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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When I ask Trump supporters why they’d vote for him they generally say it’s because they don’t like Hillary. I ask why and they say the same three reasons: “She’s dishonest, Benghazi (4 people died), and her email server.” But they avoid talking about the issues. The news coverage largely ignores the issues, too. Yet it is issues — not “who you like” — that impact each of us and our country. This election has consequences and the differences between Trump and Clinton are stark. There is not a right or wrong here, just personal politics. BTW, complaining about the candidates at this point is non-productive. One of them will be your president: Trump or Clinton. It’s most logical to ignore the personality stuff and the silliness on the news, and compare their stances on the issues to yours. Take this blind “issues taste test” and then make your choice:
|30 Issues||Candidate #1||Candidate #2|
|Climate change||a hoax||really important|
|National healthcare||no (privatize it)||yes (build on it)|
|Abortion||pro life||pro choice|
|Social Security||more privatized||status quo, public|
|Community colleges||not free||should be free|
|Environment||fewer safeguards||more safeguards|
|Energy||friendlier to oil||friendlier to renewables|
|International relations||build walls||build bridges|
|Iran nuke deal||no||yes|
|Free trade||more protectionist||less protectionist|
|Corporations||fewer restrictions||more restrictions|
|Banks||fewer restrictions||more restrictions|
|Taxing the wealthy||less||more|
|Inheritance tax||end it||keep it|
|Labor unions||should be weaker||should be stronger|
|Minimum wage||no raise||raise it|
|Marijuana||status quo||reclassify from Schedule I to II|
|Supreme Court picks||conservative||liberal|
|Voter rights||don’t expand||expand|
|Ban the Box (so ex-felons can get jobs)||no||yes|
|Experience in politics||little||lots|
|Experience in business||lots||little|
|Left or Right||conservative||liberal|
I’m humble enough to care about endorsements. I believe organizations know more about the issues important to them than I do. And people who endorse a candidate shed light on the character of that candidate. Here’s what I learned by Googling endorsements for each candidate:
Major organizations favoring or endorsing Trump: NRA (gun rights)
Major organizations favoring or endorsing Clinton: National Organization for Women (NOW), Sierra Club (environment), AFL-CIO and many other labor unions, most gay rights groups
People endorsing Trump: Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan, two heads of state (Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban), Ann Coulter, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell Jr., Tim Allen, Kirstie Alley, Clint Eastwood, Larry the Cable Guy, Chuck Norris, Dennis Rodman, two of Trump’s three wives, Wayne Newton, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Gene Simmons, The National Enquirer
People endorsing Clinton: Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Brown, 13 heads of state, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, Howard Stern, Tom Hanks, Warren Buffett, the guy who ghost-wrote Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” book, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, George Takei, Ellen DeGeneres, Hookers for Hillary, and Rick Steves.
If you think this issues-based comparison might be helpful to others, please share it. If I wasn’t fair in my characterizations, please let me know. Thanks, vote thoughtfully, and GHA (God help America).
Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
As a Christian, I enjoy being open to spiritual experiences while on the road, and there’s no more spiritual experience than traveling to the developing world. To be with the world’s struggling and downtrodden is to be with Christ. My expertise as a writer and guide, however, is traveling through Europe, which also offers plenty of opportunities to get close to God. Here’s my guide to five places in Europe that stoke my spirit.
As I walk high on a ridge in Switzerland, the Alps strike me as the greatest cathedral in Europe. Ride the rack-railway train from Wilderswil (near Interlaken) up to Schynige Platte, then hike along a ridge to Faulhorn, with its famous mountaintop hotel, and on to the perch called First. As you tightrope along the ridge, lakes stretch all the way to Germany on your left, and on your right is a row of cut-glass peaks — the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. The long, legato tones of an alphorn announce that the helicopter-stocked mountain hut is open, it’s just around the corner…and the coffee-schnapps is on. It’s enough to have even a staid Lutheran raising his hands in praise.
