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Hi. I'm Rick Steves-immersed in the wonders of Venice — and back for part two of our three
part travel skills special. This time, we're going beyond the sights, bringing you more
practical tips to help make your European trip fun and hassle-free. Thanks for joining us.
The skills we'll cover in this episode: planning, packing, safety and-perhaps the most rewarding
skill of all-connecting with locals.
Today more people than ever are enjoying Europe. And it's lots of fun snapping photos of the
predictable biggies and checking out the cultural icons. But you can go deeper than traditions
put on display for tourists. A more intimate Europe survives. You find it best by becoming
a temporary local. Drop in on a dog show. Join the village parade, make new friends
where there are no postcards.
In this three-part travel skills special, we start in the Netherlands, venture through
Germany, dip into Italy, sweep through Switzerland and France before finishing in England. In
this second episode we travel through the highlights of Northern Italy: Venice, Siena,
and the Cinque Terre-my favorite stretch of the Riviera.
For most people, Venice is a must-see destination. To be here, on this unique island, amid all
this culture and history is truly a wonder. But, with its popularity, St. Mark's Square-in
mid-day-can come with over-whelming crowds. It'll take an hour for these folks to get
into the church. With so many people traveling these days, if you're not on the ball, crowds
can be a real problem.
To me, there are two kinds of travelers: those who waste valuable time waiting in long lines
like this and smarter travelers who don't.
Most lines you see-like this one at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence-are not people waiting
to get in. They're waiting to buy tickets to get in but there are other ways to get
tickets. For example, these people at the Louvre in Paris could avoid this notorious
line if they simply bought the city museum pass (which lets you go directly through the
turnstile). You can also make reservations-in places like Rome's Borghese Gallery-to get
directly into crowded sights by phone or on the web. Or you can arrange your schedule
to avoid crowds. The ancient Pantheon is mobbed through the day...but literally all yours
early or late.
Travel is fraught with cultural differences. Celebrate them ...it's fun...that's why we're
Rick: Buongiorno. Hotel clerk: Buongiorno. Your birthday date,
On forms, fill in the date European style: day...month...year.
Hotel clerk: OK, here is your key. Second floor.
Rick: Grazie. Hotel clerk: Prego.
And over here the ground floor is the ground floor. So, what Europeans call the first floor
is the American second floor...and their second floor is what we'd call the third. By the
way...cute little European hotels...often without elevators.
In order to travel well, you need to be engaged. Weights and other measurements throughout
Europe use the metric system. Give it a try. Here's about half a kilo ...that's roughly
a pound.
All over Europe, produce-in this deli, cheese and meat-is sold in 100-gram increments-about
a quarter pound-plenty for a hearty sandwich.
Butcher: This is a kilogram. So, one kilo, hundred grams. Ten little one makes kilogram.
Hundred grams, she looks like this. This is 100 grams. This is 100 grams. And this is
100 grams. Good enough to make one sandwich.
And when they write their numbers, Europeans use commas and periods differently than we
do. For example, one and a half kilos looks like this...and there's one thousand grams
in a kilo. And you might as well write your numbers European style, too: cross your sevens
because a one looks like this. And for temperatures they use Celsius rather than Fahrenheit-here's
a memory aid: 28 C is the same as 82 F...pretty warm.
During the Middle Ages, Venice was Europe's trading superpower, but today the big business
is tourism. All over Europe-wherever there are tourists, you'll find tourist information
offices. But be aware, while handy, their purpose is to help you spend money in their
Many are privatized. Funded by hotels and big tour companies, they can be more interested
in selling tickets and services than just giving information. Still, drop by to pick
up a city map, learn about special events, and so on. When it comes to information, like
anywhere, be a savvy consumer.
You can explore Europe on your own or with a tour. Either way can be the right choice.
Going on your own gives you flexibility, freedom, and you can connect more intimately with Europe.
Many wish they could go on their own but are nervous about traveling independently. Equipped
with good information and a determination to travel smart, you can be your own tour
guide. Guidebooks-print or digital-are vital tools. There are guidebooks for everyone:
shoppers, opera buffs, campers, seniors...even vegetarians. Invest in a guidebook that fits
your style.
But for many travelers a guided bus tour can also be a good choice.
After thirty years of tour guiding experience, I've found that for the right person, choosing
the right tour can reward that traveler with some of the best travel experiences possible.
