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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I like to wear a very basic jacket when I’m on the road giving talks. I like a jacket that looks sharp, but can be stuffed into a backpack or into the overhead bin on a plane. The salesman in the shop pulled one out and claimed, “This the same coat Obama wears.” Hearing that, I said, “Sold.”
Still, for several years, I’ve wondered if that was true. Then, last week I had the opportunity to meet President Obama in person. It cost me a very expensive donation, but I wanted to put my “Obama jacket” right next to his. Now I have photographic evidence — if you look very closely you can see that, yes! They are the same jacket.
I’ve waited 60 years to shake the hand of a president. It was well worth the wait, and in my mind, this was the right president. I realize that lots of Americans are hell-bent on hating Obama and believe our country is going to hell in a Democratic handbasket. But I’ve traveled enough to know that our country is doing pretty well these days…and it’s not an easy ship to captain. And, to those who hate government in general, I’d recommend traveling to a land where there is no competent government, as I have many times. Good governance is a blessing.
Actually getting to do the “grip and grin” with our president gave me a chance to see the energy and security that surrounds the most powerful man on the planet and the leader of the free world. The thrill is hard to explain.
Like any evangelical travel writer and TV host, I brought along a copy of one of my books (Travel as a Political Act) and DVDs of my two political TV specials (Rick Steves’ Iran and Rick Steves’ The Holy Land). Once in line, I learned no one can have anything in their hands as they approach the president. My gifts were taken with a promise that they would go “in his box.” Who knows what happened to them…but I felt good to have at least brought them for his box.
When I had my moment with the president, I told him (in fast-forward mode), “Hi, I’m Rick Steves. Thanks so much for all you do. I host a public television series about travel, and I produced shows on Iran and the Holy Land in hopes that Americans can better understand those regions. My shows are in your box.” It was all so fast, I don’t even think I remembered to pose for the camera. Grip, grin, and outta there.
I debated what to say in my ten seconds with our president (knowing it would all be a blur to him anyway). I could have thanked him for supporting Bread for the World in drawing a “circle of protection” around our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, who had been facing program budget cuts. Or I could have asked him to reclassify marijuana from a schedule one drug (in a league with heroin) to a more honest classification. But now, having had some time to think about it, I’ve realized the best thing would have been to show him how we were both wearing the same jacket…and how good it looks on us.
From time to time we share a random video clip to fuel your travel dreams. Join us today as we visit the Christian Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, surrounding the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
(Watch the complete “The Best of Israel” episode online for free.)
Like most of America, I’m following with sadness the unfolding refugee situation in Europe. “Why is it happening?” “What can we do?” and “How to avoid this in the future?” are important questions for caring people to ask. Here’s my take, which was published in The Seattle Times today. I’ve also included a link below to an article on the topic by my fellow guidebook author Cameron Hewitt, who’s in the Balkans right now and witnessing the situation firsthand.
Today’s increased flow of refugees into Europe, while certainly newsworthy, needs to be kept in historical and practical perspective. (If you’re wondering how this might affect your future travels in Europe, I’d say not at all.) While this is the biggest such event since World War II, European history is a long and steady story of difficult refugee movements. (In the late 1940s, people were forcibly relocated from entire regions, causing great suffering.) There are refugee crises around the planet today that equal this event in pain and misery, but go unnoticed because they don’t affect the rich world. The big difference with the current story: The refugees are heading to Europe rather than to some other poor, war-torn, and dysfunctional region. Crisis-hungry commercial news is looking for something sensational to talk about 24/7. And desperate people in boats and trains entering Europe create dramatic images that catch our attention.
What’s the impact on Europe? Europe consists of roughly half a billion people. That’s 500 million. The refugee influx is in the hundreds of thousands (or single-digit millions, if Europeans open their doors a little wider). Europe can certainly absorb these people into its societies and workforces. Remember, European business leaders were the ones who favored admitting Turkey (with 75 million people) into the EU — not because they cared about struggling people, but because a graying Europe has an aging workforce that needs to be revitalized, which is what lots of young, hardworking immigrants can do. Europe needs immigrant labor as much as the USA does. Who else will pick our crops, tend our gardens, hang our drywall, and look after our children and aging parents? While that’s the clichéd image of an immigrant laborer, both Europe and the USA can attribute their economic success to smart, innovative, and industrious newcomers who contributed mightily to their adopted societies.
These refugees are leaving miserable and dangerous worlds, taking huge risks in the process. And terrible hardships are being experienced at Europe’s borders. As usual, Scandinavian countries are admitting more refugees per capita than many other nations. These countries’ acts of national kindness are compassionate and the decent thing to do. But even the most generous immigration policies of small nations like these will not alter the big-picture problem.
