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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Photo: thetravelphile.com

There’s a powerful new dynamic in the hotel industry that impacts small hotels and independent tourists hugely. I’m trying to sort it out and here’s my take:

In the last decade or so it’s become almost impossible for independent-minded, small, family-run hotels to survive without playing the game as dictated by the big players in the online booking world. Sites like Booking.com and Expedia.com take roughly 80 percent of the hotel reservation business. Hoteliers note that without this online presence, “we become almost invisible.” But online booking services demand a 20 to 25 percent commission and, in order to be listed on their service, a hotel must promise not to undercut the price on that site. Without that caveat, hoteliers could say, “Sure, sell our rooms for whatever markup you like and we’ll continue to offer a fair rate to travelers who come to us directly.” But that’s no longer possible.

The work-around for making hotel reservations: Those who book direct through a hotel’s website (and not through the booking agency site, thus saving the hotel about 20 percent) can be offered a free breakfast or free upgrade. Or, simply don’t book “online.” Just book by direct email or phone, in which case, hotels are free to give you whatever price they like (usually able to split the difference: charging 10 percent less and making 10 percent more).

As consumers, remember: whenever you reserve with an online booking service, for the small convenience offered by the booking site you’re adding a needless middleman who takes 20 to 25 percent. To support small, family-run hotels (whose world is more difficult than ever these days) and to get a better price, do your research online and then book not through third parties but direct by phone or email.

What’s your take on this situation and experience in getting the best price?

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This is Day 62 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





On my last day in Paris, I was met by my partner Trish (The Travelphile) — who took all the photos in this post — and we had a delightful afternoon simply enjoying the city’s hottest new spot: the pedestrianized embankment of the Seine.

We figured out Paris’ wonderful and popular Vélib’ loaner bike system (you join for a couple euros and then can pick up and drop bikes at any of over a thousand racks around town). Then we reveled in the scene on two wheels. We were completely immersed in an “in-love-with-life” Parisian ambience, joining thousands of happy Parisians simply out and enjoying their new people zone. There were pop-up bars, picnickers galore, rock walls for the kids to frolic on, and a laid-back vibe that made everything warm and fuzzy.

Enjoying a favorite restaurant with two great Francophile travelers: Steve Smith and Trish Feaster.

This is Day 61 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





While Paris is crisscrossed with bike lanes, the most relaxing and scenic Parisian joy ride on two wheels is along its riverside promenades. A three-mile stretch from near the Eiffel Tower to a bit past Ile St. Louis makes a wonderful hour-long experience. (It could be much longer if you succumb to the temptations of the lounge chairs, hammocks, outdoor cafés, and simple delights of riverside Parisian life.) Start at the Pont de l’Alma near the Eiffel Tower on the Left Bank, then head east, crossing to the Right Bank at the Orsay Museum on Pont Royal. Continue east, passing the Louvre, until you pass the two islands. Your major hazard: avoiding pedestrians and not biking into the river, since you’ll be distracted by so many iconic buildings and sights as you pedal.

(By the way, the bike I’m using is one of the 20,000 Vélib’ bikes Paris scatters all across town to alleviate traffic congestion.)

This is Day 60 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Paris scatters about 20,000 bikes at about 1,500 racks all across town so people (locals and tourists) can essentially borrow a bike for a quick one-way ride. Bikes are free for the first half hour, and you pay a small fee for longer rentals.  It’s designed to alleviate traffic congestion by giving people a reason not to drive their car for little trips.

Photo: thetravelphile.com

To borrow a Vélib’ bike, download the free and easy-to-use Vélib’ app on your smartphone. This app knows where you are and shows the nearest rack locations — including which ones have loaner bikes available and which have parking spaces available. This is important information for Vélib’ users as racks are often completely full or empty.