Good tours come with expert, passionate teachers for guides, small groups, and take full advantage
of the economy and efficiency that can come with group travel.
Tour guide: Our hotel is literally just down there. And five minutes that way is St. Mark's
Square. Five minutes that way is the Rialto Bridge. If we were staying on the outside
of town or some cruise ship, we could not be here. The benefits of being a small group
are fantastic. We get to enjoy Venice as it should be enjoyed. OK, let's get to our hotel.
Barbara, you're in room 214...
Organizing the top sights into a smooth and stress free package, a tour provides good
comfortable hotels, door-to-door bus service-except in Venice, of course-and an efficient sightseeing
schedule at a fine price.
But understand how standard tours make their money. The retail price is often too good
to be true-designed just to get you on board. Most of their profit actually comes in Europe.
For instance, here in Venice, your guide is sure to arrange an entertaining glass blowing
And it's always followed by a shopping opportunity. Guides are generally paid a token wage and
make most of their income through tips, selling optional sightseeing tours, and kickbacks
on your shopping.
Seeing the great sights of Europe from a cruise ship is more popular than ever. Cruising is
a huge and growing industry. Like the big bus tours, it can be efficient and economical-and
the base cost is reasonable. Again, the serious profit is made elsewhere-in your drinking,
gambling, shopping, and selling you the on-shore excursions.
Each ship carries thousands of tourists effortlessly from famous port to famous port. Passengers
have choices. You can spend shore time sightseeing in organized tour groups. Or you can explore
on your own. There are clear options. For the independent traveler who takes advantage
of a good guidebook, the ship can provide an efficient springboard for getting the most
out of a series of quick one-day stops.
Anywhere in Europe, you can stay in touch easily with the Internet. And, each year there
are more good reasons to be empowered by on line tools, clever apps, and communication
innovations. Internet access-often for free-is everywhere, from cafes to trains to hotels.
Your various mobile devices are important travel tools. Before leaving home understand
their limits, costs and abilities.
It's time to say ciao to Venice and head for Tuscany. Our next stop: Siena.
Siena is a stony wonderland...an architectural time-warp where pedestrians rule and the present
feels like the past. Its main square, Il Campo, is enchanting. Five-hundred years ago, Italy
was the center of humanism. Here, it's the city hall bell tower rather than the church
spire that soars above the town. And today, the beloved square feels like a beach without
At the edge of Siena's medieval center, our hotel's garden is a fine place for reviewing
some ideas on itinerary planning.
Start your travel experience early by enjoying the planning stage. Talk to other travelers,
choose books and movies with your trip in mind, nurture your travel dreams. Then develop
a thoughtful itinerary in steps:
Brainstorm a wish list of destinations, put them in a logical geographical order, then
write down how many days you'd like to spend in each place and then tally it up. 32 days.
And now you've got to fit it with your vacation time. I've got 21 days off, that means I'm
going to have to do some serious cutting here...minimize redundancy...can't do both the Italian Riviera
and the French Riviera. Keep a balance between big cities and small towns. This is heavy
on big cities. I think I'll have to cut Rome. Greece takes too much time to get to. It'll
have to be on the next trip. Rather than spending an entire day on the train I can save a day
in my itinerary by flying or taking the overnight train, from Bavaria to Venice. I still have
to cut one day. I'll have to tighten up on Paris, three days rather than four and I've
got it-21 days. It fits.
Now fine-tune your itinerary. Anticipate any closed days. For instance, in Paris most museums
are closed on Tuesday. Take your trip to the next level by researching events you'll encounter
along the way: concerts, sporting events, and festivals. Also, consider building in
a few slack days...two days on the beach midway through the trip; that'll be very nice. One-night
stops are hectic. Try for at least two nights per stop. And remember...open jaws-that's
flying into one city and out of another city-that's very efficient.
Finally, be realistic about how much you can cover. You'll always find places you can't
get to. I really wanted to get to Greece, but squeezing it in would rush my entire trip.
Assume you will return.
Travel is freedom. It's rich with choices and exciting decisions. That's part of the
Factor in your comfort level with doing things on the fly. Some people have a great trip
with nothing planned at all. Others have a great trip by nailing down every detail before
they leave home. I like to keep some flexibility in my itinerary-perhaps I'll fall in love
with Siena and stay an extra day.
