Twenty years ago, I was on a train heading to Rothenburg to update the ultimate medieval town in Germany for my guidebook. I knew the town well and was anticipating a happy homecoming. The cute lanes would be filled with my readers, who cheered me on. I loved going to Rothenburg.
I love France – it is one of Europe’s most diverse, tasty and exciting countries. It brims with the good life and a special appreciation for culture, music, art, food and wine.
Here’s a tip. Don’t stress over tipping.
Recently on one busy day, I revisited highlights and found new sights in Salzburg, a Baroque showpiece. Austria’s fourth-largest city – with 150,000 residents – is divided into old and new. Old Town, between the Salzach River and Salzburg’s mini-mountain (Monchsberg), holds nearly all the charm and most of the tourists. New Town, across the river, has the train station, a few sights and museums and some good accommodations.
Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, calls itself the “World’s Smallest Big City.” I’d argue it’s more like the world’s biggest little town: easy to handle and easy to like. A pleasant three-hour train ride from Copenhagen, Aarhus is well worth a stop.
I first visited Istanbul in the 1970s. Some of my most vivid memories of that trip are of the colorful locals. Scruffy kids sold cherry juice, and old men would grab huge cucumbers from wheeled carts, then peel, quarter and salt them to sell for pennies. While the 1970s magic in many places has been plowed under by modern affluence, today’s Istanbul is every bit as rich and rewarding as it was back then.
I love all the technology that makes travel easier than ever. Even when you want to get away from it all, it makes sense to take your smartphone (or tablet) with you. You can keep in touch if you want to, plus you'll have instant access to resources that can enrich your trip. I wouldn’t leave home without mine.
Today my long-time Dutch friends, Hans and Marjet, are driving me to polder country – the vast fields reclaimed from the sea where cows graze, tiny canals function as fences, and only church spires and windmills interrupt the horizon.
You could spend a lifetime in Europe’s grand museums – the Louvre, the British Museum, and many others. But I also like to take in a destination’s more idiosyncratic sights, getting a bead on the quirkier side of the local culture. It’s my nature as a travel writer to look for the rustic, old-fashioned, and odd bits that fall through the cracks.
My TV crew and I often enjoy the rare privilege of filming inside Europe’s great museums and palaces on days when they are closed to the public. For this honor, we sign up months in advance, often pay dearly and never regret it.
Iceland’s remote location and harsh climate aren’t exactly welcoming. But its striking scenery, draped with glaciers and punctuated by craggy peaks and steamy geysers – coupled with Icelandair’s fare incentives – make this destination increasingly attractive to adventurous travelers.
When I visited Berlin last summer to update my guidebook, I also scouted locations for a new TV show. I found the city as vibrant as ever – with massive infrastructure projects in progress all around town. The cranes speckling the horizon in every direction put an end to the idea of filming anytime soon – but the commotion is not a problem for visitors. If anything, seeing all the changes in the works made me eager to come back soon to see the Berlin of the future.
Cruising in Europe’s Baltic or North Sea can satisfy even an independent traveler like me. Stepping off the gangway, I’m immersed in the vivid life of a different European city each day. I’ve toured some of the world’s top museums, taken a Scandinavian-style coffee break while people-watching from a prime sidewalk cafe, lingered on a surprisingly sunny and sandy Baltic beach, and enjoyed some of Europe’s most expensive cities on the cheap from my big ship home-base.
When I’m in Italy, I generally only eat Italian food. I doubt there’s another country in Europe (except France) that could hold my palate’s interest so easily.
France’s bustling, modern Reims greets travelers with cellar doors wide open. As the capital of the Champagne region, it features a lively center, a historic cathedral, and, of course, Champagne tasting. And thanks to France’s slick, high-speed rail, it’s just 45 minutes from Paris – making it an easy day trip.
