New Rick Steves' Europe Season 7 launched October 2012
I'm happy to announce that the seventh season of my Rick Steves' Europe TV series — 14 new episodes — debuts on public television stations all across the USA beginning in October. Two years in the making, this season's theme is: Europe's greatest cities and how to fully enjoy them.
This fall you'll see three new shows on Rome, two on Venice, a pair on Florence and Tuscany, two on Paris, one on London, and a show on North England's Lake District — plus an all-new, three-part Travel Skills Special.
This season we'll show you how travel can be a great teacher. Resurrecting the rubble of ancient Rome and marveling at the empire's exquisite art provides a deeper appreciation for a city eternally bursting with Baroque and busy with life. In Renaissance Florence, looking into the eyes of Michelangelo's David, climbing Brunelleschi's dome, and eating like a Medici helps us understand how Florentine pride remains strong to this day. And the sights of Paris — from Napoleon's tomb and the majestic Louvre to thunderous pipe organs and cemeteries filled with celebrities from every generation — stir the historian and Francophile hiding in so many travelers.
Wherever you travel, the key is to connect with locals. In each city, my crew and I made it a point to take our camera into rustic neighborhoods. They caught me taste-testing the last cookie bakery in Rome's Trastevere, and peering over the shoulder of an artisan pounding gold leaf onto a halo in Florence's Oltrarno. We joined a beret-capped student in his vintage 2CV for a midnight joyride through floodlit Paris, waded through the crypt of a flooding church at high tide in Venice, and celebrated the mother of all revolutions with a big, patriotic Bastille Day bang in Paris.
The philosophy behind all my travel shows is: you can do this. Our ethic is to never film anything that viewers can't do themselves. So, armed with the basic skills and a determination to travel smart, everything you see in Rick Steves' Europe is within your reach. I've packed these fundamental travel skills into the final three episodes of the season, following my favorite all-star loop through Europe (Amsterdam, the Rhine, Bavaria, Venice, Siena, Cinque Terre, the Swiss Alps, Paris, and London) as a colorful classroom in which to teach the practical skills any good traveler needs: planning a smart itinerary, eating and sleeping well, packing light, and (the most rewarding skill of all) connecting with the locals.
Join me for my new season of Rick Steves' Europe — and let's keep on traveling.
Rick Steves' Europe Season 7 Shows
Many of Rick's new, high definition Season 7 shows replace ones that were filmed in standard definition more than a decade ago. In the list below, "old" refers to the original shows, which will no longer be broadcast.
Season 7 Title
Rome: Ancient Glory
Rome: Back Street Riches
Heart of the Renaissance
Florentine Delights and Tuscan Side Trips
Paris: Regal and Intimate
Paris: Embracing Life and Art
London: Historic and Dynamic
North England's Lake District and Durham
Venice: City of Dreams
Venice and its Lagoon
Travel Skills I
Travel Skills II
Travel Skills III
Here's a look at making the series:
Rick Steves' Europe: 2006
Behind the Camera: News from the Filming of Rick Steves' Europe
I just saw my director and cameraman off at the Munich airport with the raw footage for the final two shows of our upcoming season of Rick Steves' Europe. We are running down the home stretch to get all 11 shows finished for our fall 2006 national release. As we've ramped up our "new series every two years" tempo, we've been pretty busy in the TV production department. Here's the latest:
New Shows: Our newest season of 11 shows hits the airwaves this fall. We shot episodes in North Wales, Bath/York, and Edinburgh in 2005, and five Italy episodes in April and May of 2006 (Naples, Amalfi Coast/Capri, Italian Hill Towns, Tuscan Lifestyles, and Milano/Lake Como). In July, we wrapped it up by shooting episodes in Vienna and Salzburg/Hallstatt. These new shows boast stronger scripts and higher production values than ever. We are producing the new shows in high definition and in the 16:9 widescreen format from the get-go. (This means those with old 4:3 screens will see the shows "letterboxed" — with thin black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.)
The Making of: A fun extra for 2006 is a special episode called "The Making of Rick Steves' Europe," in which a second cameraman (our longtime TV editor, Steve Cammarano) filmed our crew as we shot an episode. We hope fans of the series will enjoy this candid, behind-the-scenes look at how our shows are made.
