Question: After spending so much time in Europe for so many years, how do you keep things fresh, once you’ve been to a place and already seen all the sights?
Answer: I sometimes ponder dedicating an entire year of travels to all new places. But then, when I return to a city I think I know, I learn so much and am able to improve an existing guidebook chapter. This year so far virtually new destinations for me have been: Cordoba, Tangier, Zagreb, Bosnia, and Montenegro. And I’m really quite high on each of these places. But I’m just as excited about how I’ve spiffed up my Barcelona, Sevilla, and Italy material. And there’s no thrill for a tour guide like producing a dynamite new TV show (which we just did covering Barcelona and the Dordogne). Fresh? Everything’s still wiggling.
Question: I’m worried about taking a camera due to European pickpockets. Will it be safe packed in my day bag? I’m especially worried about the “packed-in” situations at train stations, on busses, and so on.
Answer: As Europe gets more affluent, I no longer hear about the brazen “break the car window and grab your purse while at a stop light” kind of theft. Throughout Europe’s rough spots, I feel much safer now than a decade ago. You still need to exercise caution and assume thieves will target American tourists. But the least of my concerns is a thief grabbing my camera. The real risk is a mental lapse on my part and just forgetting something when out and about.
Question: Any useful phrases to say in Europe, like vada via (“go away”)?
Answer: I enjoyed saying complimenti a lot when wanting to give Italians my complements for something well done or served.
Question: Do you have any tips on how to get around Venice and Dubrovnik with mobility issues?
Answer: Bring a sedan chair with two strong boys. These places (along with the Cinque Terre villages and Italian hill towns) are about a miserable as can be for anyone who has trouble with steps. Go off-season to avoid the heat and crowds. I think choosing places where “car touring” works (West Ireland, England’s Cotswolds, France’s Dordogne, Danish countryside) would be easier and more enjoyable.
Question: Do you still lead tours for your tour company? Also, is there any way to select one of your tours based on the tour guide before committing to a tour?
Answer: I led our tours for 25 years (until 2002). I have 60 guides that do our tours now…and I can promise you most of them (specialists in their regions) do a better job then I (the generalist) could do. I personally am thrilled to be trusting my wife’s and my two-week vacation this September in Greece to one of our Greek guides. Sure, our guides vary in degrees of excellence. But I have complete faith in each of our guide’s ability to exceed the high expectations of our tour customers. There are always some tour members who don’t click personally with a guide. In these cases, while I empathize with the tour member…I support our guide. But if a guide can’t exceed expectations for the majority of the people on their tour, they don’t work for us.
Question: How do you keep from losing the perspective of the inexperienced traveler who needs to pack lightly and spend frugally? It seems the fact you have a production staff in tow would prevent that possibility.
Answer: This is a great question…and challenge. I make a point to be befuddled, to be stressed by the high cost, to be wide-eyed and green. (It seems to come naturally.) It is critical for me not to loose the mind-set of the less-experienced travelers who use my material, but then to draw on my experience to distill and design all the data and information into a helpful little package. Because I’m the generalist on my staff (who doesn’t speak another language), I can remind my researchers who specialize in a particular country what it’s like to be overwhelmed, tentative, and frustrated by the challenges presented by a new city. I still don’t know the words for “push” or “pull” in any language other than my own…and look forward to walking into doors all over Europe for a long time to come.