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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As we wrap up our England shoot and head for Italy, here are a few more observations.

rick steves with defibrillator

Dial 1-800-DEFIBRILLATOR. Today’s England is not your grandmother’s England. Traditional red phone booths are rare, and many of those that survive have found new roles…like defibrillator stations. (My crew — producer Simon Griffith and cameraman Peter Rummel — are so excited to be working in England that I’m thinking it would be smart to know where the nearest one of these is at all times.)

rick steves at airth highland games scotland

We bookended our England shoot filming big events for our upcoming hour-long European Festivals special. We started in Scotland, with the Highland games. I was careful not to break anything as I failed to lift the “Smiddy Stone.” From England, we headed to Siena to film the Palio…and the world’s wildest horse race should be quite a spectacle for our public television viewers. Stay tuned.

full english breakfast

Mmmm… English breakfast food porn. This (or some variation on this plate of cardiac arrest) was my breakfast each day for 18 days:  fried egg on greasy fried bread, fried tomato, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, and often a big scoop of baked beans. (Maybe this explains the need for public defibrillators.) By the time I left England, I was ready for a lighter prima colazione in Italy — and that’s where I’m posting from next.

 


This is Day 89 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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The rugged beauty of the Cornwall Coast was unforgettable. We’ve shot many shows filled with gorgeous natural images, but this show will be one of the most beautiful.

camera crew at penwith peninsula

Nearly our entire Cornwall script was dedicated to the southwest extreme of this county — the Penwith Peninsula.

beachgoers with umbrellas

While we were blessed with generally good weather, I planned to have parts of three days in nearly every region (over the 18 days of our shoot) to be able to dance around the rain. The plan worked very well. But vacationers didn’t have that flexibility. I call British beachgoers “armadillo tourists” — their determination to enjoy the beach perseveres through almost any weather. If you wait long enough, it seems the steady wind blows away the clouds. (And then it blows away the blue sky, too.)

tourist with umbrella on beach

Armadillo tourist with umbrella gazing at Mousehole harbor.

minack theatre

Southwest England is dotted with interesting sights — like the Minack Theatre, which is carved out of the rocks and offers every attendee a first-class view.

pub patio

This scene — with diners and drinkers spilling out of a pub and filling its seafront terrace (which happens to be in Old Portsmouth, the major port town of southern England) — captures the vitality I felt throughout England. People seem to be working hard…and playing hard, too. Families are loving their little children. Seniors are out and about, sharing their golden years with loved ones. And the young-adult crowd is diligently keeping Britain’s brewers as profitable as ever.


This is Day 88 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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Lonely stone circles, big rocks, and wild ponies: That’s Dartmoor. One of England’s most popular national parks, Dartmoor is one of the few truly wild places left in this densely populated country. A moor is characterized by its low and scrubby vegetation. England’s moors are vast medieval commons — rare places where all can pass, anyone can graze their sheep, and, in the case of Dartmoor, ponies run wild.

Of the hundreds of Neolithic ruins that dot the Dartmoor landscape, the Scorhill Stone Circle is my favorite. Tranquil and nearly forgotten — erected some 4,000 years ago by mysterious people for mysterious reasons — it’s yours alone… the way a stone circle should be.

scorhill stone circle

We finished our episode about the southwest of England as the sun set deep in Dartmoor. At the private stone circle, with wild ponies in my periphery and thoughts of druids dancing in my mind, I looked into the camera and said, “Ponder the 40 centuries of people who’ve made this enchanting landscape their home, and the wisdom of today’s English to protect it and keep it pristine. I hope you’ve enjoyed our swing through Cornwall and the southwest of England. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time, keep on travelin’.”

haytor dartmoor

Dartmoor sits upon a granite plateau, and occasionally bare granite “peaks” (called tors) break through the heather. Rising like lonesome watchtowers, these distinctive landmarks are the goal of popular walks. Haytor is the most famous of these rocks. Hiking to its summit offers unforgettable views and a rewarding king-of-the-mountain feeling.

dartmoor wild horses

The iconic ponies of Dartmoor run wild. Their ancestors were the working horses of the local miners. Living in the harsh conditions of the moor, these ponies are a hearty breed, known for their stamina. Today they’re beloved among hikers for the romance they bring the otherwise stark terrain.