Christmas: Our Rick Steves' European Christmas special, first broadcast in late 2005, will air nationwide again this holiday season. Showing off the holiday celebrations of seven different European cultures, this special appears in two forms: as a two-hour pledge special (with exciting new yet to be seen footage) for early December, and a straight one-hour Christmas celebration. It is also available in high-definition.
High-definition: While we've been shooting our shows in high-definition (HD) for several years, we had only been "post-producing" in standard definition. Hi-def is expensive, and the audience, while growing, is still pretty small. But in 2005, we bit the beautiful bullet and finished off the HD post-production. Now public television stations are broadcasting 26 episodes in high definition, using the new widescreen format (16:9 aspect ratio rather than 4:3 — explained below). If you have an HD television, be sure to see these shows in their full glory...high definition is absolutely breathtaking.
DVDs: From a teaching point of view, I love to make the shows available in inexpensive and densely-packed DVDs. With 70 programs to mix and match (plus lots of fun DVD "extras"), our new generation of DVD offerings will include a mammoth eight-disk anthology and individual disks that cover each region very thoroughly (generally 7 or 8 episodes per $20 disk).
Classics: A couple of years ago I purchased from Small World Productions the rights to my original Travels in Europe TV series, 52 shows produced back in the 1990s. Our goal: to retire the dated and redundant episodes and spiff up the better, more current ones. From that came a new series we call Rick Steves' Europe Classics — 16 old episodes given a makeover to have a new lease on life and fit more smoothly with the current series. These episodes were the ones I personally liked that we didn't want to redo (such as Israel, Egypt, and three Turkey shows) or episodes that are of a style and freshness that still fits our more recent shows (Alps, South Spain, and Scandinavia). This updating process took lots of time and energy, but it was worth it. Stations no longer need to run two overlapping "Rick Steves" series. Instead, we now have a total of 70 episodes on the air that feel like they belong to the same cohesive family.
Vodcasts: This summer we began offering free 2-4 minute video clips from my shows online, and they've really taken off. Through the end of September, these "Rick Steves' Travel Bites" had been downloaded more than 800,000 times, mostly via iTunes. We load in a fresh one every week…they can be habit forming.
As long as we've got our talented crew (the hardworking spirit of producer/director Simon Griffith, editor Steve Cammarano, and cameramen Karel Bauer and Peter Rummel), underwriting support from American Airlines (for which we are very grateful), and the support of our traveling viewers...we've only just begun. Stay tuned for more much more Rick Steves' Europe. Happy travels!
Rick Steves' Europe: 2003
Making TV in Europe: A New Series for 2002
After spending 84 days in Europe in the last two years, we've produced 14 new programs which debut in September, 2002, across the USA on public television. Our crew of three (host / writer — me, producer / director — Simon Griffith, and cameraperson — one of three Seattle-area shooters) works six 12-hour days to shoot one 30-minute episode of "Rick Steves' Europe."
Each program starts with a 10-page script, which has about 90 "sequences" — the video equivalent of paragraphs. Covering everything in the script is like putting together a daunting puzzle.
Each sequence is either a "voice-over" (showing things that I describe) or "on camera" (showing me talking to the camera on location). Since we can't show a history bit such as, "Tired of being overrun by barbarians, peace-loving farmers from the mainland fled to the lagoon," I say that to the camera...in the lagoon.
Good TV maximizes the visual stuff and minimizes the "on camera" bits. In producing our shows, I assume people tune in to see Europe...not me talking about Europe.
For each 30-minute episode, we take home about seven hours of footage. The "post-production" process, which takes about three weeks per show, includes editing, polishing the script according to the best footage, and recording the audio track. We give a composer a rough cut of the show with our "needle drop" selections of music (existing pieces we don't have the rights to, but which show the mood we'd like the music to convey). He watches the episode and writes original material specifically for that program.
Back at home, Simon teams up with our editor, Steve Cammarano, to piece everything together. While Simon has always been in Europe overseeing every inch of footage shot, this year Steve traveled too — taking our Best of Europe tour for a quick look at Europe's most exciting stops. Now, more than ever, these shows are by travelers and for travelers.
