With more than 600 Rick Steves tours a year, we have guides working all over Europe all the time. It's an amazing pool of talent, passion, and travel savvy. They have their own digital communication portal and are constantly rendezvousing, sharing ideas, lessons, and having fun. For me, touring with Reid and Trish is a good chance to get in on the social end of things. Here (from left) guides Ben, Francesca, Trish, Reid (mugging for the camera), and me try out a new restaurant near Rome's Campo de' Fiori. (By the way, many of the photos on this blog are shot by Trish Feaster, who's own blog is at The Travelphile.com).
There are plenty of people researching for various guidebooks and websites in Europe, and rarely do I feel a strong, kindred spirit with them. But meeting Tom, who founded EuroCheapo.com, was really fun. Tom is a hotel wonk; he's friends with many of the same hoteliers that I've recommended for decades. He's right up-to-date on the trials and tribulations hoteliers are suffering in this age of Booking.com and TripAdvisor. Even the most independent of hotel spirits are finding themselves "invisible" if they don't enlist with booking sites (like Booking.com). I don't understand how these various booking agents can justify taking 18 percent of a hotel's gross income when you compare all the real investment and tangible expenses of running a hotel to a website. Here, over a fascinating conversation about the hotel business, Tom, Trish, and I are enjoying one of my favorite kind of restaurant: an enoteca (a place specializing in fine wine by the glass and simple, rustic plates of ingredients that pair nicely with the wine).
As a tour guide, even when trying to vacation on a tour led by someone else (as I'm doing on this Best of Europe in 21 Days tour), I can never let a teachable moment go by. On this tour, each of our guides stops by his or her favorite hill town to break the long drive from Rome to the Italian Riviera (Cinque Terre). Reid stops at Massa Marittima--a delightful hill town that was new to me. Walking around its medieval walls, we came to a fig tree. After all the fig leaves we saw yesterday at the Vatican Museum, I just had to try one on. All I can say is, "They're really sticky."