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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While filming our Protestant Reformation special in Germany, I couldn’t resist stopping by a sight I’ve never heard of before that is related to the Reformation — the Panorama Museum in Bad Frankenhausen. Nearly unknown to American travelers, seeing this creative view of an epic event (the Peasants’ War of 1525) is an amazing experience. Sorry the audio on the video clip is weak — I had to whisper. Below is the entry I wrote up for the next edition of my Germany guidebook:

Panorama Museum — This museum houses a massive, 400-foot-long cyclorama that shows vividly, with an East German communist slant, the bloody Peasants’ War of 1525. Called the Bauernkriegspanorama, it stands in a 007-looking building atop the hill where around 6,000 peasants — armed with shovels and axes — battled the well-armed troops of the Holy Roman Emperor and were slaughtered, marking the end of the Peasants’ War. It portrays more than just a horrible battle. It’s the bloody transition between medieval and modern worlds. At the base are twenty great change agents at end of Middle Ages (Luther, Erasmus, other Reformers, Copernicus, Columbus, Dürer, and more) — gathered around a well. Above them is a colossal battle under a rainbow — the Imperial troops on the left, the doomed rabble on the right. Further to the right, an elegant couple (their backs to us) dances before a gallows. The message: The elites continue to win. This was done in the 1980s — the last years of communism — by Werner Tübke. The government of East Germany wanted to celebrate the struggle of peasants 500 years ago, reminding all of the same struggle they felt was valiantly being fought in their era by the working class (€6 includes a fine and essential audioguide, Sun-Sat 10:00-18:00, until 17:00 off-season, closed Mon, fine cafeteria, in Bad Frankenhausen — 30 minutes north of Erfurt, just follow signs, tel. 034671/6190, www.panorama-museum.de).

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We’ve begun a twelve-day TV shoot in Germany for a public television special celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (due out in late 2016). Perhaps you don’t know yet how exciting this is. Here’s a quick little clip taken by me in the back of a car. I’m recording a creative (low budget) effort to film a “point-of-view” shot illustrating how Luther was kidnapped and taken to a friendly prince’s castle. With the sun glinting through the trees, the hill-capping castle flickering up in the sky, and two cameras rolling, it could be really effective. Be patient; it takes a while for the castle to come into view in my video. (I’m shooting with producer/driver Simon Griffith, our regular cameraman Peter Rummel, and my friend — cameraman Tim Frakes — who produced the travel show I did on Martin Luther for the Lutheran Church 15 years ago.)

For background, read this bit of the script (six sequences out of 120; information in brackets includes shot number and location/image). I hope you can imagine how fun it is to tell this story:

[77a, art] While romanticized in this painting, the drama was certainly real. Imagine the showdown at Worms: Papal representatives, princes, Imperial troops — all power-dressing…and Charles — the Holy Roman Emperor himself — sitting high on his throne — the crowds craning to see the action. In the center of the room, Martin Luther stood alone…beside a table stacked with his rabble-rousing books and pamphlets.

[78, Worms courtroom, art] The prosecutor insisted Luther was a heretic. Summing up his case, he asked, “Who are you to go against 1,500 years of Church doctrine?” He demanded that Luther renounce his theses and writings. Luther would not budge. Perhaps as never before in European history, one ordinary person stood up to power for what he believed. He said: “Unless you can convince me by scripture or by clear reasoning, I am bound by my beliefs… I cannot and I will not recant. God help me. Amen.”

[79, Rick On Camera, Rothenburg] Luther was declared a heretic and left Worms essentially an outlaw. Now “outside the protection of the law,” Luther could be captured and killed by anyone. On his way home to Wittenberg, he was kidnapped and dropped out of sight. Many thought Luther had been killed.

[80, Wartburg, etchings] Days later, a man named Junker Jörg — or “Squire George” — appeared at Wartburg Castle. This was actually a disguised Martin Luther, who had been kidnapped for his own safety on his journey back from Worms by his benefactor, Prince Frederick the Wise. Safely hidden behind the stout walls of Wartburg, Luther spent nearly a year making his next stand against the Vatican and wrestling with his deepening depression. He fought his depression by working…studying and writing.

