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European Travel
With Rick Steves
Guidebook Author/Television Host

Wednesday, November 14, 2001; 1 p.m. EST

Though the travel landscape has changed substantially since Sep. 11, U.S. travelers -- lured by a current wave of airline deals -- are starting to return to Europe. Rick Steves, author of the guidebook series "Rick Steves' Europe Guides" and host of the PBS series "Rick Steves' Europe," has just returned from several months in Europe and is prepared to offer a frontline report.

A former tour guide, Steves has more than 25 years of experience traveling in Europe and spends several months a year on the continent researching and updating his books. He specializes in finding ways to save money on lodging, food and transportation, and in identifying out-of-the-way spots that are worth a visit (and the tourist traps to be avoided). His travel philosophy is that by spending less money, a visitor can often have a more authentic European experience.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

South Lyon, Mich.: Rick,
I'd like to do some hut-to-hut hiking in Grimmelwald and Zermatt. When would be the best time to go and best method to reserve sleeping arrangements in the mountain homes before leaving the States?

Rick Steves: THere are far more mountain huts accomodating hikers than most Americans realize. Use a travel book store or local tourist information service to find these. I don't think reservations long in advance are necessary. I'd call the day before or so. Of course consider snow levels, Spring is more limiting than Fall. Happy hiking.

Northern Virginia: Hi Rick,
No question today, just a quick note to let you know that I enjoy your series on PBS very much. Keep up the great work!

Rick Steves: Thank you. We are currently producing an all new series of 13 episodes which will air next September nationally on PBS.

Philly, Penn.: Rick;

Some of the travel chats I look into oftentimes say (complain?) that the "quiet" spots you profile in your books become tourist-y almost immediately after publication since your books are so popular.

When you put together your books, do you ever think "gee, maybe I'd best keep this one under wraps?" or is it more of "spread the kindness far and wide" approach?

Rick Steves: First of all, my responsibility is not to protect special places by keeping them secret but to share them with my traveling readers. I keep absolutely no secrets. In fact I use my own guidebooks! I am aware now that in a few circumstances I have a big impact on a small place. I try to list more similar places to even out the load but sometimes there's just one Cinque Terre. Each year when I visit a place like this I see lots of very happy tourists, fatter and happier locals and a few disgruntled tourists who think only they should be enjoying this place. If you want to completely avoid crowds, don't follow a guidebook's suggestions. I should say that there are plenty of great "back doors" less accessible. I don't even consider reporting on a place that is not within easy striking distance from famous and very touristed places because I am realistic about mainstream American travelers' willingness to really venture far away.

Downtown, Washington, D.C.: Which city would you pick for a four day weekend in January -- Amsterdam or Paris? This would be our first visit to either city.

Rick Steves: I love a winter break in great European cities. In the last few years my wife and I have enjoyed London, Paris, and this January we're hitting Rome. Amsterdam is on my short list (but probably not ideal for my wife). I'd say for a first winter break PARIS!!

Northeast, Washington, D.C.: So what's the feeling in Europe these days vis-a-vis Americans? Should we head on over or stay at home?

Rick Steves: I was in Europe for all of September. I've never felt such a powerful solidarity with Europeans. They were attacked with us. For some compelling reading see the "Traveling On" section at ricksteves.com. It's the only time I've ever cried while reading our website...touching examples of Europeans supporting Americans far from home.

Alexandria, Va.: Not so much a question but a thank you to Rick and his travel philosophy. I returned October 24th from a great 20 day tour of Italy. I had delayed my trip after September 11th but Rick's website and comments from fellow travelers listed there helped me get right back on that plane and I'm very glad I did. Not only had a chance to make 22 new friends who were also part of my tour group but had a chance to get away from the constant news barrage and really think about what's going on in the U.S. and around the world.

My only question is where should I go next?

Rick Steves: Thanks for the comment. I am truely amazed by the number of people who say the encouragement offered by our ricksteves.com website section on 9/11 issues made all the difference in their decision to go...and how they figure that was a great move. There is absolutely no reason not to travel now and, as you say, the only question is "where to go."

Arlington, Va.: Hi Rick: I'm a single male who will be traveling alone in London the week prior to Christmas. Can you suggest a good, inexpensive, in-close hotel? Also, do you have any tips on unusual cold weather/Xmas activities in London or vicinity?

