Quick-take: If only we all could backpack across Europe.
In an extremely timely release (middle of the Coronavirus lockdown pandemic) Rick Steves reflects on his 40 years of travels across Europe to bring us his favorite stories in a single collection. The journey starts off in Portugal and he works his way through Spain, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and on. Scoping every nook and cranny, he brings stories from the Nordic countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden), and Eastern Europe with Estonia and Montenegro. It is a great European showcase.
Rick Steves is not a boastful man. He states how things are and why he enjoys the area his is profiling. However, it simply impossible to not read this without a touch of envy. Some of his stories begin with, "Whenever, I visit Paris, like to tell the driver to loop around the Arc de Triomphe twice..." "I went to Milan and needed a haircut. I was surprised that the stylist remembered me from the last time I was there..." "Whenever I am in Rome, I like to use the statue of Giordano Bruno as a waypoint. I tell people: Meet me at Bruno!"
Most Americans dream of visiting Europe at least once in their lifetimes. Rick Steves goes so often he has rituals for the various countries he visits. He is on first name basis with some of the hotels he stays at. Bravo, Steve. He found his passion early in life and managed to make it profitable so he can continue it.
With that, on to the actual stories. Rick Steves likes to engross himself in with the locals. He tries to find places with menus only in the local language. He goes to the pubs during the hours the locals prefers (He says eating late and not minding smokers helps a lot). He gets a beer and starts cozying up with whoever is nearby. He asks about the customs and traditions (like an annual party that celebrates something in regional history).
Though the stories are somewhat interesting, I am not entirely certain how useful they are to American travelers. There is a reason we all beeline to the Roman Colosseum (which got no mention in the book). Us mere mortals do not have years to spend befriending a local to get ourselves invited to their home and listen to their family backstories. We have maybe a week. Rick probably saw it all 30 years ago and is now looking for something deeper. I was pleased that my favorite building in Rome did get a mention (The Pantheon).
I have been to Europe 3 times: Rome, Paris, and London. All three did get a mention in the book --naturally, as they are the 3 most visited European cities (ranked 3, 2, 1). Rick merely acknowledged the Eiffel Tower and the proceeded to discuss French cuisine, which I absolutely agree. The food in Paris was amazing, if you have the time and can get a table to serve you. Rick likes slow service. Rick really liked Westminster Abbey in London, as did I. I doubt Rick would actually explictly state which country is his number 1 favorite, but based on the amount of content dedicated, my guess is he is very partial to Italy. There is so much good food, rich history, and apparently the locals are extremely welcoming.
To give credence to Rick's advice is to go where the locals go for food, I got a tip from a cabbie about where to eat in London. He recommended a very busy run down looking place, and I must say, it was the absolute best Fish and Chips and Beer I have ever had. We went back another day.
If you are looking for a collection of interesting stories from an extremely well-traveled American, this book is for you. If you are looking for travel tips, then look for Rick Steves guidebooks instead. Score: 3/5.