Rick Steves Travel Blog: Blog Gone Europe

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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Anyone who’s built a home knows about soils and foundation concerns. Imagine building a home in a place like Venice or Amsterdam. Watching construction people dam, drill, fill, and build here, it just seems routine. This video clip gives a peek at the watery process.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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If you want to eat local in Amsterdam, remember three things: cheese, herring, and Indonesian rijsttafel. What are your favorite Amsterdam edibles?

 

Colonial cuisine is fun. And just like England loves its Indian food, the Dutch hunger for Indonesian. The ritual dish for tourists in Holland is rijsttafel  (literally "rice table"). While not a true Indonesian meal, it’s a Dutch innovation designed to highlight the best food of its former colony, especially all the great spices that were a big part of what originally motivated the colonial age. For around $40 you’ll get about 20 dishes and a rainbow of spices with white rice to mix and mingle on your palette. More casual Indonesian restaurants allow you to split this meal.

Colonial cuisine is fun. And just like England loves its Indian food, the Dutch hunger for Indonesian. The ritual dish for tourists in Holland is rijsttafel (literally “rice table”). While not a true Indonesian meal, it’s a Dutch innovation designed to highlight the best food of its former colony, especially all the great spices that were a big part of what originally motivated the colonial age. For around $40 you’ll get about 20 dishes and a rainbow of spices with white rice to mix and mingle on your palette. More casual Indonesian restaurants allow you to split this meal.

 

 

With its seafaring heritage, Dutch cuisine embraces herring. The local version of a hot-dog stand is a herring stand where variations on fresh herring are dished up--most are not cooked but pickled. For a memory you won’t forget (no matter how you try), don’t miss a little paper plate of herring with pickles and onions.

With its seafaring heritage, Dutch cuisine embraces herring. The local version of a hot-dog stand is a herring stand where variations on fresh herring are dished up–most are not cooked but pickled. For a memory you won’t forget (no matter how you try), don’t miss a little paper plate of herring with pickles and onions.

 

Each day my wandering was made much more fun and educational because I hired a local guide to join me. It’s basically like renting a friend who’s really smart. Then, everything I do, I’m doing with a coach and partner. My guide Frank Sanders and I spent an hour enjoying the Reypenaer cheese tasting.

Each day my wandering was made much more fun and educational because I hired a local guide to join me. It’s basically like renting a friend who’s really smart. Then, everything I do, I’m doing with a coach and partner. My guide Frank Sanders and I spent an hour enjoying the Reypenaer cheese tasting.

 

At the Reypenaer cheese-tasting class we tried five or so Dutch cheeses with three different wines and charted our experience. If you happen to like cheese and wine, this is a very fun class. As I recommend it in my Amsterdam guidebook, I wanted to be sure I was describing it correctly--and you can’t do that without actually enjoying the experience.

At the Reypenaer cheese-tasting class we tried five or so Dutch cheeses with three different wines and charted our experience. If you happen to like cheese and wine, this is a very fun class. As I recommend it in my Amsterdam guidebook, I wanted to be sure I was describing it correctly–and you can’t do that without actually enjoying the experience.

What are some fun, organized, and educational food-tasting experiences you’ve enjoyed in your travels?

 

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A key for really enjoying Amsterdam is to go local…on two wheels. The city is designed for bikers, and I feel so right pedaling around town throughout my visit. I always rent a bike upon arrival and keep it at my hotel for the duration of my stay. Behind the train station, free ferries shuttle commuters back and forth across the IJ on Amsterdam’s waterfront. From the other side you can pedal down a canal and, literally within minutes, be in the wide-open polder land and among windmills.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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Amsterdam is as lively–and enjoyably shocking–as ever. The old standbys (Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum) have reopened after closures for renovations, and there are some new joys for sightseers.

The area just east of the extremely central Central Station has a fixed-up, glassy high-rise feel. Anyone is welcome to venture into the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and head up 11 floors to the rooftop Sky Lounge. Come here to enjoy a drink--and what is suddenly the best "high-wide" view over Amsterdam.

The area just east of the extremely central Central Station has a fixed-up, glassy high-rise feel. Anyone is welcome to venture into the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and head up 11 floors to the rooftop Sky Lounge. Come here to enjoy a drink–and what is suddenly the best “high-wide” view over Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s big three art museums gather at the Museumplein--its museum park. The park itself is a people-friendly delight. The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, understandably popular, are plagued by long lines. But the local favorite (and a great opportunity to just be in the modern art world) is all yours at the newly reopened Stedelijk Museum. London has its Tate Modern. Paris has the Pompidou. And Amsterdam offers an equally stimulating modern art museum. Like the others, it combines striking architecture (it's nicknamed "the bath tub" because of its odd shape), 20th-century favorites (Dali, Picasso, Kandinsky), and crazy contemporary art. While I’m not a big fan of abstract art, I found the contemporary sections of the Stedelijk really fun. What are your favorite modern art museum experiences in Europe?

