The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is the best-preserved Baroque city in Central Europe. We experience its massive castle, beloved statue-lined bridge, evocative Jewish Quarter, and thrilling 20th-century history while enjoying its infectious love of music and perhaps the best beer in Europe. With a beautifully preserved Old Town, Prague deserves its nickname: the Golden City of a Hundred Spires.
A tumultuous 20th century left Berlin filled with powerful sights - from evocative memorials, to surviving bits of its communist and fascist days, to its glass-domed Reichstag. We enjoy its now-trendy east side, its people-friendly riverfront, and its vibrant social scene. Reunited Berlin - perhaps the fastest changing and most happening city in Europe - is entertaining more visitors than ever.
Hamburg, Germany's mighty port city has risen from the ashes of World War II with a gleaming new skyline and a brisk creative energy. From there, Rick visits the great historic sights of Martin Luther and the Reformation (Erfurt, Wittenberg, and Wartburg Castle) before finishing in the capital of Franconia: wine-loving Wurzburg.
Saxony, part of the former East Germany, remains a secret to most travelers. Rick visits the two great cities of the region: the capital city of Dresden, with the opulent palaces and art treasures of the Wettin dynasty, and Leipzig, with its Bach heritage, a massive monument to the day Europe beat Napoleon, and museums remembering its communist heritage.
Skyscraper-studded Frankfurt - with so much commerce it's nicknamed "Bankfurt" - has a delightful-to-explore old center. Rick also visits Nurnberg, a capital for both the First Reich (the Holy Roman Empire) and the Third. From its towering castle and playful fountains to its Nazi Documentation Center and maze of underground bomb shelters, Nurnberg is a fascinating study in contrasts.
Bulgaria, so mysterious to most Americans, has a vivid identity as a crossroads of the Balkans. Rick traces the country's complex history, from ancient Thracian tombs to medieval Orthodox Christian monasteries to Soviet monuments. And he enjoys an intimate taste of contemporary culture: the yellow brick road of Sofia; the gregarious craftspeople of the medieval capital, Veliko Tarnovo; and the thriving pedestrian zones of cosmopolitan Plovdiv.
Rick and his team tour Romania's vibrant capital, Bucharest, with its "Little Paris of the East" architecture and lingering reminders of a brutal communist dictator. Then they head into Transylvania, where they visit fortified churches, cobbled merchant towns like Sighisoara, and castles made famous by an imported German king and the real-life Dracula. Finally, they explore Maramures, where everyday life still feels like an open-air folk museum.
In the Italian countryside, Rick connects with rustic, traditional culture: enjoying an agriturismo (farmhouse inn), seeing how prosciutto and pecorino cheese are made, and hiking down into deep and ancient wine cellars. He ends in Assisi - the hometown of St. Francis - which retains its spiritual aura to this day. Like pilgrims, he explores its stony center before trekking to its awe-inspiring basilica, built on the tomb of the beloved saint.
Siena, once a proud and independent city-state, retains its confidence and unique traditions. Rick enjoys a front-row seat at its wild horse race - the venerable Palio - and marvel at cultural treasures from the days when Siena rivaled Florence for leadership of Tuscany. Then he heads into wine country for a little dolce vita under the Tuscan sun.
The quintessence of charming England is the "West Country": quaint Cotswold villages with their fine churches, manor homes, and gastropubs; Wells, England's smallest cathedral town; and the New Age capital of Glastonbury, with its legends of the Holy Grail and King Arthur. He finishes by pondering the dramatic prehistoric stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury.
Arcing along the southeast coast of England, Rick travels from Canterbury (with its famous cathedral) to Dover (stoutly fortified from Roman times to the Battle of Britain). Then he hikes the trails that top the towering chalk cliffs of the South Downs, wander into the beachy resort of Brighton (England's Coney Island), and push on to Portsmouth, whose naval heritage has left it with the best collection of historic sailing ships anywhere.
The far southwest of England is a world unto itself, with a persistent Cornish culture. He explores a world of flowers springing from towering hedges, a tin-mining heritage going back to biblical times, salty pirates' towns and fishing villages, and the Land's End of England. Then, side-tripping deep into the vast and mysterious Dartmoor National Park, he hikes to forgotten stone circles and chase wild ponies.
The heartland of England has sights that put the "Great" in Britain - its venerable universities, its royal heritage, and reminders of its industrial might. At Oxford and Cambridge, see where kings and prime ministers studied. At Blenheim Palace - Winston Churchill's birthplace - Rick connects with English aristocracy. At Ironbridge Gorge, he fires up memories of the Industrial Revolution. And all along the way, Rick drives on the left and polishes his pub etiquette.
Lisbon, built with the riches of Portugal's New World discoveries, has a rustic charm. Great navigators are remembered. Rick eats lots of cod, enjoys pastries hot out of the oven, strolls the city's back lanes and its reinvigorated waterfront, marvels at an exquisite church built with spice taxes, and listens to some soulful fado music. Then he takes a side-trip to Sintra to explore the fanciful castles of Portuguese royalty and climbs hilltop ramparts with grand views.
Portugal has an oversized history, fascinating culture, and boatloads of sardines. Saving the capital city of Lisbon for another episode, Rick dances on the beach at Nazare, marvels at a medieval abbey in Batalha, visits a royal library and revels with university students in Coimbra, savors port wine with the people who made it along the Douro River, and gets to know Portugal's gritty and fascinating second city, Porto.
Setting sail on the Mediterranean, Rick explores the ins and outs and pros and cons of cruising. He learns how to get the most out of a cruise, and exercises his independence to make smart use of limited time on shore by planning well, avoiding lines, and eating quick-but-local meals on the go. Along with the joys and efficiencies of cruising, Rick considers the downsides, including the inevitable congestion and commercialism that comes with mass tourism.
Rick island-hops through the Aegean, sampling three classic Greek getaways - Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes - and basking in their dramatic beauty. He tours ancient ruins, traces the vestiges of the Crusaders, samples rustic cuisine, savors classic Greek-island views, and compares beaches - from the ultimate party beach to idyllic quiet hideaways. And he shows how a cruise ship can be an efficient way to link up great island stopovers.