Author: Rick Steves

Time Travel on Rome’s Ancient Appian Way

The Appian Way — Rome’s gateway to the East — was Europe’s first super highway and the wonder of its day. Built in 312 B.C., it connected Rome with Capua (near Naples), running in a straight line for much of the way. Eventually it stretched 400 miles to Brindisi, from where Roman ships sailed to Greece and Egypt. While our modern roads seem to sprout potholes right after they’re built, sections of this marvel of Roman engineering still exist. When I visit Rome, I get a thrill walking on the same stones as Julius Caesar or St. Peter. Huge basalt paving blocks form the sturdy base of this roadway. In its heyday, a central strip accommodated animal-powered vehicles, and elevated sidewalks served pedestrians. Fortunately, about the first 10 miles of the Appian Way is preserved as a regional park (Parco dell’Appia Antica). In addition to the roadway, there are ruined Roman monuments, two major Christian catacombs, and a church marking the spot where Peter had a vision of Jesus.

Ring Around the Ring of Kerry

One of Ireland’s most popular destinations is the Iveragh Peninsula — known to shamrock-lovers everywhere as “The Ring of Kerry.” The Ring, lassoed by a winding coastal road through a mountainous, lake-splattered region, is undeniably scenic. Visitors since Victorian times have been drawn to this evocative chunk of the Emerald Isle, where mysterious ancient ring forts stand sentinel on mossy hillsides. It seems like every tour bus in Ireland makes the ritual loop around the Ring, using the bustling and famous tourist town of Killarney as a springboard. I skip Killarney, whose main attraction is its transit connections for those without cars. Instead, rent a car and use as your home base the tidy town of Kenmare (yes, it’s actually won Ireland’s “Tidy Town” award). While in Kenmare, druids seek out the town’s ancient stone circle (with 15 stones in a circle 50 feet wide), one of 100 little Stonehenges that dot southwest Ireland. Fitness buffs enjoy horseback riding, boating, hiking, and golfing (one way to experience Ireland’s 40 shades of green). Before or after …

The Intensity of Hebron, in Palestine

Walking through the Hebron market, I dodged the head of a camel dangling from a chain. I love traveling through Palestine. It’s filled with vivid memories and startling moments. I had no idea the people of Hebron had a taste for camel. But I was told that people here appreciate a nice fresh camel steak because of their Bedouin heritage. And the butcher shops seem to follow that Bedouin tradition: They butcher whatever they have to sell and it hangs on their front porch until it’s all gone. Today, with about 250,000 people, Hebron is the largest Palestinian city and the commercial capital of the West Bank. It’s a commotion of ramshackle commerce as its population generates about 30 percent of the West Bank’s economy. Just about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, it’s a rewarding place to visit. Hebron is an ancient city with archeological finds going back some 5,000 years. And for thousands of years it’s been a city of great religious importance. In the hierarchy of holy religious cities, Hebron makes the top …

Bethlehem’s Mix of Christians and Muslims

Lots of tourists go to Palestine, but I’d estimate that 90 percent of them do it in a rush from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. (Bethlehem is just over the wall that separates Israel and Palestine, about six miles away.) They then return directly to Israel without spending a single shekel in restaurants or hotels in the West Bank. Obviously, there’s much more to experience in this country. While the region’s hardscrabble vibe may be a bit too edgy for some Americans, it’s amazing how after a couple of days in Palestine, you feel right at home. Walking through the wall from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, all you need is your passport. Palestine uses Israeli currency. Just cross the border and haggle with the taxis…and after spending about $5 and 10 minutes, you’re looking at the spot where Jesus was born. If there were no border or traffic to deal with, you could bicycle from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem …

A Pilgrimage to the Sea of Galilee

For years, my travels have caused me to think about organized religion. (When I got my history degree in college, one of my favorite classes was “History of the Christian Church.”) And for years, I’ve believed that those who enjoy getting close to God should pack their spirituality along with them in their travels. In Israel, religious tourism is a big part of the economy. And much of that is Christian tourism: bus tours of believers visiting sights from Jesus’ three-year ministry — places they’ve imagined since their childhood Sunday school classes. While Jerusalem is the major stop, they generally make a quick visit to Bethlehem (in the West Bank), and loop through the north to stop at several sights near the Sea of Galilee.

Fabled Jerusalem

Before Columbus, many maps of the world showed Jerusalem as the center of the world. Jerusalem — holy, treasured, and long fought over by the three great monotheistic religions — has been destroyed and rebuilt more than a dozen times. Its fabled walls corral a tangle of colorful, holy sites, and more than 30,000 residents — most with a deep-seated reason to live so close to their religious ground zero.

Pondering Britain’s Stone Circles

Grand, centuries-old cathedrals distinguish Great Britain’s cities and towns, providing spiritual nourishment to those who visit. These places of worship seem ancient almost beyond imagination. But long before Gothic cathedrals…long before recorded history even, Britain’s stone circles were this land’s sacred spots. Stonehenge is the most famous of these — and has a new visitors center to serve nearly one million annual sightseers. As old as the pyramids, this site amazed medieval Europeans, who figured it was built by a race of giants. Archaeologists think some of these stones came from South Wales — 150 miles away — probably rafted then rolled on logs by Bronze Age people. Most believe stone circles functioned as celestial calendars, and even after five thousand years Stonehenge still works as one. As the sun rises on the summer solstice (June 21), the “heel stone” — the one set apart from the rest — lines up with the sun and the altar at the circle’s center. With the summer solstice sun appearing in just the right slot, prehistoric locals could …