[80a ] This was Luther’s room. Restless, overfed, and lonely in the castle — he continued his lifelong personal battle with Satan. And it was here that he employed his favorite weapon — the printed word.

[81 Rick On Camera, Wartburg cell] Believing that everyone should be able to read the word of God, Luther began the daunting — and dangerous — task of translating the New Testament from the original ancient Greek into German. He used simplified language, as he said, like a mother talking to her children. As the King James Version of the Bible did for English, Luther’s translation helped to establish a standard German language that’s used to this day.

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I’m just kicking off my summer trip starting in Germany. I’ll be posting daily for the next 45 days starting with this little video clip illustrating the unique sense of humor of the German people.

This trip will be really fun: Ten days in Germany filming our one-hour Martin Luther and the Reformation special for public television (due out in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017). Then it’s three weeks researching in London and south England, and then three more weeks in Germany filming three new episodes of “Rick Steves’ Europe” (covering the great German cities of Nürnberg, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Würzburg, and Dresden). But for now, watch this video clip and join me for a beer with two friends in Wittenberg.

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Tomorrow I kick off my summer trip series — reporting from Germany. But today you can drop by our Travelers Café for two great travel blogs. Cameron Hewitt is in France and my kids are in Vietnam.

I remember as a guide I’d have tourists forever complaining about the rude French. They’d say how at the post office it took forever, there were no smiles, and no one spoke English. I had to remind my travelers that small-town French postal clerks are just as speedy, cheery, and multilingual as postal clerks are back in the USA. Cameron shares a smart and insightful essay on the American challenges when it comes to enjoying the French — and finishes by noting how he kept thinking, “To not get along with the French, you pretty much have to be a jerk.” He also reports on duck, goose, and foie gras.

My children, Jackie and Andy, are now in Vietnam. Jackie just reported on “Ho Chi Minh’s Waxy Body and The American War.” The line to see Ho’s body is longer than the line at the Louvre. For an American millennial to get a firsthand look at what we call “the Vietnam War,” and learn about it from the other perspective, is a rich and challenging travel experience. She then goes out to discover and drink all the “gross things they soak in firewater.”

On the same blog, Andy shares more of his videos. Check out “A Night Out in Hanoi,” an evening fueled by special snake alcohol and in search of a good, dog spring roll.

The streets of Hanoi

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Andy Steves Vietnam

 

I was wondering what to post to celebrate the Fourth of July and then my son sent me what I consider the most patriotic message I’ve seen in ages. (As a father, to see his son become a responsible adult not afraid to get out of his comfort zone and challenge norms at the expense of comfort, makes it a late Father’s Day gift as well.) Sure, Andy swallowed their propaganda, but doesn’t propaganda shape the way we see our world too? Andy and his sister Jackie are midway through 30 days of SE Asian fun (posting daily in our Travelers Café).

Until today, I’ve never thought of Andy as very political. Andy shares a literally life-changing experience with this inspirational post. And he shares it out of love and appreciation for our country on the day we celebrate our freedom. It’s young people who get out and understand our world that will shape the character of our nation in the future. Check this out starting with his comment and then the video clip. (Then, feel free to share any travel/parenting insights or comments you might have.)

Andy writes:

War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

As we celebrate the birth of our great nation today, my experience a few days ago in Vietnam really made me appreciate the responsibility we all have as Americans to stay involved and engaged in the serious issues that we face as a nation today. It’s so important to remember the lessons learned from our past conflicts, and I think it’s our patriotic duty for all of us to actively question our government. So much money and so many under-the-surface interests are flexing their lobbying muscles for contracts in DC that ignore human costs on the other side of the world. The only tool we have to protect our society from these forces is our beautiful (and more fragile than we might realize) democracy. Stay engaged and vote with this little clip in mind. Happy Fourth of July!

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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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