Monday, September 20, 2010

Rick Steves knocks the Black Forest

A pparently Rick Steves thinks Americans are going to be bored by the Black Forest:
Germany's famous Black Forest disappoints more people than it excites. If that's all Germany offered, it would be worth seeing. For Europeans, any large forest is a popular attraction. But I'd say the average American visitor who's seen more than three trees in one place would prefer Germany's Romantic Road and Bavaria to the east, the Rhine and Mosel country to the north, the Swiss Alps to the south, and France's Alsace region to the west all high points that cut the Black Forest down to stumps.
Well, those other places are pretty nice too. I'd especially go back to the Mosel Valley in a heartbeat. But I think the Black Forest is more than just "more than three trees in one place". How many places in America can you go hiking in the forest and buy spring-cooled schnapps at the pathside on an honor system? Yeah, I can't think of any either.

Try it sometime, Rick!


  1. Buying any kind of alcohol on a hiking trail is worth the visit alone! Rick Steves blew it :D

  2. I just find it sad that he sold out. If he were to publish true to his mission, he'd be updating his books to cover the non-tourist trap areas. (oh, like northern Germany, etc etc)

    While I admit his books are handy when it comes to navigating the mess of Neuschwanstein or wanting a tram tour of Vienna, he's not really doing 'backdoors' anymore, is he?

  3. CN

    As a fellow Iowan (who also lived in Germany years ago, not far from you are), I thought you might like a few glimpses of home:

    Iowa Cornscape.

    Manhattan Skyline.


  4. I do think he's specializing in the popular areas which is fine, less crowds or tourists will be showing up in those areas..

    Personally, I never thought of him as the hiking type, so I could see where he can come to this conclusion!

  5. When he can do a podcast without 1) putting me to sleep, 2) talking up only the most bone-crushingly obvious travel "tips" or 3) mercilessly mangling every non-English word he comes across, then and only then will I give a good goddamn what Rick Steves has to say.

    In other words, consider the source. Doesn't smart quite so bad now, huh?

  6. Well...if you try not to let the digs on the Schwarzwald sting so much, he may have a point.

    There is a scarcity of forested areas in Europe, owing to a long (like tens of thousands of years) tradition of agricultural misuse of available resources. Therefore, when there are three trees in one place, the Germans I know tend to get all hepped up on goofballs about it. How many Germans do you know who have been to Yosemite or the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone?

    If you're LOOKING for foresty goodness, then despite honor-system-spring-cooled-schnapps coolness, there are other areas.

    If you're into the Black Forest BECAUSE it's the Black Forest — ham, cake, cuckoo clocks, Alemannisch, etc., — well, then DUH. Go to the Black Forest.

    I think pal Rick is remarking on the fact that it's Europeans who tend to get all Kum Bah Ya about the woods, as opposed to his target audience (um, not us!).

    And by the way: this is not to detract from those remarks by my better half. I just think his shtick is not intended for those already living here.

  7. Whoa peeps, I apologize if it seemed like I was somehow actually angry about this. I don't really know much of anything about Rick Steves, except that my father-in-law recommended him to us so I looked into him. All I found is that I don't trust him based on stuff like this (he is also rumored to hate on HD). But what guide book could you really fully trust anyway? Even Lonely Planet led us unwarned right into communal hostel showers in Leipzig....

    Would I REALLY want RS to cover the brandy springs in the Black Forest? Hard to say. You don't want it to catch on and end up with British hen parties walking the path 10 years from now. Then it's not the same thing anymore. Keep it quiet and there's more schnapps for me. Plus, it can't be as fun to find schnapps at the pathside if someone told you it was going to be there as it is to find it as a total surprise. So, uh, sorry to everybody I told it was there. ;)

    Similar for northern Germany. More indisch blau plates and surprise sea shanty singers for me if no one else knows it exists. But of course, it can also be bad, if the people living there would like to see an influx of tourism money and they're not getting it because no one is covering them.

    Thanks for the photos Jeffrey! I especially love the road sign one.

  8. I agree with not wanting RS to to necessarily cover everything, but I do find it lame that he claims to be all about 'back doors', yet is really only covering the heavy hitters on the typical tourist trails.

    I understand his target American audience only gets an average of 2-3wks vacay/yr, but if your big tagline is 'backdoors', don't you think people will be expecting something more off the beaten path than Berlin, Munich, and Neuschwanstein?

    LP has also frequently disappointed us of late (esp on the food front). I've found that the more developed the country, the less-reliable the book.

    Sorry for the rant! It's just that after some disappointing guidebook experiences in Germany/Austria and after our big road trip around Scandinavia this summer where we didn't use guidebooks (save for a LP comparison in Finland and Estonia -in which we didn't learn too much more), we were pretty darn happy with the research we dug up online from blogs and Tripadvisor.

  9. Sorry I kind of freaked there. I have a bit of a hate-on for RS. I just think his brand of travel advice falls under 'common sense.'

    But as Cliff said, we're not his target audience. And I hear you on walking the fence between wanting to share cool stuff like the schnapps station and wanting to keep that quiet.

  10. I grew up in the Adirondacks and went to school in the Fingerlakes and western Adirondacks. My second house, I spent the first year cutting down 175 trees to rescue the land from the wild (abandoned farm): I have no desire to see trees for the sake of trees. The Mosel Valley is fabulous and the Romantic Road, which I have seen a little of this summer, is cool. Neuschwanstein is surrounded by the most impressive mountains I have ever seen and I would give up the Black Forest in a sec to spend a day in the Alps. So I understand where RS is coming from.

  11. I have a friend in Seattle who works for Rick Steves as one of his tour guides. He says Ricky is totally a control freak asshole in person contrary to his soccer Dad TV image (not surprising), and that the company is pretty bad about paying their bills when it comes to things like hotel rooms for their tour groups.

    My friend says part of the problem with Ricky these days is he's gotten too popular and now he only publishes places that can "handle" the tourist load. He won't do "backdoor" places if he thinks the area can't handle it. Which is GREAT for the rest of us who live here. I think when he was smaller and just getting started in the 70s and 80s that he probably WAS a revolution in "back door" travel, but not anymore. I find it sad, too, that he sold out.

    I personally don't mind Ricky that much, even though I agree with Sarah esp. about how he butchers anything non-English. And I hate his boring business casual clothing. I find his travel guides usually offer a fairly honest opinion about places and I think he offers really detailed advice that is missing in other travel guides (such as how to avoid lines at sites, etc.). I find his budget lodging listings to be really useful. Though I tend to go my own way and form my own opinions anyway about site seeing. I also like that he works hard at educating Americans about how other people around the world live (such as Europe's culture about nudity or about drug policy).

    What bugs me most about Ricky (aside from the business casual and his lack of language skills) is how he tries to steer his audience into these "magic moments," such as saying that you must eat gelato at sunset on the steps of the Orvieto cathedral in Italy (and it cracks me up how many American travelers just follow along). Ricky can't create my magic moments for me - that's personal and for each person to find on their own.

  12. Ok, I am probably wayyy to late on this discussion but here is my 2 cents...

    I like RS. I actually know him and his family vaguely. (to personal of a story to share online) He is one of the first books we turn to when we need guidance. I love his self-drawn maps and his honesty when it comes to local places. i.e. He says to skip Schloss Charlottenburg when in Berlin. I agree. NO ONE else says this.

    His whole schtick is to encourage you to find places on your own and if you read or watch his shows, you can see this. Which I always think it is funny since (probably) most of his income comes from advising people in his books on where to go!

    I don't follow him to a "T" but I find his books much better than other travel books, esp. lonely planet, frommers and (blech) rough guides.

    If anyone is still around, what guide books do you like?

  13. Yelli: I like the Green Guide for architectural info and Lonely Planet for outdoor info. Now that we have traveled a lot in Europe though, we don't rely on guides so much because we've learned a lot about what kind of things are going to like the most, and can glean the needed bits from guides/online and then leave them home.
    I do think it's funny that RS is telling you to explore on your own and then tells you exactly where to go!

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