Rick Steves - Ugly American Again!

Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 05:15 AM
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I'm almost wishing I'd read more of Steves' guide books so I could understand the hatred.

I've watched a few of his shows on PBS. Just from those shows, it appears to me he's the McDonald's of travel -- nothing too deep or adventuresome. A lot of middle-brow hotels and restaurants and a few hints here and there about making travel more convenient. Most of the stuff seemed OK, and harmless, for the first-time traveler. Maybe I missed something.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 05:56 AM
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I find I am using internet more and more
especially street view when it comes to logging. One guide book is enough for me:
...Fodors or Rough Guide usually .
Like IMDomohere, I never plan a specific time for a museum or similar.
It is a matter of personal taste and interest...
Actually, I plan as little as possible ...book hotels, transportation and ,if necessary ,
a busy restaurant.
I looked at RS books in a store, the layout seemed unattractive. Never bought one.
Saw him once in a restaurant in Berlin ( top of the Reichstag) ....many Americans in the restaurant
wanted to take a photo with him....He was very accommodating.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 06:10 AM
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vincenzo32951, I'm with you. And, his was the only alert about the location of a bus station in one of the small towns we were looking--very helpful.

"Do most people travel as broadly and often as long-time Fodor's posters? I appreciated Rick Steves' approach when I was a new traveler, and I think he fills an important niche for many folks."
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 06:20 AM
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As a gag gift, one SIL got me a signed 8 x 10 B & W of Steves, which was on my desk for years until last week, when I used the frame for a wonderful picture of Mel Brook and Carl Reiner hugging each other with their eyes closed.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 06:29 AM
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Rudy Maxa's show is airing on my PBS station. While he is affable, a lot of the program showcases the expensive resort where he is staying and the five star restaurants where he, no doubt, receives free meals. I have used Rick Steves' books in the past and find a lot of very useful information in them. However, that is just one source I use when planning a trip.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 06:59 AM
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Danon

Streetview is a most powerful travel tool, particularly when it comes to booking hotels or houses rentals.

It isn't subjective or judgemental, it is just fact.

I have had numerous potential rental landlords who are reticent to give property addresses for so called security reasons. When you refuse to book and do finally get an address, streetview shows the Interstate 500 yards away, the fish factory over the road or the electric pylons over the house.

We didn't receive a response from one landlord, we googled his name and hometown only to discover he had "gone away" for 9 months, something to do with trading in Colombian's main export.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 07:44 AM
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I have to say I have used Fodor's Switzerland and Spain guide books and found both quite disappointing. Perhaps, they are written for the well-traveled sort that hangs out here. I thought both guides had too much restaurant and hotel info and not enough sight-related coverage incorporating history of the sights.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 07:51 AM
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Pintxos-- I agree with you about Fodor's.

I read as many guidebooks (from the library) as I can before each trip but usually buy either Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. In the past I've bought Michelin Green guides but they're unbelievably dry (imo)and I've also bought the Blue Guides--I find them pretty good but too heavy to cart around.

I probably get the majority of my information from the internet (as I suspect most people do) but still like to have a printed guide as well.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:14 AM
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>>>>>>I will never, EVER use another Rick Steves guidebook. WAY, WAY too limited in coverage for my purposes.

THE PLUS: I am really glad that Rick Steves happened. The basic idea of a cozy, friendly, paint-by-numbers trip to places that can be otherwise bewildering for newbies is so reassuring. His folksy tone, his selection of very specific sights and purveyors, all presented on really sweet little maps - - and personal tips (e.g., where to enter the Louvre quickest) - - it makes the whole grand affair personal, where before guidebooks could always make you feel inadequate - - you could never cover the whole territory, you could never really know what to prioritize, and the territory still felt alien.

THE LONG DIVISION: I get the newsletter, and one missive was from Madrid - - he walks out of his hotel, and asks somebody where to get a morning coffee and snack - - gets a recommendation, and PLUNK it goes into the next guidebook. It's like, his one random encounter leading to his brekkie that day, will soon be an icon to thousands of people. They will all want to go that stand-up street cafe. From then on, half the people in that cafe' will be holding the book, and the owner of the cafe' will take the newfound cult/celeb status and run with it.
In the Cinque Terre a decade ago we played a game: you get 1 point for spotting someone with the guidebook, and 3 points if you overhear someone saying, "RICK says..." (with that simultaneous air of chumminess, sophistication, and mastery).
That's why it's smarmy.
And instead of having a whole city to discover, you have that little map.
And instead of a nosh at a place that seems like an insider scoop, you find yourself at what has become some kind of tourist icon that can be a take-a-number queue-a-thon for people holding a little blue book.
And instead of finding joy and surprise at little places along randomly discovered passageways in virtually unknown little towns, you don't know if it's worth enjoying because you haven't been told it is - -and you figure if it were really something worthwhile, well, then it surely would have been in the book.

The NICE thing about most guidebooks is that they sketch broad - - they give you the palate and a canvas, and then YOU paint with it. The paint-by-numbers approach, on the other hand, tells you what what to experience and what to FEEL, as if you weren't capable of seeing with your own eyes, finding your own pathways, developing your own perceptions, and having your own feelings.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:16 AM
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Does anyone still use Blue Guides?? I haven't even looked for one in decades, but I am so fond of the one I used on my first trip to Venice that I still have it, tattered, rain damaged and gelato stained. It is huge, containes no practical information about food or lodging or transportation, but is beyond comprehensive about art and architecture and such.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:26 AM
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Does anyone use the original guide books Baedeker?

Michelin Greens are straight forward with accurate detail.

Actually Frommer's and Fodor's have gotten better on history and culture, they used to be horrible. Now, at least mention things in passing. I do not think they are for the advanced traveler. I think they are for the mainstream traveler, as they never include small towns that are not accessible from major tourist haunts and they are heavy on hotels and restaurants.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:34 AM
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This may be an obvious point, but some guidebooks are better for the planning phase, others for the actual traveling.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:36 AM
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In the 60's, I generally traveled with tours. When I first began solo traveling regularly--before the internet was available--Rick Steves was very helpful.

Nowadays, to plan a trip, I almost always buy a Rick Steves and a Frommers and use the internet also. When I'm planning to go to an area with which I'm not familiar, like Croatia and Slovenia, and I have too much information to make intelligent decisions about where to go, I can use RS to help me with priorities.

I haven't used any guides except RS, Frommers, Fodors, and Eyewitness guides, and I probably should check out others, such as Lonely Planet.

I'm not crazy about his TV programs because I think they focus too much on exotic food and on beer and wine, none of which interest me. I do enjoy seeing the sights, though.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:39 AM
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In my opinion Frommer's is the blandest of all the guide books--
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 09:14 AM
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Come on Fodor's wins hands down as the best guide since so many of us are quoted in them!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 02:39 PM
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In the '60s we used Frommer's Europe on $5 a Day along with the Blue Guides. Have never taken a tour, but we speak several languages. Still have that Frommer's to which I sometimes refer. Also look at RS for updated facts. BTW, I think it was he who popularized Cinq Terre and the White Villages route. Haven't been to CT, and won't go, and the White Villages are nothing special. Was there before they became the WV.
Let's face it, guys, as yipper said, you, and I, are envious of the RS empire. We should cease knocking him. His empire is what it is. That's it.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 03:21 PM
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I have listened to RS's free lectures at his Edmonds, Washington offices probably a dozen times, and spoken with him a few times. He is less affable and more distant in person than he is on his shows, but also funnier when he doesn't have to be afraid of offending corporate sponsors and PBS. I like his books for the walking tours of cities and museums, and for the fairly thorough run-downs of transportation options and opening times for sites. I never use his recommended dining or accommodation options unless I can confirm them up by using a site like Trip Advisor.

He used to be friendlier before he left his wife to take up with a woman 20 years his junior. Now I guess he thinks he's "too cool for school."
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 05:24 PM
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Good grief.

I would never expect a travel guidebook to tell me about 'the' history and culture of a place. Especially when scholars spend their entire lives studying just a single aspect of a country's culture (e.g. Malcolm Miller and Chartres cathedral.) And especially since for some mysterious reason, guidebooks seem to think that culture includes mainly or even only the arts, even though science and technology are arguably also a part of a country's culture.

Every flipping guidebook to Spain will tell you about Goya, if only in passing. If you find one that mentions Severo Ochoa, please tell me, because I've yet to see one.

Point being, that we can all find ways to smugly dismiss guidebooks as superficial, because this or that one doesn't mention in detail or even at all, given aspects of culture with which we might have familiarity or have an interest in, but that others, including guidebook authors, don't.

But for most of us if we're going to travel, we've got to get there and back, on time, and on budget. That's what I primarily expect a guidebook to do - and I expect it to be a guide, not an encyclopaedia.

People also dismiss Mr. Steves as the "MacDonalds" of travel. Look, one doesn't have to find the man's books to one's taste. But that said, what could be more consumerist than wanting more choices? Because that's what so many so-called 'sophisticated travellers' here are claiming is sophisticated - wanting more. Always more. You want not just to keep up with the Jones', you want to be known as the first on your block to have gone here, or there, or whatever.

I'm a consumer and I am glad I am in a position to indulge as much as I have - - but even I won't postulate that consumerism, even travel consumerism, or cultural consumerism, should be a measure of sophistication.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 07:20 PM
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If you would like a guide with detailed information on arts and culture, whatever definition you choose to apply, do seek out the Blue Guides.

Who said anything about sophistication? Straw men are fun to knock down, though. It all boils down to differences in taste.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 07:25 PM
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WillTravel-- the RS hotel we stayed in was the Azade-- which used to be a Best Western, but is not anymore. It was one of the better ones... along with our hotel in the cappadocia area.

We were hugely disappointed in the food and the hotels... but I will say that many on the tour were repeat customers and they all agreed that the Turkey tour's food especially was very different quality from the other tours they had done with RS. Perhaps it's the way group tourism has to be set up in Turkey? That's the only thing I can think of... the food we had on our alone weeks was generally amazing. Loved turkey... hope to visit again.
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