Amsterdam’s big three art museums gather at the Museumplein–its museum park. The park itself is a people-friendly delight. The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, understandably popular, are plagued by long lines. But the local favorite (and a great opportunity to just be in the modern art world) is all yours at the newly reopened Stedelijk Museum. London has its Tate Modern. Paris has the Pompidou. And Amsterdam offers an equally stimulating modern art museum. Like the others, it combines striking architecture (it’s nicknamed “the bath tub” because of its odd shape), 20th-century favorites (Dali, Picasso, Kandinsky), and crazy contemporary art. While I’m not a big fan of abstract art, I found the contemporary sections of the Stedelijk really fun. What are your favorite modern art museum experiences in Europe?

Amsterdam’s mayor is pushing an initiative to take the sleaze out of the sex and drug industries--businesses that the city famously tolerates. While fans of sex and drugs worry he’s rolling back the tolerance that is so endearing about Dutch society, I think he just wants to show that sex and drugs don’t need to be sleazy...and he’s doing a good job at it. The Red Light District is now a little more compact; windows promoting fashion and artists are now spliced in among all the windows with red lights and enticing women. And the streets remain the happy domain of regular people out having fun without the layer of shady characters making money in shady ways. I’d love to hear others’ feeling or stories about Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Amsterdam’s mayor is pushing an initiative to take the sleaze out of the sex and drug industries–businesses that the city famously tolerates. While fans of sex and drugs worry he’s rolling back the tolerance that is so endearing about Dutch society, I think he just wants to show that sex and drugs don’t need to be sleazy…and he’s doing a good job at it. The Red Light District is now a little more compact; windows promoting fashion and artists are now spliced in among all the windows with red lights and enticing women. And the streets remain the happy domain of regular people out having fun without the layer of shady characters making money in shady ways. I’d love to hear others’ feeling or stories about Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

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I can return to Paris again and again for the rest of my life. Just being there–with no intention of seeing anything new–is a fine vacation opportunity. With our tour over, I enjoyed a personal day before heading for Amsterdam and the Netherlands to scout for my upcoming TV shoot. The plan: Take my own audio tours and eat very well.

rick-steves-audio-tour-ste-chapelleWe’ve produced about 45 self-guided audio tours (all free with my Rick Steves’ Audio Europe Travel App), and every chance I get, I try to actually take them. When I follow along, I can see if they work well. And (this may sound a bit weird) but I also take them because they cover my favorite places–and I simply enjoy hearing myself talking about them. It’s fun to be immersed in a tour of a place like Paris’ Gothic lantern of stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle–and drift by another traveler enjoying the same audio tour. So far, the only one that doesn’t work well is Florence’s Uffizi Gallery (because they rearranged much of the featured art).

 

paris-by-mouth-food-tourAs has been my theme in the last year or two of guidebook research, I am finding new experiences to complement the great sights. Food tours are trendy across Europe, and I’m taking lots of them. Food tours generally take three to four hours and cost around $100. Some are worthwhile, and many are not. In Paris, we joined a Paris by Mouth food tour: six stops in three hours for €95. Our guide was an expert, expat foodie, and I gained a fun new appreciation of baguettes, croissants, cheese, and the way French people make the most out of eating. (For much more on this food tour–if you don’t mind a little food porn–see Trish Feaster’s blog at The Travelphile.com.)

rick-steves-violon-ingres-paris

After 50 days of steady work (OK–steady fun, too), I treated myself to a Michelin-star restaurant. We don’t list many destination restaurants in our guidebooks, but people come to Paris to eat well, and you’ll certainly do that at Le Violon d’Ingres.

violon-ingres-truffle-egg

At Le Violon d’Ingres, the dishes are extremely creative and, while excellent, I’m glad I opted for a sampler menu which gave me twice as many plates (with half-sized portions) as a regular menu. The Degustation Menu cost €95 for eight small plates served delicately and beautifully presented. I added on the matching wine. If you’re planning on binging for an extravagant meal in France, you’ll get the best value in smaller towns in the countryside. But for me, my fine Parisian dinner at Le Violon d’Ingres was a splurge I’ll never forget.

rick-steves-chef-christian-constant

As we list his restaurant in our book, renowned chef Christian Constant dropped by to see us. There’s a family tree-type photo wall of all the chefs who’ve trained with Monsieur Constant. After our meal, I was not surprised that his kitchen has spawned so many highly regarded and successful chefs.

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My Best of Europe tour is finished. (I feel like sending that Rick Steves fellow a letter to tell him what a great time I had.)  I hope you enjoyed following my adventures these last three weeks. Of course, we’re really proud of our tour program. This year, we’re having our best season ever. So far over 19,000 travelers have signed up on over 800 of our 2014 tours, and plans for our 2015 season are well under way. The Best of Europe tour you joined me on is just one of over 30 different itineraries.

If you’re curious about our tour program, go to my tours website and browse around. We understand trusting a tour company with your precious vacation time and money is a huge decision, so call 425-608-4217 if you have more questions after you’ve looked at our website.

