THE BLOG
05/15/2014 12:20 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2014

Tour Time

For 25 years, I led our tour groups. For the past decade, rather than lead our tours, I actually take them. Each year I sign up (with a pseudonym) for one of our tours. In recent years I've enjoyed Village Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Scotland. This year, as I paged through our catalog, the right tour for my travel dreams became perfectly clear: our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.

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For the next three weeks, travel with me via this blog on what I consider the best itinerary of what Europe has to offer: Amsterdam, the Rhineland, Rothenburg, Bavarian castles, Venice, Florence, Rome, the Cinque Terre, the Swiss Alps, Burgundy, and Paris. Of the 30 or so tours we offer, this is the granddaddy...the flagship.

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Our guides joke about how unlucky it would be to have me sign up for one of their tours. Last year, on our Scotland tour, I blindsided Liz Lister, who was leading her very first Rick Steves tour. This year, I'm enjoying the great guiding of one of our most senior guides, Reid Coen. Reid's been leading our tours for 18 years. To be one of 25 tour members with a vacation organized and artfully led by Reid is a delight.

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Our bus drivers are an integral part of what makes a Rick Steves tour unique. They are part of the family. And Joe Stulens has driven more than a hundred of our tours.

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We were in Amsterdam on the Dutch Memorial Day. Throughout Europe, various monuments remind people of the challenges societies have as dense and diverse populations struggle to live peacefully together. Amsterdam's monument to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust was covered in flowers, providing a fine lectern for our guide, Reid, to give us some historical context.

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I've long reminded people with serious dietary concerns to print them legibly on a small card, along with a local translation, so they can clearly communicate to waiters what they cannot eat. One of our tour members came well equipped with this card, and will eat better and with more peace of mind because of it.

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My filming and research lately has taken me to the fringes of Europe. Much as we all like to get off the beaten path, the biggies remain the biggies. This Best of Europe itinerary is all about the biggies, and I'm enjoying revisiting them all. Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is newly opened after a long period of renovation. And it is a glorious place to display the very best of Dutch masterpieces...like Rembrandt's "The Night Watch."

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