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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rick-steves-symphonic-journey-dvd-blurayOne of the most exciting projects I’ve ever done was collaborating with my local symphony and performing arts center to produce a musical tour of Europe. The outcome was luscious classical music cut together artfully with equally luscious video. I absolutely love it, and I’m convinced more than ever of the vital role local arts organizations play in building strong, vibrant communities.

So to celebrate the local arts, for the next 24 hours we’re offering the Symphonic Journey DVD/CD set for 90% off — just $2. Music lovers and Europhiles won’t want to miss this sale.

You and your friends can each buy up to five sets for this price through this link only (not via my website) until 10 a.m. PST, Wednesday, February 26th or while supplies last. Regular shipping fees apply.

As of Wednesday, February 26th 10 a.m. this promotion has ended.

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I’m well into the final stages of producing our upcoming “Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today” special for public television. Doing this work, I’m struck by the value of actually meeting people in faraway lands.

Recently, a friend shared this photo essay from Iran with me. These photos (by Brandon Stanton, of Humans of New York fame) bring back memories of wonderful moments from my travels to Iran. Check it out. And as you look at these people, imagine them on your street, in your place of work, dating your children, sharing a retirement home with your parents. It’s a wonderfully small world and, as far as I can tell, people are generally good… motived by fear and love.

 

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While I’ve never tallied it up, I imagine I spend 30 or 40 days a year traveling throughout the USA, visiting public television stations and giving lectures. When I’m in town to give a talk or host a pledge drive, I often sit down with the local affairs show host for an interview. I think the best interviewer I’ve encountered was Dick Pryor last year at OETA in Oklahoma City. Here’s that interview on OETA’s local affairs program, On The Record.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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POMisc_150We just finished our annual guidebook review, as we plan our 2014 research (for the 2015 editions). The basic skills of travel are evolving, with the on-the-road technology available to all of us these days, in the form of smartphones, tablets, and widespread Wi-Fi.  As we continue to update our many guidebooks, we have a few general questions:

  1. Do you find it helpful to have listings for Internet cafés (with actual terminals, not just Wi-Fi)?
  2. How are you finding hotels these days? My guidebook’s listings, websites (like TripAdvisor), calling ahead as you travel, local tourist offices and room-booking services, etc.? Our hunch is that people don’t use guidebook hotel listings while on the road as much as they used to.
  3. Is there any type of information we are missing in our guidebooks?
  4. Is there any type of information in our guidebooks that you do NOT use and would consider a waste of pages?

Thanks for your help.

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NS-TF11Cruise_113I’ve just huddled for three days with my lead editors and co-authors to review our entire series of guidebooks. We consider this a “wellness check”: While we assume that our books are in good shape (and are reassured by our ever-increasing sales), we want to be certain they are all living up to their full potential.

As I travel, I enjoy bumping into people using my books, who allow me to anecdotally get a sense of how they are using our material. But we have no way of knowing for sure which chapters and which sections in each book get the most use. And throughout our “book summit,” we often wondered, “What would our readers say about this?”

We’re hoping you can be our guinea pigs. Here’s a list of some of the questions we wish we had a crystal ball to help us answer. Let us know your take on any of these topics:

  1. In our Spain book, has anybody used our chapter on Cantabria (the northern coastal region featuring the Altamira Cave, the towns of Comillas and Santillana, and the Picos de Europa mountains)? If no one hollers, this chapter is toast.
  2. Has anyone used our coverage of Sitges, the beach resort near Barcelona? Speak now or say “Adéu” to Sitges.
  3. In Germany, is anyone still using the Romantic Road bus tour? Or is it more for drivers these days? Back in 1980, this was one of the original “Back Doors” in the first edition of Europe Through the Back Door. But these days, it seems those buses are going empty. Achtung! If no one speaks up, it’s auf Wiedersehen to the Romantische Strasse.
  4. For the German city with the great Gothic cathedral, we’re debating between the German name, Köln, and the English one, Cologne. We call Florence “Florence” rather than “Firenze,” but we call Seville “Sevilla” — so consistency is not our policy. Your preference: Köln or Cologne?
  5. We love the city of Dresden, in Germany, and cover it generously in our guidebook. But it’s hard to gauge how many of our readers are going there. Have you gone? Do you care?
  6. We generously include Salzburg (which is in Austria) in our Germany book. We wonder: Are a lot of our readers in Munich and Bavaria side-tripping in Salzburg, without continuing all the way to Hallstatt or Vienna (which are covered in a separate book)? Unless there’s a huge outcry, we’re going to cut Salzburg out of the Germany guidebook.
  7. Speaking of Salzburg–has anyone taken any of the “Sound of Music” tours there? Did you enjoy them? Are we overrating these in our book?

