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’m taking a quick break from our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour, while leaving our group in the good care of guides Ben and Trish, to join my film crew in Munich to film Oktoberfest — the final festival for our “Europe’s Top Ten Festivals” special that will air on public television in 2017. An hour before the tents open, our guide Georg Reichlmayr shows off his fancy lederhosen and introduces us to his favorite white sausages and sauerkraut.
The Arnhem Open-Air Museum, about halfway to Germany from Amsterdam, is like a fun dose of Dutch culture on a lazy Susan for busy travelers. Here’s a bit of the fun our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour group had here. Thanks to Trish Feaster (The Travelphile) for shooting and assembling the clip before we say “tot ziens” to the Netherlands and “Guten Tag” to Germany.
We have a vast selection of travel talks posted on YouTube and at ricksteves.com/travel-talks. YouTube likes everything to be captioned, so they use voice-recognition software that does an amazing job of automating that laborious transcription process. But occasionally, what I say and what their robotic ears hear are quite different…amusingly different. My assistant Skyla Sorensen has been busy proofreading YouTube’s automated work and found some crazy mistakes that we are thankful she caught. Here are some actual examples of how a voice-recognition robot can mangle a phrase in a Rick Steves travel lecture:
- Visit places like the beautiful Italian villages of “Gym Daddy”…or is it “Chicken Patty”… (Cinque Terre)
- On the coast of Portugal, eat some delicious “burning coals” (barnacles)
- Taste some local “Vietnamese hookers” in the Italian countryside (Vignoles)
- Check out the pietà Michelangelo made in his “girly” 20s (early)
- Travel to the best place to go in Poland, “crack house” (Kraków)
- Warsaw is the capital, “butt-crack houses” the university (but Kraków has the university)
- If you don’t know what to order in Provence, just “do your best” (get bouillabaisse)
- Two hours north of Rome, visit the beautiful “Chiquita banana Rachel” (Civita di Bagnoregio)
- Look at the Armory where Venetians would take potential enemies to say, “Don’t mess with Dennis” (Venice)
- Go to the Uffizi and see “peanut butter and jelly” (Venus by Botticelli)
- If you venture to the Holy Land, be sure to notice the “terrorist” settlements, the “terrorist” hills, and the “terrorist” vineyards (terraced settlements, hills, and vineyards)
- Sample the gastronomic “papas” in Spain (tapas)
- Throughout northern Europe you’ll see coastal towns with an “antibiotic” heritage (Hanseatic)
- Try doing “man-licking” in the high Alps, it’s very accessible for all ages (Männlichen)
- In France, don’t miss the exciting city of “Blah!” (Blois)
- Get “beat stupid” in Eastern Europe. It’s a local favorite (beet stew)
- In Iran, you’ll hear religious sayings ingrained in their culture, like “enchilada” (insha’Allah)
- Another cultural aspect of the Middle East is that “veterans” eat camels (Bedouins)
- If you want to make a difference without leaving your house, donate to “Bred for the Road,” my favorite charity (Bread for the World)
- For more information on my travel philosophy, check out my “Travel As a Blood Clot” talk (Travel As a Political Act)
- And finally, don’t forget to try out the local language. When you meet a German, greet him by saying “Good dog!” (Guten Tag)
A tour guide is a teacher of culture, and in Europe, each country’s open-air folk museum provides the perfect classroom — a sprawling park filled with historic and traditional buildings from every corner of the country for visitors to stroll through and travel back in time as they pop into homes, farms, pharmacies, schoolhouses, medicinal herb gardens, and various mills. On our fast “best of” swing through Europe, a few hours at the Netherlands Open-Air Folk Museum in Arnhem gives us an unforgettable dose of the Dutch countryside from centuries past. Join me on this little video clip as I crash a grade-school party just as the kids are settling into their tasty cones of hot fries.
Photo: The Travelphile
When I was a small boy, my dad and I “invented” something we called “stereo ears” — if you cup your ears at a concert, you hear a much broader array of sounds and more vivid highs.
If you like music, it can be a great part of your travels. For this tour, Trish and I collected fun and instructive cuts of music, organized them to match our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour itinerary, and posted a playlist titled “Rick Steves Europe Tour” on Spotify. All along the way we’re plugging our iPhones into our big bus’ sound system and enjoying our expanded roles as tour-guide DJs. If you’re traveling along our route (the Netherlands, Germany, Alps, Italy, more Alps, France, and Paris), feel free to use this list to inject some location-specific music into your travel fun. (What cuts might you add if it was your tour?)
Happy (and musical) travels!
