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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All over the USA people are realizing that the common-sense way to deal with a widely used soft drug called marijuana is to legalize, tax, and regulate it. But old-school politicians are still parroting the federal government’s talking points. When I came upon a video of Maine Governor Paul LePage’s stance opposing that state’s attempt to change its marijuana laws, I just had to respond. As you watch this clip, consider that Gov. LePage plays the part of politicians across the country, who talk like it’s still 2010. I rebut his position by sharing the new understanding of this issue (after several states have legalized pot) as if it’s 2016. Marijuana, which is on the ballot in many states next week, is a hot topic. What’s it like in your state?

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A few days after returning from Europe, I embarked on my every-two-years barnstorming tour to help states end our country’s prohibition on marijuana. Four years ago, it was my state, Washington. Two years ago, it was Oregon. And this week, it was Maine and Massachusetts. I had a great time in those two beautiful states and raised a lot of awareness before this November’s election. Why me in those states? I went there to share a common-sense, European take on drug policy reform, and to share my state’s track record after our 2012 vote to legalize, tax, and regulate pot. You can review some of the press I earned in Maine and Massachusetts, and here are a few photos from my latest travels:

Rick Steves with newspaper

I spent a week in the two states, getting as much press as I could. It was pretty easy to get into the newspapers — like this one in the beautiful town of Northampton, in western Massachusetts. Everything they say about how glorious the foliage is in New England this time of year is true — so beautiful. But my focus was on an entirely different foliage…one that lands too many people (especially if they’re poor or black) in jail.

Rick Steves and campaign

This year, five states are trying to join the four that have already legalized the adult use of marijuana: California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts. Each state has a team whose mission is to get their initiative passed. Here’s the gang in Maine. They’re renting a dumpy office for a few months and fighting like mad to defend the local citizenry from the onslaught of misinformation from what I call “the PPP” — the pot prohibition profiteers. They are the organizations that make money because pot is illegal, and they fund the opposition to initiatives that aim to take crime out of the equation. In every campaign I’ve been involved with, we’ve been up against beer money, prison-industry money, and money from the pharmaceutical industry. These groups have one thing in common: They’ll lose money when we legalize pot.

Notes

It was interesting for me as a teacher to have to hone my delivery. On my first day, I gave two interviews from my car on the way to the airport…I was very rusty. But having to give about six interviews on radio, TV, and to newspapers every day (plus talks every night), I got my talking points down really well in a hurry. When doing interviews on the radio, I had this cheat sheet to ensure I made my points effectively.

Jorge

It was quite a whirlwind. In Boston, I had Jorge and his great town car all day long — running me from my hotel to each gig. Marijuana is a pretty sexy topic, and I managed to get on just about all the media outlets we wanted.

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I was a bit frustrated by how nervous various organizations in New England were to host a talk on drug policy reform. In Oregon and Washington we had no problem getting people to host us. But in Maine and Massachusetts, it was very tough. We managed to make presentations at a few universities, at a city club, and at an event hosted by the ACLU. But the real publicity value is not measured by the size of the audience at a talk, but by the “earned media” we got from newspapers, radio, and TV. Reporters were on hand at each talk.

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I got on plenty of TV shows. Generally, the hosts were friendly to the issue. Our biggest challenge was the political establishment. They were spouting all the old “Reefer Madness” points. I kept saying, “Your politicians are talking like it’s 2010. It’s 2016 now and we have a track record. We know what happens when we legalize, tax, and regulate: Teen use does not go up, DUIs do not go up, crime does not go up…the only thing that goes up is tax revenue (and, in my state, we are raising $120 million a year by turning a thriving black market into a highly regulated and taxed industry).”

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Radio interviews were the most fun. Talk-show hosts seem to be liberal or libertarian and love to celebrate common-sense laws and civil liberties. While you only get a couple of minutes on commercial TV, on radio you get upwards of half an hour.

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I’ve read that the press contingent filling Hillary’s plane is composed mostly of “kids” in their 20s. Coincidentally, I learned that the hotshot reporters who’ve earned huge respect from my publicists are also millennials. These whiz kids are really smart and were fun to talk to. And, they wrote the most influential columns in Boston.