Thanks in advance for your advice. It’s a big help

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Last week, all 90 of us at Rick Steves’ Europe headquarters in Edmonds, Washington, gathered for our annual all-day, all-staff meeting. I kick the day off with a two-hour “state of the company” address. It’s my chance to explain my business philosophy, herald new accomplishments, get everyone in sync, and look to the future.

Then each department head took the floor to get the general assembly up to speed on their department’s own challenges and triumphs.

That evening, we took over the biggest bar in our little town for dinner, drinks, and our staff awards ceremony — celebrating (and roasting) employees hitting milestones (we had about a dozen staff members reaching one, five, ten, fifteen, and twenty-year anniversaries of starting work here).

For me, a highlight was offering the twelve newbies — people attending their first annual meeting — a good look at the many dimensions of the company they now work for. Several, who came to us from bigger companies, were amazed that we dedicated such time sharing financial and marketing numbers and strategies with the rank-and-file staff, and in building a general esprit de corps.

Among several little video clips shared was this montage of photos taken by our staff photographer, Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli (www.azfoto.com). Looking at these amazing images, we are all thankful to be charged with helping our traveling public actually have these vivid experiences themselves. As you enjoy this storm of pictures, (which cover our Eastern Europe, London, and Berlin/Prague/Vienna tours), imagine also yourself right there in 2014. I’ll be with you!

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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DOver the course of a year, my staff answers thousands and thousands of emails. Our goal this year is to have our one-on-one travel consulting time morph into using our great travel consultants to manage and contribute to our online travel forums. As we review the emails dealt with in the last year, we find that many are routine, many are forgettable… and many are worth a chuckle.  Here are a few actual, unedited emails my staff has fielded in the last year:

