Transcript

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Hi, I’m Rick Steves back in Europe…this time with a focus on practical travel tips!
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In this three-part special edition, we travel my favorite 2,000-mile loop through Europe,
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splicing in all the essential skills to help you travel on your own-smooth and smart.
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The point of this special is that you can learn from my 30 years of experience and have
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a better trip.
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How well you’re able to enjoy the delights of Europe depends upon how well you plan and
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how skillfully you travel.
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And there’s a lot to enjoy.
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From the monuments of Rome to a Turkish bath in Istanbul, from the markets of Naples to
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new friends in Spain, and from the scalps of the Alps to the Running of the Bulls in
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Pamplona, you’ll want to get the most out of every mile, minute and dollar you spend
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in Europe.
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In this three-part travels-skills special we start in the Netherlands, venture through
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Germany, dip into Italy, sweep through Switzerland and France before finishing in England.
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In this first episode we start in Amsterdam, cruise the Rhine, visit Rothenburg and end
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in Munich.
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Our main tips in this show: settling in upon arrival and transportation-exploring Europe
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by train and by car.
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We landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
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To get to Europe, Americans need only a passport, plane ticket and money.
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Airports here are well designed and user-friendly.
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Notice how easy it is for English-speakers to step right over that language barrier.
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Here in Amsterdam-like most of Europe-everything’s in two languages: Dutch for the locals and
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English for everyone else.
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And there’s an information desk ready and waiting.
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But even in the Netherlands where everyone seems to speak English…it’s polite to learn
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and use a few key local words.
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To get your cash, ATMs are the way to go.
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They provide local currency at the best rates- quick, easy and in English.
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But each ATM transaction comes with a fee.
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Minimize these fees by comparing card policies before you leave home and by taking fewer
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and bigger withdrawals in Europe.
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It’s just like withdrawing cash at home-you just need your four-digit PIN.
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But, before you leave, let your bank know you’ll be overseas so there’s no hang-up in
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using your card over here.
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My hotel’s in the city center.
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Getting downtown from European airports on public transportation is easy.
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You’ve got options.
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If you’re packing heavy, really tired, or with a small group, a taxi can be the best
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value.
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When I’m on my own and packing light, public transit-trains and buses-can be the best choice-and
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it’s far cheaper.
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Buses are clearly marked.
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These days, you’ll buy tickets and lots of other things using machines.
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There’s always a button for English.
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Get comfortable using your credit card and following the prompts.
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OK, I’ve got my train ticket to the center.
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Most European airports have excellent train connections into town.
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From Schiphol, there’s a train into Amsterdam every couple of minutes… and we’re downtown
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in a snap.
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I find Europe’s big iron and glass stations evocative and impressively user-friendly.
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Most are designed to help visitors get oriented quickly-and are in or near the town center.
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Tourist information offices are usually in the station-or, just out the front door.
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As is typical in Europe, many of Amsterdam’s buses and trams fan out from the train station.
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Public transit is so convenient; many Europeans never get around to owning a car.
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The tram drops us just a couple bridges from our hotel.
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My hotel is near the downtown action, but peacefully situated over-looking a canal-with
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bikes parked out front and plenty of character.
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I pay extra for the convenience of a central location.
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After checking in, I’ve got my key… and I’m set.
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Okay, now that we’re settled in, our next challenge is over-coming jet-lag.
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Don’t take a nap.
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Jet lag hates bright light, fresh air, and exercise.
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Get out and walk.
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I kick off my trips with a “welcome to Europe” stroll.
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Having changed money, we’re ready to dive into the city.
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While credit cards are widely accepted, I find things just go better with hard cash
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and many merchants prefer cash.
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The Euro is the currency used throughout most of the Continent.
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Over 300 million Europeans have the same coins jangling in their pockets.
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Every corner of Europe comes with a unique flavor and cultural surprises.
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Small-is-beautiful Holland feels quintessentially Dutch.
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It’s charming: with characteristic gables, delightful bridges, floating parties… and
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bikes everywhere.
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It’s clever: check out the three-story bicycle garage.
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And it’s occasionally shocking.
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Prepare for some differences: curbside urinals…
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Prostitutes who work like small business people-unionized, taxed, and regulated.
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And Coffeeshops that sell… marijuana.
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I’ve enjoyed how-especially when I venture out of my comfort zone-travel has changed
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my outlook.
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When other societies tackle problems differently than we do, I try to understand their reasoning.