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After a grueling day of interviews and a talk in the evening, it was fun to collapse onto my hotel bed, turn on the late news, and see myself talking not about travel…but about stopping the war on marijuana.

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With my staff and guides tuning in to see how I’d do after nearly 20 years of not actually leading one of our tours, I have to say I did it: I finished our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour with as many travelers as I started with, I enjoyed it, and I learned our methods firsthand. (Actually, I cheated, with three weeks of wonderful help from co-guides Ben Cameron and Trish Feaster.)

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Tour guiding has its mundane side…such as entering all the receipts into our guides’ not-so-beloved accounting software.

 

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The tour’s over: It’s the Best of Europe in 21 Days…and, the morning after, our group is all smiles, still enjoying each other, and ready to tackle more of Paris. These are great travelers!

 

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We include a two-day Paris Museum Pass with our tour. And that means the city is wide open for our travelers on the day after the tour. Here Ginger and Carl, guidebook and passes in hand, are ready for more Paris. (Probably the single most appreciated travel tip I offer is my encouragement for travelers to take advantage of the wonderful Paris Museum Pass. It pays for itself in a couple of admissions, and you get to skip all the lines and go directly into whatever sight you like. With a Museum Pass, Paris becomes your high-culture playground.)

 

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Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

Thanks again, Ben and Trish, for the guide guidance. You guys were great to co-guide with.

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Our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour is finished and it’s time to sing “So Long, Farewell.” After three weeks of togetherness on our big, beautiful bus we’ve collected memories we’ll enjoy for a lifetime. This montage of images beautifully captures why we love our work and the travelers who join us. For my entire staff — both in Europe and at home — seeing these  smiles and creating memories like these are what charges our tour-guiding batteries. Thanks to all my blog friends for traveling with me over these 3,000 miles and as many smiles. I hope you enjoy this fun video reprise.

Video: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guided our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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This little clip captures one of the great joys of travel: discovering a new drink, perfectly local, with just the right accompaniment (a biscotto), and capping a fine Riviera day with lots of convivial dunking. I seem particularly happy at this moment. Some will say it’s the alcohol. I’d say it’s the joy of feeding my group a dinner they’ll never forget (each table enjoying a literal amphora filled with freshly harvested fruits of the sea), and all of them experiencing edible and drinkable Italy (after so much high culture) and good friendships on the road — a great part of any Rick Steves tour. (OK, maybe the alcohol contributed a little, too.) La vita è bella!

Video: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guided our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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One of my great joys as a tour guide is teaching art and architecture in a way that makes it both fun and meaningful. And a good way to do that is by building a Gothic church out of 13 tourists. Join me here with my happy tour group, just before going into Sainte-Chapelle in Paris (a cathedral of glass built about 750 years ago to house the Crown of Thorns), as I prep my group for this wonderful experience.

Video: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

I am so happy that each year our team of guides at Rick Steves’ Europe Tours share their passion for European history, art, and culture in creative ways like this with nearly a thousand tour groups — each one as fun-loving, curious, and eager to learn as mine has been. Happy travels!

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guided our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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Europe’s greatest museum is the Louvre in Paris. It was a thrill to take our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour group there to enjoy its unforgettable collection of paintings.

Line outside Louvre

Paris is relaxed in October. And — even on the once-each-month free day, with heightened security and a sizable line — we got the group inside with just a 20-minute wait.

 

Under Louvre pyramid

Just gathering our group under the iconic pyramid entrance was exciting.

 

Crowd at Mona Lisa

Experiencing the Mona Lisa is more than just seeing a famous painting. It’s a spectacle, with seething crowds and a commotion of cameras. It’s the only painting anywhere where you actually hear its crowds before you see it.

 

Painting close-up

Along with seeing the iconic paintings of the Louvre, I enjoy just wandering and finding works that are overlooked and underappreciated — like this one, entitled Death of Mondale.

 

Tour members with map

After we led our group through the highlights of the Louvre’s collection, our tour members were free to explore. We like our travelers to be capable and independent — and they are. Here, Larry and Fran recharge with a coffee and review the many options within an easy walk of the Louvre.

