Dancing with Europa
By Rick Steves
For 25 years I've written guidebooks about eating, sleeping, and sightseeing. The danger of writing — and using — guidebooks is that you get too focused on simply eating, sleeping and seeing the correct museums. But great travel is like a dance. It's about people.
|When Europe asks you to dance, double knot your moneybelt and go for it!|
On a first trip, tourists target the sights. But don't neglect the people. Hike with a Swiss schoolteacher. He'll show his favorite edelweiss. "You can pet it but don't pick it." Learn why the Sienese guy still bears a medieval grudge against Florence. Then egg him on. Let the old widow on the Portuguese beach pop a raw barnacle in your mouth and give her a high five. Play an air guitar of distain in the pipe organ loft with the organist while the singer strums a pop song through his radio shack amp on the high altar. When it's the organ's turn, help him pull out all the stops. Munch baked sunflower seeds directly from the pod — a goodbye gift from a new Bulgarian friend — as your steam train chugs into the mountains high above Sofia.
Like a salmon homing in on its birthplace, find your roots. I've seen "roots seekers" — under Gore-tex hoods in a driving Norwegian rain — recite into mini-tape recorders the engravings on tombstones in graveyards filled with possible ancestors. As if discovering the Dead Sea scrolls, they scan wide-eyed through Old World church records in search of their family name.
But I'm not talking about that kind of roots. After over thirty years of paging through the yellowed records of European civilization — one pub, one church, one flea market at a time — I find the roots I seek are not genetic but cultural.
I am European . . . born Christian, capitalist, and white. Now, I know Jesus wasn't white and he spoke English only as a second language. And I can't deny that one of the biggest and most sophisticated cities on earth in 1492 was Tenochtitlan — present-day Mexico City. But I am incurably European in my outlook. I stir at the thought of St. Brandon or Eric the Red or Columbus — or any European — "discovering" America. If you're of European roots, celebrate them in your travels there. Dance with Europe.