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For decades now, the Dutch have found that the most pragmatic approach to marijuana use
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is to take the crime out of the equation and regulate it.
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With an open mind and a wide-eyed curiosity in your travels, you’ll have more fun and
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you’ll take home my favorite souvenir: a broader perspective.
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We’re heading off on our swing through the best of Europe.
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Our first stop will be the Rhine and we’ll be riding the rails.
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We’re leaving from Amsterdam’s central station.
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Be aware, many cities have more than one station-Paris and London must have five or six each.
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We’re leaving from Amsterdam Centraal as opposed to Amsterdam Sloterdijk.
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Stations and tickets are clearly marked so, if you know to check, it’s no big deal.
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Trains work the same all over Europe.
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Ticket windows handle your ticket and reservation needs.
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Be sure-when necessary-that your ticket or your railpass is validated before boarding.
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Ask for advice at the quick question info booth… or from uniformed conductors on the
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tracks Many express trains require an advance reservation.
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It’s smart to ask.
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Every station has departure boards listing all the trains leaving from a station on a
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particular day.
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The big, constantly changing “trains departing imminently board” displays precisely what’s
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happening in the next hour or so.
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Whatever the language, you’ll always find the same columns: departure time, stops in
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route, destination, which track, and if it’s late.
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For instance the 14:20 train heading through Heidelberg to Klagenfurt is leaving from track
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12, and it’s is five minutes late.
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Train composition charts on the platform show the order of cars starting with the engine-You’ll
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see first class…the dining car…and second class.
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With this chart, you’ll also know where on the platform to wait, so when the train stops
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you’re already positioned to step right onto your car.
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Be aware.
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Some trains pick up and drop cars as they go.
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Individual cars are marked: where they’re going, 1st or 2nd class….icons indicate
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.this is a quiet car…smoking is never allowed.
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Once inside, little signs above each seat make it clear which seats are reserved and
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for which stretch of the route they’re occupied.
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Once you’re settled, you’ll spend a lot of time en route.
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Do what you can on the train to save time off the train…read, listen to audiophiles
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relating to your travels, write your journal or emails, eat, and sleep.
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Tablets are great for readers packing light.
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Meet people.
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Strike up conversations.
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Information boards announce the upcoming stop and key information about the ride.
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While cars come with a bag storage area, for peace of mind, I like to keep my bag in the
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rack above my seat.
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You’ll pay 50% extra per kilometer to travel first class.
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First Class is cushier-generally three seats across, less crowded and occupied by people
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who figured it was worth paying the 50% extra for the added privacy and comfort.
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Second class comes with four seats across and more people.
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Today’s trains are so comfortable in Europe, that the new second class feels as slick as
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the old first class.
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Trains have a mix of open seating and more private compartments.
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Nearly every train has both first and second class cars-each going precisely the same speed.
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If you’re on a budget, second class is just fine.
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But we’re traveling with railpasses-and they come in First Class-forced luxury.
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No more windmills.
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I think we’re in Germany now but in today’s Europe, it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed
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a border.
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Today’s goal: visit a great German city, cruise the most scenic hour of the Rhine River, and
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check into a hotel in my favorite medieval Rhine village.
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A full itinerary like this is perfectly doable when you use schedules smartly.
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Consider stop-overs along your route.
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While we’re heading for the villages of the Rhine gorge, our fast train stops in Koln
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and it’s worth popping out for a quick look.
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Checking the departure schedule I see there’s a train every hour-we’ll catch the 14:53 to
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Koblenz.
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Remember, schedules in Europe use the 24-hour clock: anything after 12, subtract 12 and
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add p.m. 14:53…14 minus 12… that’s 2:53 pm…, that gives us about an hour to enjoy
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Koln.
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Let’s go.
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When stopping to sightsee between hotels, I lock up my bag at the train station.
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Many stations have the standard, safe, coin-operated lockers: Some are getting pretty high tech-here’s
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another example of automation: with a few coins and following the prompts, your bag
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gets taken away and safely stored who knows where.
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Literally just out the door of the station towers the majestic Koln cathedral…it’s
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an awe-inspiring 500 feet high.
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Just steps away, an old Roman gate still stands reminding the modern city of its ancient heritage.
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And its main street-now a thriving pedestrian mall-gives a sense of the dynamism of Germany
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today.
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Back at the station, I check in with the “trains departing imminently” board.