There’s a reason pilgrims have hiked from France to the distant northwest of Spain for more than a thousand years. Trekking with people of all spiritual stripes — or none at all — across the vast expanses of Spain, it’s easy to be one with nature and get caught up in a private talk with your maker. Everyone’s heading for the same point: the Cathedral of St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela. And to be there as well-worn and sunburned pilgrims step on the scallop-shell pavement stone in front of the towering cathedral, overwhelmed with jubilation to have reached their personal goal and succeeded in their quest, is a joy in itself.
I have a personal ritual of sitting quietly on the rampart of a ruined castle high above Assisi, the town of St. Francis. I look down at the basilica dedicated to the saint, then into the valley — where a church stands strong in the hazy Italian plain that marks the place where Francis and his “Jugglers of God” started the Franciscan order, bringing the word of God to people in terms all could embrace. Hearing the same birdsong that inspired Francis, and tasting the same simple bread, cheese, and wine of Umbria that sustained him, I calm my 21st-century soul and ponder the message of a saint who made the spirit of God so accessible.
Worshiping upon the tomb of St. Peter under the towering dome of Michelangelo in the vast expanse of the greatest church in Christendom — where incense gives earthly substance to ethereal sunrays — I ponder the centuries of devotion and tradition that have gone into building both this magnificent church and the Catholic faith. Throwing out my Lutheran cynicism, I appreciate it all as a humble and noble quest by countless people through the ages to better understand and get close to our heavenly Father.
In the wine country of Burgundy, just down the road from Cluny (where the greatest monastic order of the Middle Ages was born), a rough lane leads to the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé. It welcomes all to gather with no regard to culture, language, or denomination. With a perfectly ecumenical embrace, people come together at Taizé to celebrate diversity, tune in to God’s great creation and the family of humankind, and become comfortable with silence, praise, meditation, singing, and simple living. Taizé gets you close to God.
What tips do you have for getting closer to God in your travels?
With this post, I wrap up my second big 2016 trip — two two-month European adventures filled with learning, experiences, life-long memories, and lots of fun. I’ll be bringing you a few more weeks of posts from Europe starting in mid-September, as I get back in the tour-guiding saddle and lead the granddaddy of all our tours: our Best of Europe in 21 Days itinerary (Amsterdam-Germany-Italy-Swiss Alps-Paris). Don’t miss it! It’s been fun packing you along here on my blog and over on the Rick Steves Facebook page for these last 100 days. Thanks for being my partner as we “keep on travelin’.”
In these clips, you can see the euphoria erupting after the finish of the Palio horse race. When the winner crosses the finish line, 1/17th of Siena — the prevailing She-wolf (Lupa) neighborhood — goes berserk. Tears of joy flow, people embrace. The jubilation is over-the-top both for the winners, and for the many neighborhoods joyously celebrating their rival contrada’s defeat.
We zip out into the street to film the mobs coursing toward the cathedral (I’m protecting Simon as he attempts to hold the camera still). The happy “Lupa-Lupa-Lupa!” horde thunders through the streets and up toward the cathedral. We’ve plotted our course through back lanes to position ourselves at the cathedral. Our cameraman, Karel, is already camped out inside the cathedral to film the climax of the celebrations at the high altar. Once there, they pack the church, and the winning contrada receives the coveted Palio banner — champions…until the next race.
Carrying their new trophy and hoisting their jockey high, the She-wolf crowd tumbles out of the cathedral and into the street, where 16 neighborhoods will settle back into normalcy…and this jubilation will consume the She-wolf district until the wee hours — 500 years of tradition, still going strong.
The August 2016 race was actually historic: For the first time in over a century, the same contrada won both the July and the August races. That’s why you see two banners leaving the church in this photo:
Seeing the euphoria overcome members of the winning contrada reminded me that it’s impossible for a tourist to really understand what this ritual race means to the people of Siena.
This is Day 99 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.
At the Palio, the entire city of Siena packs into the main square, Il Campo. Finally, it’s time for the race. A cart pulled by oxen carries the coveted Palio banner into the arena. At its sight, the crowd goes wild.
As the starting places are announced, our guide Roberto is traumatized. It’s not going well. (Sometimes it seems that the Sienese care as much about their rivals losing as their own district winning.)