There's big change on the horizon for TV. The future is high-definition programming (1,080 lines of resolution compared to 480 lines today) at a wider movie-screen-type format.
On our last shoot we used the new HD camera. It shows everything — the good (every Botticelli brush stroke), the bad (every wrinkle in my wardrobe), and the ugly (each bit of pesto in my teeth). To get all that detail, hi-def cameras require more light and precision focusing. But wherever we were — picking tulips, fishing for anchovies, whacking a hurling ball — it was clear the results are worth the extra effort. We produced our new shows in the current format, but when the new hi-def, wide-screen format takes hold, we'll convert our shows and pour the glories of Europe like a sunrise into your living room.
For me, TV production is exhilarating. One morning is spent taking my cameraman into a favorite art gallery and deciding just how to show off those masterpieces. At lunch I'll munch a local delicacy — for countless vicarious eaters. And that afternoon I may introduce one of my favorite Europeans to so many Americans. I'm a tour guide at heart... and this is the ultimate gig.
But because some of my favorite teaching bits just don't work on TV, it can also be frustrating. For instance, in Ireland I wanted to illustrate the great potato famine of 1845 by showing the rows of potatoes that were planted but never grew. Unfortunately, the faint 150-year old rows just didn't show up enough for TV.
For continuity reasons, I need to wear the same shirt for each six-day shoot. I eat greasy food gingerly and every few days I scrounge up an iron. Needing to be so fastidious about my "wardrobe" is far from good travel.
And only when working on our TV series do I agonize over the weather. Sunshine and blue sky make colors pop. Without good weather we have to work twice as hard. The eight shows we shot in 2001 (Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and five on Italy) are perfectly sunny. This summer, we successfully danced around generally bad weather for five shows (in Ireland and Germany). Then in Switzerland — our last show — we hit the rain that brought on the August flooding throughout central Europe.
For five days I squinted up at what should have been brilliant Alps and saw only clouds. Day after day the weatherman called tomorrow's weather "cruel." For 25 years I've brought tour groups here and never had a three-day stay completely rained out... except this time, when my "group" consisted of so many future viewers.
The bad weather inspired us to find fascinating indoor things to shoot. We feature high-altitude cheese making, a one-room school house in action, a river-powered sawmill manned by oversized garden elves, and the village volunteer firefighters learning how to rescue Heidis in distress. Our theme became "This isn't just any Alps show."
For the first time in producing 80 TV shows over the last decade, we had to leave the cameraman behind to get the necessary glory shots. Staying on four more days, he got plenty of brilliant sunshine. Thankfully, our new Alps show will have the awesome peaks and — thanks to all that rain — an abundance of intimate cultural treats.
According to the public television network, more stations picked up our latest series than any new TV series this fall. Your local station is probably already running it. The first five episodes are in Italy. Then we head north to Amsterdam, Prague, Ireland, Germany and the lush — and ultimately sunny — Swiss Alps. We hope you enjoy the new shows.
The Line-Up: 14 New Shows
Here are the programs to watch for in the new series of Rick Steves' Europe. For more information, call your local public television station.
Venice: Serene, Decadent, and Still Kicking
The Veneto: Side Trips from Venice
Florence: City of Art
Siena and Assisi: Italy's Grand Hill Towns
The Cinque Terre: Italy's Hidden Riviera
Amsterdam and Dutch Side Trips
Prague and the Czech Republic
Dublin and Mystical Side Trips
South Ireland: Waterford to the Ring of Kerry
The Best of West Ireland: Dingle, Galway, and the Aran islands
Berlin: Resilient, Reunited, and Reborn
Germany's Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg
Munich and the Foothills of the Alps
The Best of the Alps: Switzerland's Jungfrau Region
Rick Steves' Europe: 2001
Behind the Camera: 2001 Series
We survived the big earthquake in Turkey, hitch-hiked with the postman in Scotland, were arrested by military police on the Iraqi border, and made headlines in Bulgaria and the Netherlands. Whatever it took, my crew and I brought home the footage for a fifth season — 16 new travel shows.
I've spent 100 days on the road over the last two years producing eight hours of travel programming for public television — the biggest project and the hardest work of my life. Why? Because, I'm a tour guide at heart. And this series, for me, is like leading the ultimate tour.
