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  • Hi. I'm Rick Steves-immersed in the wonders of Veniceand 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.