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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There’s no doubt, our new presidential administration will bring lots of changes. And one change that has been in the news lately is our relationship with Israel, and with the Palestinians. Not long ago, I traveled in both Israel and Palestine to produce a one-hour public television special called Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. My goal was to offer a “dual narrative” look at the region, considering the challenges in that part of the world from both an Israeli and a Palestinian perspective. Today that special — which you can stream online for free, in its entirety — feels particularly relevant.
One regret I had in producing our Holy Land show was that a lot of fascinating material wound up on the cutting-room floor. We filmed several insightful interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians that have never been available online…until now. Over the next 10 days, I’ll be sharing 10 different interviews with people I met in the Holy Land. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.
First up: While we ate a fast-food lunch in a West Bank settlement shopping mall, we met a smart, young, professional Jewish couple with a big family. They were not only willing to talk with our camera rolling, but they were well-spoken and expert at articulating the Israeli case.
We’ve just finished our annual Rick Steves’ Europe guide summit. A hundred guides are flying home, and we’re ready to lead our best-ever tours in 2017. Here’s a couple minutes of video fun we had as I hosted the entire gang in my house. It’s four clips edited together.
During our annual guides’ talent show, the Portuguese guides (men and women) grew cute moustaches and bushy eyebrows to become charming old men and sing a folk song. Cathie Ryan, our Irish singing angel, feted Steve Smith with just the right song to celebrate his retirement. Our Italian guides actually organized with the French guides to go on strike and refuse to perform (demanding that Steve stick around for “one more year!”). And finally, we all sang “Happy Birthday” to tour guide Keith in our own languages at the same time.
That wall of happy sound — so incomprehensible yet so full of vigor, fun, and love — reflected to me the amazing beauty of working with so much passion and talent from so many countries through so many amazing guides. Thanks to all our guides for their dedication, and for traveling all the way to Seattle to make sure we have the best-led tours of Europe for 2017. Happy travels!
Last week we were very busy, as well over a hundred of our guides gathered for our annual guide summit for Rick Steves’ Europe Tours. In addition to the reunion festivities, “Test Drive a Tour classes,” and busy brainstorming sessions (designed to perfect each one of our itineraries), a great dimension of the gathering was the opportunity for guides from all over Europe and the USA to socialize. Each night, after hours, tour guides party. Here’s a little series of photos that capture a few of the countless wonderful moments that filled this week.
For me, a highlight of the guide summit is having the entire gang over to my house. We set up a tent to extend the garage, hire a food truck to feed everyone, and open the doors. Having 100 European tour guides take over your home is an exhilarating exercise of gathering 100 fun-loving, high-energy, fascinating people under one roof. Thunderous! My favorite night of the year.
While guides are good at getting the attention of a group of tour members, getting the attention of 100 guides can be a challenge. We finally settled down to enjoy our annual tour guides’ talent show, during which guides from various countries share a fun little act from their homeland.
The big buzz among our guides is the election of our new president. In one of the talent show acts, our Slovenian guides did a skit parodying our new first family, with a hilarious peek at what people from her homeland think of our new First Lady (who happens to be a Slovene).
This year was a bit bittersweet, as we celebrated the retirement of Steve Smith — one of our first guides, who, for the last 20 years, has worked to assemble and manage our guiding staff. Steve is my right-hand man in so many ways (as the co-author of our France guidebooks, in addition to his brilliance at developing and managing our tour guide staff). Thanks, Steve, for the years of fun and wisdom, as you have been so instrumental in building our tour program. The love and respect you have earned from our guides is testimony to the excellence of your work.
Photo: Colin Mairs
Each year, during a workshop break, we all gather in the street for a “family of guides” group photo. To be in the middle of this crush is lots of fun. Our Art Department staff — standing on a rooftop above us — designed this mosh pit of travel teachers to take the photo.
And here we are, the Rick Steves’ Europe tour guides…class of 2017.
Photo: Jorge Román
It’s so much fun as we host our guides to see how they make the most of their free time here in Seattle. From going to trapeze school, to making a pilgrimage to Bruce Lee’s grave (Bosnians celebrate him rather than political or military leaders, as their country has suffered so horribly because of nationalism and tribalism), to exploring marijuana stores (they’re sleek and so normal here in Washington State — but pretty wild if you live in Europe or a state here that has yet to legalize), to simply enjoying a little bowling.
Photo: Seumas Macletchie
Several of our guides (including Liz Lister from Scotland, shown here) were at Seattle’s big Alderwood Mall when there was a stabbing. The entire place was shut down, and our guides got a little taste of America and its jitters.
A very important dimension of our annual guide summit is the chance for me to sit down with our amazing guides in our radio studio for interviews. This week, we recorded about 20 hours of interviews for Travel with Rick Steves, which airs for an hour each week on 400 public radio stations all around the USA. Over the next year, we’ll be airing these interviews — ranging from Siena’s Palio (talking with a woman who lives in this year’s winning contrada) to getting a variety of views on Brexit (from English, Scottish, and Irish guides who voted either yes or no) to a celebration of Bulgarian cuisine (all of our guides know how to share their country’s cuisine as if it’s the greatest in Europe). In this photo, I’m talking with Irish guides Stephen McPhilemy and Cathie Ryan about all the latest on the Emerald Isle.