Rick Steves: My London guidebook has everything you need for your trip (eat, sleep, sightsee, etc). I stay at the Astor House or for a cheaper overnight the Lime Tree or Vicarage House. Be warned, London is Europe's most expensive place to sleep. Depending upon your ruggedness and budget, I list some good cheapies too (Cherry Court).

Europe first-timer: Where would you go for a 7-9 day European honeymoon in April 2002 if you didn't want to spend a lot of time traveling once you got there and prefered to sit on the beach a lot?

Rick Steves: Luna di Meila (or something like that) is Italian for honeymoon. I think Italy is the most romantic. (without Fiats). Consider Verenna on Lake Como, the Cinque Terre, Siena and Venice. Best wishes.

Arlington, Va.: First, I enjoy your books and your TV program.

My husband and I are flying to France on Christmas and will be there for 2 weeks. We fly in and out of Paris. We plan to first head to Normandy. We would like to take the train or drive to a few other cities, possibly Loire Valley or Burgundy regions. Do you have certain cities you would recommend for that time of year? Also, do you suggest driving or taking the train? I am a bit nervous about driving in the winter in an area I don’t know, but your book seems to suggest that is the way to go.

Rick Steves: Two people, two weeks, winter, France...best by car. Car rental is cheap when compared to train tickets. Don't worry about expensive gas--it doesn't amount to much in the big picture. Get good maps, bundle up, be prepared to be outside a lot in the drizzle, and enjoy the tasty charm of small town France. Warm your hands over a huge log fire with bored guards in empty Loire Chateaus.

Arlington, Va.: I read your reply to the honeymooner question with interest. Do you really think Italy in April will be warm enough to spend much time sitting on the beach?

Rick Steves: Oops, I didn't notice April. Good point. How about Mazatlan?
Actually, I'm not big into beaches in Europe. The romance of Italy is not on the sand.

Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: Rick,
Are you in the DC area now? Are you doing any events in the area?

Rick Steves: I am in Seattle where I live. I will have two Exotic Europe pledge specials coming up in early December on WETA and in Maryland PBS. Otherwise, see ricksteves.com for my schedule which is kept pretty up to date.

Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Rick,

I went to Italy (Rome,Siena,Florence,Positano ) last month and used your guide along with a couple others. I like your guide but I feel you don't give enough options for restaurants and hotels. I often had to utilize the other guides because the hotels you recommended were full . Do you plan to expand your guides to include more dining and lodging options?

Rick Steves: I am always trying to keep one step ahead of my reader demand on eat and sleep places. I think I can do that fine with hotels (Italy is far and away my best seller and consequently the most congested when it comes to my recommendations.) For restaurants, I have a policy of recommending nothing rather than a place that is not really better than just any place down the street. Other books list lots more restaurants I think with less expectations from them. I am, to be honest, least enthusiastic about recommending restaurants (vv hotels, history, art, sightseeing strategies). When I'm busy enjoying a town, I often don't travel to eat but find a decent place near whereever I am.

Washington, D.C.: Rick, are you planning to venture beyond Europe, say, to Asia ?

Rick Steves: I used to travel in Asia a lot. (And not just because I had a Japanese girlfriend.) But now I've decided my traveling readership expects my books to be really accurate. And I need to devote every day I can be away from my family to a limited zone: my beat is and will remain just Europe.

Clearwater, Fla.: My wife and I were in Italy and Paris last year and fell in love with Italy. We want to go back soon. Originally we wanted to see more of Europe but we enjoyed Italy so much we are thinking about going back there and spending the whole trip in Italy. Should we expand our horizons? Or stick with what we know and love?

Rick Steves: Generally the more you know a place the more you enjoy it. That has been my experience with Ireland, France, Portugal, Copenhagen, Turkey and the Netherlands. So, I'd say expand those horizons. There's much more to Europe than Italy. In fact, if there was no Italy, I'd still love Europe.

Alexandria, Va.: We enjoy your program and are considering a trip to Spain.

Our questions are how far in advance do you start planning your itinery, making reservations etc?

Do you recommend studying the language in advance or just carry a phrase book?

