As I was planning our trip to Rome, I used a number of different resources. Initially, I thought it would be ideal to start with an online program called Plnnr. I like to think of myself as technologically savvy (a very consistant lie that I tell myself). As promising as this online tool seemed, it just didn’t get me to where I wanted to be. In an earlier post I sort of sung its praises, but after actually being in Rome, and discussing with friends their own Rome trips, I realize that Plnnr just doesn’t cut it. It’s a fun place to start, a great idea initially, but doesn’t live up to it’s promises.
So, after turning to a couple of old travel guides, a came across one written by Rick Steves. I only had the 2010 version, which was risky, but with only a day before we left (and limited funds) it’s what I had to make do with. Short story: I have been converted to Rick Stevesism. He may be dorky (a sort of homeschooling dad type), but I will never travel anywhere in Europe again without his guide. Here are my various reasons:
1. His guide gives a great initial overview. On page 50 of my guide, he details the top 20 sites with a short description, basic details, and a page number for more information. This page became a sort of “home page” for me as I flipped through the book. It helped me to initially build each of my days and I was always turning to it to reference where in the book I wanted to be for details that I couldn’t recall.
2. He helps you to achieve a genuine cultural experience. Rick Steves is interested in giving you the most authentic time possible and seems to be able to do it. He has been to each location enough times to really know how to engage in the culture well and where the easiest “access points” are. A great example of this was his suggestion to go to a deli next to the Pantheon and order a picnic for about $20. This lead to a great conversation with the people who worked there and a picture with the guy who hand made our picnic of deli meats, artichoke hearts, olives, various cheeses and bread.
He looks like he is angry here, but I assure you, he was thrilled to take the picture.
3. His travel guide also acts like a tour guide. For anyone who has been to a world-famous historical site, the fact that you will pay extra to get either a live guide or an audio-guide is a well-known disappointment. Usually the audio-guide adds another 50% charge to your ticket price and the live guide can be as much as 5 times the site’s entry fee. But, if you have Rick Steves, you have a guide that comes with your book. In his Rome book he includes walking tours and highlight walkthroughs of most of the major sites. In our case, that meant the Vatican Museum, St Peters Basilica, The Pantheon, The Colosseum, and much more. We even found his guides to be more informative than the paper ones that were sometimes included with the ticket price of the location. In addition to this, there are a number of free MP3 guides that you can download from his site. We never got to use any of these because we didn’t know about them before we went, but if the quality of his printed guide is any indication, I’m sure they’re great.
4. His random helpful hints are actually helpful. This is probably best explained through an example. Many people will visit the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica on the same day (because they are very close to each other). What some don’t realize is that there is a long line for both, and once you finish one, you will often be required to walk a long ways around to the other one. Rick Steves suggests doing the Vatican Museum first, and then at the Sistine Chapel, exiting through a small inconspicuous door in the corner that leads straight to the Basilica. This saves walking out of the Vatican Museum (15 minutes) around Vatican City to the Basilica (another 15 minutes) and allows you to skip a long entrance line (can be up to a few hours long depending on if it is high season or not). If I had not read his book which included this tip in the introduction, I would never have known and would all but certainly wasted valuable site-seeing time. Another, much simpler, example of this is his tip to hold your backpack under your arm when entering the colosseum to avoid waiting in line at the metal detector. Again, a time-saving tip that only comes through experience.
5. His guide makes for a pleasant read. I flipped through a number of guides and I just simply found his to the most accesible. It was easy to navigate, very straightforward, and it had a personal touch lacking in other offerings.
Overall, the combination of all these things is well worth the cost (which on Amazon is only about $13). There are many other praises I could sing about Rick Steves. But I’ll stop with one last point. He has a show that is available to watch through Hulu. It is definitely worth checking out.