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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A fun dimension of my work is being somewhere and realizing, “I stood right here as a student so long ago.” Just the other day, I was rambling the ramparts of the Moorish Castle above Sintra (as I’m inclined to do when on the ramparts of ruined Moorish castles with grand views of the sea and Reconquista images combusting in my head). I rambled these same ramparts in the 1970s, and have an old photograph of me with the light of the setting sun creating a fun effect (backlighting me and my happy bellbottoms). It has made this spot a special one for me ever since.

And so, I returned to those same ramparts with my TV crew. I didn’t know exactly where that old photo was taken, but — as if I had a Geiger counter for travel magic — I found where the feeling was right and had a second photo taken. It was the same spot. It’s fun to see the effect of the years going by — 40 of them — both on the ramparts and on me.

Rick Steves in 1977 and 2017

This is Day 40 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





A couple of years ago, while researching my Portugal guidebook, I explored the crusty old industrial city of Porto. There I joined tour guide André Apolinário on one of his “Taste Porto” food tours. I raved about André’s tour in my guidebook listing, and that experience (as much as any other) inspired me to come back now with the TV crew and shoot a new show on the heartland of Portugal.

André saved a morning just for our crew to film his food tour. We scrambled to find four other tourists who would join the tour while we stopped and started it during three hours of filming. We had a great time — with camera rolling — eating our way through Porto. Anywhere in Europe these days — in fact, almost anywhere in the world — you can enjoy a fun and experiential education about a culture on a food tour. When in Porto, André’s tours are worth planning for. This clip shows us on the last of five stops, with three tasty plates: chicken gizzards stewed in tomatoes and chili peppers; octopus salad; and smoked ham that’s been aged 24 months.

This is Day 39 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





port wine bottles

An essential slice of Portugal is the Douro River Valley where the beloved port wine is produced. The winding, terraced, and scenic river valley, so famous for its wine, is a bit like Germany’s Rhine Valley — but much sleepier and without castles. The vineyards, called “quintas,” are known for their traditions and the welcome they offer travelers — with both accommodations and wine tastings.

douro river

As we traveled through Portugal for six days to film our “Heartland of Portugal” TV episode, our guide was Cristina Duarte (who normally guides Rick Steves’ Europe Tours through her home country of Portugal). For our Douro experience, she took us where she takes her tour groups: to the Quinta de Santa Eufémia. It was a delightful stop both for the chance to film a gorgeous old quinta (showing the port-making process) and to enjoy the hospitality of the family (which included an unforgettable lunch under a tree surrounded by vines). In these shots, you can see our TV crew of three (producer Simon Griffith, cameraman Karel Bauer, and me) hard at work — experiencing the edible culture as we film it. The final shot: sweet port wine with a sweet family enjoying a sweet Douro River Valley view. An unforgettable slice of Portugal.

wine tasting Karel Bauer, Rick Steves, Simon Griffith wine tasting Wine tasting

This is Day 38 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





sunset

It’s always enjoyable to go from a big-city airport directly to a small town and settle into a new country that way. After landing at the Lisbon airport, I talked to a few taxi drivers and settled on a €100 fare (about $100) for the 90-minute drive north to Nazaré. A bit pricey, but for a group with limited time, a good investment. In about two hours, I went from touchdown at the Lisbon airport to on the beach for a sunset in little Nazaré.

view of nazare

Nazaré has a romantic appeal, even to birds — here out on a date and clearly enjoying themselves.

beer and motor scooter

From our beachside bar, we marveled at how cleverly our friends rigged up their motor scooter and hand truck to give their beers a scenic perch.

plate of barnacles

Did I tell you I love barnacles? You eat them like boiled clams and wash them down with beer. They are expensive because they are difficult and dangerous to harvest — from rocks in turbulent places. But rip off the tough outer skin of one of these guys and pop it in your mouth…it’s worth the expense and all that trouble.

dancers

We filmed here 18 years ago, and Nazaré was the first show Simon Griffith (my longtime producer) and I made together. We also worked with the same cameraman we have on this shoot: Karel Bauer. Just for fun, we arranged to have the same folk group dance for us on the beach. While last time they literally danced in the sand, this time they didn’t — saying they can’t dance well in sand. (I tried it, and understand their concern.) They had planned to perform on the dance stage set up on the beach. But dancing on the sidewalk — inlaid with the fine Portuguese stonework — looked much better. Sadly, for the barefoot dancers, it came with painful pebbles. We were the same crew…and even some of the dancers today danced for our camera back in 1999.

band

When we film a folk group in action we like to have them perform the same song three times: once to get the wide establishing shots and the entire music track; a second time for tight shots on the dancers; and a final time so Karel can focus on the instrumentalists. This combo came with a percussionist who played a mean set of pinecones.  

group of dancers

When these dancers were younger, the vast beach at Nazaré was littered with colorfully painted fishing boats that would be hauled in by oxen or teams of fishermen and, later, by tractors. Today, the new harbor is dug, and the boats are out of sight — except for a few historic examples still ornamenting the beach. Now, this is the domain of sun-seeking holidaygoers who pack the beach through the summer. Being here in May, however, the beach was nearly empty.

