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Beautiful Soul

Beautiful Soul

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

“Maggie is a ray of sunshine.”

Margarita (“Call me Maggie”) is also our local guide for the morning in Porto, the namesake second city of Portugal, and my comment is funny both because the country has been trapped in a weird early-summer vortex of thick mist and drizzle for going on four days now, and because of the identity of the fellow tour member I’m sharing Dad-pun-quality humor with in the inner foyer of Porto’s majestic Palacio da Bolsa.

This is our sixth tour with Rick Steves’ Europe, the company that launched the longtime travel writer’s brand. Said brand now includes dozens of guidebooks and a PBS series that have won the earnest, energetic, insightful and at times gleefully goofy Steves a wide and loyal following.

Steves built his travel empire from one guide—himself—driving an eight-passenger van back in the early ’80s to a small army of nearly 200 expert guides all well-versed in his distinctive travel philosophy. His tours are built around talks and experiences that allow you to both absorb the history and culture of the country you are visiting, and interact with real locals in their own homes and workplaces.

Steves gave up guiding any of his company’s tours himself a decade ago, but still tags along on at least one every year in the course of his annual research trips to Europe. This summer, by some fluky luck of the draw, we picked the same tour as the man himself.

Back in the Palacio da Bolsa, Steves nods in agreement at my comment, explaining that Maggie had guided him all around the city the day before as he researched the next edition of his Portugal guidebook. “She is so proud of her city and gets so much joy from teaching people about it. She’s—” He pauses here, rubbing at his newly full beard, the accomplished writer reaching for a more vivid descriptor. “She’s a beautiful soul.”

She is, with a contagious smile and relentlessly positive attitude that buoys the entire 24-person group through three and a half hours of exploring the heart of her bustling hometown in less than ideal touring weather.

More than that, though, Maggie feels like the personification of her homeland: a bundle of energy, full of pride in her country’s history and culture, direct, funny and deeply charming. In that sense she is also a personification of Steves’ entire travel philosophy, which is about building bridges between people and cultures in simple, meaningful ways, not checking boxes on some acquisitive tourist’s bucket list, but connecting individuals, one beautiful soul to another, so that each has the opportunity to witness and embrace the other’s basic humanity.

In times like these, it’s one of the most hopeful things we can do.

Comments (2)

  • Greg Grant

    RS’s brand is very appealing to the traveler. Introducing travelers to many interesting cultures and personalities. In many ways we all are alike but just have different zip codes. Traveling with the Boss was a nice upgrade.

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