Locate the nearest bike rack. At the payment machine, you’ll simply dial English, follow the prompts, and after inserting your credit or debit card, the machine will print out your one-day or seven-day membership ticket with your ID number. Once you have your Vélib’ ticket, you have access to any available bikes anywhere in the city. (There’s a more complete explanation of how to do this in our Rick Steves Paris guidebook.)

Picking Up a Vélib’ Bike: Survey the bike rack and decide which bike you want (note the number). Return to the machine and find the screen meant for bike rental (it’s the simpler panel, likely the one with the map). Click “other languages” then “English” and then “Short Term Ticket” (or some similar wording). Enter your 8- to 10-digit ID number, then follow with your four-digit PIN. Then enter the number of the bike you want. Wait for it to verify. When you get the OK on the screen, go get your bike. Press the grey metal button next to the bike to release it, and you’re ready to ride.

Returning Your bike: Refer to your Vélib’ app to find the nearest or handiest rack with empty stalls available. Simply plug your bike into an empty stall and be sure it engages.

Vélib’ Biking Tips: Bikes are accessible 24/7. Survey your bike carefully before choosing it (make sure it has its hand grips, etc). Remember that a seat turned backwards indicates a broken bike. If you get a bad bike, return it and take another. Adjust your seat for comfort. Take advantage of the three speeds and bike lock. You can check out a bike as many times as you want while your ticket is valid. There’s no charge for taking a bike for less than 30 minutes. Then charges start racking up: €1 for the first half-hour, €2 for a second half-hour, and €4 for each half-hour after that. So, a two-hour rental would cost €7 (in addition to the initial cost for your membership). Be careful riding in Paris traffic. Vélib’ provides no bike helmets (and I never saw anyone wearing one in Paris). Bon voyage.

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This is Day 59 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





At the cost of closing down two well-used expressways along the river, Paris has reclaimed long stretches of the Seine’s embankment for its people. It’s a fun-loving project stretching several miles along the river. Today Parisians have a new world for biking, strolling, having fun with the kids, exercising, enjoying pop-up drinking and eating establishments, having extravagant picnics complete with tablecloths and champagne, and simply dangling their feet over the water and being in the moment alone or with friends.

This is Day 58 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Meet a sexy unicorn. It’s the late Middle Ages and sensuality is becoming an artistic option. This amazing tapestry (hanging in the Cluny Museum in Paris) takes you back in time. With this clip, I’d like to introduce you to…The Lady and the Unicorn.

This is Day 57 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Heading to Paris? Rue Cler is the perfect, traffic-free market street to call home for a few days. I do almost every year — and it just gets better and better.

Our Paris guidebook features lots of hotels and restaurants on Rue Cler, and I’m putting together a guided walk down the street for my free Rick Steves Audio Europe app.

I shot this nine-minute blitz as a tool to help write the walk accurately when I get back to the office. While it’s pretty long, I figure some of you might enjoy a quick, ad lib tour down a small lane in a great city. This clip is your chance to take a walk down Rue Cler with me and decide if you want to call this slice of Paris home for a few days.

This is Day 56 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Coming home at midnight after a great evening in Paris with no one to drunk dial, I shot this little video clip for you instead. The world’s a good place, full of good people, and even though there was a light rain falling when I shot this, I just needed to step onto the balcony and marvel at the Eiffel Tower.

This is Day 55 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Overcome by the merging of my love of Paris and my love of guidebooks while enjoying Paris’ Panthéon, I just had to shoot this little clip.

This is Day 54 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





The big Eiffel Tower question: How high is high enough? Going up the Eiffel Tower is one of the great travel thrills in Europe. Given the cost, the long lines, and the time involved, a big question for many is: How high to go up? For €11 you can ride to the first level (200 feet up) and the second level (400 feet up). And for €17 you can ride all the way to the top (900 feet up). For me, the best view is from the second level (the top is actually higher than it needs to be to see Paris). But it is a thrill to be at the top of the tower. With this clip, you can actually see the same view from each level and decide what’s best for your visit.

(This is Day 53 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 across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Follow along at http://www.ricksteves.com/blog.)