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This is Day 37 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I view each of my Europe trips in segments. So far, my spring 2017 trip has had three: Sicily tour, Naples/Amalfi Coast, and Rome. Now, for the fourth segment, I’ve flown to Lisbon, zipped up to Nazaré, and joined my TV crew (producer Simon Griffith and cameraman Karel Bauer). For the next 12 days or so, it’s TV production in Portugal.

I recently started a new tradition of sending the crew over a day ahead of me to collect B-roll (lovely video clips without me to make sure the show looks beautiful). That extra day gives us flexibility to deal with possible weather frustrations. Simon and Karel, with the help of our wonderful local guide, Teresa Ferreira, have had a great first day. I’ve just joined them and we’re enjoying our ritual barnacles-and-beer break. There’s nothing quite like ripping open barnacles with the expert help of your local guide, especially when you’re within sight of the rocks where they were harvested on the wild west coast of Portugal. Don’t you agree?

This is Day 36 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Sound-and-light shows are so 1970s to me. But, with new laser technology, they are coming back and coming back strong. In the old days, travelers would gather on folding chairs in courtyards (at a temple in Luxor, the Invalides in Paris, or a château in Amboise) and listen to thundering voices of great historic figures (a pharaoh, Napoleon, Leonardo) tell stories as colored lights made the stony walls more evocative. Today, the power of laser projections is so strong and the images so vivid that a cathedral facade (in Reims) can be filled with workers treading in mills and carrying stone. And now, in Rome, we can walk through the ruins of a forum under the stars and see shops peopled with merchants, the Curia filled with senators, and fire sweep the Eternal City as Nero just fiddled. What are your old-school sound-and-light show memories? And what new shows have you enjoyed in Europe?

Below is the listing for the new sound-and-light show options in Rome (excerpted from the upcoming 2018 edition of my Rome guidebook). This is truly big news for people visiting Rome:

Sound-and-Light Shows: Forum of Caesar and Forum of Augustus

For an atmospheric and inspirational sound-and-light show giving you a chance to fantasize about the world of the Caesars, two similar and adjacent evening experiences are offered. With each of these “nighttime journeys through ancient Rome,” you spend about an hour with a headphone (dialed to English) listening to an artfully crafted narration synced with projections on ancient walls, columns, and porticos that take you back 2,000 years and bring the rubble to life. Each show is distinct and worth the €15 (or do both for €25, nightly from mid-April through mid-November, bring your warmest coat or sweater, tickets sold online and at the gate, tel. 06-0608, www.viaggioneifori.it). If planning to see both shows, do the Forum of Caesar first and allow 80 minutes between starts. While shows can sell out on busy weekends, generally there are plenty of seats.

Forum of Caesar Stroll: For this show you’ll stroll a few hundred meters on a wooden sidewalk, making about eight stops over the course of an hour, as the narration tells the dramatic story of Julius Caesar. During this nighttime walk, you are actually on ground level in normally closed-to-the-public archeological sites, enjoying views you’d never see otherwise. This show starts at Trajan’s Column, with departures every 20 minutes from dark until nearly midnight.

Forum of Augustus Show: At this show you’ll sit on wooden bleachers for the duration while looking out at the remains of a vast forum. Its surviving rear “fire wall” provides a fine “screen” upon which to project the images telling the story of Augustus. Showings are on the hour from dark until 22:00 or 23:00. There is plenty of seating and shows rarely sell out. Enter on Via dei Fori Imperiali just before Via Cavour (you’ll see the bleachers along the boulevard).

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This is Day 35 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





With each trip to Europe, I look forward to the new tech innovations that’ll pump up my experiences. This year I’ve noticed new iPad applications that reconstruct ancient frescoes when you focus the iPad on the scant remains of the original — like here at the Mamertine Prison in Rome, where the faithful believe Saints Peter and Paul were imprisoned. Astounding as this app is, I have to say that such tech developments no longer surprise me — they’re becoming commonplace.

One of the great joys for me these days is checking in with travelers in Europe who’ve enjoyed my new (and much improved) free audio tours. In fact, when I meet someone on the road one of my first questions is, “Have you used the free tours from the Rick Steves Audio Europe app?” I’m so high on these audio tours because people absolutely love them. And we’re making new tours all the time. So, when considering the blessing of new tech for travelers, don’t forget to download Rick Steves Audio Europe and stick me in your ear. I promise, you’ll like me there — just look how happy these travelers are.

