Hi from Rick: Here Comes the Sun

Dear Traveler,

My best trip to Europe ever was in 1973 — my first trip without parents. My parents said I could only go if I had a travel buddy. So, I ran an ad in my high school newspaper, promising the opportunity to "feel the fjords and caress the castles" to whoever was able to join me. My friend (and longtime co-author) Gene Openshaw accepted my offer, and we flew to Europe on the day after graduation — and I've gone back every summer since.

I've heard summers are nice in Seattle — but I really wouldn't know. What I do know (after spending the last 40 or so summers enjoying my favorite continent) is that Europe springs to life in the summer. There's vitality bursting from city streets, traditional culture still thriving in small towns, and — with the tourist season in full swing — each culture celebrating its uniqueness with a festive pride.

At home I'm generally in for the night by dinner. But for most of my summer evenings in Europe, it seems dinner is just a springboard for savoring that convivial, quintessentially European mix of moonlight, floodlit monuments, a parade of people polishing medieval cobbles, and a warm glow about life that must have something to do with that second glass of wine.

And in this month's Tour News, we're celebrating the many ways we can make your summer indimenticabile (that's one of my new favorite Italian words — it means "unforgettable"), including a slideshow of seven "best of" tours that are especially summer-friendly, raves from our tour members about their summertime adventures, an article on summer touring with the family, an interview with tour guide Daniela Wedel, and a video about the memorable meals included with our tours.

In addition, we're announcing the winners of our annual tour scrapbook contest. From 61 colorful entries spanning 28 different itineraries, we've picked five winners that best convey the travel thrills, discoveries, and camaraderie of a Rick Steves tour experience. I hope you enjoy browsing through the winning scrapbooks as much as I have — and if there's a specific itinerary that interests you, be sure to dig into other entries as well.

As for me, I'm just getting into my annual European groove. I'm in Italy making sure our guidebooks and tours include all the latest travel experiences and tips. I just finished Rome, I'm loving Venice now, and Florence, the Cinque Terre, Lake Como — and much more — are on deck. You can stow away with me by following my travels on Facebook and my blog

Or — to feel the fjords and caress the castles yourself — join the fun on a Rick Steves tour this summer.

Happy travels,

Rick (reporting from Venice)