Photo: The Travelphile
My life’s mission is teaching Europe to Americans in a meaningful and challenging way that is economic, efficient, unforgettable, and wildly fun. (With my staff, we do that three ways: for independent travelers — with guidebooks; for travelers who want an expert guide at their side — with our tours; and for those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not travel — with our TV shows). I’m in the Netherlands today with 27 great tour members from across our country and I’m doing exactly that — teaching.
For many people in my group, this is their first time in Europe — and for some, it’s their first time out of the USA. Passport virgins! And I have the honor of giving them their first experiences and the challenge of making it even better than they imagined.
It’s been zero to 60 in a blitz, and two days into the trip, we’re collecting eureka discoveries like mad: Carillon players have 1-inch callouses on their little fingers after years of playing their church-tower glockenspiels (fists on wooden pedals); cityscapes are wide open and clean here as they have no electrical wires strung up (they’re under the pavement stones — easy to dig up, fix/replace/augment, and then put the street back together); French fries aren’t called “French” in the Netherlands and they’re dunked in a rich and creamy mayonnaise; with an all-day tram pass you can swing like Tarzan on vines through the urban jungle of Amsterdam; clubs of Dutch windmill enthusiasts are renovating and maintaining classic windmills and will drop what they’re doing to climb through a mill with visitors from the USA; of the dozen or so people a year who drown in Amsterdam’s fabled canals, a good portion of them are dredged up with their zippers down — having drunk way too much, staggered over to the canal to relieve themselves…and taken a fatal tumble in the wee hours.
And, after a 20-year break from personally guiding our tour groups, it’s even more fun than I thought it would be to get back into the saddle and join my legion of committed tour guides doing what we do with such passion and style in our tour program — help people vividly experience Europe…the Rick Steves way.
I just finished a marvelous tour of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with our tour group and am inspired by the local art-historian guide we enjoyed.
During the Dutch Golden Age (the 1600s), with their trading ships roaming the globe and their leading city the pinnacle of European civilization, the Dutch produced some of the greatest art ever. No longer the “Spanish Netherlands” ruled by the Habsburg king and obedient to the pope, the Dutch were a Protestant republic — fiercely independent and proud. Great news — but it left their artists without the support of the usual big patrons (nobles, kings, and the Catholic Church). As you’ll see here, they did just fine.
Enjoy this three-minute blitz of the core of one of Europe’s greatest collections of art: Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Hold on to your cheese!
I am two days into our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour. I have 27 wonderful tour members and I’m assisted by two of our top guides, Ben Cameron and Trish Feaster. It’s been many years since I dedicated 21 days to one busload of travelers, and this promises to be a learning and growing and brainstorming experience for Rick Steves Europe Tours. We take over 20,000 travelers to Europe every year on about 900 bus tours (roughly 40 different itineraries), and with 150 talented guides, we need to be sure we are all teaching and guiding the “Rick Steves way.” And I need to know about the guides’ on-the-road, day-to-day reality (new technology, higher expectations, more dietary concerns, and so on).
So each day Ben, Trish, and I are experimenting, huddling, and debating to make sure we’re giving our tour members the best possible value. Just today it occurred to me that if we’re doing our job, we’ll be extremely busy behind the scenes ensuring that our travelers can have the maximum experience but without feeling harried. It’s amazing how much more a smartly guided tour accomplishes in a day than a typical solo traveler might. Here’s a behind-the-scenes example of the schedule we came up with for the first day and a half of our Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour (with a sampling of guiding notes from our work). We go fast (as it’s a “best of” tour), but you’d be surprised how smooth it can be for those on the receiving end when the guide is doing his or her job well.
Day One: Meet group in Haarlem, orientation meeting and get to know Haarlem (half an hour from Amsterdam).
2:00 Intro meeting (guide lays out groundwork of our tour).
4:00 Haarlem town walk with Ruby (a local guide), including a climb through a classic windmill and a local snack canalside (freshly fried bitterballen, be sure to have Ruby take 15 minutes at the end of her guided walk for general “reflections on Dutch lifestyles” questions).
6:30 Indonesian rijsttafel dinner (a traditional feast from the Dutch colony known as the “Spice Islands,” with a table full of dishes, guide explains four kinds of local beer — rounding price up and down to €3 to make ordering smarter and faster).
8:15 Take those interested to the pipe organ concert in Haarlem big church (free, one of Europe’s grandest pipe organs, Mozart performed on it, great experience, start by gathering people in rear of church: give people permission to leave early if too jet-laggy, read organ description from Amsterdam book, explain how this church is a fine example of a former Catholic church made Protestant).
Day Two: All day in Amsterdam
8:00 Leave hotel.
8:32 Catch train (give round-trip train tickets and all-day Amsterdam tram pass, give public-transit lesson).