  1. Travel Show in Long Beach: I Loved the presentation today but it wasn’t necessary to continue to advertise the book sales — you had me at “hello”!  PS. I’m your age and single :-)
  2. Please, Rick Steves, get your hand out of your pocket in your TV programs! You look like an absolute dork!
  3. Why doesn’t Rick do episodes with dogs and cats that live in different countries? He could do episodes of how other countries have a love for cats and dogs. It may sound silly or boring, but some people such as I would love to see episodes like this. Someday I hope to go to Ireland and wish to know if the Irish love cats and/or dogs. Rick can do episodes of what type of cat and/or dog is most popular in countries.
  4. Has rick steves ever thought about doing a travel show for adults?
  5. What does Rick pack when it comes to “that” time of the month? Rick is a lovely young lady and must have dealt with a period or two overseas. Does Rick meet hot men in Europe and have sex with them?
  6. Where is the best place to find open leg flights? How does one request this info?
  7. Is the guidebook page binder for use on an e-book?
  8. Rick is a ham and that is not a compliment. I do not buy his tapes and edit them on TV to get him off camera. He is in almost every scene. It may satisfy his ego but it annoys the viewers. Do his cameramen get paid by the number of times they photo him? I’ am so tired of seeing him: Coming, going, head out a window, sampling (cheapo), drinking, eating, checking in, checking out, lounging on bed, driving, looking as if he doesn’t know he’s on camera, etc, etc, etc. Rick: introduce yourself and get OFF camera. Ya ain’t dat attractive ! Save your self for home movies, don’t bore the public. Less of you may entice me to buy your films.
  9. Will my Kentucky flag be honered? Even in Doblin?
  10. 10. I know full well that Mr. Steves tries to be positive about travel, but the rail strike between Paris and Milan in mid-June disrupted our trip. You buy first class, check, double check, and triple check to confirm hours before scheduled departure and then they pull their merde. I swear on the souls of my grandchildren that I will never visit France or Italy again.
  11. My husband really wants the “Back Door Productions” T-shirt, but I don’t believe you make these? Please consider it; it would make his day as a little Christmas gift.
  12. Three of my women friends and I retired this year, and we’d like to take a celebration trip for 2-3 weeks. One friend won’t fly and one gets seasick. We’re all well traveled, but want something different and special. Any suggestions?
  13. I loved your article on Iceland in Sunday’s Tribune….My question — not being weird, but in a totally respectful way: how were the women, looks-wise, in Iceland? One hears the urban myth that they are these blonde goddesses & men from London go to the bars in Iceland for their bachelor parties, like we go to Vegas for ours. What are you honest & non- re printable thoughts on the subject?
  14. I am planning a trip to Tuscany in late March/early April. I would love traveling barefoot as much as possible and into as many places as possible (trains, museums, restaurants). What is your “barefoot-friendly” experience there? My wife is NOT a barefooter and is sensitive to people’s reactions. Thank you!
  15. This is a serious question. My wife and I are nudists and, like everyone, RS fans. Watch the show every few nights. We want to make some RS-style videos of nude travel destinations around the world and have the finances to do it. Money don’t make you Rick Steves, though, and we were wondering if you’d care to offer any advice on doing such a project. We plan to start with a one hour show on the Caribbean, then Italy/France/Med and so forth. Our humble little project will not compete with your fine program and we would hope that your example would help us produce a good body (pun) of work as well. So, any comments or suggestions? Thanks! Keep on keeping on, friends.
  16. Please consult a fashion/ dress professional. Rick u look a mess traveling or not fix ur look. The clothes u wear at least wear something that fits and looks nice. The wrinkled baggy granola look is gone. U r on TV people look at u please b kind to our eyes. Ur not fat buy smaller sized clothing if nothing else but remember belt shoes should match a little. Dress black belt with what u choose to wear…no.
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RS09Spring_598Yes, I know I have favorite words, verbal tics, and trademark clichés that those who read or watch lots of my work find popping up over and over. These quirks give my travels maximum fun per mile, minute, and dollar while carbonating my ability to create experiences that are vivid and evocative.

Some of my fans shared this drinking game, which can bring even more joy to those watching my travel shows (watch full episodes for free on my website). The rules are easy.

Drink whenever I say these words:
1. Beautiful/Beauty
2. Modern
3. First
4. Ancient (avoid the Italy and Greece episodes if you don’t want to get alcohol poisoning)
5. Favorite
6. Evoke/Evocative (drink twice if used correctly: to bring a memory, feeling, or image, into the mind)
7. Excite/Exciting
8. Local

Drink anytime I drink.

And drink anytime I butcher the pronunciation of a non-English word.

Would you add any others?

Stay safe, drink responsibly, and “Keep on Travelin!”

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Thanks for all your kind and supportive comments about our new website. I’m glad it seems to be a hit. For my staff and me, it is one more powerful way in which we can share our travel content and experience to help our traveling customers enjoy the very best trips possible. This fun little video clip hints at the massive amount of work that went on over the last year as our heroic Web team reassessed, redesigned, and then migrated thousands of files from our old website (RIP) to our new one. Long live the new ricksteves.com. And three cheers for our Web team: Kate, Andrew, Gretchen, Lisa, and Rich (among many others in supporting roles). Now, we all hope you can be comfortable letting your travel dreams blossom in this webby garden of travel savvy. Happy travels!

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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forums-screenThe redesigned Ricksteves.com has my name on it — but it’s yours, too. Our lively Travel Forum community is buzzing with questions and answers. Whether it’s advice on a rail connection or a chance to praise your favorite café, you are among friends. Go introduce yourself today. In the meantime, I’d love some feedback on how practical and welcoming our forums are. Thanks.

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