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There’s our train: 14:53, to Koblenz, track 7… and on time.
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After a short ride to Koblenz, we change to our last train…the milk run to our Rhine
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village…St. Goar.
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Europe’s express trains-like the ones we caught this morning-make the big city leaps quickly.
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The little local trains-like this one-take it from there.
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We’ve reached Germany’s castle country.
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Hulks of ruined castles standing high above spindly towns fill the romantic Rhine gorge
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with legends and history.
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The old town of St. Goar sits under the river’s mightiest castle-Reinfels.
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The castle overlooks the town with a commanding view of the Rhine and all its traffic.
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St. Goar is the departure point for our Rhine cruise.
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Today, we’re cruising just my favorite hour of the Rhine-which is from here to the town
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of Bacharach.
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The Rhine’s always been busy with trade.
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Back when roads were too dangerous, merchants shipped their goods to market up and down
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rivers.
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Robber baron castles like these were built to levy tolls.
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Good guidebooks help make the sights meaningful-for the whole family.
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Researching and writing guidebooks is my main work.
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And to me, guidebooks are $20 tools for $3000 experiences.
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I’ve found that if you equip yourself with good information-whether in print or digital-and
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expect yourself to travel smart…you will.
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Guidebooks also recommend memorable places to spend the night-like Bacharach, and good
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places to eat, drink, and stay-like Hotel Kranenturm, which I booked by email with an
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email a month ago.
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This hotel was the Kranenturm-that means crane tower.
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About 500 years ago riverboats, loaded down with kegs of wine, couldn’t pass the rapids
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out here.
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So, with the help of cranes on this tower, they unloaded their ships, carried the kegs
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around, and continued their journey.
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And, in the sleepy villages along the river, you’ll find Rhine wine is still the life blood
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of these communities.
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Wherever grapes are grown, vintners like Frau Bastian are eager to share the fruits of their
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labor.
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Her teaching aid: the wheel of fifteen family wines.
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And we’re in for a tasty education.
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Using Frau Bastian’s wheel is a convivial way to share opinions and gain knowledge.
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I’ve been tasting wine in Germany for years and there are three key words: trocken is
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dry, halb-trocken is half-dry, and süss is sweet.
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Yes, this is sweet.
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You can learn forever on the road.
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And all over Europe wine tasting is a fun way to meet fellow travelers and make friends-one
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of the most important travel skills.
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We’re leaving the Rhineland for Bavaria.
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Europe is laced together by an efficient train system hard for most Americans to imagine.
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And with our Eurailpass, we’ve got free run of it.
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European railpasses come in many versions.
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While these are expensive, for certain itineraries, they can be a great value.
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Passes give you unlimited train travel through anywhere from one country to most of Europe.
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To cover this three-week, 2,000-mile trip, economically, we chose a train pass covering
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just the countries we’re visiting.
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It gives us 10 rail travel days-to be used within a two-month window.
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Our destination today, Rothenburg, is pretty remote, so getting there requires two train
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changes.
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Again, if you’re uncertain, ask for help.
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Conductors are happy to assist confused tourists.
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In Germany, connections are synchronized.
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Changing trains is often just a matter of checking the schedule, switching platforms,
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and hopping into an awaiting car.
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Rothenburg is Germany’s medieval wonder town.
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Even with tourist crowds turning it into a half-timbered theme park in the summer, I
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love this place.
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While it can be packed with tour groups during the day, in the evening they’re back in the
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big city and the town’s all yours.
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Those who spend the night enjoy the medieval magic of this otherwise touristy place in
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relative peace.
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To stretch your sightseeing day and mix in some information at the same time, catch an
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evening tour.
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Rothenburg’s Night Watchman’s tour goes each evening at 8 o’clock and all’s well.
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Germany’s Romantic Road, the next leg of our journey, can’t be done by train.
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It’s best explored by rental car.
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We’ll have this car for two days and drop it in Munich.
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You can arrange your car rental before leaving home.
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Prices vary dramatically from month to month, country to country, and from company to company.
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Shop around.
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Even if you don’t plan on driving, bring your license and a credit card.
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Your American license generally works just fine.
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It’s easy to rent a car on a whim.
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And with your own wheels, you can get to more remote places like the monastery at Andechs.
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Because it’s easily accessible only by car, it has fewer tourists and more locals.
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The stately church stands as it has for centuries.
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Its baroque interior both stirs the soul and stokes the appetite.