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This is Day 34 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Why am I in such a giddy mood? Because I’m in Rome, updating one of my favorite guidebooks. From spilled artichoke splatter outside the kosher restaurants in the Jewish Ghetto, to saints bullying pagans off their obelisk-capping perches, to the spritzing breeze that fountains give off as they do their Baroque song-and-dance, to the way elegant locals share their world with rumpled tourists, to soldiers hanging out at all the most romantic piazzas, to children honing their spaghetti-slurping skills in the trattoria, I take moments between sightseeing and writing to simply stroll with all my senses wide open. I hope you can, too.

This is Day 33 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Facism vs. Individuality: Lessons from Italy

I’m hoping to shoot a TV special about fascism in 20th-century Europe this fall. So, I spent a day in Rome with my friend and fellow tour guide, Francesca Caruso, scouting possible images that might help us tell the story.

Of course, Europe went through a difficult period between the world wars when fascist dictators came to rule Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And in Rome, plenty of Mussolini souvenirs are still standing.

monument

Mussolini was a braggart and a publicity hound. He celebrated every new law and initiative he signed with great pride and wanted all to see. Each of these stone blocks, for example, is inscribed with an order Mussolini signed into law.

writing in cement

For some reason, fascist dictators thrive on creating enemies. Mussolini actually celebrated this notion by having this slogan set in a stone mosaic: Molti Nemici, Molto Onore (Many Enemies, Much Honor)

logo in cement

The symbol of Italian fascism was a bundle of sticks bound together along with an ax. My Italian guide made it really clear that the ax is a critical part of this symbol, as it represented harsh punishment. One stick is easy to break. But many breakable sticks bound together are unbreakable…and anyone who strays will be dealt with harshly. This symbol also adorned the back of America’s old Mercury dime.

statues along boulevard

Fascist dictators find both comfort and inspiration in other autocrats who know how to wield power. In anticipation of a visit from fellow fascist tyrant Adolf Hitler, Mussolini built a grand boulevard and lined it with statues of ancient Roman emperors who ruled with appropriate gusto.

large building with statues

Mussolini’s futuristic planned city, E.U.R., was fascism in stone — stern, monolithic, no questions asked…designed to make individuals seem small…to make you cower at the force of the state.

mussolini carved into facade

This is part of a relief carved in stone celebrating “Great Building of Rome” — from ancient times until the 1930s. The culmination of the story, Mussolini, is depicted being adored by his populace: workers, women, children, and soldiers.

genius of sport statue

This perky bronze statue of an athletic young man was originally called “The Genius of Fascism.” After Mussolini was overthrown and Italy’s fascist nightmare ended, Romans saved the statue by putting ancient boxing gloves on him and calling him “The Genius of Sport.”

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This is Day 32 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I’ve been in Europe now for a month and my most vivid memories are of the fun I’ve had with people. Simple things like getting a haircut in a foreign country, meeting the child of a guide, and going back to a restaurant again because I really like the restaurateur. These are the sparkles that keep the memories of a trip alive. (And all of these people are listed in my guidebooks.)

Rick Steves, tour guide, driver and son

In the Amalfi Coast region of Italy, I find that many couples work as driver/guide teams. Here Giovanna Donadio is my guide and her husband, Francesco del Pizzo, drives. He’s quiet and she loves to talk — a good mix. And their little boy is adorable. If someone is listed in my guidebooks (like Giovanna and Francesco), chances are I actually enjoyed their services.

Rick Steves and barber

A week before meeting my TV crew I always get a little stressed out when I need to get a haircut from someone I don’t know, in a land where I don’t speak the language. This year I had a brainstorm: I asked my favorite Amalfi Coast driver, Raffaele Monetti (you can see him looking on in this photo), to book me a time with his barber. I figured: good enough for Raffaele…good enough for me. And it was great.

Rick Steves and barbers

I dropped back into my new favorite hair salon in Sorrento, Satisfhair (run by Luca and Tony, the guys in the hats), to get the details. I added it to my book. But I’m not terribly systematic when it comes to this sort of thing. In my books, if there’s a clinic listed in a town, I likely got sick there and needed it. If there’s a masseuse listed in a town, I was likely really exhausted and in need of a good massage there (and enjoyed it). If there’s a hair salon listed…I needed a haircut (and liked the one I got).

Rick Steves and Claudio

In Rome, my personal treat is having dinner at Ristorante il Gabriello, where delightful Claudio always greets me warmly and I dine very well. He’s one of those lucky people who found his niche and really enjoys his work…and his patrons are the beneficiaries.

Francesca Caruso, Sarah Murdoch and Rick Steves

My favorite Rome guide, Francesca Caruso (on the left), spent the better part of a day with me checking sights and restaurants in Rome for the new edition of my Rome guidebook. We knew that tour guide Sarah Murdoch was treating her group to a wonderful last dinner of their trip that night — so we popped in to say hi between our many restaurant visits that evening. I love to see a group beaming at the finale of a wonderful tour. (Nice work, Sarah!)

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This is Day 31 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences in Italy, Portugal, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.