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

Milan’s Risorgimento Museum: Now Free…and Still Empty

I’m a sucker for Risorgimento history — the thrilling story of how the small countries of the Italian peninsula united, against the wishes of the established European powers, to create modern Italy in the 19th century. And the only real museum dedicated to that story is in Milano.

I spend four months of every year in Europe, notebook in hand, researching the new editions of our guidebooks and keeping all our listings up to date. This museum is a good example of how things change: Last year, it cost €5 and had no English descriptions. This year, it’s free and has fine English descriptions.

Follow me as I nervously sneak a quick, forbidden video, with guards chasing me as I film…rushing, whispering, going faster and faster…let’s all get excited about 1870 and Italian unity!

 

Rick Steves’ Europe Announces Our “Climate Smart Commitment”

When we travelers fly, we contribute a lot to climate change. And as a promoter of travel and a tour organizer, I’ve long been aware that my business is a part of the problem. I’m excited and proud to announce that, as a tour company, Rick Steves’ Europe is taking action to go carbon neutral.

As travelers, we often see and experience climate change: floodgates installed to protect medieval lanes in the south of England from rising seas; no more summer skiing in Switzerland; massive storm surge barriers built to protect Rotterdam; retreating glaciers in Norway; and Italians crowding into Sweden each August to escape their record-breaking summer heat. And in the poor world, I’ve seen it too: Guatemalan families whose “hunger season” traditionally started in May now begins in March; Ethiopians adapting with new drought-resistant seeds; life-sustaining topsoil across the Global South threatened by rain that now comes in violent torrents.

Climate change is real. It hurts poor people in poor countries the hardest. And as travelers, we need to be honest: We’re contributing to it. One roundtrip flight to Europe emits as much carbon, per person, as six months of driving. (Fortunately, mitigating our impact is not a huge deal. Anyone who can afford to travel can afford to travel carbon-neutral.)

My colleagues and I have decided it’s time to take responsibility. So, starting this year, Rick Steves’ Europe will invest $1 million a year in a portfolio of nonprofits that fight climate change and help the people it’s hitting the hardest develop in a climate-smart way.

That’s right — we’re taking one million dollars out of our profits, every year from now on. Experts figure that it takes a $30 investment in climate-smart initiatives in the developing world to offset the carbon emissions resulting in one person’s flight from the USA to Europe and back. And considering that we took 30,000 travelers on our tours last year, that adds up to $1 million.

Now, Rick Steves travelers have the peace of mind that they’re supporting a carbon-neutral tour company. And together, we can help the next generation enjoy the same happy travels we have.

I believe it’s time we take responsibility — both personally and politically — to fight climate change. And for our business, this is a big step in the right direction. Read more about our innovative Climate Smart Commitment — and our thinking behind it — at www.ricksteves.com/climate.

 

The New Milan at Porta Nuova

It’s always good to enjoy the contemporary energy of Europe’s great cities in our travels — and when in Milan, be sure to drop by the gleaming high-rise neighborhood of Porta Nuova. My friend and fellow guide Lorenza Scorti, who’s been showing me around her city now for 20 years of visits, was appalled that this wasn’t in my Rick Steves Italy guidebook. Well, now it is.

Where are your favorite places to see the future today in Europe’s great cities?

Milano Gets Flipped the Bird

Built after the economic crisis of 2008, the statue decorating the square at the doorstep of Milan’s stock market seems to be giving Joe the Plumber the finger. Locals also interpret it as a fascist salute with three fingers knocked off. It resonates with people who, in the last decade, have watched as corporate, finance, and banking powers have become ever more friendly with ever more fascist governments…against the interests of the 99%.

Here’s how I wrote up this site in the Rick Steves Italy guidebook:

Piazza degli Affari and a Towering Middle Finger

This square and monument mark the center of Milan’s financial district. The bold fascist buildings in the neighborhood were built in the 1930s under Mussolini. Italy’s major stock exchange, the Borsa, faces the square. Stand in the center and appreciate the modern take on ancient aesthetics (you’re standing atop the city’s ancient Roman theater). Find the stern statues representing various labors and occupations and celebrating the nobility of workers — typical whistle-while-you-work fascist themes. Then notice the equally bold modern statue in the center. After a 2009 contest to find the most appropriate sculpture to grace the financial district, this was the winner. With Italy’s continuing financial problems, here we see how “the 99 percent” feel when they stand before symbols of corporate power. (Notice how the finger is oriented — it’s the 1 percent, and not the 99 percent, who’s flipping the bird.) The 36-foot-tall, Carrara marble digit was made by Maurizio Cattelan, the most famous — or, at least, most controversial — Italian sculptor of our age. L.O.V.E., as the statue is titled, was temporary at first. But locals liked it, and, by popular demand, it’s now permanent.