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The monks here nurture a heritage of brewing a heavenly beer.
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And it’s served by the liter.
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The hearty meals also come in medieval proportions.
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Like many beer halls, the food’s perfectly Bavarian.
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When I’m far from home, I become a cultural chameleon.
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In England I actually fancy a spot of tea.
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But here in Germany, it’s big pretzels, beautiful radishes, kraut, knuckle of pork-check this
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out-and great beer.
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By the way, don’t drink and drive.
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I’m done driving for today.
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Permissible alcohol levels are extremely low and penalties are severe.
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There’s nothing exotic about driving in Europe.
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While the British drive on the left, everyone on the Continent drives on the same side as
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we do in the USA.
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Filling the tank here-whether diesel or gas-is like filling the tank at home-except it’s
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Euros and liters rather than dollars and gallons-figure four liters to a gallon.
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Don’t overreact to Europe’s high cost of gas.
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Over here cars get great mileage and distances are short.
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Rental cars come with a basic insurance policy.
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But deductibles can be really high.
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You can pay extra for zero deductible for the peace of mind.
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But first, check with your insurance agent at home to see how well you’re covered in
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Europe.
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When driving, to cover long distances in a hurry, use the freeway.
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This is Germany’s autobahn.
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Like most of Europe, Germany’s laced with these super freeways.
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And around here, fast driving is considered a civil liberty.
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On the autobahn, you’ll learn quickly…the fast lane is used only for passing.
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Cruise in the left lane and you’ll have a Mercedes up your tail pipe.
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Here and throughout northern Europe the autobahn is toll free.
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In France and countries south of Germany these super-freeways usually come with tolls.
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Learn some navigation basics: In Germany: Zentrum means center.
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A giant letter “P” means parking, and this icon means autobahn, color-coding and arrows
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point you in the right direction.
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And while many travelers here go through their trips thinking all roads lead to the town
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of Ausfahrt…ausfahrt is German for exit.
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This sign means traffic circle or roundabout.
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Merge safely into the circle, take the exit for the direction you’re heading.
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If you’re not sure, relax, take an extra loop and explore your options.
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Entering a new town-this is Dinkelsbuhl-it’s safe to assume the church spire marks the
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center and the tourist office is nearby.
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Old town centers are increasingly difficult to drive in-one way streets… or closed to
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cars entirely.
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Drive as close as you can and find a place to park.
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Confirm you’re parked legally.
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Your time is valuable-just pay to park and walk.
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Know the key road symbols.
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They’re the same throughout Europe: no parking anytime, no traffic allowed, wrong way…don’t
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enter, this means no cars or bikes from 8 to midnight, no passing, and you know this
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one …. And make educated guesses: with this one ….be ready for anything.
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I navigate by town names because road numbers on maps often don’t match the signs.
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Distances and speeds are in kilometers-on this road: 80 kph.
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A kilometer is 6/10 of a mile.
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To change to miles, cut the kilometers in half and add back 10% of the original.
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80 kph = 40 plus 8…that’s 48 mph.
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Beware photo speed traps can be really expensive and those with rental cars are billed by mail.
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Save time and avoid wasted car rental days by picking up and dropping off your car in
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two different cities-like Rothenburg and Munich.
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When using a bigger company with many branches, you can generally do this anywhere in the
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same country for no extra charge.
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While dropping a car a different country usually comes with a high fee, it can also be a great
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convenience.
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Without our wheels, we’re back to riding the rails.
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We’re at the Munich train station and it’s about time to say “auf Wiedersehn” to Germany.
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Our next stop is Venice.
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With Europe’s many discount airlines, it’s often cheaper to fly than to take the train.
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Before taking any long surface trip, I look into flying.
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Still, I enjoy the romance and adventure of a night train.
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Sleeping cars require reservations.
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A conductor checks your ticket as you board.
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By taking the night train you do miss a little scenery.
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But you more than make up for that by gaining an entire extra day for sightseeing.
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I’d take an extra day exploring Venice over any train ride.
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Cheap couchettes are co-ed and come with bunkbeds.
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For less than the cost of a simple hotel bed, you get your own bunk with clean linen, a
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locking door, and an attendant who monitors who comes and goes as you sleep.
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In the morning we’ll be cruising the Grand Canal in Venice.
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Thanks for traveling with us, and join us next time for part two of our three-part travel
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skills special.
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Until then, I’m Rick Steves.
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Keep on travelin’…and gute Nacht.