Last week, our little town of Edmonds, Washington, hosted about 2,000 of our 2016 tour alums for our annual Rick Steves Tour Reunion — as well over a hundred of our guides gathered for our guide summit. Along with six huge tour alumni parties, our guides gave 20 talks to full theaters (many of them streamed to thousands of travelers online); we held 30 roundtable workshops brainstorming ways to make each of our tour itineraries more efficient, fun, and experiential; and each night, our guides partied. While this annual event dominates my staff’s time for weeks and costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars, we always bid our guides goodbye at the end of this summit with the strong feeling that it’s all worth it. In 2017, well over 20,000 Americans will join us in Europe, and we’re confident that — thanks largely to these great guides, and our shared commitment to excellence — we’ll offer them the best tours on the market. Here’s a little series of photos that capture a few of the countless wonderful moments that filled this week.
We filled my old junior high school gym with those who enjoyed our tours in 2016 during six successive parties — a perfect chance to share memories and reconnect with tour friends and guides.
I have so much fun meeting with travelers who not only enjoyed their tours last year…but who are “repeat offenders,” coming back for more and more tours. About half the people who traveled with us in 2016 had already traveled with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours. Many have taken a dozen or more.
We give a prize to the group with the best attendance. Having led 900 tours in 2016, that’s a lot of groups. And many had a good little reunion crowd, as tour members traveled from across the USA to share travel memories (and dream of future adventures).
With about a hundred guides taking part in this event, everywhere I looked I saw fun mini-reunions. Here, Sicilian guide Alfio di Mauro reconnects with a couple of happy tour members.
Photo: Kate Mulhern Graham
A fun part of our annual Tour Reunion is the series of 20 “Test Drive a Tour Guide” talks, giving our travelers the chance to learn more about our itineraries and meet some of our guides. As a speaker, I’d throw questions to our guides (for example, Trina Kudlacek and Alfio di Mauro joined me onstage for my Italy talk), and they’d have fun sharing their experience with our audience.
Guides are multitalented. Between travel talks, Irish guide Cathie Ryan and Italian guide David Tordi (who both perform as musicians when they’re not guiding tours) entertained our travelers with delightful sets of music. They artfully interwove Italian and Irish musical themes. I’m so thankful that our guides make music such a delightful part of our travels.
And everywhere, there were guides meeting with travelers — helping them turn their travel dreams into smooth and affordable reality (by selling them a Rick Steves tour!).
Even though I canceled my flight and hotel reservations for the inauguration in Washington DC after Election Day, I still want to celebrate this important day for all of us Americans. And I want to do it in a way that reflects my values and what I love most about America: tolerance, diversity, and freedom.
That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate Inauguration Day (this Friday) to the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union stands on principled grounds in defense of our civil liberties as promised by our Constitution. I believe that Americans of any political stripe can feel proud of the ACLU’s mission, as it boldly defends minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Political movements, presidents, and trends come and go, and, as a traveler, I well know how the world looks to America — in good times and bad — as a beacon of freedom…a land with a constitution that declares people of all religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities should enjoy equality under the law.
So, to celebrate and help fund the ACLU — which will be working hard for civil liberties in the coming years — I’m happy to give them an amount equal to the money spent at ricksteves.com/shop on January 20th. So what’s the deal? It’s simple: For every dollar you spend buying any guidebooks or travel gear on Inauguration Day, I’ll give a dollar to the ACLU.
Yes, next week, the ACLU will get an amount equal to what was spent at ricksteves.com/shop on Friday, January 20.
Let’s hope and pray that with the inauguration of a new president on that day, America finds a way to continue being the bold, compassionate, generous, and inspirational leader our world hopes to see when they look at the Stars and Stripes.
Happy travels in 2017, and God bless America in the coming years.
We are just wrapping up our annual Tour Guide Summit and Tour Reunion Party. It’s the week we host over a hundred guides from all over Europe, as well as a couple thousand of the 20,000 people who joined us on tour in 2016. I was just sitting in my office getting my many ducks in a row, and decided to shoot this quick impromptu clip to give you a peek at the action. Thanks to all our tour members who joined us in the festivities. We’re all excited about great travels in 2017.
Each week, 400 public radio stations air my Travel with Rick Steves talk show for an hour. And I record about a quarter of each year’s interviews each January — in a week-long flurry when our European tour guides are in town. I absolutely love these conversations, and this week, we’re inviting all our blog friends to listen in on the raw feed. You’ll need to excuse my sometimes crude and juvenile chatter between interviews, and the quick trips to the WC when nothing’s going on. But for 24 hours scattered between today and January 17, we’ll be streaming my public radio interviews live. You can find the complete schedule (and how to join in on the conversation) at ricksteves.com/interviews.
