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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The York Minster is famous for its medieval stained glass. The best window, which fills the east end of the magnificent cathedral, is covered with a giant gloomy photo of what we’re missing while it undergoes restoration. But the good news is that a small exhibit just below the window, called The Orb, shows four of its exquisite panes that have already been restored. These delicate scenes will ultimately end up high above the worshippers — well beyond anyone’s sight. Created and ultimately intended “for God’s eyes only,” for a short time they can be enjoyed by us as well.

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

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Having lunch with my local guide, I noticed his enthusiasm for chutney. I hadn’t even considered enthusiasm and chutney in the same sentence before. So I got out my camera to let Tom explain.

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

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York is arguably the best sightseeing town in England outside of London. I landed at noon at Heathrow, took the express train into London’s Paddington Station, caught the tube to King’s Cross, and hopped onto an express train. Two hours later, I was in the capital of north England: York. By 4 p.m. I was checked into my bed-and-breakfast and heading into the town. It’s a city with a rich history and many dimensions for the visitor. Along with the standard sights, there are ghosts to hunt, riverside walks to enjoy, and fine food to taste.

ghost-huntWhile ghost walks are little more than goofy entertainment, if any city can claim to be legitimately haunted, it would be York. Consequently, the old-town center is crawling with creepy, black-clad characters leading wide-eyed groups of tourists around on various ghost walks (90 minutes, £5, leaving every night rain or shine, just show up). I spent an evening hopping off and on four different walks to assess them for my guidebook…and woke up screaming at 2 a.m.

york-bridgeEver since English cyclists started winning the Tour de France and gold medals in the Olympics, biking has been trendy in England. Riverside trails are great for bikers as well as walkers. From York, a fine two-mile walk leads along the Ouse River, over the handsome Millennium Bridge, and back into town. The bridge is delightfully designed with an inviting, reclining-lounge-chair fence.

fancy-foodTourist towns all over Europe are vying to establish themselves as foodie destinations. While that can be a stretch for English towns, York does amazingly well; the city is teeming with new, creative bistros featuring delightful menus. York’s booming local software industry, its big university, and its popularity with tourists give it a market big enough to keep its chefs busy — and making good money.

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While the artisans of the 13th century were anonymous, they had personality and were personalities. Here, under the breathtaking roof of York Minster’s chapter house, I’m scanning a parade of stony faces, meeting the people of York from 800 years ago. It humanizes, just a bit, the Middle Ages.

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

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Those of you who read this page regularly will recall my friend Tarek, who guided me and Trish throughout Egypt this spring. He is my main contact for the TV shows we plan to shoot in Egypt next season. Tarek is a thoughtful and caring Egyptian.  He has the means to leave the chaos his country is going through right now, but he chooses to ride it out and contribute to the birth of democracy in his homeland. He and his wife Heba just gave birth to their second child, and he’s with the millions out in the streets right now. He has a business and much is at stake, as the government may want to hurt him since he was quite candid in his email to me. Knowing how sensitive this could be, I asked him if I could share this email with my traveling readers. His boldness is an example of the resolve of those Egyptians who are not fundamentalists to earn a pluralistic and secular democracy. Below you’ll find his response to my request, followed by his first letter.

Tarek-for-blog-2My friend and fellow travel guide Tarek stands before a wall of handprints in Egypt.

Hi Rick,

Feel free to print the letter. I feel the good times are about to come. Looking at Tahrir Square and other big squares in Egypt and seeing millions of Egyptians are protesting so peacefully, makes me proud that I am a descendant of a great civilization! I am going to Tahrir Square in a couple of hours to feel the buzz and call for a government that represents our people!

Best Regards,

Tarek

Dear Trish & Rick,

So nice to hear from you and thanks a lot for your kind thoughts. First Heba and I had our new baby girl, Farida. She is three weeks old now and she is so beautiful! I don’t think I will have children anymore: After Alia was born, three weeks later came the 25th January Revolution. Now, two weeks after Farida was born, we are having 30th June Revolution!

Remember when you were in Egypt and I stated a few times that Egypt will come through a very dark tunnel before we see the light at the end? I think Egypt is about to enter this dark tunnel now!

