Posted by: lifeonislandtime | August 4, 2015

A note about Rick Steves…

A note about Rick Steves
On our previous trip, we studied Rick Steves’s recommendations about where we were going. We followed his “Back Door” travel philosophy, saw the sights off the beaten track, ate in restaurants the locals frequented, stayed in humble lodgings near the center of the city. We wore clothes that laundered well if we needed to do wash in the sink (which we had to do a couple of times as none of our accommodations had laundry), and tried not to stand out as Americans.
We did the same thing this time. The only real difference we made this time is that we actively sought places with laundry facilities at several stops. As we’ve travelled, however, we’ve noticed a few things.
In going through Rick’s books, we’ve noticed more suggestions for tours. Hop-on-hop-off, guided minivan tours, organized walking tours, organized bike tours, coach tours, etc,. On the previous trip, there were more self-guided walking tours. More recommendations for sites not overrun with tourists. The books have suggestions on how to beat the tourists or cut the line, but when you want to see 3 sites that day and the tourist-beating tip is “arrive early, preferably before they open,” that doesn’t cut it. Acknowledge that it will be overrun, state the correct opening and closing, and give alternatives if it becomes impossible to see that sight. The current books don’t do this.
Because we’re staying at lots of Air B&B’s this time, we’re dealing with locals more this time, and they are recommending sites and locations not in Rick’s books. Being an advocate of “Back Door Travel,” one would think that some of these local-known only sites would make his cut, but we’re finding out that few do make the cut.
As for clothes, we’ve noticed that the Rick-recommended wardrobe of casual travel pants that may be dressed up or down, sturdy shoes that can be dressed up or down, button down shirts, no shorts or tennis shoes, is woefully out-moded. I understand the need for wearing clothes that don’t wrinkle, shed water well, and launder/dry easily, but his suggestions are only worn by “pensioners” in Europe. For instance, in Paris (the trend-setters in fashion) everyone was wearing shorts: men, women, children. They were also wearing tennis or athletic shoes. The only people typically wearing sturdy hiking-style shoes are pensioners, Americans holding a copy of “Europe Through the Back Door,” and Germans. We have blended in more with our age group now that we’re wearing tennis shoes and tee shirts.

As far as recommended cities go, we were very disappointed with his suggestions in Wales. He suggests driving through the south and staying in the north. I can’t dispute this, as we didn’t go into South Wales. In the north, however, he suggests staying in Conwy or Caernfaerton. Those are his backdoor recommendations. I couldn’t find accommodation in either of those towns, though, and booked us into Llandudno. He mentions in one paragraph of 2 sentences that Llanddudno is the rail terminus after Conwy, and it became big when “Sea Bathing” was in fashion for Victorians. Following his suggestions, we spent several hours in Conwy; eating dinner, walking the walls, seeing the area. It’s a small, sleepy town with little happening past 6pm.
We then headed for Llandudno. We pulled in to find a perfectly preserved Victorian seaside town, about 5-times the size of Conwy. There were beautiful Victorian pubs, a pier with amusements, the seashore, a cable car to the top of a ski slope, a toboggan ride (like the one we did in Germany), tours of the now-extinct mine, and other activities, all closed by the time we arrived. More importantly, there wasn’t an American in sight. Why didn’t this make Rick Steves’s cut? If I had it to do it over, I’d skip Conwy and arrive earlier in Llandudno for the fun amusements.

We have decided that Rick Steves either doesn’t care for the British Isles like he does other places in Europe, so farms the writing out to others, or he is writing for a demographic to which we don’t belong. We knew after the last trip that his idea of “suitable” accommodations is far from our ideas of such, but that his restaurant recommendations are spot-on. This time we’re questioning even his restaurant suggestions, after we had a couple of nearly-inedible meals.

In a way, I feel like we’ve outgrown Rick Steves. I feel confident to google our location a few days ahead and find what is recommended to do, or ask our B&B hosts. I think the real lesson I’ve learned is that guidebooks are more like guidelines; you have to decide what fits you best.


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