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

A Bum, a Baguette, and a Moment: Connecting with People

Chartres Cathedral

Leaning back on my bench, I marveled at the floodlit facade of Chartres Cathedral. Munching on my baguette with brie, I was pondering how, for centuries, nobles and peasants alike have been awestruck by this view. Then in my periphery, I noticed a bum on the next bench, reaching toward me — and offering me a swig of red wine from his battered 1.5-liter plastic water bottle. Backlit by the floodlighting and with a twinkle in his friendly eyes, he looked like a character in an over-the-top romantic painting of folk characters on sale at a French town market.

Even though we hardly talked and I politely rejected his wine, we were both there — connected, sharing the moment. It was a fleeting, yet very human, encounter — and it added to my experience of Chartres.

The essence of good travel is people. If I’m leading a tour or writing a guidebook, the mark of a job well done is how well I connect people with people. If I’m making a TV show and it doesn’t have local voices, the show will be flat. And when I’m enjoying a European vacation, my journal is more interesting when it includes stories of people I’ve met along the way.

Developing a knack for sparking such experiences is our challenge as good travelers. I like to take it a step further — to be a keen observer, connecting experiential dots that may seem random by putting them into cultural and historical context…and then learning from them. As a travel writer, that’s my challenge. And that’s my mission.

What about you? How have you connected with people in your travels? I’d love to hear about your own bum and baguette moments.

Mont Blanc: Long-Distance Hikes and Mountain Hospitality

I was just in the Alps with my TV crew, filming three new episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe. We spent a couple of days hiking (and filming) on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, in the French Alps. It’s a whole parallel world there, away from the tourist crowds and intensity of the Alpine resorts, and really peaceful 

After just a taste of this classic long-distance hike, I am dreaming of coming back and doing the entire loop — and once again, I’m reminded that you can never run out of rewarding corners of Europe to explore. 

What’s your favorite long-distance hiking experience in Europe? 

All Alone…Enjoying the Grandeur of the Alps

These days in Europe — even at 10,000 feet above sea level — you’ll find tourist crowds. But a traveler can almost always find a way to be alone with the wonder of the moment…as illustrated in this clip, atop the Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps. Join me for a magic bit of peace and quiet on the scalp of my favorite Alp.