On June 30th the Egyptian people went on the streets. Some media says 17 million, others say 33 million. But definitely it was more people than the 25th January Revolution two years ago!

Most people are sick and tired of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, and I am sure you have noticed this when you were here in Egypt. After one year of President Morsi ruling the country, the country is in more debt, we have long queues for petrol, our currency value has dropped by 25 percent; this means more expensive imports for us as we import 80 percent of our needs in Egypt! President Morsi has no idea about how to rule a big and respected country like Egypt and for sure Egypt deserves better!

Our army gave warning yesterday they will interfere if the President doesn’t accept the people’s demands of early elections and a technocrat government. It is so simple! But he is so stupid and stubborn and saying no to everything!

Egypt has never been as divided as it is now as a result of his regime! What the army is going to do is certainly not a coup. They will be responding to the call of the Egyptian people for the army to save us from Morsi.

The statement made by our army yesterday made most Egyptians at ease as we feel so protected by our army from the fascist extremists! This is the difference between Egypt and Syria. In Syria, the army was with the regime, not the Syrian people. In Egypt the army is with the Egyptian people! This is why we will never have a civil war. Thanks God for that. You may see some street fighting and some people killed over the next few days in the news. Sadly, this is the price to get a fresh start and get back our freedom.

I want my beautiful Egypt back, I miss it so much!!!

Best Regards,

Tarek

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On the first day of my summer trip, with the help of local guide Tom Wright, I am getting right up-to-date on the latest in York — and gaining an appreciation for the rich English history that hides under these beloved stones.

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

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Europe Through the Back Door (ETBD) is a complicated business employing about 90 people, often through turbulent and challenging times. Like many fun and entrepreneurial companies, it was started by a person who’s not necessarily a great businessman. Perhaps luckily for ETBD, I’m in Europe for four months a year (and on the road speaking in the USA for another month or so). Considering the strong leadership team we have at Europe Though the Back Door,  my extended absences may well be a boon to the company.

At ETBD we have 90 employees, 15 department heads, and a “business team” of five that functions as the “virtual CEO” when I’m gone. This photo was taken during a short Business Team retreat we had at my house between my two trips this season. These people have been partners of mine for 15 to 20 years on average, and ETBD has grown over the last two decades with their vision and leadership. As I abandon my business for another two months while I’m in Europe, I’d like to introduce you to them.

The ETBD Business Team: From left to right, Rich Sorensen,  Karen Scholl, Brooke Burdick, Mary Romano, Anne Kirchner, and me.

The ETBD Business Team: From left to right, Rich Sorensen, Karen Scholl, Brooke Burdick, Mary Romano, Anne Kirchner, and me.

Rich Sorensen is my marketing right-hand man and builder and protector of the brand. He came to us before we understood the concept of departments. Rich and I have spent many days going back and forth on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry hammering out the vision and marketing strategy of our company. Rich and I write marketing copy as if one.

Karen Scholl is our CFO. We had a hard time finding a good fit to run our accounting department until Karen came. When she joined us, I didn’t believe in numbers. Accounting bored me. Today, I’m a believer. And, regardless of the goofy business storms that slap against her office, she emerges with smart and reliable numbers — and with business wisdom keeping us both legal and thoroughly in the black.

Brooke Burdick started our website back when websites were novel. He has overseen its growth as we’ve morphed from a primarily brick-and-mortar company to a national enterprise with a $50 million annual gross and a quarter-million traveling customers on our email list. Today Brooke is our tech visionary who oversees and maximizes the digital amplification of our content.

Mary Romano is our human resources queen who has masterfully built a staff of 90 that functions as a caring and productive team. It’s a challenge to have an idealistic culture of 20 in a business, but it’s really tough to grow to 90. We still manage to make 1+1=3 when it comes to getting the work done. Mary keeps us all following our “cultural code” — great people who are enthusiastic about their work and their colleagues — so we can all take pride in our accomplishments while maintaining a work-life balance.  At ETBD, our summer staff picnic is considered a get-together among friends, not just a gathering of workers and managers.

