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photo of Rick Steves

We had a chance to go to a Rick Steves lecture the other night, though lecture is way too stuffy a word for it. The celebrated travel journalist, broadcaster, and entrepreneur actually has a bit of a stand-up routine that he brings around: part advice, part humor, and part low-pressure sales pitch for his tours and travel products. Rick was in jeans and a sport coat, standing taller than we expected, blondish hair going silvery, and much funnier than one would imagine.

We were intrigued by the advice, so here’s some of it:

  • Instead of going to tourist sites in midday with the crowds, arrive in late afternoon and spend the evening. The tourists are gone, and you have a chance to “be a temporary local.”
  • Go ahead and miss the art museum. Rick feels that “museums can ruin a good vacation.”
  • Go strolling and people-watching in the evenings around the main square, or just follow the crowd. It’s a European custom that provides the real lowdown on a town.
  • Visit Turkey and Eastern Europe, including the beaches of Croatia, where a sweet old pension-keeping crone referred to him fondly as “Ricky from SEE-tul.” (Rick’s from Edmonds, actually, but this is so obviously the right way to pronounce Seattle; what made us ever think differently?)
  • If you’re a passionate shopper, start your tour in the developed countries of Northern Europe, and head south, but don’t buy a thing until you get to “fringey” economies in the south. “For what you pay for a four-inch Viking ship in Oslo, you can buy an actual boat in Turkey.”
  • Beware of any guide whose tour will include a “factory visit” or demonstration. This is most likely his cousin’s diamond polishing factory and shop, Turkish rug store and shop, cigar factory and shop. etc.
  • Europe is safe. “Europeans find it hilarious that Americans stay home to avoid violent crime,” says Ricky. (The USA has the highest reported crime rate in the world, according to a United Nations 2011-2012 survey.)
  • Private apartments or bed and breakfast accommodations are much more fun than chain hotels. If you’re feeling poor or cheap, many youth hostels are now all-age hostels and affordable options.
  • Mom was right: those gypsy women begging on the crowded sidewalk are probably pickpockets.

Mostly we pretty much knew and agreed with all this. Exceptions: I, of course, need to shop everywhere, though not to buy everywhere. It is true that art museums are more exhausting than walking, but history and industry museums can give us great background on the region’s past and meaning. And finally, I sure hope Tom didn’t hear that part about hostels going all-ages. He’s not to know that one can sleep for $20 a night.

(Photo from Wikipedia Commons: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5)