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guide our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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Every time I huddle with my guides, exploring ways to improve Rick Steves Europe Tours, our goal is the same: “How do we maximize the experience?” There are many clever ways to pack each day with lifelong memories and cultural lessons. While standard-issue tour guides often don’t go beyond the basic sightseeing schedule, a Rick Steves guide is constantly finding creative ways to carbonate the experience with fun little extras.

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So many towns in Europe have classic carousels on their main squares. Why not buy tickets for the gang and enjoy a chance to be kids again…and another rich travel memory.

 

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A good guide steers tour members away from the tired sandwich for lunch, and into a characteristic local bar where you’ll enjoy a plate like this: At my favorite bar in Venice (Osteria al Mascaron), just ask for the mixed seafood antipasto plate. It’s €16 and — unless you’re squiddish about fish — a delightful lunch.

 

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You can’t travel through France without a good wine-tasting. Here in Burgundy, we enjoy sharpening our wine-tasting skills in a classic cellar under our favorite hotel with a local wine expert.

 

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Anyone who dreams of going to St. Peter’s Basilica will consider a chance to go through the Holy Door (open only in Jubilee Years) a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As 2016 happens to be a Jubilee Year, our group got to do that with our Vatican visit. As I see it, it is the responsibility of a professional guide to know when these opportunities present themselves, and not to miss it.

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guide our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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For me, a big part of the joy in leading this three-week tour has been collaborating with two fine guides: Trish Feaster and Ben Cameron. We tag-teamed the tour and learned from each other all along the way. We have well over 100 guides at Rick Steves Europe Tours — both Americans and Europeans. I encourage them to play to their strengths, while studying in areas where they may be weak. Ben and Trish beautifully covered for me when I was weak, and that gave me a great chance to learn.

Trish with tour members

Trish takes the mic and engages our group as we cruise down the highway.

 

Ben in subway with group

Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

On a Rick Steves tour, you learn to use the public transportation. Here in Rome, tour guide Ben coaches the group as we master the Roman underground.

 

Ben with group in Alps

Hiking through the Alps with a good guide (like Ben Cameron), you know where the farm-fresh yogurt and tastiest cheese is, you relax knowing you’re on the right trail, and you know just which mountain vistas are not to be missed.

 

Rick Steves and Ben with group in Rome

Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

Here in Rome, Ben and I make sure all 28 of us get on the packed bus #280 as we head from St. Peter’s Square to dinner in Trastevere. One of the exhilarating challenges of being a guide (at least, a Rick Steves guide) is giving our tour members that “public transit experience”…and not losing anyone. We all made it, and the dinner was one of the best of the tour.

 

Ben Cameron, Trish Feaster, and Rick Steves

Thanks, Trish and Ben, for the great trip (and for carrying all that beer up to the top of that ruined castle to surprise our group)!

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guide our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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If you’ve ever been on a bus tour, you know what an important part of the mix your driver is. And if you’ve ever been a tour guide, you know that the driver can be your best friend…or a real obstacle to a smooth tour. We love our bus drivers and consider them part of our traveling family. (While we can’t promise this, several of our drivers have actually fallen in love with and married our tour members.)

Rick Steves with Richard bus driver

Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

Bus driver Richard plays tour guide, and lets me imagine driving his wonderful coach.

 

Richard and tour member

Each year we give our tour members a patch as a memento of their tour. About 40 percent of the more than 20,000 travelers who joined us this year were return travelers. Here, Mike — a proud six-time tour alum — shows off the six patches he’s collected over his many years of touring with us.

 

Rick Steves tour group

Travelers on our tours are limited to a carry-on-sized bag. While we don’t strictly enforce that limit, our tour members are expected to carry their own bags from the bus to the hotel, and then to their rooms. And, because we strive to have centrally located hotels in delightfully traffic-free towns and old city centers, there are many times when getting to or from the bus involves a bit of a hike. Here’s our group leaving our Florence hotel (in another newly pedestrian-friendly, traffic-free center), and ready for Rome.

(Thanks for following along here on my blog and on Facebook as I guide our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.)

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