shared 11 experience-packed days, orchestrated by a gifted guide. It was pure Sicily, and well worth whatever it took to get me there.

An elderly aristocrat gave me a tour of his 1935 racing car. I looked a crypt-full of monk skeletons straight in the eye sockets. After savoring cannoli where it was invented, I discovered exactly how good it can be. I learned the difference between Naples- and Sicily-style pizzas (and that I prefer Sicilian). I compared bushy eyebrows with old guys on a bench in Syracuse. I was served a glass of full-bodied red wine by a Sophia Loren–esque woman in a vineyard on the slopes of a steaming volcano. And I became part of the mesmerizing, swaying rhythm of an entire community on their Good Friday procession, by joining right in.

All these travel memories were made even better as they were shared by two dozen wonderful Rick Steves travelers. Next month, I’m doing the same thing…but on our Ireland tour! Stay tuned.

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This is Day 30 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I love my work for many reasons. For example, this morning I woke up, looked out my window, and saw the small group of my readers that, each morning, gathers here to share the cost of a private minibus tour of the Amalfi Coast (which you’d never want to drive on your own). All over Europe, I work to help travelers economize by sharing costs. This works particularly well here in the Bay of Naples area: Every day, a local company (Mondo Guide) meets my readers for shared-cost tours of Naples, Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast.

This is Day 29 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





rick steves at blue grotto

Thanks for the photo, Ben!

Visiting the Blue Grotto on Italy’s fabled Isle of Capri is one of those must-do experiences. Here’s a quick look at how it’s arranged. And here’s a tip: You’ll pay essentially the same (about $20) to shuttle from the big port to the grotto and back (ten minutes each way) as you’ll pay to take a scenic, narrated, one-hour ride all around the island…and the island tour stops at the Blue Grotto before completing the circle. To jump into a dinghy and pop into the grotto costs another $20. (By the way, I thought the trip around the island was as memorable and as fun as the Blue Grotto ritual.)


My Capri day was made fun and efficient with the help of local guide Anna Bilardi Leva. Thanks, Anna!

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This is Day 28 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via
Facebook.





Sitting down to lunch in Ravello — high above the treacherously beautiful Amalfi Coast — and enjoying the pasta that’s the specialty of this town, it occurs to me that experiences like these are made possible by good information…and that’s what the Rick Steves Italy guidebook is packed with. As I spend about 80 days a year personally in the field, “living my guidebook,” I often wonder how many people are actually still doing this work. It’s clear to me: The only way to research and write a good guidebook is to live it. And it’s tasty work.

This is Day 27 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.

 





Popping into a church, you can always discover little treasures. Here are the relics of St. Antonino, patron saint of Sorrento. Ex-votos fill the display cases with tokens of thanks to God…I mean, St. Antonino. My guide, Giovanna, is walking me through the experience, complete with electronic candles.

This is Day 26 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.