This is Day 87 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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Throughout England, the countryside hides an amazing history that goes back literally thousands of years…to prehistoric times. Glastonbury — a modest market town today — has long had a holy aura. It was a religious site back in the Bronze Age (that’s about 1500 BC). It’s also considered the birthplace of Christianity in England, and the burial site of the legendary King Arthur.

Centuries before Christ, a hill — called a tor — marked Glastonbury. Seen by many as a Mother Goddess symbol, the Glastonbury Tor has, for thousands of years, attracted a variety of travelers and seekers.

A highlight for me was to sit atop this hill, look into the camera, and explain the tor’s biblical connection: “For centuries, pilgrims have come here, to Glastonbury, on a quest for the legendary Holy Grail. You see, Joseph of Arimathea, who was an uncle of Christ, was a tin trader. And even back in biblical times, Britain was known as a rare place where tin could be mined. Considering that, Joseph could have sat right here — with the chalice that Jesus drank out of at the Last Supper in his satchel.”

Glastonbury was just one part of a wonderful whirlwind day of filming in this corner of England. These four photos capture our day of mysteries:

stonehenge

At Stonehenge, we kicked things off with some private time (as our filming permission required us to arrive very early). We were all alone in the stone circle before the masses hit.

Cows

As we were filming the Glastonbury Tor from a distance, all of the cows in the fields photobombed us.

Glastonbury Tor

Climbing the tor, we found a community of people expert at finding their god within.

Rick Steves and Roger Wilkins

And we capped our day visiting a hard apple cider farm run by my old drinking buddy, Roger Wilkins.


This is Day 86 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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We’ve just finished a delightful scramble, filming three half-hour episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe (West England, Cornwall, and Southeast England) — which, along with seven other new shows, will debut on public television this fall. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some photos as I review some of my favorite memories from traveling through much of England.

The Cotswolds are dotted with elegant, Downton Abbey-type mansions. Today, with the high cost of maintenance and heavy taxes, some noble families have opened their homes to the public to help pay the bills. Stanway House, home of the Earl of Wemyss, is one such venerable manor house.

The earl, whose family goes back centuries, welcomes visitors two days a week. Walking through his house offers a unique and surprisingly intimate glimpse into the lifestyles of England’s nobility. I’ve been dropping in on the earl for about 20 years, and the gracious and likably eccentric host agreed to show us around for TV.

Simon Griffith and Peter Rummel and Stanway House

Stanway House

 

Stanway House living room

The living room at Stanway House

 

Fountain

The Earl of Wemyss has rebuilt the old fountain in his backyard. And today — as one of the highest gravity-fed fountains in the world rockets 300 feet into the sky — it’s a talk of the Cotswolds. For commoners, the lord’s sprawling parkland backyard makes for a jolly good day out.

 


This is Day 85 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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Canterbury is famous for its magnificent cathedral. But a pleasant surprise for me was this relaxing little riverboat ride. Our captain said lots of locals hire them as a kind of therapy…it’s so relaxing to glide along the shallow, pretty Stour River. The water’s so clear because it flows over chalk. You can see here our crew at work – Producer Simon trying not to get into shots, and cameraman Karel getting a close-up gliding over the water. I expect this will be one of the most beautiful little bits in our show. (It cost the equivalent of $22 per hour per person for this little boat tour. But you can see the show for free on public television this fall.)


This is Day 84 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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While traveling through England, every night I’m eating at pubs and restaurants I recommend in my England guidebook. And I have to say, the eating has been excellent. Here’s a peek at the Dolphin Pub in Canterbury. (Notice the energy — things feel pretty good in England wherever we’ve gone.)

We’re just finishing our third TV episode in England this month, and we’re coming home with three brilliant shows. As usual, elements I really like need to be deleted, as 30 minutes of TV is only 3,000 words. Here’s the text that was in our Southeast England script but had to be pulled:

“England’s pubs offer a warm, friendly welcome and, for many, an essential part of any visit to Britain. Pub is short for “public house” — it’s the neighborhood’s extended living room. It’s a multi-generational affair and, while children aren’t served beer, the entire family is welcome. Whether you’re drinking or eating, don’t wait to be served. Go to the bar to order.