What do you do when your reservations disappear? The show makes it all appear so easy!!

Are there resources that you recommend beyond a travel agent if you don't want their canned journey?
Jim and Ellen

Rick Steves: Good questions. While I start thinking about a destination and learning about it long in advance, the actual reservations and so on are done within two months. I don't have time to learn languages but enjoy a phrasebook. I speak only English and still manage to have fun and travel well. Reservations do disappear and for that reason I always telephone to reconfirm a day in advance. this is much appreciated by hotelliers. Sorry, we do make things seem easy on our TV shows. But those who equip themselves with good information and expect themselves to travel smart do. It's easier now than ever. I always use a travel agent but only for the plane ticket. You don't want their advice on actual foot loose and fancy free travel advice. That's what guidebooks are for.

Bethesda, Md.: We hear all the time that, if you're not afraid to fly, this is the time to do it as many airlines are offering great discounts to lure travelers. But after some searches for a flight to Spain this Christmas/New Year through Expedia and others, I'm astonished at how high the prices are. One of the tickets -not even direct to Madrid- was $12,000 (!!! - Thank God I'm requesting coach). Others were $800+, still expensive. So what's the real deal?

I understand it's a bit late to try to find good fares for the end of the year, but at the time I usually purchase them -mid September- it all looked so uncertain, to say the least...

Rick Steves: Christmas season is always expensive. Airlines will be better at "perfect price discrimination" now than ever out of necessity. They really need to make some money. I'm not saying this is a good time to fly because fares are cheap. It's a good time to travel because Europe is greeting us with open arms, life is short and I'm not getting any younger.

Arlington, Va.: I'm planning to spend three weeks in Venice in November of next year, and I want to rent an apartment to keep costs down. What do you recommend in terms of finding a good place that is safe (I will be a single woman travelling alone) and reasonably priced? I have found molto resources on the web, but don't really know enough about how to evaluate one from the other.

Rick Steves: Anyplace in the old town of Venice (not on the mainland) should be safe. I was there in an apartment for a week with my wife and kids and the kids were running around freely and we felt very safe at all hours. Good luck.

20515: Hi Rick. Love your shows. I have a rather mundane question for you. In your books, and in other travel books, there is often a price quoted for "half-board". What is that?

Rick Steves: Generally hotels include breakfast in their cost. If they include one other meal (lunch or dinner) it's called half board. This is often required as a way hotels can assure there will be some business to make opening up their restaurant worthwhile.

Metro Center, Washington, D.C.: Greetings Rick,
Can you elaborate on the situation in Europe regarding the new Euro currency? I know that nations such as France, Italy and Germany and swiching to the Euro as of January 1, 2002, but is there a period where both currencies will be in circulation? In other words, what currency will I have in my hands in february, 2002 or march 2002: Euros, or franc/mark/lira?
Also, do you think the changeover will have an effect on prices for hotels, restaurants, etc or do you think prices will remain stable? I can envision vendors "rounding up", unfortunately!

Rick Steves: On Jan 1 Euroland (12 countries I believe, 400 million people) will see Euro coins and paper for the first time. By March 1st in most countries, the old old currencies will be out of use and it will be only Euros accepted by merchants. Those who find a 500 mark note in the back of their passport on July 2002 will be able to sell it to a German bank for Euros for a small fee. But basically there's a two month period when merchants will take both currencies and then after March 1 it's all Euro. I will be in Rome on Jan 2 excited about this great new age for travelers in Europe. Sure, prices will be rounded up but prices from country to country will be much easier to compare and this will be a new force pushing effeciency and fair pricing. It's a very good thing.

Columbia, S.C.: Rick: first -- thanks for your great travel books, travel web site, and rail pass service. I had a wonderful trip to Europe this past summer thanks in large part to your "help." Second, I wonder if you have plans to slightly expand your "Germany, Austria, Switzerland" book to include more of the former East Germany and Budapest. I know that you carefully focus on certain countries and specific areas of those countries, but a bit more on Eastern Europe would be great help!

