Hi from Rick: Europe's Overlooked Gems
Late at night in Lisbon's ramshackle Alfama neighborhood, we crowd into a modest café. Black-and-white photos of fado singers from the '50s and murky album jackets decorate the walls. The waiter drops a plate of fish and a pitcher of cheap cask wine on my table and — like a Portuguese Ed Sullivan — proudly introduces tonight's star.
She struts in from the kitchen, blood-red lipstick, big hair, a tragic shawl over her black mournful dress — but the plunging neckline promises there's life after death. She strikes a pose before the mandolins. I can smell her breath as she drowns out the sizzle of sardines with her plush voice. Sorrow skids into downbeats, intensity rides a musical rollercoaster. "Why is the sea salty...from the tears of women who await their men...on the sad shores of Portugal." Suddenly it's surround-sound as the locals among us burst into song, joining the chorus.
Every corner of Europe has its own little doorway, leading travelers to an intimate, quietly thrilling connection with the local culture. But these are often overlooked. Tourists in a hurry to fill their "Top 10 Sights" checklists pass right on by. They confuse slowing-down and spontaneity with inefficiency. Or, they stick to the most popular destinations, confident their cameras will bring home proof that they saw the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Buckingham Palace and Michelangelo's David.
I'm the last person to tell people to bypass Europe's greatest sights. At the same time, "graduating" from the blockbusters and exploring the rest of Europe can open up a cultural connectedness that is far more personal, memorable and enriching.
In this month's Tour News we're celebrating some of the "hidden gems" in our program — tours that trade must-see sights for must-experience moments. The fado singer in Portugal. The farming family in Turkey. The brewer in Belgium. The storyteller in Scandinavia. The tapas chef in Barcelona. The artisan in Istanbul. The modern-day pilgrims hiking the Basque Countryside.
These tours are not our top-sellers, but they often get the biggest raves from our tour alums. That cultural doorway is open, and we have a table ready for you. I hope you can join us.