England loves its brews. Each village seems to have its own microbrew. Beer aficionados go for the real English ales and bitters. They’re from the long-handled pumps literally hand-drawn from kegs in the cellar. For a lighter, colder, and carbonated brew — ask for a lager. They fizz out of the short tap handles.

The standard serving is a full pint. While women routinely order a half pint, when a man does, it can make you the butt of jokes. But, if you don’t know the various beers and want to double your experience (and can endure the ridicule), ordering by the half pint (which costs exactly half as much as a full pint) lets you double your beer-exploration experience.”


This is Day 83 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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Dover is a godforsaken little town with piles of transit energy and mountains of history. Sometimes I like to stay in places that aren’t cute (and affluent because of their cuteness). Dover certainly fits that bill. And after dinner, I enjoy walking the long way home — along the port’s beach.

Being mindful of what’s around you enriches any walk in Europe. Here, I’m thinking about the ancient Roman lighthouse that caps the white cliffs. From the top of their lighthouse, the Romans would burn wet wood by day (for more smoke) and dry wood by night (for a brighter fire) to send their signals.

Much more recently, in World War II, those same white cliffs also protected Churchill’s men as they furiously defended their skies against the Nazis in the Battle of Britain. Hermann Göring would eyeball these cliffs from France, 23 miles away, aching to cross the English Channel. And it was “all hands on deck” as every boat owner in town mobilized to rescue more than 200,000 troops stranded in Dunkerque (or, as the Brits call it, “Dunkirk”).

Later, back at my hotel’s bar, I chatted with a local about how Brexit will make the English Channel just a little wider. Talking with him (and many others throughout my trip), I get the impression that most Brits seem to be — if not in favor of the idea — at least getting used to it.


This is Day 82 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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Last year I spent two weeks traveling across South England, researching my Rick Steves England guidebook. At the same time, I collected lots of great ideas for this month’s TV shoot. For example, I fell in love with a tiny hamlet called East Dean, with a classic medieval village green and a darling little pub that rents rooms. So this year I’m back with my TV crew.

In this clip, we’re just setting up to record a bunch of promos for public television stations. (With me are producer Simon Griffith and cameraman Karel Bauer. I’m thankful to have such a talented and hardworking crew. For a behind-the-scenes look at how we make our show, you can join the three of us in Milan for our “The Making of Rick Steves’ Europe” special.)

In our scripts, I always find an informative way to slip in what month we’re traveling in. For this show, I’ll walk across this fine green and say to the camera, “We’re here in August. In Britain, I prefer traveling in peak season — long days, the best possible weather, enough people out and about to keep things lively…and there are rarely any tourist crowds.”

We’re here in the most crowded months in one of England’s favorite tourist regions. And, while there are plenty of tourists, I’m impressed by how few American travelers we’ve seen. In fact, in the last ten days of travel across South England, I’ve probably seen only 20 or 30 Americans. (I think they’re all in London, Bath, York, and Edinburgh.)


This is Day 81 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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Forget the White Cliffs of Dover…I love the white cliffs of Beachy Head. Beachy Head is the scenic high point of the popular South Downs Way — a hiking path an hour or two south of London…and a world away from the big city.

We’re just finishing up 18 days of filming three brand-new public television shows in England, and I’m so thankful for the sunny weather we’re enjoying. The shows are looking just great — as you can see here.

In this clip, I just filmed the “tease” to start our Southeast England show from this queasy perch. (The “tease” is that goofy little clip before the formal show open, where I say hi and explain where I am — usually with something crazy or striking going on around me. For example, on this spot, I said, “We’re just hanging out on the South Coast of England.”)

Stay tuned. We’ll be releasing this show and nine others — Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 — on public television starting in October.

By the way, hikers love Beachy Head and, sadly, so do distraught people ready to end their lives. As we filmed here, the Beachy Head chaplain was parked in the nearby lot, ready to counsel people ready to take a suicide leap. (About 20 people a year used to take their lives by jumping off these 500-foot cliffs. Now, in part because of the work of these chaplains, the number is lower.)


This is Day 80 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.

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