Rick Steves: Thanks. I realize I am very short on E Germany and E Europe. I am determined to only produce guidebooks I can follow through and keep up to date. My country guidebook coverage is still designed to be general, helping travelers on what I consider the best first 30 days of sightseeing in that country or region. While East Germany is a fine and up and coming destination, it doesn't quite make the cut in my mind among Germany/Austria/Switzerland. There are regional guides that will always be more focused and I think better than my country books. Budapest is on deck for the future...but I don't know exactly when I'll cover it. I see Budapest as the major omission in my coverage now.

Arlington, Va: My wife and I are planning a two-week vacation to Italy in the Spring, first time for her so she gets to go where she wants but from experience I've convinced her to focus on two cities rather to avoid the frenzy...what itinerary would you recommend and how would you travel, e.g., tour, solo, etc....thanks for this opportunity

Rick Steves: Just as bad as going too fast is going too slow because you don't want "if it's Tuesday it must be Belgium" style travel. For two weeks in Italy I'd move around at a brisker pace especailly for a first visit (Rome, Florence, Venice, Siena, a hill town and maybe the Riviera--that's about 3 days each...not very hectic but full of Italian thrills). How to go is much longer question (covered in my Europe Through the Back Door guidebook).

re: the euro: Which are the 12 countries that will switch to the Euro?

Rick Steves: most of "Eurail" Europe except Britain and Switzerland and parts of Scandinavia.

Washington, D.C.: Rick,
We just got back from a 2 week UK visit and had a great trip. We took a couple of guidebooks for sightseeing, but yours was the only one we used for accomodations recommendations. You were spot on every time - thanks so much! On a somber note, the proprietress of our Edinburgh B&B said that the 9/11 events had taken such a toll on her business that she may have to go under. Apparently, Americans just aren't travelling there in the same numbers and she is losing thousands of pounds a week because of it. This is too bad, especially because I felt much safer and more secure there than I do here.

Rick Steves: Every time there's a downturn for some reason in the travel business (earthquake in Turkey, Foot and Mouth problems in England, terrorism in general) I think of my friends who run small businesses throughout Europe. Many of my friends in England went out of business after the Foot and Mouth thing--a problem fueled by a greedy media and an unsavvy public. It is a sad reality that a bomb here or a state department warning there or a political decision here has severe ripples to people on the other side of the continent or world. We live in an uncertain world. One of the few certainties: travel helps us better understand each other and live together more peacefully.

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: I am planning on spending a few pre-Christmas days in Paris. Are there any French Christmas traditions--similar to (or quite different than!) the German Weihnachtsmarkt--I should make sure to catch?

Also, do you know the names of the English language "what's going on" newspapers in Paris?


Rick Steves: Yes...but I don't know which. The American Church near the Eiffel Tower is a great community of expats with their own what's on newspaper. Also, the French Pariscope weekly is at each newsstand and I find helpful even in English.

Washington, D.C.: I'm going to Paris soon and was
wondering if you knew of any nice, cheap
hotels. I don't want to stay in a hostel, but
I also don't need a bath in my room. Just
something spare and clean, preferably in
the 3rd, 4th or 11th.

Rick Steves: For any hotel questions I must simply refer you to my guidebooks. We list lots of great and inexpensive hotels in Paris (and all over Europe). Be sure to get the current edition. My 2002 editions are carefully updated and are due out in your book store this month.

New Bern, N.C.: I am a 43 year old single male traveler on a budget by choice (I'm cheap) and plan to spend 3-5 weeks in the U.K. in December or more likely January. I will stick to public transportation, and have friends in London I can stay with for a few days. I love history, hiking, scenery, music of every kind, and pubs. I have your Europe TTBD 2000 and will get your London book. Went to Europe in '74 (London/Amsterdam/Paris/Geneva/Bern). This trip I'll probably stick to Britain/Wales/Scotland/Ireland, but haven't ruled out a side trip to Amsterdam or Normandy or Brittany. Aside from buying a rail pass before I leave the U.S., what suggestions can you make, esp. regarding inexpensive lodging?

Rick Steves: Bus travel is much cheaper then train travel in Britain (where it's the most expensive per kilometer in Europe). Use local newspapers in London to find good deals on transporation and flights. You can probably fly to Amsterdam for the same cost a bus/boat ticket. London is a great place for inexpensive or free entertainment adn activities but you must study the monthly entertainment guides (What's On). My hotel listings in Amsterdam (France, Belgium, Netherlands book), my new Ireland guidebook (due out shortly) and of course my Britain book is where you'll find all my advice.

