If you’ve been to downtown Edmonds recently, it’s hard not to notice how our streets, coffee shops and cafes are filling with smiling, chatty folks wearing name tags and foreign flags, speaking in an array of languages, and looking decidedly…well…European.
No, it’s not an invasion. It’s the annual “Test Drive A Tour Guide” event put on by Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door travel center.
This year, Steves has invited more than 150 of his tour guides from all over the world to come to Edmonds, so they can meet and learn from one another. But most important, they are here to educate the public and would-be tourists about what they do, and give folks a chance to meet and “test drive” them as tour leaders.
Starting at 9 a.m. this Saturday, Jan.18, the guides will host events, classes and seminars where the public can learn about this unique way of travel — and how it operates — directly from the folks who make it happen. Classes will be held at the Edmonds Theater, the Edmonds Center for the Arts, and the Edmonds Conference Center (see the full schedule here).
“Our Test Drive A Tour Guide classes are filling up fast, but many still have space available,” says Rosie Leutzinger, who helps staff the Europe Through The Back Door travel center, located at 130 Fourth Ave. N. in downtown Edmonds. “You can sign up online. But space is at a premium, so don’t delay.”
The guides began arriving late last week, and many are staying at the Harbor Inn in Edmonds. “We booked pretty much the whole place,” said Leutzinger, “but we still couldn’t fit everyone in.” The rest are staying at other accommodations in the Edmonds area.
“I’m totally thrilled to be here with this team of passionate, down-to-earth, knowledgeable world travelers,” said Caterina Moore, who lives in Ashland, Ore. and specializes in leading tours through Italy. Moore is a relatively new addition to Rick Steves’ staff, but before joining the Europe Through The Back Door team last year she spent 20 years as an independent tour operator in Italy.
“Europe Through The Back Door really is different,” she says. “It offers a way to travel and experience other cultures that’s unmatched anywhere. Each guide is an ambassador for this unique approach to international travel. Your guide is like a two-way bridge between you and the culture you’re visiting, allowing Americans and Europeans to experience each other in meaningful, memorable ways.”
For more information, go to Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door website, visit the travel center at 130 4th Ave. N,, or call a425-771-8303.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel