On Rick Steves’ Europe Tours

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My wife and I enjoy travel – especially in Europe. Through the years we’ve watched many episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS – plus we found his tour books to be the best – but, we’ve never taken any of his company’s tours.

However, we know at least five couples who have taken his tours – some multiple times – and everyone endorsed them! So, this past late September-early October, we ventured on our first Rick Steves’ Europe tour to a land we didn’t know – Eastern Europe. (After Bled, we continued on our own.)

 

Several broad points about Rick Steves’ Europe tours – especially two very important limitations:

  • Group size in the mid-to-upper 20s (so there is plenty of room on the full-sized bus)
  • One carry-on luggage and one backpack per passenger – after all, travelers are responsible for carrying their own to/from the hotel

For the tour,

  • A tour guide was with us the entire time (we had a wonderful Czech named Jana)
  • When in a new location, local guides shared their expertise
  • Most hotels are for multiple nights (which allows ample opportunities to do some laundry)

As a philosophy, Rick Steves’ tours want travellers to get the most of their experience by emphasizing history, culture, and interacting with the people because he wants travellers to understand the people, their place, and what is important to them. Besides the local guides, our activities included

  • tasting wine at a winery
  • visiting a school and meeting with an English teacher and her students
  • tasting honey at a local producer
  • eating local cuisines
  • being entertained by traditional music.
  • having two transit day-passes in Budapest good for buses, trams, and subways
  • after leaving each country), Jana led us in a toast to that country with a local liquor and toasting in the native language

The hotels exceeded our expectations. All were clean, spacious, conveniently located, and with a hearty breakfast to start our day.

Rick Steves’ Europe offers tours throughout Europe – and a surprising number of offerings, plus each frequently offered. I invite anyone interested to visit ricksteves.com. Regarding this tour, the previous post featured Prague, and my plan is to post at least one stop a week.

Bus touring isn’t easy and isn’t for everyone. However, I can honestly say that we would not hesitate to take another Rick Steves’ Europe tour. Actually, we even have our eye on another Rick Steves’ Europe tour in the future.

 

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On Heading South from Yellowstone


After leaving Yellowstone to the south, Grand Teton National Park is less than an hour away. The park is named after the tallest mountain in the Teton range. The name’s origin goes back to the area’s French fur trappers calling the range les trois tétons.

The range’s sharp, jagged peaks are not only a contrast to the rounded ones at nearby Yellowstone, the peaks also serve as a reminder that the Tetons are the youngest mountains in the Rockies.

The drive through the valley east of the range offers stunning views. These mountains are spectacular!

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Jackson Hole refers to the long valley east of the Tetons. Jackson, the major town in the valley, is a popular destination for tourists and serves as a base for vacationers during all seasons and a seasonal home for some notable people. Our tour group stayed an evening in Jackson before embarking on the long drive to Salt Lake City.

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After an evening in Salt Lake City, our next destination was Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce, resembling more of a natural amphitheater than a canyon, is spectacular and very unique. The red, orange, and white color combination below a bright blue sky is stunning.

Bryce’s unique appearance comes from the sea of hoodoos occupying the amphitheater – the pillars of rock formed by weathering and water eroded erosion previously uplifted rock millions of years ago. Although hoodoos are found in other parts of the world, Bryce offers the largest collection.

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After an evening in, we were bound for where we started – Las Vegas – but not without stopping at Zion National Park. Whereas the views of Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon were from above looking down, one enters Zion Canyon’s deep gorge from the floor, which allows visitors to enjoy looking up at its walls of reddish and tan Navajo sandstone.

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After 2800 miles (4500 km) in 2 weeks, we saw many wonderful sights that America’s National Parks provide. Simply spectacular! Yes, we had a lot of bus time and yes, our visits were long enough for sampling – therefore, not long enough for embracing – but this trip was better than not ever seeing these natural wonders.

To see the post of the entire trip, see the sidebar (Categories > Travel > Western US National Parks Tour), click here, or visit any of the individual posts linked below.

Las Vegas
Vegas to Denver
South Dakota and westward
Yellowstone

On the Northern Loop

The trip northward from Denver to western South Dakota is through the grassy plains of Colorado and eastern Wyoming. Easy riding while looking at the open terrain that is easy to spot various wildlife.

Located within the beautiful Black Hills, we stayed (2 nights) in this wonderful lodge at Custer State Park (outside Custer, SD). President Calvin Coolidge used this location as the “Summer White House” in 1927.

 

Custer State Park is home to many animals. During scene drives, we observed elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and many buffalo.

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Two outstanding landmarks are located near Custer: Mt. Rushmore is a national treasure. It’s actually a National Memorial that is operated by the National Parks Service.

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Located 16 miles (26 km) away is a treasure that greatly impacted me. On our entire trip, our guide talked much about Native Americans. The Crazy Horse Memorial – the world’s largest mountain sculpture – stands as a tribute to all North American Indians.

