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Hi from Rick: Travel for Heartfelt Connections

Dear Traveler,

Last week from my kitchen table, I watched Queen Elizabeth II make the final journey from her home at Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. As Big Ben tolled and the scarlet uniforms marched by, my thoughts turned to our friends in the UK, Canada, and across the Commonwealth at this somber and truly historic moment.

Of course, for many, the Queen is little more than a tourist attraction, and all the attention given to her death may seem a bit much. For others, she is a symbol of all that is wrong and out-of-touch about royalty and empires.

But for many more, Queen Elizabeth is a beloved and historic figure. She preserved countless treasured traditions, symbolizing the aspirations of a great nation while also modernizing what it means to be a British royal. She dedicated her life to service and the betterment of her people. And now that nation celebrates her long reign and mourns her death. May she rest in peace.

It's been an emotional time for me — more emotional than I anticipated. You might wonder why I, an American, even care. I've been thinking about that, and I think the short answer is "because I've traveled." Travel — at least what I consider good travel — gives us empathy. I care because others care. I have English friends who stood in line for 10 hours for a short but precious chance to pay their respects to a figurehead without parallel in American culture. But through travel, we connect…we gain empathy.

For decades, I've nurtured this cultural empathy. When the drums roll and the red coats march, like a kid, I run to the curb, scampering to get close to British pageantry. In a Spanish bar, when they bring out a piping hot platter of paella, I'm suddenly as hungry as the hombre sitting next to me. In Sweden on Santa Lucia Day, the little girls artfully wear their crowns of candles, and my goosebumps cheer them on. In an Irish pub, when the fiddler puts down his bow and the woman who just brought me my beer begins to sing an a capella lament to the famine, tears well in my eyes as if my family suffered through the Great Hunger as well. At the Vatican, I jostle with the pilgrims on Piazza San Pietro, and when the Pope waves from his window, I join in with the Polish church groups and Brazilian nuns and sing. In a Scottish distillery, if the local I'm clinking glasses with lets out a Highland yelp…I do too. In a taverna in Greece, I listen to the click-clack of worry beads, and it complements my cloudy glass of ouzo just fine. And in Switzerland, when the cows are suited up with their Alpine finery and parading down from the high meadow and through the village…I'm right there, enjoying the happy moment as the cows come home. More cowbell!

As a tour organizer and a travel writer, it's my hope that, through our travels, the empathy we nurture helps our global community grow stronger. I know every guide on our team has the same desire…and all Rick Steves tour guides understand that the pathway to this broader connection goes right through their country.

And as, for the first time in over 70 years, subjects of the Crown say, "Long live the King," I'll join them and add, "May God bless King Charles III."

In this month's Tour News, we'll hop across the pond for two colorful day-by-day slideshows of our Best of England and Best of Scotland tours, take a video tour through the many facets of London, hear radio interviews with a few of our great Great Britain guides, and learn why so many of our tour members love touring the British Isles.

For those of you mourning, my heart is with you. And for those of you finding a way to turn travel dreams into reality, may your upcoming travels net you that most wonderful souvenir: a heartfelt connection to the wonders, the venerable traditions, and the people of our world.

Happy travels,

Rick

 

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