9:00 Arrive Amsterdam, orient group in front of station, hop on tram, get off at Anne Frank House (tram driver will announce it in English).
9:15 Historic Amsterdam and Jordaan guided walk (theme: Anne Frank intro, tolerance), gay rights monument, men can actually demonstrate outdoor urinal, wander through scenic Jordaan district, stop at “big head square” for 20-minute coffee/WC break, give sampling of three kinds of local cheese when group meets up again (pick up cheese at Reypenaer cheese shop on corner while group is having break), walk to Dam Square, up Kalverstraat, pop into Begijnhof.
10:45 Catch tram at Spui for Resistance Museum (tram drops you right at theater).
11:00 Visit Dutch Theater, Holocaust Memorial, review lunch options, and set free in Dutch Resistance Museum. (The lunch place at the Artis Zoo, in Art Nouveau building, listed in guidebook, is great for fast, inexpensive, and elegant lunch. They have an enticing variety of gourmet, toasted open-face sandwiches, €8, that could be a fine group meal.)
1:30 Catch tram to Rijksmuseum.
2:00 Meet guide at Rijksmuseum for 90-minute tour of Golden Age Dutch art (Hals, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and company). One hour of free time for more art, coffee, or wander in park.
4:30 Meet at the IAmsterdam monument in the park, walk to canal-boat dock.
4:45 One hour canal-boat ride through city (captain will make a special stop to let our group de-boat just outside the Red Light District, near the Waag).
5:45 Take group on guided walk through the salty sailors’ quarters/Red Light District, Zeedijk, and back to the train station. (Topics for guide to cover: city organization, prep for wild zone), warn about pickpockets and danger of photographing prostitutes — wide shots from bridge are fine, misc. cultural insights, stop on bridges and gather people very tight for talking interludes, first bridge intro to prostitution, second bridge for more social issues/prostitution — let people walk around the block, meet back on bridge for all to sample fries Dutch-style with mayo, continue walk — stop in front of hidden church (Our Lord in the Attic), ask where it is (then show photo of interior on wall), walk to next bridge to talk about Dutch pragmatic drug policy (permit marijuana in coffee shops and how they solved their big hard-drug problem in this neighborhood, a “no-go zone of hard-core addicts nicknamed “Heroin Ally” back in the 1970s, talk of sailors’ quarter heritage, and show original dike and locks). Walk on out via Zeedijk and to station finishing in front of station where the morning began.
7:30 Train back to Haarlem (they depart about every 10 minutes).
8:00 Review evening options and next day with group in front of Haarlem station, free for dinner.
Two days down, 19 to go. I hope you can follow me here on my blog and on Facebook as I guide our gang of hearty travelers on our Rick Steves Best of Europe tour. I’ll be sharing our experiences and some candid, behind the scenes peeks at my work daily for the next three weeks. Happy travels!
I’m heading off to Europe and I’m wearing plaid. I explain why in this video clip — along with a quick overview of Europe’s best 3,000 miles and three weeks (as I review the itinerary of the Rick Steves Europe Tours Best of Europe tour I’ll be leading), and a peek at how I rip up my guidebooks (part of the critical art of packing light). And I explain why, when people tell me, “Have a safe trip,” I say, “Have a safe stay-at-home.”
This is the first post of a three-week series as I’ll be packing you and the rest of my traveling blog and Facebook friends along. I’ve been traveling like there’s no tomorrow for the last few decades — making guidebooks, designing our tours, and producing TV shows. And for the next three weeks, I’m going back to my travel-teaching roots — personally guiding the granddaddy of our many tours: The Best of Europe in 21 Days. Please let your traveling friends know that we’ve got a fun series of 21 posts in 21 days coming your way starting right now.
I’m really looking forward to the debut next month of Season 9 of Rick Steves’ Europe on public television stations across the USA. (To find out when you can you watch our 10 new shows, ranging from Hamburg to Romania and Cornwall to Bulgaria, contact your local public television station.)
There’s a lot more to producing each half-hour episode than the six days we spend in Europe filming it — and that includes about four hours in a recording booth for each show. Here’s a candid look at the process: I read the script one paragraph at a time trying to get just the right inflection and tone for the images. Eric Johnson, our sound editor at Clatter&Din recording studio in Seattle, cuts my audio into the video of the show (replacing the “scratch track” audio). And then he and producer Simon Griffith make sure it is a snug and tidy fit with the images. I’m so impressed with the technical ability we have now (with Eric and the gear at Clatter&Din) to get the sound just right. It seems like just a few years ago we recorded the soundtracks for the shows with me standing in the closets of European hotel rooms.
I say this with the release of every new series (every two years) but it’s never been more true: This new series gives you more travel thrills than ever. Stay tuned!