Hi from Rick: Europe is Your Playground
It's nearly midnight in France. I'm in Chartres, gazing out my hotel window at a sound-and-light show being projected onto Europe's ultimate Gothic cathedral. You'd think that after 120 months of European travel (four months a year for over 30 years), this stuff would be getting old for me. But it's all as vivid and spritely as ever.
I'm in the midst of a great trip. And as I review my last couple weeks of travel, I can't imagine a better way to while away a bit of my summer.
In Glasgow, I thought about the often-overlooked "second cities" of Europe, which seldom appear on Americans' must-see lists. These places lack the blockbuster attractions and charming sights that routinely draw crowds to Edinburgh or Dublin. Cities like Glasgow, on the other hand, often come with a rough, Industrial Age heritage. With the coming of the Information Age, many declined into "rust belt" status. But today, these cities are being rediscovered as honest, unvarnished, non-conformist — and definitely worth visiting. On my go-see list, I'd include Porto in Portugal, Naples in Italy, Marseilles in France, Hamburg in Germany, Antwerp in Belgium, and Glasgow in Scotland. I find them all much-improved lately, under-rated, and great places to visit.
By contrast, a few days later I was in Prague — a city that's anything but undiscovered. Prague is a traveler's dream city: different but easy, affordable, with arguably Europe's best beer, and an architectural time-warp with plenty of great sightseeing attractions. It's crowded and touristy...because it's so much fun. If you haven't been there yet, go. And, if you're forever fascinated by Cold War slice-of-life stories from people who lived through it in the Warsaw Pact countries, you'll appreciate it even more. (A Prague tour guide told me how, in her youth, she and her friends would dream of someday buying an ice-cold Coca-Cola. She said, "But we could collect the tins that the tourists threw away. I had five tins. My friend had 10!")
One of my favorite things lately is to meet families on the road — parents who are introducing their children to the cultural wonders of Europe, and making the travel experience fun and enlightening for the kids. In Prague's venerable St. Nicholas Church, I met a mom with four kids (pictured above). Here she was, with her kids in what could be just another old church, but the enthusiasm in her little travelers' faces told me she was being a super guide. It reminds me what a blessing it is to have Europe as a playground — at any age — and to embrace the experience with the giddy wonder of a child (who brings the right guidebook).
In this month's Travel News, we'll get you in the mood with articles on communicating with locals, Italy's Alps, Spain's Toledo, reader comments on traveling with kids, and a video that shows what it's been like to film Europe's great art for my TV show.
It's time for recess, and there's plenty of room over here in the playground. I hope you can join me.