Springfield, Va.: Do you think it is too late to plan a Christmas trip to hear the King's College Choir in Cambridge,UK? We would also like to include neighboring villages and travel by train. Thanks for your input; we enjoy your shows and your books have been most helpfulwith our travels.

Rick Steves: I don't know the answer to that question. But remember, it's easy to actually telephone questions like that to the town's tourist information office and get the straight scoop.

20009: Rick:

First, let me echo all those who applaud your work. Your guidebooks and videos have been invaluable for trips I've made to Siena, Bagnoregio, the Mosel Valley, Ephesus, Paris, Venice...

Two questions: someone told me that the hiking trails between the Cinque Terre towns have been closed. Is that true?

Secondly, my fiancee and I are planning a Meditteranean honeymoon in July -- we're taking a month. We haven't decided on countries yet but maybe you can help us pick by telling me which islands in that sea are best to visit.

I remember hearing you at a lecture in Bethesda one time telling someone you wouldn't go to Capri. Where WOULD you go -- anywhere from Spain to Cyprus.


Rick Steves: Thanks. The trails of the Cinque Terre are periodically "closed" to hikers because of slides. This is generally a fence that's easy to climb around and I guess protects them from anyone injuring themselves with the bad trail. I was just there a month ago and hiked the region with no problem. Remember it is now a national park with a small admission fee which is used to keep the trail open and groomed. I think Capri is over-rated. But since ancient Roman times, lovers have gone there and found it really romantic. Italy just gets very crowded in the summer and Capri is one of those places which is most touristy.

Loire Valley dreamin': An earlier poster is going to visit the Loire Valley -- you recommend driving -- I know Paris is doable as a long weekend trip from the East Coast, but if you throw in driving elsewhere, can it still be done? How far is the Loire Valley from Paris, and are the roads good?

Rick Steves: Remember these countries are the size of states (okay, France is Texas) and laced by excellent freeways. You can pick up a car at any airport and not even go into the big city (Paris in this case) and within minutes you're in the charming countryside. Four day French countryside weedend from Eastern USA? Sure. But remember, many car rental rates are more expensive for less than seven days.

Reston, Va.: Hi Rick,
My fiance and I (both part English) would like to plan our wedding in England in late 2002. Can you recommend charming towns or villages that are easily accessible from London for our guests traveling from the US, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle of London? We're starting to research but it would help if we could narrow it down to a few towns and look at inns from there.

Rick Steves: I love starting a British trip in Bath. Easy access from Heathrow and a world away from London. (We start our Britain tours in Bath now and it's a hit with guides vv London.) Bath is not cheap but it's a delight for people on foot and limited to public transport to and from London and Heathrow. There is more thatched-roof charm in the nearby Cotswolds but also less public transport and fewer activities especially when the weather turns bad.

Europe or bust:: hi Rick - your guidebook got me through my Italian study abroad travels a few years ago. I was excited to see you're on the Post's liveonline chat today.
I'm planning a 3 month Europe trip - the whole backpacking extravaganza - next May, June, July before grad school. Here's my question: I'd like to really get to know cities, areas, cultures - do you know of any short-term classes/programs/volunteer work experiences? I'm pretty flexible as to location, as long as they aren't too pricey!

Rick Steves: I don't know about the best classes/volunteer work etc. You might check with you local travel bookstore. Transitions Abroad magazine does great work in this regard (including their annual directory guide). For a proposed best 10 week itinerary for a whirlwind European adventure see the chapter covering exactly that in my Europe Through the Back Door guidebook.

San Francisco, Calif.: I think that there is an overemphasis on "saving" money when traveling to Europe, esp. to countries such as Spain. The prices (esp. with the current Euro conversion) are extremely reasonable.

Some of my worst experiences have been at cheaper hotels which have been extremely noisy from car or pedestrian traffic.

I have never regretted spending a little extra on food and wine--- the value is there.

