How Not to travel in Europe

On the Ramblas in Barcelona, a mime makes a living dressed as Gaudi revived.

Our current guests make no apologies for being fans of popular author and television personality Rick Steves. Rick has made a career out of showing tourists “Europe through the Back Door.” Unfortunately, this usually means crappy hotels, tiny rooms, awful restaurants, indifferent service and all-around a waste of money and the total ruination of once “back door” places which are suddenly and overnight popular and inundated with mass tourism. Stories abound of villages and backwater hotels being mentioned just once in a Rick Steves guidebook and then, ten years later, being dropped from the same guidebook because the owners have become complacent, haven’t updated their rooms, serve a lousy breakfast and raise their prices into the stratosphere.

We love taking our guests to locals places, frequented by locals and not by tourists who hug their Rick Steves guidebooks like they're hugging the Bible

So when Art and Carol tell us about how they start their planning for a European trip with a Rick Steves book, it sort of makes us smile inside, because Art and Carol aren’t traveling on a Rick Steves tour bus. They’re traveling with European Focus Private Tours. That’s because tonight, when we took our guests to an authentic tapas bar near our boutique hotel, a place established in 1932 and serving locals ever since, we didn’t have to stand crammed toe to toe at a bar eating our tapas from toothpicks. We sat comfortably in a dining room full of interesting art, being served by Spanish-speaking waiters who didn’t give a damn if we were Americans. They served us the same way they served their Spanish and Catlunyan, and other guests – on their own terms – and slowly, and with care and with best of all, excellent food and wine, and we didn’t have to eat it with toothpicks. (a la Rick, as described in one of his own many ‘guides’.)

There’s a dividing line between traveling with the masses (Rick Steves) and experiencing Europe through the “Front Door” with European Focus. That line is usually measured in another zero added to the cost of the trip. But after hearing stories from Art and Carol of their previous misadventures on the road, we know and most importantly Art and Carol know, that the extra zero means a whole lot of something (memories) and a whole lot less of something else (stress).

A dancer entertains guests at a cafe in the old royal quarter

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