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 here. Rick: Buongiorno.
Hotel clerk: Buongiorno. Your birthday date, please. 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 town. 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 demonstration. 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 sand. 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 appeal. 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 Santiago. 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. There’s also 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 reconsider. 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 bag. 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 great. 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.