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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Let’s officially rename these crazy things “narcissi-sticks.” I enjoy taking “us-ies” — using my biological “selfie-stick” (my very long arm) to take fun group shots. (And I love it when I can AirDrop them right away to the other people in the photo.) But watching people take selfies all over Europe — all day long, day after day — actually starts to seem a bit sad. What are your thoughts on the selfie epidemic?
With the Brexit, the people of Britain were just conned by bald-faced lies into voting for something that their children generally didn’t want…but are now stuck with. The stakes are really high. If you’re mad, there are people primed to stroke your political temper. But elections have consequences, and protest votes can come back and bite you.
Speaking of cons and flim-flam risks, travelers still need to be mindful of these, too. What cons have you encountered and learned from lately that you can warn us about? Here are a few foisted off on me this year.
Shell games (brought to you by Russian thugs on the road) try to lure in all of the bus tour groups as they climb up to Montmartre in Paris. Seeing this timeless con attract plenty of new marks, it’s clear that even today, there’s a sucker born every minute.
Roaming street girls double-team unwary tourists. Too young to arrest, but old enough to confuse, grab, and run, they go where you do in cities like Paris.
Beware of anyone who approaches you to sign some charity form. It’s just a way to slip their foot into your heart, and from there, to find a way into your wallet. This can happen anywhere tourists gather — such as here, at the top of the Champs Elysees.
In Bulgaria, people learn about the Republican candidate for president of the USA in a book titled Donald Trump: I Want It All.
Europe is a work in progress. And a big part of my work is discovering what’s new. Here are a couple of my favorite new items in Europe. What’s your vote for the best new sight, museum, or experience in Europe?
My favorite new sight is the entirely revamped Museum of the Cathedral (Museo del Duomo) in Florence. It recreates the dreamy, almost ethereal space between the cathedral’s west facade and the baptistery across the square. And all of the original statues and bronze panels are placed in their correct locations — and all safely out of the elements.
The best new amusement I found was the Paris Ferris wheel, spinning slowly next to the obelisk on Place de la Concorde at the bottom of the Champs-Elysées.
And the view from the top gives a new angle on Europe’s grandest boulevard, crowned by the Arc de Triomph (with the business district of La Défense beyond).
We travelers know that the media can make faraway places seem chaotic or unsafe. One of our lead tour guides, Sarah Murdoch, shares her take on things from a smart, solo-woman traveler’s perspective in a wonderfully insightful blog titled “Adventures with Sarah.” In her latest post, she analyzes media-shaped images with her on-the-ground experiences in Rome (Jubilee Year mob scenes), Athens (refugee concerns), Paris (security issues), and London (after the Brexit vote). Sarah’s take is candid, fascinating, and answers questions that many of us logically have…and that’s why I’m sharing it here. Enjoy!
Even after decades of visits, Europe still surprises me. Here are a few of my favorite “aha!” moments from my last trip.
A couple out for a romantic evening proved that in a place as dreamy as Venice, a few €1 boxes of red wine and a shrink-wrapped portion of prosciutto are all you need for a memorable canalside dinner.
I was having a quiet lunch at my hotel in Romania when I found myself on the restaurant’s wallpaper. And I met Ibn Battuta, who, 700 years ago, was “the Rick Steves of his days, roaming the world to tell everyone what they were missing.”
At a new exhibit in Normandy, I found a knife just like the one I treasured as a kid — sheath and all — strapped to the leg of a paratrooper ready to jump behind German lines the night before D-Day.
photo: The Travelphile
Coming home to find my son’s first guidebook, “Andy Steves’ Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget,” on my desk. (You can get your own copy of City-Hopping on a Budget on my website.)
I never thought I could have too much fine prosciutto and pecorino cheese in Tuscany. But when the gentleman pig farmer laid out a table like this for the fifth day in a row, he confessed, “What I really dream of is a nice filet of fish.” And after yet another meal of so much pork and cheese, I thought, “Hmmm…fish does sound nice.”
From time to time, we share a random video to fuel your travel dreams. In this clip from my TV episode about Tuscan side trips, I join a friend for a lazy pedal around the top of the Renaissance wall in Lucca, Italy.
The wide, fortified wall effectively keeps out both traffic and, it seems, the stress of the modern world. Within the wall, which now functions as a circular community park, visitors find a relaxed Old World ambience, elegant streets, and pristine piazzas.
I decided long ago that life is too short to work with people you don’t enjoy. I realize some people aren’t as blessed as I am to be in a position to choose their coworkers. But it’s a luxury I treasure. I work hard in Europe, and to do it with talented people who are just as committed to our excellence — people like Steve, Cameron, Simon, and our local tour guides — is like skiing with just the right wax, skating with sharp blades, playing on a newly tuned piano, sailing with a nice steady breeze, or bungee jumping with a short-enough cord.
Co-authors like Steve Smith (in France), who help craft our guidebooks with love.
Cameron Hewitt, who takes me through Eastern Europe without shooting myself in the foot, and artfully makes my writing concise and well-structured.
Simon Griffith, the producer with the big tripod and a “cool” light on the TV production warpath. Simon ventures fearlessly where no tripod has gone before (and his is huge!).
Local guides everywhere in Europe (like Cristina Duarte in Portugal) who take my passion for helping American travelers create vivid and meaningful experiences and amplify our work to thousands — on our bus tours, hired privately by people with our guidebooks, and by helping me update our guidebooks for travelers who can’t afford the luxury of a private guide.
It’s the people that carbonate your travel memories. Say yes to any opportunity to meet people. Here are some of my favorite recent interactions.
The hairstylists who make the frightening visit to get a haircut in a foreign land an enjoyable experience…even when you don’t have the necessary vocabulary.
American students in Orvieto whose teacher uses my TV shows in their classroom.
Bulgarian folk troupes who still dance and share their culture for visitors.
Isabella and Carlo at their farmhouse B&B (Agriturismo Cretaiole), who provide a cultural boot camp for our travelers and make sure everyone (including our TV crew during a four-day stay there this spring) creates lifelong memories, drinks some amazing limoncello, and brings back a little Tuscany in their hearts.
In light of Tuesday’s terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, it’s understandable that those dreaming of travel to Turkey are concerned about their safety. I would not fault someone for thinking now is not the time to vacation in Turkey.
But personally, I would travel to Turkey tomorrow with no more concern than if I were traveling in the USA. The tragedy of 41 innocent people being killed during the Istanbul airport bombing is heartbreaking. But so are the more than 30 people killed every day, on average, in gun homicides in the USA.
Turkey is a huge country of 80 million people that faces some serious challenges. And being an ally of Europe and the USA while being on the border of so much sadness in the Middle East (and recently coming to terms with a friendly agreement with Israel) all combines to put Turkey in the target of terrorist groups.
Should I react by not traveling there and, in doing so, contribute to Turkey’s economic hardship? Is traveling there after the recent bombing reckless from a personal safety point of view? Should I embolden the terrorists by reacting the way they want me to? How you answer depends on your perspective. But I choose to answer with a hearty “no.”
I travel alone most of the time. But I’m lucky to have plenty of good friends in Europe. Many are guides, hoteliers, and restaurateurs who are my partners-in-arms in helping Americans travel smarter (and tastier). Consider how local friends, both new and old, have made your travels sparkle.
Federico is my man in Madrid. When I need a tapas crawl with expert help, he always finds me just the right pimientos de Padrón.
When I want to drop in on a farm and be part of a Tuscan family, all I need is Roberto Bechi. It seems Roberto can create the quintessential family farm fantasy at the snap of a finger. And those he guides get to come along for the ride (and the prosciutto, and the pecorino cheese, and the finest Tuscan wine). Bravo, Roberto!
For 30 years of visits to Venice, Loris (at Trattoria da Bepi) has been steady in the kitchen, adept at satisfying the dreamy expectations of my hungry readers, and always there with a friendly welcome. He taught me to dunk biscotti into my Vin Santo.
Nikos at Albergo Doni in Venice is symbolic to me of the new generation taking over fine hotels run by their parents and doing a great job. While I’m always sad to see old friends retire, the next generation brings fresh energy and a creative boost.
Gigi at Osteria al Mascaron is still cranking out the cicchetti. I’ve grown up with my friends in Europe, like Gigi. I took my minibus groups to his bar in the late 1970s when we were both just kids. His bar’s a bit bigger now — and so are my buses — but we’re both still doing exactly the same work…together. How could it get old when you’re inspiring travelers to embrace life — specifically, eating ugly things on toothpicks and washing it all down with sprightly white Venetian wine?