Rome is a showcase of Western civilization, layered with elements of the city’s 2,000-year-old history. Among the traffic-choked 21st-century boulevards, you’ll find marble ruins of ancient times, early Christian churches, grand Renaissance buildings and statues, and a wealth of Europe’s most sumptuous, inspiring sights – its Baroque treasures.
Lately, I’ve really been enjoying what I consider to be the “second cities” of Europe, such as Naples in Italy, Marseille in France and Hamburg in Germany. These places often have a rough, Industrial Age heritage and a rust-belt vibe that keeps them honest, unvarnished and nonconformist. Even though Glasgow is Scotland’s largest and most populated city, I consider it to be that country’s second city behind Edinburgh, which wins first place for its capital status and tourism appeal.
Sometimes I wonder why I lug my bag through airports, following my own recommendation to pack light enough to carry on and avoid checking any bags on international flights. It can be a drag, dragging your bag through airports. But when scrambling with last-minute changes in flight plans, those without checked bags are far more nimble. Over the years I’ve learned some tricks on dealing with European airports. Here are a few of them:
The last time I visited St. Petersburg, in the 1990s, the Russian city was gray and depressing. But during a recent visit, I found a town that sparkles.
While Germany sits in the driver’s seat of Europe’s economy, it doesn’t take a cultural backseat either. Following are a few of the latest developments.
Many people travel across the Atlantic in search of "Old World" Europe and to witness traditional culture in action. But with most of Europe firmly entrenched in the modern world, travelers are getting fewer opportunities to glimpse the old way of life.
I'm in Volterra, my favorite small town in Tuscany, sitting under rustic, noble stones at the base of a palace that made commoners feel small six centuries ago. Bats burst through the floodlights amid ghostly towers held together with rusted iron corsets. These stones have soul. The countless peasant backs they bent so many centuries ago gave to future generations the architectural equivalent of fine wines — something to be savored and pondered in solitary moments like this one.
Europe is safe when it comes to violent crime. But it's a surprisingly creative place when it comes to travel scams. Pickpockets and con artists target Americans — not because these crooks are mean, but because they're smart.
Electronic communication, such as disposable mobile phones, cheap and easy Wi-Fi, and social networking, is revolutionizing the way we travel.
Watching "Rick Steves' Europe" with my friends, I always wish I could take them behind the scenes to show them the "glamour" of filming. It takes six days to film a 30-minute television episode , and it is an exhilarating and exhausting scramble from start to finish.
Touristic, glorious, and romantic, some of Germany's best attractions are in Bavaria. My favorites are three of King Ludwig II's castles: stocky Hohenschwangau, his boyhood home; the nearby and fanciful Neuschwanstein, his dream escape; and Linderhof, his final retreat.
Despite France's reputation for fine restaurants and grand cafes, one of my most memorable meals was actually a picnic on a bench in Chartres. Munching my baguette with Emmentaler cheese and sipping my box of juice in front of the floodlit cathedral, I acknowledged the bum on the next bench.
Turkey is changing fast. And it's modernizing fast. For my vacation this year, I hit the road in Turkey, with romantic memories (a few years old) of horse-drawn carriages and villages with economies powered by hay, dung, and ducks. While that rustic old world is tougher to find, the deep traditions and warm hospitality of the region are as endearing as ever, especially if you venture past the predictable sights and tourist zones. Turkey has a sparse and frustrating train system, but flights are cheap and competitive bus companies provide easy, comfy, and inexpensive connections throughout the land.
Each July, a million revelers pack into Pamplona, Spain, for the raucous Festival of San Fermin. They come to this proud town in the Pyrenees foothills for music, fireworks, and merrymaking. Bu t most of all, they come for the Running of the Bulls, when fearless (or foolish) adventurers — called mozos — thrust themselves into the path of six furious bulls.
At Europe's lively open-air markets and bazaars, bargaining for merchandise is the accepted and expected method of setting a price. Whether you are looking for doorknockers or hand-knitted sweaters seize the chance to bargain like a native. It's the only way to find a compromise between the wishful thinking of the seller and the souvenir lust of the tourist.