Ten snorting horses and their nervous riders line up to await the start. The jockeying includes a little last-minute negotiating…it’s complicated. (Watching the last-minute shuffling, I understand where the expression “jockeying” comes from.) Silence takes over. And then…
They race! Once the rope drops, there’s one basic rule: There are no rules. The jockeys race bareback like crazy while spectators go berserk. In Siena, life stops for these frantic three laps…just about 90 seconds. And the winner is…Lupa, the She-wolf district.
(Unfortunately, for legal reasons I can’t show the actual race here — but you can catch it on YouTube.)
This is Day 98 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.
Being in Siena for the Palio horse race is really a series of mob scenes. These three photos capture the crush of the crowds. Imagine being in the middle of it all. Imagine catching it on your big TV camera. Imagine enjoying the race from the comfort of Franco’s apartment. I’ll never forget this perch. Grazie, Franco!
This is Day 97 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.
At Siena’s Palio horse race, bleacher and balcony seats are expensive, but it’s free to join the masses in the square. And those who are really well-connected get to watch from the comfort of an apartment window. Roberto’s friend, Franco, shared his apartment overlooking the race course…and we’re enjoying the best seats in town. From this vantage point, we watch as the square fills, lots of pageantry unfolds as each neighborhood does its flag-waving thing, and race time approaches. The ritual and the strict traditions are inviolable. The excitement builds.
Siena throws a great party, and they’ve had plenty of practice. During our several days in town, things went smoothly, security was solid yet very low-key, people had a rowdy great time but nothing got broken, and wherever the horses went…so went the unheralded pooper scoopers.
This is Day 96 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.
On Siena’s main square, Il Campo, my tour guide Roberto Bechi explains, “For the Sienese, you’re born…there’s the Palio…and then you can die.” We’re in the square for a “charge of the carabinieri” and a practice run where the jockeys get to know their horses (and vice versa). The square is pretty full — but it’ll be twice as packed for the big race tomorrow.
While the jockeys — usually from out of town — are hired hands, the horses are stars. Each neighborhood gets its horse through a lottery. They’re then adopted and showered with love — respected as if special neighborhood citizens. They’re groomed and washed in stables like 5-star hotels.
This is Day 95 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.
Two nights before Siena’s Palio horse race, the Dragon district gathers for dinner. I’m wearing the Dragon colors, in the backyard of the Church of San Domenic, enjoying a multigenerational party. Each banquet is beautifully situated in the heart of the district. Even if I don’t fully understand what’s happening, the excitement is contagious, and the wine is delightful.
With the horses and jockeys chosen, competing neighborhoods gather for big communal dinners that last well into the night. The excitement builds, and it’s a multigenerational affair — some people revving up for their 100th Palio (two per year for 50 years)…and others for their first. There are rousing choruses, with everyone cheering their contrada, and little ones soaking up the traditions — a scene that’s changed little over the centuries.
Looking out my hotel window, I was impressed at how the Panther contrada throws a big dinner party. With legions of volunteers, they set up, served, partied until late, and then cleaned the entire thing up in a flash. The next morning, you wouldn’t know there was a big dinner filling the square just last night.
This is Day 94 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.
(Central Italy was hit by a devastating earthquake last night. Aftershocks could be felt in Siena, almost 150 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter. My crew, friends, and I are all OK. Our hearts go out to all who have been affected.)
The night before Siena’s Palio, at midnight, the streets were filled with eating, drinking, singing, and camaraderie, as neighborhoods gathered to pump each other up for the big horse race. The city is full of both locals (who live this ritual as if it’s in their DNA) and tourists (who are generally clueless and are just waiting for the race), living in parallel worlds. Your challenge is to bridge those worlds.
Siena is divided into 17 neighborhoods, or contrade. Historically, these were autonomous, competitive, and filled with rivalries. Each contrada — with its own parish church, fountain, and square — still plays an active role in the life of the city. And each is represented by a mascot (porcupine, unicorn, she-wolf, and so on) and a distinctive flag — colors worn and flown all year long, but omnipresent as the race nears. And, tonight, each contrada has a party going on.
This is Day 93 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.