Also, plan thoughtfully to get the best weather and the least crowds. The most grueling thing
about travel over here is the heat and crowds of summer-especially in Italy. Check the weather
charts. My rough rule of thumb: north of the Alps is like Seattle or Boston; south of the
Alps is like Southern California or Florida. I prefer visiting the Mediterranean countries
in spring or fall and I travel north of the Alps in summer.
We happen to be here in August. And it's hot. Winter travel is a whole different scene.
And it comes with pros and cons too: flights are cheaper, museums are empty, and the high
culture-symphonies, opera and so on-is in full swing.
But in the winter it rains more and gets dark early-especially in the north; and many activities
and sights are closed, or run on shorter hours. While small towns, outdoor sights, and resorts
can be sleepy; big cities are vibrant and festive throughout the year.
By the way, while Europe has little violent crime; it comes with plenty of petty purse
snatching and pickpocketing. European thieves target Americans-not because they're mean,
but because they're smart. We're the ones with all the goodies in our day bags, wallets,
and purses.
There are all kinds of scams. Remember: thieves don't dress like thieves. Thieves can be mothers
with babies in their arms and fast-fingered children at their sides. Thieves work to distract
you. They'll spill something on you or shove a cardboard sign in your face, and so on.
You're not likely to get mugged, but if you're not careful, you could get pick pocketed or
purse snatched.
How can you foil thieves without feeling like you're constantly on guard?
A great way to handle this problem is to zip up and secure your valuables. I like to wear
a money belt. It's a nylon pouch you tie around your waist and tuck in like your shirt tail.
In it, you carry just your essentials so you can wear it comfortably all day long. For
instance, I keep my drivers' license, a couple of credit cards, my passport, my big money,
and my train tickets. As an added precaution, before my trip, I email myself all my important
personal information.
Venice and Siena are wonderful cities, but they're very popular. Throughout Europe, I
make a point to venture beyond the famous stops.
In Bosnia, watch daredevils jump from a bridge rebuilt after the war...In England, climb
your own private peak...in the north of Spain, you can join the pilgrims on the route to
I love the charm of the Cinque Terre-five remote and traffic-free villages wedged in
the most rugged bit of the Italian Riviera, trying to hide out from today's modern world
as they did from pirates centuries ago. Each town is a character. This is Vernazza.
While this stretch of coast was an exciting discovery for me 30 years ago, it's pretty
touristy now. And that's the case with much of Europe. But Europe still has its untouristy
corners. And, even in popular places like this, you can still find your own back doors.
Venture away from the spiffed-up commercial zones. Explore.
Vernazza has no modern hotels, and that's actually good news. It keeps away the high-maintenance
travelers-those who demand all the four-star comforts.
You can sleep in humble pensions, move in with families renting out spare rooms, and
enjoy the classic small town Riviera experience.
Whether the place is touristy or not, you can always connect with the locals. Offer
to catch a line... And leave the crowded main street. Support the local entrepreneurs.
Rick: Come si chiama? Children: Conchiglia.
Rick: Conchiglia. Shell in English. Quanto costa?
Children: Due ori. Rick: Due ori, OK. Good. Grazie. Ciao.
Years ago, the language barrier was a big problem. But today's Europe is increasingly
bilingual-and English is its second language. These days it seems any place interested in
your business speaks your language.
While it's nothing to brag about, I speak only English and manage fine. Still, a few
tips help. It's rude to assume everybody speaks English. To be polite, I start conversations
by asking, "Do you speak English?-Parlez-vous anglais? Sprechen Zie Englisch?" Whatever.
If he says no, I do my best in his language. Generally after a couple of sentences he'll
say, "Actually I do speak a little English." Okay, your friend is speaking your language.
Do him a favor by speaking slowly, clearly. Enunciate. No slang, no contractions, internationally
understood words. Instead of asking for the restroom, ask "toilet?" Instead of asking,
"Can I take your picture?" point to your camera and ask "Photo?"
Make educated guesses and proceed confidently. This must be a pharmacy. And at the station,
this sign shows trains arriving and trains departing.
Communicate with a curiosity and an appetite for learning. In Europe, each region has its
own gestures.
a gesture for; I'm tired of carrying my bags. Whether you're battling crowds or exploring
the back doors there's only one way to avoid this.
Packing light is essential for happy travel. Think about it: Have you ever met anybody
who, after five trips, brags, "Every year I pack heavier"? Learn now or you'll learn
later the importance of being mobile with your luggage. Pack light.
While large, unwieldy suitcases are bad for this kind of travel, smaller, carry-on sized
wheelie bags are popular and can work well.
If you don't mind slinging your suitcase over your shoulder, a bag like this works great.
This is a convertible suitcase/backpack. It's designed to be as big as you can carry onto
most airplanes. I use it as a backpack but if you zip away these padded shoulder straps,
it converts into a soft-sided suitcase.
You'll see all kinds of travelers and bags on the road. Remember, you'll be walking a
lot with your bags-especially if traveling by train. Before your trip, try this test.
Load everything up, and go downtown. Window shop for an hour with all your gear. If you
can't do that comfortably, go home, spread everything out on the living room floor, and
Pick up each item one at a time and look at it. Ask yourself, "Will I use this swimming
mask enough to justify carrying it around?" Not "Will I use it?" It'd be great fun here
on the Riviera. But will I use it enough to feel good about carrying it through the Swiss
Alps? Frugal as I may be, I'd rather buy it here than pack it all around Europe.
Don't pack for the worst scenario. Pack for the best scenario and if you need something
more, buy it over here.
If you run out of toothpaste, that's no problem. Then, you've got a great excuse to shop around
over here... and pick up something you think...might be toothpaste.
You can get virtually everything in Europe. If you can't get one of your essentials here,
perhaps you should ask yourself how 400-million Europeans can live without it.
Whether traveling for two weeks or three months, I pack exactly the same. Everything I need
fits in this bag. For travelers, Europe is casual. For warmth, layer it. In the summertime,
I've got a light sweater and a light jacket. That works great. In the winter, of course,
you'll want to check climate charts and pack for rain and cold. For pants I like to wear
these jeans. And, in the Mediterranean where it's so hot and muggy, I bring a light pair
of long pants, as well. A pair of shorts doubles as a swimsuit. For shirts: I have a T-shirt,
two or three short-sleeved shirts, and I like to bring a couple of long-sleeved shirts.
The thing that determines when I need to do my laundry is when I run out of socks and
underwear. How many you take is up to you. As far as shoes go, this is really important:
bring one pair of well broken-in, sturdy walking shoes. If you bring a second pair of shoes
make it a light one.
For travel information, this is really important, but don't go too heavy on this-I bring a notebook,
the maps I need, couple of chapters ripped out of various guidebooks, and my favorite
guidebooks covering the places I'll be traveling. I also have a toiletries kit: very small,
just the basics-you're on vacation. And a miscellaneous stuff bag full of odds and ends-you
know...the ten essentials that you'll never need. I didn't pack an umbrella. But it rained
so I bought one. They're cheap over here. And when I'm out and about, I have my day
For women, of course, there are differences and lots of clever tips. But it's just as
important to be mobile, and these same basic principles of packing light apply.
Now, let me talk about electronics. These days, there' s WiFi just about everywhere.
I bring a laptop-because I'm working; a little point and shoot camera works fine for me;
I buy a simple cell phone over here-it's handy for calling within Europe; and I bring my
smart phone from home. These days, this is an increasingly valuable tool for those on
the road. All of these are dual voltage-they work just fine in Europe. Your only concern
is physically plugging it into the wall. Your American plug won't work so you need one of
two European adapters: in Britain you use the adapter with the three rectangular prongs,
and anywhere on the Continent, the adaptor with the two little round prongs works just
Exploring is part of good travel. Giuliano-who dished up my pasta last night-is taking me
on a short hike to the family vineyard. Besides packing light, planning right and learning
your communication skills, travel in a way that broadens your perspective. And for me
that means connecting with, and learning from friendly locals.
Whether you're enjoying happy hour on the Oslo fjord...pulling out all the stops in
a grand pipe organ loft...or, eating beyond your comfort zone enrich your experience by,
what I call "traveling on purpose:" Experiencing communities in action. Connecting with people
whose cultures challenge ours. Joining seekers on the pilgrimage trail. Wherever you venture,
let the experience broaden your perspective.
And that's my kind of souvenir. Thanks for joining us. Next time we finish our three-part
travel skills special with lots more practical tips...in the Swiss Alps, Paris, and London.
I'm Rick Steves. Keep on travelin'. Ciao.
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European Travel Skills Part II

3866 Folder Collection
SylviaQQ published on September 6, 2015
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