Rick Steves is to European travel as Jay-Z is to the rap scene and Lady Gaga is to post-modern pop. He’s an innovator, and literally wrote the book on traveling and continues to provide quality guide books (and a PBS television show) year after year, helping American travelers experience authentic European vacations.
Two of my high school friends (Chris and Ryan) just got back from a Euro-trip, and I lent them my copy of “Rick Steves’ Europe.” They raved about it, inspiring me to confess my minor R.S. obsession.
I first heard about Rick when a friend and fellow AXO, Annie, traveled abroad in the fall of 2007 to Prague. She swore by Rick’s guidebooks, and when I geared up to head to Barcelona a year after she returned, she gave me “Rick Steves’ Europe” for Christmas. At first I was a little bit skeptical as to how useful these books would really be – the wordy guidebook with hand-drawn maps and hardly any photographs didn’t have the sleek, professional tone that some others do. But, as I quickly learned, it’s all about substance and Rick Steves delivered.
When I embarked for my semester abroad, I brought my Rick Steves guidebook with me – and while I didn’t use him much in Barcelona, he defined my itinerary in places like Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Rome. We ended up choosing our next sight on a whirlwind spring break trip based on what Rick gave 3 stars too – his suggestion of paying approximately 3 euros for a standing room only ticket for Vienna’s opera was a great one – we didn’t feel guilty leaving after 20 minutes! Also in Vienna, Rick’s suggestion to trek out to the wine gardens (called Heuringers) outside the city center was one of our favorite nights of the trip – we experienced authentic food and culture – and the folky live band we heard at the nearby beer garden (called a Bamraxler) was also highly memorable.
A Bamraxler in Vienna:
The Rick Steves obsession followed me back to Berkeley last fall. A bunch of girls in my sorority had studied abroad, so a group us listened to Rick give a guest lecture at Berkeley’s International House. In the inspiring talk, Rick talked about his travel philosophy, his favorite countries (India tops the list) and what the United States can learn from other countries (his progressive ideas elicited a number of “ah-ha” moments from the crowd). He ended the talk with an FAQ session. In typical Berkeley fashion, one student wondered if, since Rick likes Amsterdam, if Rick has a preference for how to smoke weed – explicitly asking Rick, in front of a crowded audience if he is ” a bong man or a joint guy.” Rick’s reply “I’ll take it any way I can get it.”
After the talk, my friends and I giggled like 12 years old meeting Justin Bieber when we chatted with Rick and posed for a photo. I was inspired to learn more, so I read Rick’s book: “Travel as a Political Act.” It was well-written and informative and only fueled the growing case of wanderlust I experienced.
Man. Myth. Legend. Rick Steves!
While I’m all about staying away from super-touristy sights, Rick Steves’ suggestions combine the right amounts of user-friendly, accessible travel spots with an inspired philosophy and set of travel goals.
Do you have any favorite guidebooks? Let me know!