The first step in producing this new series was travel — and lots of it. I learned that raw barnacles are eaten like corn nuts with beer in Portugal; anyone can "toss the log" at Scottish clan gatherings; and bent old monks escort visitors past thousands of skeletons in Palermo's Capuchin crypt. From grease wrestlers in Kurdistan to the Polka King of Slovenia to robotic drink trolleys in trendy London eateries, we collected the most vivid travel moments in destinations not covered in my first 52 shows.
Watching the shows with friends, I always wish I could take them behind the scenes to show them the "glamour" of filming. I wear the same shirt for the six days it takes to shoot each episode — to minimize "continuity" concerns. I can't get sick, develop a cold sore, or even speckle my "wardrobe" (tough when slurping pasta feels so right).
Each program starts as a ten-page script and six days allotted to film it. In a good 12-hour day, we shoot what will become five minutes of TV. Producing an episode is like putting together a huge puzzle. Filming the last piece is always a high-five.
I narrate the script in two different ways. If we have interesting visuals, I do a "voice-over" (without appearing on camera). In segments that are short on visuals, I talk directly to the camera. These "on camera" sequences (which I memorize) can involve 20 takes because of all the variables. My performance, the background action, noise, light, and photographer's moves all need to be right simultaneously.
Shooting in sunny places, like Italy, is most efficient. In bad weather we work twice as long for half the quality.
If the sun's behind me and my face is backlit, our producer whips out the big reflector — a frisbee-sized white disk that "phoops" out to the size of a hula hoop. My face becomes as bright as the sky. But, suddenly, we look like a Hollywood crew and, invariably, a crowd gathers – complicating our work.
We shot this series with our smallest crew yet. Rather than a team of four, we divvied up the driver/sherpa/support duties and managed with only three: me, a photographer, and a producer.
With a tiny crew, we fit into one car and grabbed every opportunity that popped up. Driving into Scotland on a rare day off, I was on the cell phone with local tourist boards and discovered a small town clan gathering in progress. Though exhausted, we grabbed the good weather and shot the swirling kilts before even finding our hotel. Checking in late that night, we had footage that made Scotland one of our best new shows.
Producer Simon Griffith is the behind-the-scenes hero of our new series. A New Zealander living in Seattle, he was one of the original "Bill Nye the Science Guy" producers. Now, rather than toting smoking beakers, Simon lugs a 30-pound tripod in 100-degree heat to the top of St. Peter's basilica... just in case it's needed. With Simon — both a great traveler and a great writer — our script evolves as we go. Between shows, Simon and I have a tradition called "scrubbing the script," in which we spend the four-hour drive to our next destination making every word earn its keep.
Simon directs with a Kiwi flair. When we're on take 21 and getting nowhere, he hollers, "Let's knock this one on the head, mate!" And when things are going well, it's "a box of fluffy ducks!" He directed each day on the road and oversaw the editing – another 100 days back in Seattle.
Simon knows when lively becomes goofy, when travel philosophy becomes preachy, and when a hard opinion becomes a rant. If our work generates any trophies they belong on Simon's mantle.
Simon's vision becomes TV only with the dedicated artistry of our editor, Steve Cammarano. Steve's attention to detail squeezes the most out of the excellent photography of our "shooters."
In our new series, we're wowed by Europe's biggies – the plush museums of Paris, the pageantry of royal London, and the newly-restored wonders of Caesar's Rome. But we also venture well off the beaten path. We ponder the spot where many believe Noah docked on Mount Ararat, ride a classic Vespa through boisterous Sicilian markets, and meet a surly Father Superior in a mountain-top monastery in Bulgaria.
Like good travel, our new series is more than a montage of great sights. It's people and experiences. We get cricket lessons from schoolboys on England's south coast, roll rounds of cheese the size of truck tires with Parisian chefs, and learn to relax in the buff with Black Forest spa-goers. Discovering the best cream puffs in Portugal, scones in Cornwall, and holy cannoli in Sicily — we balance Europe's culture with its cuisine.
As always, we learned as we traveled. We quickly updated our scripts when Rome surprised us with pedestrian streets rather than traffic jams; Dubrovnik sparkled without a trace of the recent war; and Scottish Highlanders refused to eat their haggis.
