In just a few weeks you can look forward to a new season of Rick Steves' Europe shows on public television (around October 1 for most stations). Two of our new shows will be on the Netherlands, home to some of Europe's most legendary art. One of the joys of producing our series is the chance to be all alone in Europe's great museums while they're closed to the public. In Amsterdam this past month, we were in both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum for about 90 minutes before their 10 a.m. opening time.
When my producer, cameraman, and I have a museum to ourselves, the clock is steadily ticking down the minutes before the public pours in. An escort from the museum sticks with us every minute, making sure we stay within our permitted bounds. The cameraman shoots the art every which way he can to cover the script. It's wonderful to have this private time with the art to get the up-close work done, and then stick around for a few minutes with the public, to get wide shots that show these temples of art filled with the faithful.
Invariably, I don't know exactly what I'll be saying on camera until I'm there and we survey what we're about to shoot. Then I scramble to write and memorize my lines. Writing all alone in front of Rembrandt's fabled Night Watch was a treat. Here's the bit I wrote — the first part off-camera (because it's easy to "cover" the content by showing details from the painting), and the second part on-camera (for material that's harder to illustrate, so it makes more sense for me to say it directly to the camera):
In Rembrandt's Night Watch, we see another group portrait. But rather than the standard stiff pose, this one bursts with energy. It's the local militia, which was also a fraternity of business bigwigs — a kind of Rotary Club of the 17th century. They tumble out of their hall, weapons drawn, ready to defend the city. While it's creative and groundbreaking in its composition, some of those who paid the artist — like this guy [in the shadows] — were probably none too pleased.
This art is really all about money. The Dutch worked hard and were brilliant traders, and the wealthy had plenty of money...to match their egos. Here, artists earned their living not working for the Church or a king, but by painting portraits for local big shots.
As I do this, I realize how lucky I am to be your middleman. In order to bring this great art to millions of Americans, I get to have it all to myself for a few precious minutes. Now that's a travel thrill.
Alone or not, having face-to-face moments with great art is just one of the many thrills that await you on your next trip to Europe. In this month's Travel News we'll nudge you along the right path with advice on how to get the most travel value out of your smartphone, a wee peek at some Scottish Highlands magic, the many marvelous layers of Istanbul, and (advice doesn't get more down-to-earth than this) readers' opinions on the most comfortable travel shoes for women.
Thanks for being part of my traveling family. I hope our paths can cross sometime.