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

  • We are monitoring this blog carefully for inappropriate posts. Before you post, read our Community Guidelines.

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.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




We took our kids out of school every May for many years, and I always considered it good parenting, great education, and a bonus for the adult tour members to have kids as part of the group. Having Annaleise and Brogan on this tour was, for me, particularly fun. It reminded me of the joy of a parent who is introducing a child to the broader world (and the wide-eyed wonder I traveled with on my first schoolboy trip in 1969). Annaleise and Brogan were great travelers, and it just seemed right to raise a glass to our youngest travel partners (FYI–this video starts in the middle of my toast).

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

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour is a carefully balanced design of intense big cities and relaxed small towns. It starts easy in Holland and finishes with a cultural bang in France. As a tour guide, a favorite challenge is to prep our travelers so they enjoy and appreciate French culture rather than find it threatening. A nice intro to France is the charming, wine-soaked town of Beaune in profoundly French Burgundy.

After the Alps, we need to raise the cultural bar a bit. All dressed up (pardon my wardrobe malfunction), we embrace the French joie de vivre. Pas de problème!

After the Alps, we need to raise the cultural bar a bit. All dressed up (pardon my wardrobe malfunction), we embrace the French joie de vivre. Pas de problème!

A fun way to take our travelers to new gastronomic heights is to order escargots. At first the reaction was, as you can see here, “Snails!? No way!” But with a gentle but firm hand, all but one in our group ate their escargot. And they liked it.

A fun way to take our travelers to new gastronomic heights is to order escargots. At first the reaction was, as you can see here, “Snails!? No way!” But with a gentle but firm hand, all but one in our group ate their escargot. And they liked it.

As a guide, it’s fun to introduce people to something they’ve never experienced before...especially if they’re afraid for no good reason. There must have been six or eight people in our group who had never eaten a snail before. I managed to get all but one in our group to try one...and all responded with a yummy thumbs up. After a little coaching on fork technique, our two youngest travelers enjoyed their first (of several) escargots as well.

As a guide, it’s fun to introduce people to something they’ve never experienced before…especially if they’re afraid for no good reason. There must have been six or eight people in our group who had never eaten a snail before. I managed to get all but one in our group to try one…and all responded with a yummy thumbs up. After a little coaching on fork technique, our two youngest travelers enjoyed their first (of several) escargots as well.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




otto-teaches-fondue
In Switzerland, it seems the traditional lifestyles have retreated to the high country, where they survive with an impressive vigor. That was clear when Otto, whose family runs the Hotel Stechelberg (which our groups love), gave us a lesson in why his fondue is so darn good.
trish-eat-fondue
After seeing how fondue’s made, it’s only right to dip in. Trish has the technique down just right. (Many of these photos are shot by Trish Feaster, check out her blog at The Travelphile.com.)
rick-steves-avalanche-shelter
Stark concrete structures in Switzerland, which seem like random bus stops, are actually avalanche shelters. While these are no-nonsense bunkers designed to save lives, there’s no rule against cheering them up. How about a few butterflies?
dave-and-terri-geo-caching
As a tour guide, I enjoy how different travelers bring their hobbies on vacation with them. Tour members Dave and Terri enjoy geocaching. It’s an impressively extensive network of people playing high-tech hide-and-seek at remote places all around the globe. At each stop, Dave and Terri get out their GPS gadget and search for a capsule hidden by a fellow geocacher. With success, they return to the bus all smiles. Here, at a Stechelberg campsite, they’re about to hit the geocache jackpot. How’s your experience with geocaching?
reid-coen-riding-cow
Our tour guide, Reid, granted us this photo op. And it’s dying for a clever caption. Any ideas?
rick-steves-splitting-wood
This tree tried and failed to block our way. Instead, it gave us a photo op begging for a caption. How would you title this shot?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




By the end of the day, Trish and I just couldn’t stop hiking. So, rather than taking the standard gondola ride down to our hotel, we continued on foot…steeply and through the trees, hearing the rush of waterfalls one after the other all the way. Thankful for the great trail signage, I took a moment to share how the trails are organized for visitors. (Sorry–I misstated the hiking time in the clip. I won’t even blame the altitude.) Between the 25- and 40-minute options, we took the 25-minute trail. Remembering to put weight on the balls of our feet rather than our heels when descending for sure-footedness, we got back to the hotel just in time for fondue.

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

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




One of the highlights of our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour was our group hike. As this was pretty demanding–and there was a concern about snow on the trails this early in the season–only the fittest of our group participated.  For me, it was a joy not to be saddled with research chores but to simply enjoy half a day hiking in Switzerland with a wonderful group of traveling friends.

We started our day gazing down at this high alp--where the cows spend their summers Heidi-style--from the revolving restaurant capping the Schilthorn in Switzerland's Berner Oberland. Looking down at these high meadows, I’m always tempted to actually hike through them. And that’s exactly what we did, taking the North Face Trail from Mürren under the Schilthorn. Coming upon this meadow, high above the tree line, was a delightful reward for the climb.

We started our day gazing down at this high alp–where the cows spend their summers Heidi-style–from the revolving restaurant capping the Schilthorn in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland. Looking down at these high meadows, I’m always tempted to actually hike through them. And that’s exactly what we did, taking the North Face Trail from Mürren under the Schilthorn. Coming upon this meadow, high above the tree line, was a delightful reward for the climb.

Assistant Tour Guide Trish and I both love our Sony RS100 cameras. With this angle, she captured how the alpine flowers were a big part of our experience.

Assistant Tour Guide Trish and I both love our Sony RS100 cameras. With this angle, she captured how the alpine flowers were a big part of our experience.

(Many of the photos on this blog are shot by Trish Feaster. For more of her photos, as well as her take on this tour, check out her blog at The Travelphile.com.)

When hiking in the Alps, take layers of clothes, sunscreen, a mobile phone, appropriate shoes, and big smiles. These travelers, the most rugged third of our tour group, were great walkers.

When hiking in the Alps, take layers of clothes, sunscreen, a mobile phone, appropriate shoes, and big smiles. These travelers, the most rugged third of our tour group, were great walkers.

The Swiss organize their firewood like they organize their populace: extremely tidy. It’s dangerous to generalize about different nationalities...but I love to. The Swiss are neatly stacked. How would you characterize the Swiss?

The Swiss organize their firewood like they organize their populace: extremely tidy. It’s dangerous to generalize about different nationalities…but I love to. The Swiss are neatly stacked. How would you characterize the Swiss?

A highlight of our hike was venturing under this powerful waterfall called Sprutz.

A highlight of our hike was venturing under this powerful waterfall called Sprutz.

Our hike had a happy ending, popping out in a flowery meadow at the tip-top of my favorite Swiss village--Gimmelwald. And, as he has for 30 years of visits, Walter Mittler was waiting at his Hotel Mittaghorn. Way back in my student days, I kept our groups in the rustic youth hostel here in Gimmelwald. Walter invited me to upgrade and keep my groups at his place, and I did. Walter symbolizes our leap from hostels to hotels, and the importance of personality-driven hotels and restaurants in our tour program. While we no longer sleep at Walter’s hotel, I always drop in to say hi to my old friend. He’s 90 years old now...and still going strong.

Our hike had a happy ending, popping out in a flowery meadow at the tip-top of my favorite Swiss village–Gimmelwald. And, as he has for 30 years of visits, Walter Mittler was waiting at his Hotel Mittaghorn. Way back in my student days, I kept our groups in the rustic youth hostel here in Gimmelwald. Walter invited me to upgrade and keep my groups at his place, and I did. Walter symbolizes our leap from hostels to hotels, and the importance of personality-driven hotels and restaurants in our tour program. While we no longer sleep at Walter’s hotel, I always drop in to say hi to my old friend. He’s 90 years old now…and still going strong.

A beer hits the spot after a good hike. Here we sit, in front of Walter’s Hotel Mittaghorn, in Gimmelwald...high in the Swiss Alps. Many travelers have fond memories of a nice frosty (or whatever) treat after an exhilarating natural or cultural experience in Europe. How about you?

A beer hits the spot after a good hike. Here we sit, in front of Walter’s Hotel Mittaghorn, in Gimmelwald…high in the Swiss Alps. Many travelers have fond memories of a nice frosty (or whatever) treat after an exhilarating natural or cultural experience in Europe. How about you?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




For over 30 years I’ve been taking groups into the gondolas high in the Alps. Whether filled with skiers in the winter or hikers in the summer, there’s a happy energy in that glass-and-steel bubble of mountain joy–especially when the Swiss Alps are out in all their glory. The Schilthornbahn takes us effortlessly (in four stages) to the 10,000-foot summit of the Schilthorn in the Berner Oberland. For about $50 per person (there’s a double discount for the group rate and for an early morning departure) we ride up and down. Sure that’s a lot of money. But when you’re surrounded by cut-glass peaks and breathing fresh mountain air, it’s one of Europe’s great deals. From a value point of view, remember that–all over the Alps–early lifts are discounted and, because of weather patterns, the early birds enjoy the crispest views. The lesson: Pay less and see more by ascending early.

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

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




While my days are filled enjoying our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour, I’ve spent a couple nights writing this op-ed piece in my hotel room. I’m glad I was in Europe while I wrote this article because being away from home makes it clear to me: While we are a compassionate society, we can be oblivious to the consequences that some of our choices have on struggling people. When we travel, we see how relatively small, wonkish changes in U.S. policy can have serious consequences for struggling people outside our borders. I thought you might find this opinion piece interesting–and maybe you can even share it with your friends and let your legislator know your thoughts on this topic.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




youngest-tour-guide
On our tours, we do whatever we can to save time. For example, room numbers are assigned on the bus as we approach our hotel. Today, we gave the mic to 12-year-old Annaleise who made sure each tour member knew exactly where they were sleeping.
view-from-schilthorn-switzerland
On a Best of Europe in 21 Days tour, we get two days in the Swiss Alps–and the weather is critical. I remember in the early, youth-hostel days of our tour company, we’d wait until morning before deciding if we’d ride the expensive lift to the top of the Schilthorn in the Berner Oberland. It depended on the weather. I’d wake up at the crack of dawn. If it was cloudy, I’d go back to bed–and we’d all sleep in. If the weather was good, I’d wake everyone up, and we were off for the summit. Any guide knows it often clouds up by late morning. Today, we caught the early gondola, were blessed with glorious weather, and enjoyed this view from 10,000 feet.
rick-steves-tour-group-schilthorn
Tour groups love group shots. I find the regimented “short people in front,” soccer-team-type photos boring. And, invariably, the stranger you pick to take the photograph frames it crazily, and the shot is too much feet and sky. Lately, my antidote to that is a group selfie. For some reason, as we all try to crowd into the shot (and I hold the camera high to make our chins seem nice and tight), everyone looks as happy as we are.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




The Cinque Terre towns love their festivals, and we hit Monterosso during its lemon festival. The town was decked out in lemons and rather than sour, the mood was happy as can be.

Monterosso’s little main piazza was a multi-generational dance floor and, for me, this was a particularly happy moment as I thought about how the town has now fully recovered from the horrible flood of 2011.

Monterosso’s little main piazza was a multi-generational dance floor and, for me, this was a particularly happy moment as I thought about how the town has now fully recovered from the horrible flood of 2011.

Our group is really fond of our bus driver, Joe (center), who quietly and professionally gets us everywhere smoothly and safely. It was fun tonight (as he was completely off tomorrow) because everyone let their hair down together. Our groups always consider our driver as a friend and part of our traveling family.

Our group is really fond of our bus driver, Joe (center), who quietly and professionally gets us everywhere smoothly and safely. It was fun tonight (as he was completely off tomorrow) because everyone let their hair down together. Our groups always consider our driver as a friend and part of our traveling family.

A group of Norwegian girls (and one guy) had some fun with our Belgian driver.

A group of Norwegian girls (and one guy) had some fun with our Belgian driver.

For me, doing this tour was full of rich memories of the formative years of our tour company. Both tour guide Reid and bus driver Joe (seen with me above) have been around since the early '90s--and as we followed our route, we enjoyed sharing lots of memories. Many of our drivers, such as Joe, essentially learned their English (which is quite good now) from years of talking with our tour groups.

For me, doing this tour was full of rich memories of the formative years of our tour company. Both tour guide Reid and bus driver Joe (seen with me above) have been around since the early ’90s–and as we followed our route, we enjoyed sharing lots of memories. Many of our drivers, such as Joe, essentially learned their English (which is quite good now) from years of talking with our tour groups.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest