Hi from Rick: I'm a Tour Member Again

Dear Traveler,

I'm a tour member right now, dedicating three weeks to fully experiencing our flagship itinerary — the Best of Europe in 21 Days tour — just as any other tour member does. For this tour, our guide is Reid Coen. A veteran of nearly 20 years of guiding for us, Reid can move 25 travelers through the greatest hits of Europe with a stress-free efficiency that gets me all excited as a tour organizer.

Occasionally on the bus, Reid lets me grab the mic. It's funny how, after being a tour guide for 25 years, I can pick up that mic and feel almost like Alexander Haig ("I'm in charge here."). Then, I come to my senses, take my seat with the other tour members, and let Reid carry on. I really miss tour guiding. But I'm so thankful that we have a team of a hundred guides who routinely exceed our tour members' very high expectations.

Every Europe-bound traveler seems to have the ultimate fairy-tale castle — Neuschwanstein — on their must-see list. And that's where we hiked to today. It's one of three extravagant castles that Bavaria's King Ludwig II built in the foothills of the Alps around 150 years ago, in an era when Bismarck was uniting Germany with hard-headed "Realpolitik" — and castles made about as much sense as unicorns. Ludwig's romantic obsession with the past earned him the nickname of the "mad king" and it's stuck with him ever since. But Ludwig's madness may be our gift — his dream castle is truly beautiful to behold, rests in an idyllic setting with sweeping views, and lets us walk through rooms inspired by Wagner's operas.

With a hearty group of travelers, we began our day with "extra credit" — hiking up beyond the castle to Mary's Bridge to get the best view (and the best selfie). From that spot, a good tour guide knows there's always something interesting to teach: Mary's Bridge over the deep Pöllat Gorge, like the castle, was quite an engineering marvel 150 years ago, and 70 years ago Neuschwanstein was a secret hiding place for thousands of art treasures stolen by the Nazis.

Inspired by all this history, beauty, and the camaraderie of traveling together, in this month's Tour News we feature our itineraries that stop to savor the best of Germany and Austria (and still have plenty of seats available for this summer and fall). You'll find tour member raves, a video of our old friend Herr Jung on the Rhine, an interview with the always alp-ful guide Martin Minich, and a tour tale about a guide who heroically — but rather sheepishly, as you'll see — saved a life in full view of his group.

I've already been posting photos and stories from this trip on my blog and Facebook page — and I'll add more, all the way up to our tour finale in Paris. Please come ride along with us, and share your comments. I'd love to hear from you.

Gute Reisen and happy travels,