Rick Steves: You don't need to sacrifice sleep or safety or even good food to save money. I think a good consumer knows what they want to buy and does not consume beyond that. I don't need room service and a maid to turn down my bedding at night--so there's no reason for me to spend $200 for a double. A good cheap hotel can also be quiet. But then, my favorite trip was the "Europe through the gutter" adventure on $3 a day in 1973 (embarrassing account of that in my Postcards from Europe book).

Annapolis, Md.: Let me start by saying how enjoyable and informative your PBS show is. Would it be possible to gain temporary employment in some of the European countries while visiting?

Rick Steves: Thanks for watching my shows. For an inside peek at how we make them and all the scripts, see ricksteves.com. About working in Europe: European countries don't like Americans working if it means one more person out of work in their country. You'll likely find work at touristy areas selling things for shops, hotels, restaurants that like your great English language skills. It will likely be under the table pay...cash and not deductible for them and therefore pretty low. But a clever traveler can sustain himself on this just fine.

Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rick!

My husband and I used your Germany/Austria/Switzerland book two years ago and it really added to our trip. We saw sights we would never have seen using other guide books. But I have one negative comment. You seem to address the people who use public transportation (train, etc.). We rented a car and drove around Germany, Austria and Italy. It was great for us - we didn't want to take the train. But when we got to Salzburg, you never mentioned that - number one, we couldn't drive our car into town and number two, we stayed at a hotel you recommended, we had no idea how to get into town to go to the hotel. We drove around the outskirts of Salzburg completely frustrated before we found a policeman who told us what to do.

Not all tourists use public transportation. You might want to think about that when you revise your guides.

Many thanks.

Rick Steves: Thanks. I am painfully aware of this problem. I try to list hotels accessible to those without a car but this can be a negative for drivers. I try to do research one year by public transport and the next by car. I used to do better with driving tips and then those on trains and buses found the books less helpful. I'll work on it.

Bowie, Md.: Hi--

Have you ever been to Poland?

I visited Kracow last year and loved it!

Rick Steves: I've been to Poland several times. Last summer I co-guided our new East Europe tour and really enjoyed using Kracow as a homebase. Many consider it "the next Prague." I think that's a bit much...but it's a great city to see. I was encouraged to feel the energy in Poland as that country's economy seems to be catching on. There are good guidebooks out on Poland (Lonely Planet for one) but I do nothing on it beyond taking our groups there.

Washington, D.C.: What time of year would you prefer to visit Ireland (and why?)? What about Tuscany? Thank you.

Rick Steves: I visit Ireland like Scandinavia...in peak season because the days are longer the skies are bluer and I don't think there's ever a real crowd problem like you'll find in Italy or France. About Tuscany, probably Spring and Fall are best. Remember the most brutal thing about European travel is the heat and crowds of summer in popular Mediterranean destinations. Right now Italy is really trendy. My best selling guidebook is Italy and probably 5 of the top 10 European guidebooks are on Italy. It's where everyone's going now.

Alexandria, Va.: What's your thoughts on Narco-tourism in Europe. The popularity of places like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rimini and Ibiza where some go to party seems all the rage. Is anything being done by the governments involved to stop this?

Rick Steves: Tourism is a big part of local economies. Drugs are still illegal but enforcement is the question and in party zones they are generally tolerated. I don't now about scenes like Ibiza but old hippies smoke pot in Amsterdam very casually. See the "marijuana in Europe" section on our Graffiti Wall at ricksteves.com for more details than you can imagine.

Washington, D.C.: How do you handle the trip to Europe from Seattle? I had to fly from Germany, where I lived for 3 years, to Seattle, and it was torture! I was awake and in daylight for almost 24 hours. Makes me glad I live on the East Coast!

Rick Steves: Don't remind me. I envy East coasters occassionally. I prefer to fly directly to Europe (usually Seattle to Copenhagen, London or Amsterdam) and connect from there. It's long but I bring work to do on the plane and the time flies by.

Arlington, Va.: What about winter in France and Italy? I'd think the crowds would be smaller but would it just be too dreary to be worth it? Thanks.

Rick Steves: Small towns suffer most off season in the charm catagory. I love big city winter breaks. Paris in December is wonderful as is Rome/Florence/Venice. Just expect serious cold and dress accordingly. Maybe I'll see you in Rome (Jan 3).