Is opening the doors of the rich world even wider — enough to allow in the tens of millions of people who’d like to swap worlds — the right answer? I don’t think so. Personally, I don’t want to see tiny countries such as Finland or Iceland overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of refugees, which would fundamentally change their social structures.
I think the most compassionate and practical approach is to deal with the existing stream of refugees generously and help these immigrants assimilate into First World economies. But then we must focus on making the world they fled more stable and prosperous by changing our approach to the developing world. This can happen both from a trade policy point of view and from a military point of view (since, if we’re honest, most wars take place in the poor world and are fueled by rich countries with an eye on more fuel).
The flood of refugees we see on the news today is just the canary in the global economic coal mine. With the advent of climate refugees on the horizon and the specter of more societies breaking down in future decades, I fear this relative trickle will become a torrent. In the name of compassion and decency (as well as our own security and well-being, for those motivated purely by such things), it’s time for the rich world to get serious about making life more stable and comfortable in the places so many refugees are risking everything to leave.
Regardless of where you may live, there is no place like home. The challenge before us, along with giving today’s refugees a new home, is to help make the home they fled more livable.
Note: I’d welcome your comments on this difficult issue. And be sure to read Cameron Hewitt’s report from the Balkans where he has witnessed refugees on the move in person.
On November 20 in San Diego, I’ll be giving one of the most exciting talks in my life: a keynote address to thousands of foreign language teachers at the annual convention of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). I’m a huge believer in the importance of connecting with locals while you’re on the road. And there’s no better tool for that than a proficiency in the language of the place you’re visiting. Here’s an interview I did with The Language Educator magazine, which gives my take on the value of learning foreign languages.
From time to time we share a random video clip to fuel your travel dreams. Join us today at Clos-Lucé, the French mansion where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years.
(Watch the complete episode of “France’s Loire: Château Country” online for free.)
The New York Times recently ran an article about hipster fashion trends that claimed sarcastically that “the Rick Steves look is next.” While I’m honored to be mentioned in any article discussing pop culture, I must respectfully disagree with the author. The Rick Steves look isn’t the NEXT hipster fashion trend–it is, in fact, the CURRENT fashion trend. While I generally lay low when it comes to making fashion statements, I believe these photos prove that I was the Original Hipster. Don’t you agree?
Children of the Sixties and Seventies, I’m sure you have similar photos of yourselves–whether hitchhiking through Europe or just hanging out at home. Dig them up, and share them with me on Facebook. Let’s show the younger generation that they should have been listening to their parents’ fashion advice all along.
I enjoyed sharing the stage with former Washington state governor Gary Locke last week for a spritely discussion at a taping of Seattle Channel’s “Civic Cocktail.” It was a fun and fast-moving interview covering some topics about Europe and our work that I’ve never before discussed.
I thought my blog readers might enjoy a virtual front row seat for the discussion. (Go to about the 30-minute point in the interview for the travel stuff.)
From time to time we share a random video clip to fuel your travel dreams. Join us today as we sail in a traditional fishing boat to the village of Marken, a place where the past and the present mingle comfortably.
(Watch my complete TV episode about the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam online for free.)
Thoughtful travel celebrates great sights, high culture, and political awareness. And so does a blowout deal I’m sharing exclusively for my Facebook travel partners. For 31 hours we’re offering three DVD sets for just $5 plus shipping.
You’ll get: Season 8 of “Rick Steves’ Europe” on two discs (12 shows — Turkey , Loire, Israel, Palestine, Cinque Terre, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Prague, Berlin, and more); “Rick Steves’ Symphonic Journey” (a public television special with my home town orchestra playing 19th-century Romantic national favorites with glorious images from seven different countries with me as your formally-attired guide setting the scene); and my recent — and more timely than ever — special “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today” (with lots of DVD extras).
This is for real…but only for 31 hours. So spread the word! If you’ve got travelers on your gift list, this is a great opportunity. You and your Facebook friends can grab all three DVD sets for just $5 through the link on Facebook only (until 5 p.m. PT, Thursday, Oct 8, or while supplies last, limit of five sets per person, regular shipping fees apply. Orders will ship USPS.)
From time to time we share a random video clip to fuel your travel dreams. This time, we explore part of Italy’s Cinque Terre, from Manarola’s cemeteries high in the hills to Riomaggiore’s tangle of pastel houses.
(Watch my complete TV episode about the Cinque Terre on our website for free.)