Each year we throw a big party for our tour alums and our guides. This little video clip lets you join the party for a few minutes. Check it out and think about letting us turn your travel dreams into smooth and affordable reality. Thanks.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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joe-tour-bus-rick-stevesJoe–as he’s done well over a hundred times before with our groups–drove masterfully from Amsterdam to Rome and up to Paris and was adored by all. After getting us to Paris, Joe had a five-hour drive back to his home in Belgium, where he enjoys a few days off before meeting his next Rick Steves tour group. I’m thankful that our bus drivers are a part of our traveling family. (Several times on this tour after a long drive, we’d walk across town for our group dinner. And, when we’d arrive at the restaurant, Joe would already be there…enjoying a nice glass of wine while awaiting our arrival. On other companies’ European tours, the last thing a driver would do is join his group for dinner during his time off. Not so with our drivers.) It’s always emotional for our groups when we unload for our last time and bid our driver farewell. Ciao, Joe!

rick-steves-builds-human-cathedralIn Europe, most commercial tour guides are called “tour managers.” They don’t really teach–they run the tour. They hire local guides that come and go in various cities to do the teaching. On a Rick Steves tour, the guide is more than a tour manager. He or she is also a teacher, and we do what we can to lace together and curate all the information we pick up from our many local contacts. We work to give the lessons context and more meaning…to make the art and history graspable. One of my great tour-guiding joys is introducing a group to its first Gothic cathedral by “building” one out of our tour members before entering. At Paris’ Notre-Dame, our guide Reid–knowing how much I always enjoyed this teaching stunt–asked me if I wanted to build a Gothic cathedral with our group. I jumped at the opportunity. Here you see me lining up our columns and making sure the buttresses are flying in with their support before erecting the spire.

human-spireStanding in the shadow of Paris’ Notre-Dame, our group built a Gothic cathedral with 13 tourists. With buttresses in place, columns strong, and ribs coming together at pointed arches in good Gothic style, we had created the skeletal structure of a Gothic cathedral. Little Brogan then hoisted himself high above it all, crowning our structure with a spire.

louvre-main-hallEurope’s biggest palace, the Louvre, contains its greatest collection of paintings. It just makes sense: You have a revolution, cut off the king’s head, take his amazing collection of art, hang it in his palace, and open it to the people. That’s exactly what happened and, since the 1790s, the unwashed masses have enjoyed a royal collection of paintings.

louvre-grand-galleryIn its day the Louvre was the biggest building in the world. The Grand Gallery is about a quarter mile long…lined with amazing art.

pickpocket-sign-in-louvreEven with warning signs flanking the Mona Lisa, pickpockets earn a fine living jostling with the masses as everyone ogles in front of Leonardo’s smirking masterpiece.

rick-steves-tour-group-eiffel-towerOn our tours, each guide works hard to create a beautiful-and-memorable last evening together. Here in Paris, we stroll from our dinner restaurant to the Champ de Mars for a memorable send-off in front of the icon of European travel, the Eiffel Tower.

rick-steves-tour-jump-eiffel-towerSometimes, when you’ve shared a great European tour, you’ve just got to cap it with a joyful “jumpie.” Happy travels!

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Paris is the finale of our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour. And our first order of business (after checking in at the hotel) is getting our group comfortable with perhaps the world’s greatest subway system, Le Métro. This little video clip, taken as we were passing a group of Russian troubadours, captures the energy of being underground with the Parisians.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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Guides and drivers inhabit their buses in ways tour members can hardly appreciate. And during rest stops, I enjoy being locked in to do a little writing. This little clip is, literally, a “bus tour.”

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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Sorry to interrupt my reports from Europe, but there’s big cinema news coming out of the USA that I just have to share. I’ve been in lots of TV shows but, until now, never in a movie. In a few days, that’s about to change.

In 2012 I had the opportunity to help lead the historic campaign in Washington State to legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana.  Along with Colorado, legalizing marijuana got more votes than President Obama (56 percent). The citizens of two states stood up and voted overwhelmingly to end the failed War on Drugs and stop the mass incarceration of our most disadvantaged citizens for petty marijuana arrests.  We made history together…and it was an exciting story I’m very proud of.

Thankfully, a group of talented Seattle filmmakers was there from the start to capture the story.  The award-winning and critically acclaimed documentary “Evergreen: The Road to Legalization” shows the candid, behind-the-scenes drama of this historic change in American drug policy through the eyes of those who lived it (including yours truly!). And it gives a glimpse at just how–I believe–state by state, the Prohibition of our age will be ended.

I am thrilled to announce that “Evergreen” is beginning its theatrical run starting this Friday, June 13th, in New York City and continuing in select cities throughout the country this summer.  Here is the run-down of screenings and dates:

New York, NY
Opens June 13, 2014
Cinema Village  

Denver, CO
Opens June 20, 2014
SIE Film Center

Dormont, PA
June 26 – 29, 2014
Hollywood Theater

Seattle, WA
Opens June 27, 2014
SIFF Cinema

Webster Groves, MO
July 25 – 27, 2014
Webster University Film Series 

Read a review here.

The theatrical run will be followed by an online release in the fall, just as a handful of additional states will be preparing to vote on their own legalization measures.  Please support independent film-making and the movement to end the War on Drugs.  Go see this movie!

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

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