Staying Connected with Our European Guides: Notes from the Guides’ Marketplace

As long as we can’t travel, our guides can’t lead our tour groups. But until things open up again, our European friends are still guiding virtually. And that’s what our new Rick Steves Guides’ Marketplace is all about.

All across Europe, our guides are harnessing their positive attitude, creativity, and passion for teaching in new ways. Even with no tours, our guides remain determined to teach and preach the joys of Europe. To help them out, we’ve created our Guides’ Marketplace, which showcases some of the innovative ways that they’re staying busy and, in some cases, trying to generate a little income. This is also a great source for getting a European perspective on what’s going on in the world today, as several of our guides are actively blogging with their spare time.

As we wait for a day when we can all get back on the bus together, here are a few highlights from the Guides’ Marketplace.

On his blog Travel with Roy, Roy Nicholls writes about some of Britain’s unusual pub names:

The British do like their pubs and generally have a ‘local’ where they can relax, drink their beer (other tipples are available) and enjoy the company. This local pub may be The Red Lion or The Royal Oak, said to be the two most common pub names in Britain, or it could be The White Hart, Queen’s Head, The Bell, The Plough, or Rose & Crown, all quite common names throughout Britain. Or it could a pub with a very strange name indeed.

After years of dedicated research, these are my favourites. They are all real pubs and I have enjoyed all of them.

The Three-Legged Mare, High Petergate, York: It is not describing a disabled horse, but a rather macabre reference to gallows with 3 uprights and crosspieces, that could hang multiple felons at one time.

The Nobody Inn, Doddiscombeleigh, Devon: On Dartmoor, in the little village of Doddiscombsleigh, there is a pub called the Nobody Inn. Apart from being a terrible pun, the story is that this pub takes its name from the unfortunate moment during a former landlord’s wake when his coffin was brought back to an empty pub.

The Drunken Duck Inn, Barngates, Cumbria: In the Lakes District, at Barngates just outside Hawkshead, is The Drunken Duck. In the 19th century the landlady discovered that her flock of ducks had got into the beer cellar, gorged themselves on spilt beer and were apparently dead on the floor. Not wanting to waste them, she started to prepare them for the oven, only to have them waken from their drunken stupor and flap away!

Check out Roy’s full blog post for more vivid names.

On her blog Margaret Traveling, Margaret Cassady reflects on what it was like guiding Rick Steves Tours back in 1991. Here’s an excerpt:

In my early years, Europe Through the Back Door was still very much a small local operation. Before Rick’s PBS series aired, raising his visibility across the country, most of our customers were from the Seattle area. In fact, the office hosted a pre-tour potluck dinner for each group so we could meet before the trip. And most tour members were able to come. …

In those days it was even more vital: young or old, we all carried Rick Steves convertible suitcases on our backs, and oh, the sweaty backpack outline that would be revealed when we shucked them off!

And we carried those bags up many flights of stairs. It was a rare luxury to stay in a hotel with an elevator. Air conditioning was unheard of, too. When I returned to guiding in 2011, after a 10-year break to raise my kids, I was astounded when my first hotel room had A/C. I thought the front desk had assigned me the wrong room, since I always ask for the worst one. (Tour members get the nicer ones.) But no! And I thought it was an anomaly — but then we got to the second hotel. And the third. And so on. Still a backpacker and “hosteler” at heart, I was floored by such luxurious upgrades. …

The trepidation of Americans: a shared bathroom. But they weren’t uncommon in our hotels back in 1991. In fact, one of my (and countless tour members’) favorite hotels was the Hotel Mittaghorn in Gimmelwald, in the Swiss Alps. Not only did it have just one shower that most of the rooms shared (I’d post a shower-time sign-up sheet on the door to avoid lineups), but it was coin-operated. The chalet’s big loft would invariably be assigned to the solo women in the group — including me — with beds lined up like the orphans’ in “Madeline.” …

In that pre-euro era, I couldn’t arrive in each country and just take my group right out to explore. First I had to read any notes my colleagues on previous tours had left for me at the hotel’s front desk. No internet then, of course — if a guide had news of an impending strike, a change in local museum hours, or a tip about a great new restaurant, we’d just leave a hand-scrawled note at the hotel for the next guide who’d check in. (No cheap, quick way to communicate with home, either. After I married, my husband tried to mail cards to me en route, but they’d invariably arrive too early or late. Eventually he resorted to pre-writing notes for me to take along, labeled with the date I should open each one, and guessing at what he’d be doing and feeling on that day. “Today I went to the Mariners game…unfortunately, they lost again.”)

And then we had to convert our money. Cash was much more widely used, and ATM’s weren’t prevalent. Europe Through the Back Door actually provided tour members with a starter sampler pack of European bills (I remember helping with office assembly lines, stacking up guilders, marks, lire, and Swiss and French francs), but it was necessary to take my groups to an exchange office soon after we arrived. We’d spend precious sightseeing time standing in line at Thomas Cook, waiting to hand over a stack of travelers’ checks in exchange for local currency.

These days I sit in comfort on our tour bus or in my hotel room, using my cell phone and laptop to make reservations and confirm appointments for my tour’s upcoming stops. But that wasn’t possible back then. Instead, I’d buy a prepaid phone card (and each country had its own system), and at our highway rest stops, I’d have to find — and figure out — a pay phone and make a breathless series of calls to my next destination. …

Laundry was a source of both stress and hilarity for us assistant guides. Believe it or not, it was our duty to wash the tour members’ laundry midway through the tour. Many hours of my first-ever visit to Rome on that 1991 tour were spent dealing with the giant Santa-esque garbage bag full of their dirty clothes. I managed to find a laundromat, and wash and dry it all, but then I spent hours wandering the unfamiliar streets, near tears, in search of my group (this was pre-cell phones, of course). The upside: my every visit to Rome since then has been an improvement. Sorry, tour members now have to wash their own clothes. Back at the hotel, I’d dump all the clean laundry in a pile on my bed (no, we didn’t go so far as to fold it), and let the tour members paw through it to reclaim their pieces. …

Thirty years ago, our tour operation was a little rougher around the edges, a little more seat-of-the-pants, a little less polished. But my tour members’ delight in their discoveries, the friendships and memories created, the lifelong travel dreams come true, were just as precious and meaningful then as now. Hundreds of tour members later, I still get immense joy and satisfaction from each European tour I lead.

Check out the full blog post for more of Margaret’s stories.

Several of our guides are also doing video blogs, with clips featuring cultural insights and up-to-date information. For example, in Oslo, Pål Bjarne Johansen has been taking virtual visitors around his home city — including its famous Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Museum:

Other guides are offering paid virtual classes for those who want a deeper dive into European history and culture. For example, Anna Piperato in Siena:

And David Tordi in Orvieto:

There’s much more to discover. At Moon in Spain, Margaret Monnier offers video reports from southern Spain and a rundown of her favorite beach tapas places in the region. At Berlin Perspectives, Torben Brown and Carlos Meissner view the German capital through the lens of history. And Slovenian guides Tina Hiti and Sašo Golub blog about their beautiful home country at Private Guide Slovenia.

If you’re missing your favorite Rick Steves guide, now’s a great time for some virtual travel. See what they’re up to in our Rick Steves Guides’ Marketplace…and reach out to say hello.