You’ve already met just a few of my favorite people from Dubrovnik — from the Peros to Jadranka, Sasha, and Pepo. But that’s just a small sampling of the hundreds of amazing people I feel lucky to recommend in our Rick Steves Croatia & Slovenia guidebook. As a guidebook writer, I see it as my role to be an intermediary: put good travelers in the hands of great local contacts…then get out of the way. And Roberto de Lorenzo and his mother Marija embody that ideal like nobody else.
Roberto and Marija live in an old palazzo high in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. They’ve converted some of the building into apartments for travelers, including two units that each has access to an entirely private garden. If you’ve been to Dubrovnik, you’ll appreciate how impossibly rare it is to have a garden of any kind — much less a private one — within the City Walls. You can even have the restaurant next door send a waiter over to take your order. Private dining in your own private garden, in the heart of Croatia’s finest town…all this can be yours for around $100 a night.
I have every confidence that Roberto and Marija’s place is great, and I know our readers will love it. But it works both ways. When I visited Roberto today, he was bursting with enthusiasm, telling me, “You have no idea how many people’s lives your books improve. Thanks to the Rick Steves book, I took my mother to the United States. And now I have become an ambassador for the USA to all of my friends.”
Roberto explained. Like all good B&B owners, he’s really hit it off with many of his guests. One couple invited Roberto and his mom to visit them in Pennington, New Jersey. For months, he declined what he assumed was a polite, but possibly insincere, invitation. But they were persistent. And finally Roberto — realizing that this may be his mom’s only chance to go stateside — decided to take them up on it.
On their two-week trip this summer, Roberto and Marija also visited New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania Amish country. And they had a blast. It was a revelation. “Coming from a Mediterranean city, I expected New York to feel busy and impersonal and cold,” Roberto told me. “But quite the contrary: People are so friendly, and there is a real sense of community. It could be a Mediterranean city itself.”
For her part, Marija was especially reluctant to make her first trip to the USA. But it was a life-changing experience for her. Marija told me, “I’m in my 70s, so it’s not easy at this age. But I fell in love…with the States.”
When they first arrived in New York, they stepped out of what Roberto calls “Pennsylvania Station” and saw a pair of real-life NYPD cops. In Croatia, police are often seen as intimidating authority figures. But Roberto was so excited to be there that he couldn’t resist — so he asked one of them if he could take a picture with them. She broke into a big smile and said, “That would make my day.” Roberto showed me the picture on his phone:
Since he’s been back home, Roberto tells me, he’s been showing that picture to anyone and everyone. To him, it sums up the power of travel: You can meet — and snap selfies with — people you’d never dream of. He says that one picture has challenged some of his friends’ assumptions about New York, and the USA in general. And now they’re considering trips of their own.
“What I want you to understand,” he said, slowing down for emphasis, “is that all of this is because of your book. Yes, you put travelers in touch with hotels. But it can be even more than that. If it weren’t for the Rick Steves book, I would never have met those guests. They would never have invited me to the United States. And I would not be telling everyone I know what a wonderful place your country is.”
While this all may seem immodest, it’s a gratifying reminder that the Rick Steves travel philosophy is just that: not just guidebooks, tours, rucksacks, and practical advice — but a worldview that, in ways small and big, can broaden and improve people’s lives. It certainly brightened the day of one New York cop who didn’t quite know what to make of those two effusive Croatians…but loved every minute of it.