Anne Kirchner manages ETBD. She came when we had about eight employees and is to ETBD what a keel is to a sailboat — and what George Martin was to the Beatles. If this company has a mother, it’s Anne. She provides the sanity and stability for a gang of travelers. Anne complements me like a match made in heaven and without her, I can’t imagine an ETBD. Every time I’m about to shoot myself in the foot, she intercepts the bullet.

A key to our business happiness is that we are privately held (that’s me) rather than publicly held (which would mean we’d have to change our ethics to meet our stockholders’ profit needs rather than practice our fun-loving style of guerrilla capitalism). And we’d not be able to produce what we do for our travelers without these five friends and partners — the Europe Through the Back Door Business Team. Rich, Karen, Brooke, Mary, and Anne: Thanks. I’ll send postcards.

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After a short but delightful break back in Seattle, I’m returning to Europe today. It’s my first time on Icelandair, connecting through Reykjavík. I find sharing my experiences and lessons learned on this blog — and reading your comments — curiously enjoyable. I’m sure I’ll be blogging furiously over the next sixty days of travel.

Here’s the plan: I’m flying to London today, sleeping in York, then hopping aboard one of those Rick Steves Best of Scotland bus tours (under a pseudonym, so the group doesn’t know I’ll be joining them). Then I’ll spend a week in Berlin and Prague before meeting my co-author, Steve Smith, in Alsace to work on our France guidebook. Steve and I then join producer Simon Griffith and the crew to film two new TV shows around the Loire (shows we’re nicknaming “Great 17th-Century Cribs”) before I meet up with Trish Feaster to be the first to use our brand-new Rick Steves’ Northern European Cruise Ports book (which will be overnighted to me, hot off the press). We’ll jump ship near the end of the cruise in St. Petersburg for a Russian adventure before flying home (with a two-day layover in Iceland).

These itineraries are a tricky balance of guidebook and bus tour research; scouting for upcoming TV scripts I plan to write and produce; actual TV production; and just flat-out enjoying the fun places my travel dreams are taking me. For this trip, along with producing two new TV shows in France, I’ll be working hard on our next new guidebook — Rick Steves’ Scotland. And I’ll be scouting upcoming TV shows in Scotland, Berlin, Prague, Alsace, and St. Petersburg. (This work is never-ending. You’re welcome to send me comments of sympathy.)

I hope you and your globetrotting friends can travel along with me this summer. Please share this link without anyone you think might enjoy it. You’ll next hear from me in Old York.

Ciao,

Rick

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Each year, my art and marketing team put together a 96-page, full-color booklet that showcases our tour program. We could have the best tours in the world (actually, we do) and not sell very many without the help of that team’s amazing talent to help show them off. Their work is made easier by the wonderful photographs of Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli.

A fun chore for me is to survey the possible cover photos and help pick the best. Here you can see our favorite shots for the last three years (top row), and the six top suggested photos for the cover of our 2014 tour catalog. Which of the six photos makes you want to buy a tour?

We ended up choosing Porto — that’s the one with all the old boats that ship kegs of port wine down the Douro River to Portugal’s second city…and a real Back Door.

Cover Art photo

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RSE-Season7

I’m back home now, but already getting ready to fly away again — and I feel like celebrating Europe with all my traveling Blog and Facebook friends who’ve followed my latest trip. Starting next week, I’ll be back in Europe (Scotland, France, Germany, Northern Europe cruise, Russia, Iceland, and more). You’re probably not going, and that’s a shame. So, to make it up, I’m offering five hours of travel joy for just two bucks. You can snare our entire new TV series — a two-DVD set with 11 gorgeous, high-definition episodes (10 on Europe’s great cities — London, Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome — plus an episode on North England, including the Cumbrian Lakes, Hadrian’s Wall, and Durham) — not for the regular $24.99, but for just $2 (plus $6 shipping).

Here’s the deal: We’ll offer this blowout for 24 hours through this link only (not via my website) until 5 p.m. PDT, Tuesday, June 25. I know it’s a drag, but regular shipping fees apply. You and your friends can buy up to three at this price, and we’ll get you your DVD set of travel dreams within 2 weeks. Thanks and enjoy!

BTW, there are a lot of you, so if the shopping cart is slow, just check back.

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