Edmonds, Wash.: Where in Europe can you get a decent latte outside of Italy?

Rick Steves: Starbucks are replacing pubs in London.

Background?: Where did you grow up? Your accent sounds Minnesotan. How did you start traveling?

Rick Steves: I grew up in suburban Seattle (Edmonds...I can see my junior high school out my office window as I type this). My mom was Canadian and taught me how to talk. Consequently, people think I sound Canadian or Minnesotan. My Norwegian grandparents homesteaded in Edmonton. I didn't want to leave my country but my dad was stronger than me in 1969 and dragged me to Europe to visit piano factories (he imported pianos back then). For the complete and fascinating story, read my Postcards from Europe book!

Arlington, Va.: Rick, you have been my travel guru for years and I thank you for your wonderful advice and for your "if something's not to your liking, change your liking" attitude!Your books have guided our family through 17 successful European trips!
My husband, 7-year-old daughter and I will make our annual Advent pigrimage to Germany in a couple of weeks. We will be going from Heidelberg (I know, I know, but I lived there as a child) to Rothenburg and then to Munich. We usually buy point-to-point train tickets as we go---does this seem to make the most sense for this 10-day itinerary? Also, is it easy to rent a car for a day (in Rothenburg,say) and drop it off in another location? We want to visit friends near Nuernberg. Many thanks!

Rick Steves: Many people mistakenly buy rail passes when point to point tickets would be cheaper. See our ricksteves.com site for a thorough analysis of rail options. The new 2002 version will be out on Dec 15. For a family of three I think when you factor in the flexibility of car travel, that might be a good bet. But the trains in Germany deserve their excellent reputation. Remember west Germany was the size of Oregon, laced by super freeways with no speed limits. You can get from Heidelberg (I know, I know) to Nurnburg in a blitz.

Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Hello Rick,
Europhile and Rick Steves fan here. I'm planning a trip to Rome for February/early March in order to take advantage of the inexpensive airfares. Are there good deals to be had among the less expensive hotels that are reasonable centrally located in Rome? Are the lines for things like the Sistine Chapel shorter than usual? What is the general mood in Italy right now, towards tourists in general, and Americans specifically? Thanks!

Rick Steves: I don't think you'll find prices lower. But you will find a few more options avialable. There are still plenty of crowds in places like Rome but a bit less of a problem. The attitude towards Americans on Oct 10 when I left was warm and supportive and welcoming. I believe it still is. I never enjoyed such solidarity from Europeans as I did in the aftermath of 9/11. Good luck.

Washington, D.C.: How does the 'new' US airport security compare to security in European airports?

Have the European airports changed their security in the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks in the USA?

Rick Steves: I think Europe has long had better security at airports than the USA. I don't think there is a big difference now although you'll be showing you passport more and waiting in a few more and longer lines. Just give it a little extra time and be thankful for it.

Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Rick,
I'm normally a reluctant, fearful flyer, but after Sept. 11 (and yesterday) I'm even more fearful than before. My significant other wants to travel to Europe in the spring, but I'm extremely apprehensive about security issues. Question: is security for international flights usually better than for domestic U.S. travel? For example, on transatlantic flights, is all checked luggage scanned for bombs, like the kind that brought down Pan Am flight 103 in 1988? What extra security precaustions have you seen at major European airports, i.e. Heathrow, Fiumicino, Frankfurt? Thanks for the reassurance.

Rick Steves: I don't know all these details. But I do know that 30,000 planes took off and landed safely today in the USA alone and no one celebrated. Tackle you emotions the best you can with reason if you want to get to Europe on something other than a boat. Our "Traveling On" forum at ricksteves.com will provide very thoughtful and helpful reading for anyone struggling with this. This is from everyday travelers sharing concerns and ideas. It's a wonderful support group of people bitten by the travel bug but watching a lot of CNN.

Rick Steves: Hey, thanks for the great questions. We appreciate this chance to share travel ideas thanks to the Washington Post. Happy travels,

washingtonpost.com: Thank you to Rick Steves and to all who participated in today's discussion. For more information on European travel, be sure and see this coming Sunday's Travel section, with up-to-the-minute reports about visiting Paris, London, Rome and Copenhagen since the attacks.

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