Liz and Colin will be talking Scotland. Amir and Marijan will be dreaming out loud about Bosnia and Croatia. Fabian, Holger, and Nina will discuss Brexit and its impact on the EU. Anna will gush about how, last year, her neighborhood won the Palio in Siena not once, but twice. Maisie introduces us to contemporary German music. Ferdi will rave about Belgian taste treats. Jana will explain the Czech passion for their homegrown beer. Katka will explain why Czechs eat carp at Christmas. And Cecilia will tell the romantic story behind Italy’s beloved chocolate kisses — Baci.
So, if you’re the curious type and love talking travel, this is a fun opportunity. And if you’d rather await the finished interviews — all cleaned up and edited down to make me sound smooth as can be — you’ll hear these (and lots more) over the next year on Travel with Rick Steves, thanks to your local public radio station.
Happy travels and Happy New Year!
2,400 of you gave $100 or more each, totaling $309,594. As promised, I matched the first $250,000. Together, we raised more than $559,000 to fight structural causes of hunger. All this money — 100 percent — was given to Bread for the World to advocate in our halls of government for policies that help the hungry both at home and abroad. This is not “handouts for the lazy” and it’s not “trickle down,” either. It is smart compassion in action, as good people surrounded by a sea of abundance struggle to simply feed their children.
Thanks to all who joined us in this exciting initiative. To learn more about the impact we’ll have, follow Bread for the World at bread.org. Thank you!
So, it’s time to step into the new year. It’s a time when many of us look inward to calibrate or recalibrate our lives and loves in hopes of becoming better people. If you’ve heard my talks or read my books, you know that fundamental to our teaching at Rick Steves’ Europe is connecting people to people. When we meet people in our travels — whether across the seas or just across the tracks — we gain understanding. That journey becomes transformative in that it makes us more empathetic, happier, and less fearful. It makes us smarter, and thus makes it tougher for bad forces to sidetrack our natural good intentions.
When we travel in a way that connects us with real people, it makes it harder for the propaganda they live with to demonize us —and vice versa. We become bridges. The European Union, with about 400 million people and lots of competing interests, has serious challenges. And it tackles those challenges not by building walls but by building bridges. Walls are not just brick-and-mortar manifestations of fear and anger. They can be trade barriers. They can be border crossings where you need a visa. They can be parents unwilling to let their children hear a narrative other than their own. They can be fear of the unknown. The EU recognizes these challenges and that’s why it funds the Erasmus Program which pays for students and teachers to learn and teach in other countries within that family of nations. It’s not cheap, but it’s considered a great value.
The EU also had a challenge when designing its euro currency. When several hundred million diverse people will carry the same bills in their wallets, you need to decorate those bills with symbolism that can be universally embraced. The theme the chose: arches and bridges — each sources of strength and communication.
One of the most inspirational guides I’ve ever worked with is Tom Rankin (an American scholar and architect who works in Rome). Just last week Tom updated me with his plans for guided architectural walks in 2017 and shared with me a series of his watercolor sketches of bridges on Rome’s Tiber River.
To celebrate our commitment to tolerance, diversity, empathy, and the value of overcoming fear by understanding people whose life experiences give them different perspectives than you or I might have, I’d like to share Tom’s bridges with you.
This is my way of kicking off 2017 with a rousing call for solidarity among people with a broad worldview and a passion for peace with justice.
Best wishes and happy travels in 2017.
All images courtesy Tom Rankin.
Our friends at Avalon Travel (the folks who publish all our books) built this tree out of my guidebooks and I had to share it with each of you with a holiday wish. Looking at the “branches” on this happy tree of travel dreams, I see our mission of connecting people through travel. There are thousands of pages of hotel listings, restaurant tips, and the best sights. There are books on festivals, phrasebooks to make communication more fun, art appreciation books, and even my Travel as a Political Act book. While each of these serves a different purpose, they all build upon each other to eventually reach that shining star on top. And that star symbolizes the greatest souvenir any of us can bring home: a celebration of our shared humanity, an invigorated passion for peace and economic justice, and a mindset where we’re more inclined to build bridges and less inclined to build walls.
The year 2016 was a great one for our work at Rick Steves’ Europe. In 2017, the value of our mission — connecting people and bringing our world closer together — will become even more important. And, as that value surges, so will the value of your travels along with the meaning and gratification that comes from our labor.
Over the last few days in our office, it’s been pretty empty. Our staff is enjoying their families and a well-earned holiday break. And that makes me very happy. When we dive back in after the holidays, we’ll be hosting 100 of our European tour guides and a couple thousand of those who joined our tours last year for our annual guide workshop and tour reunion. We are revving up to put maximum sparkle into your 2017 travels.
At Rick Steves’ Europe, we’re thankful for our work and thankful for your support. Together, we wish all of our travelers a holiday season that is both serene and joyful, and filled with humanity, love, and promise.