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Rick Steves studied at the University of Washington where he received degrees in European History and Business Administration and grew up in Edmonds, Washington. Since 1973 he's spent 120 days a year in Europe, and as a result his real education came in Europe. Living out of a suitcase in Europe, for one third of his adult life, has shaped his thinking. He produces a weekly column syndicated by the Chicago Tribune, a weekly hour long national public radio show, the most popular travel series in America on public television, and more than fifty guidebooks on European travel, today he employs eighty people at his Europe Through the Back Door headquarters.
In his hometown of Edmonds, Washington, Rick Steves works and lives. His old junior high school is right outside his office window.
Edmonds, Washington Ferry
Rick Steves talks about some of the Tourist Traps and Bad Towns you should avoid:
Geneva and Zurich are two of Switzerland's most sterile and largest cities. Like Cleveland and Buffalo, both are pleasantly situated on a lake. And the two are famous. But a rotten reason to go somewhere is name familiarity. See Bern, if you want a Swiss city. But to spend a sunny Swiss day anywhere but high in the Alps, is almost criminal!
In some ancient language, Bordeaux must mean boredom. Bordeaux city and Bordeaux wine country are as different as night soil and night, but connoisseurs visit for the wine. For a price, there's a wine tourist information bureau in Bordeaux which, will bus you out of town into the more interesting wine country nearby. Consider exploring Burgundy, using Beaune as a home base town, for a delightful look at rural France and fine wine country.
Burgundy, France Vineyards
A small country in the Pyrénées between Spain and France, Andorra, is as scenic as any other chunk of those mountains. To take advantage of its famous duty free shopping, people from all over Europe flock to Andorra. Andorra is just a big Spanish speaking Radio Shack, as far as Americans are concerned. Any bargains here you can get at home. With less traffic elsewhere, enjoy the Pyrénées.
Disappointing more people than it excites, is Germany's famous Black Forest. It would be worth seeing, if that's all Germany offered. Any large forest is a popular attraction for Europeans. All high points that cut the Black Forest down to stumps, Bavaria and Germany's Romantic Road to the east, Mosel country and the Rhine to the north, France's Alsace region to the west, and the Swiss Alps to the south, I'd say the average American visitor who's seen more than three trees in one place would prefer these.
Famous for its status as an oil boom town and nearby fjords, Norway's Stavanger, is a large port that's about as exciting as, well... to move to the wilds of Minnesota, emigrants left it in droves! In and around Bergen is better spent time in western Norway.
The capital of Romania, Bucharest, has little to offer. The Intercontinental Hotel is its top selling postcard!
The Intercontinental Hotel
Skip Thessaloníki, if you're heading to Greece from eastern Europe, it deserves its place in the Bible but doesn't belong in travel guidebooks.
While worth visiting, Athens is probably the most overrated city in Europe. With a pile of ruins in its backyard, a century ago Athens was a sleepy town of 8,000 people. Now it's a giant mix of 4 million Greeks, tourists, noise, smog, and concrete. See the great National Archaeological Museum, the Plaka, the Agora, and the Acropolis (the four major attractions) and get out to the countryside or islands.
A minefield of tourist traps, extra caution is merited in southwest England. For all it's worth, the British are masters at milking every conceivable tourist attraction. If you're traveling on limited money or time, here are some booby traps worth avoiding:
England's southernmost region, Cornwall, has more than its share of cotton candy touristic fluff. Prepping me for the Devil's Toenail, I'll never forget driving past these signs. Only five miles - The Devil's Toenail. Next, The Devil's Toenail - next left! I figured I'd better check it out. I pulled into the parking area and paid to park. To pass through the turnstile, paid again. Went to the bottom of the ravine. And there was a rock that looked just like a toenail and was watermelon size! I vowed never again to fall for such a sly snare, a bit embarrassed and disappointed.
The far southwest tip of England, Land's End, is geared up to attract hordes of tourists. You pay to park and to enter, to prove you were there walk to the point for a photo, buy a postcard, and go.
Above Land's End, on the north Cornwall coast, are two more tourist magnets. The legendary birthplace of King Arthur is Tintagel's famous castle. Its exciting wave beaten and windswept ruins are well worth exploring. However, there's even a pub called the Excali Bar, the town does everything in its power to exploit the profitable Arthurian legend.
Birthplace Of King Arthur
Clovelly is just up the coast. Daintily clinging to the rocky coast, desperately trying not to plunge into the wicked seas, it sounds so cute. But reality rules, when you arrive. You will join the crowds funneling into the little town's one street and will have paid to park your car 100 yards away. All selling the same goodies, like clotted cream you can mail home, to the waterfront you can shop your way down one side and past cute knickknack shops up the other side. Don't let tourist traps get between the real beauties of England and you!
Clovelly Beach Waterfall!
Only because they're surrounded by so many places much more worthy of the average traveler's limited vacation time, the places and towns I've mentioned here are worth skipping. No offense is meant, if you have a cuckoo clock shop in the Black Forest or a villa in Andorra. Just distinguish carefully between legitimate sightseeing attractions and entrepreneurial ventures.
See the latest edition of the Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door guidebook for up to date specifics. Also, Rick Steves offers free spirited tours of Europe.
I wrote about Rick Steves Europe because his opinions are highly respected around the world. You would have to look very hard to find someone who knows more about Europe than Rick Steves!
Rick Steves Europe
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