Europe offers plenty of thrills and chills

Europe offers plenty of thrills and chills for the adventurous traveler
BY RICK STEVES Published: April 1, 2012
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Adventure travel continues to be a major trend in the tourism industry, and while I'm not going to suggest you drop everything to climb the Matterhorn, Europe has plenty of thrills and chills to carbonate a stodgy vacation.

Over the years, I've tried windsurfing at Spain's Costa del Sol, mountain biking in Switzerland's Berner Oberland, surfing in Munich's English Garden, glacier-walking in Norway, and hut-hopping in the Italian Dolomites.

Last summer I learned that — even if I wasn't blessed with wings — I've got an abundance of hot air, and you can fly quite well with little more than that. I've always loved Cappadocia in central Turkey, so I took a hot-air balloon ride over the fairy-chimney formations of that exotic landscape. From the moment our basket slipped into the sky, I gazed in wonder, mesmerized at the erosion-shaped countryside.

Arguably the best hot-air balloon experience in the world is reason enough to get up at 4:30 a.m., spending $200 for a morning float above the rock formations. As I stood in the basket of my balloon, the rhythmic bursts of flame punctuated the captain's jokes while warming my wide eyes. Illogically, the stripes on his epaulets made me feel safe as we lifted off.

If you want to be more grounded, go to the Alps to take a wild ride on a summer luge. It's a quintessential alpine experience. You take a lift to the top of a mountain, grab a wheeled sled-like cart, and scream back down the mountainside on a banked course made of concrete or metal. Then you take the lift back up and start all over again.

Operating the sled is simple: Push the stick forward to go faster, pull back to apply the brake. Novices find out quickly their personal speed limits. Most are cautious on their first run, speed demons on their second, and bruised and bloody on their third.

A woman once showed me her travel journal illustrated with her husband's dried, five-inch-long luge scab. He had disobeyed the only essential rule of luging: Keep both hands on your stick. To avoid getting into a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, let the person in front of you get way ahead before you start. You'll emerge from the course with a windblown hairdo and a smile-creased face.

A handy summer track, the Tegelberg Luge, is near Neuschwanstein, “Mad” King Ludwig's castle in Bavaria (www.tegelbergbahn.de). In Austria, try the Biberwier Sommerrodelbahn between Reutte and Innsbruck (www.bergbahnen-langes.at), which has the longest run in Tirol.



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