I just landed in Rome to embark on a 100-day trip. And already, I've learned so much.
Join me, if you dare, on what I have a strong hunch will be an unforgettable ride. My goal: to make mistakes (painful as they may be), learn lessons (the hard way, if necessary) and share my experience on this blog. I'll be posting daily from now on. Be sure to invite your traveling friends to join in the fun.
A big part of travel is eating well. And the last place you want to dine is a place on the most high-rent square in town, with a printed menu in five languages (clearly designed for tourists and serving edible clichés regardless of the season -- bad news all around) and a big, if hard-to-believe, promise in English: "No Frozen Food."
Italians aren't really into "foreign" or "ethnic" restaurants because, as they see it, each region of Italy provides a distinct local cuisine. Especially in Italy, a smart eater will go for the local specialties. Lasagna is simply not a Roman dish -- it's better farther north. Rome is more about hearty, working-class food, such as beans and lentils. And the neighborhood butcher sells favorite salamis such as coglioni di mulo and palle del nonno. (Pardon the crudeness, but that's "donkey's balls" and "grandpa's balls." Can you guess which is which?)
I'm noticing that a nice dessert plate, when properly enjoyed, leaves you with a lickable Jackson Pollock-style masterpiece. I will be eating very well in the next few months. Why? Because of my devotion to your travel guidebook needs.
This year at Rick Steves' Europe, we'll be leading about 900 tour groups around Europe on 40 different itineraries. Whenever one of our groups is in town, I enjoy surprising them with a visit. When possible, I join their group for a little sightseeing. I crashed this group's Villa Borghese tour.
Our tour groups have great guides, who manage the tour from start to finish, and equally great local guides, who meet us at the top sights to be sure we are properly wowed. Unlike standard tour groups, we don't just hire just the next guide on the list. Our local guides are friends, like Francesca Caruso (shown here explaining Bernini's David), who teach history, art and cultural insights with a skill for bringing the sights to life and giving them meaning in ways our tour members never forget.