Started in 1948, it still has a long way to go to completion. I know I won’t see it in my lifetime. Maybe our new great-niece (born this past July) will see it. Then again, maybe her kids.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is so big, Mt. Rushmore would fit in the head area behind the face (in the hair). The picture below shows a model of the final product with the mountain sculpture in the background.

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After leaving Custer, we travelled 2-days westward toward Yellowstone National Park – with stops along the way.

Deadwood, South Dakota – a town established as a result of the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874. It’s also linked to western legends as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Some readers may remember this past post about my link to Deadwood – a headstone near my home marking the grave of Charlie Rich – the one who dealt the infamous Dead Man’s Hand of aces and eights.

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Devil’s Tower National Monument – declared as the US’s first National Monument in 1906 – is a butte of igneous rock located in northeastern Wyoming. We took a 45-minute walk around the base, and observed climbers!

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After a night in Sheridan, Wyoming, the trip through the Bighorn Mountains was a pleasant surprise – especially because I’d never heard of them.

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Cody, Wyoming, located near Yellowstone’s east entrance, is home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This stop was an unexpected surprise as it is 5 museums within one: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum – as well as a research library.

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Next Post: Yellowstone

For more posts about this trip, click here.

On Vegas to Denver


The morning after the trip orientation in Las Vegas, we boarded the bus. We stopped about every 90 minutes for things like restrooms, snacks, sights, or lunch. The first stop was quite the surprise – WalMart. It opened the eyes of some in the foreign contingent.

Williams, Arizona (for first lunch stop) is a small town located on US Route 66. It’s a gateway stop for many going to Grand Canyon, and also serves as the depot for the Grand Canyon Railroad, which takes visitors to the south rim.

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We overnighted at Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a spectacular place and much larger than most ever imagine: 277 miles (446 km) long, about 1 mile (1.6 km) deep, average width is 10 miles (16 km) … and to think visitors only see a small portion of the canyon.

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Monument Valley is an icon, but not a national park because it is located on Navajo land – therefore the name Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Isolated red (from exposed iron oxide) mesas and buttes formed by erosion create the image that many have about the west. Located along the Arizona-Utah border, this iconic landscape served as the backdrop to many movie westerns and television commercials.

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Arches National Park is located in eastern Utah near Moab. Formed by geologic forces wrinkling, folding, and pushing the sandstone upward millions of years ago, wind and water erosion created over 2,000 arches and windows, plus numerous pinnacles, spires, and shapes that gives the park its distinct feel. Every geologic feature has a unique geologic story to tell.

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After an evening in Moab, the next day was a long-day of riding. The Western Slope is Colorado’s wine region, so we had lunch at a winery. The afternoon was traveling through the Rockies for an overnight in downtown Denver before a long day of riding to South Dakota.

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For other posts about this trip, click here or see (in the right sidebar) Categories > Travel > Western US National Parks Tour

Next Post: South Dakota and to the West

On a Reflective Return

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Greetings! I hope this find you in good health and spirits – and thanks for returning after my late-spring/early summer blog break. Yes – I missed my interactions here! After taking some time away from my little corner of the world, I eased back to the blogs by visiting.

Vacationing was the reason for my time away – but I did draft and edit some future posts. After all, some readers anxiously await more beach walks. Also almost ready are a short story, several dance posts, a true story about food lines, and a challenging series about religion in the United States. I hope to unveil a new header with the next Opinions in the Shorts.

Amidst a combination of excitement, unknown, and low expectations, my wife and I embarked on a never-done-before journey – a bus-trip tour vacation.

We flew to Las Vegas a day early, then became part of 33 vacationers from eight different US states and 3 foreign countries for a 15-night tour of US National Parks and Monuments. Yes – Americans from Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas joined vacationers from Australia (6), New Zealand (4), and South Africa (2) to be led by a guide from Colorado and a bus driver from Arizona.

After a short, evening orientation and social gathering, the group boarded a bus that would log over 2800 miles (4500 km) over 2 weeks at about 7 miles per gallon. Except for one two-night stop, that meant a different hotel every night – yes – essentially living out of a suitcase for 2 weeks.

Given my wife and I had only previously visited Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, and Denver on this itinerary, we were excited to see the national treasures and the land connecting them. We were also apprehensive about a group tour on a bus – let alone the ambitious undertaking of the time and miles involved in our initiation into bus touring.

Four conceptual thoughts are prominent in my mind as I reflect about this trip.

(-) The US National Parks are special places. I combined two quotes by John Muir and Stephen Mather that express my feelings. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike – and this can happen through the US National Parks – not only our best idea, but our best ideal.

(-) Whether the vast grassy plains of eastern Wyoming or the desert areas of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, the USA has a lot of land that remains wide open, Seeing miles and miles of land without a house in sight stimulates a variety of thoughts.

(-) The early history and struggles of the national parks still rings today. Same arguments – different players about federally protected land and land use for business development.

(-) But this point hit my the hardest: How little I know about the American Indians native to the land. Right here, right now I admit it – and I’m ashamed of it and unfortunately believe the same is true for the vast majority of Americans.

Meanwhile, it’s good to be back. Do you have one particular post I need to visit? Here’s a song to start northern hemisphere summer.