After visiting 13 exciting new destinations, this Rick Steves' Europe series practically propels you to Europe with three special travel skills shows. Today's Europe is different from Europe of the '90s. Smart travel takes more than packing light and wearing moneybelts. Travel now comes with museum reservations, bullet trains, PIN phone cards, dozens of railpasses, and thieves dressed like tourists. If you know the latest, exploring Europe can be more efficient, affordable, and fun than ever.
This series is closed-captioned, edited with the latest digital gear, and has new music composed specifically for each episode. And you can read all the scripts online on each TV show's page.
For years, our Travels in Europe programs have been carried by virtually every public television station. This new series is topping that by breaking out of the weekend strip of "how-to" shows and earning prime time slots across the USA. (Call your station for the schedule.)
Your public television station is the next best thing to a plane ticket. And once again, you and I are travel partners. All aboard for more travel fun.
Travels In Europe: 1999
Behind the Camera 1997: Filming the Fourth Series
Stepping into the ramshackle elevator of our Cairo hotel, I asked the boy who ran it if he spoke English. He said, "Up and down." I said, "Down." He babied the collapsing door shut and flipped the brass crank, expertly stopping within an inch of the ground floor. We stepped into Cairo and began to film.
Egypt is one of 13 new "Travels in Europe®" episodes which began airing on public television TV stations throughout the USA in November 1997.
After shooting Egypt's famous ancient sights, we biked into a village just south of King Tut's tomb. Rural Egyptians welcomed our camera. Proud women led us through mud-brick homes fluttering with chickens and pigeons. A little girl walked by, balancing a headful of grass — salad for the family water buffalo.
This is the real Egypt we set out to film...how the majority of Egypt's 60 million people live. The Egyptian tourist board provided us with a police escort, which we assumed was protecting us from local fundamentalists. It was in the village that we learned they were also protecting something else — Egypt's image. Suddenly we were bargaining with our own "security guards" to let us film calloused peasants whose lives seemed closer to Biblical times than ours.
Israel — just a quick flight from Cairo — was next. Admittedly, with the recent headlines, I was a little nervous. While the security surrounding our El Al flight was suffocating, once we were in Israel, the tension was gone.
In Jerusalem, pedestrian zones are filled with people strolling...teenage girls gabbing on cell phones with their spare hand slipped under their boyfriend's rifle strap. Soldiers — just teenagers — keep their weapons slung over their shoulder even when off duty. After a few days, the Hebrew neon, guns, and cell-phone-chic of Israel felt normal.
Israel's a complicated country. What you can film depends on who you are. For instance, while a Jewish crew could never get permission to film inside the Muslim Dome of the Rock, we Christians got the green light — and a cup of tea to boot. All my life I've seen photos of only Jewish men worshipping at their most holy sight, the Wailing Wall. This is because a male photographer can't get near the women's section. Our photographer was a woman...so our show features female heads bobbing prayerfully at the wall.
For us the "land of miracles" was the land of surprises. Stepping into the "shabbat elevator" of our skyscraping hotel, we stopped automatically at each floor. The strictest Jews don't operate machines on their Sabbath — kosher hotels come with elevators that get you where you want to go without pushing a button.
A Texan who fell in love with an Israeli and joined her kibbutz took us on a walk through his adopted home. He joked that a lazy Christian could marry a Jew and raise their kids Muslim to get three days of rest a week: the Friday, Saturday and Sunday sabbaths. As we wrapped up our Israel shoot, he waved "Shalom y'all."
We arrived in Paris 938 days before the year 2000. At least that's what we learned as we turned the corner ready to film a classic view of the Eiffel Tower. Shining across its first level, a giant banner of lights read "J-938"...the "jour" or day countdown has begun. When we're filming, anything dating our work is bad news. Thankfully, grand views were clean from other directions.
To capture the Parisian art of urban living, we joined the owner of our favorite Left Bank restaurant on her morning market chores. At a butcher shop she picked up a duck, examined its feet, and said, "Ah, callouses from running in the dirt...this will be tasty." In the cheese shop she held a blob of stinky cheese close to her nose. Taking a long whiff, she looked up and said, as if agreeing with God, "Yes, it smells like the feet of angels."
Later we piled into her car and cinched our seatbelts as she dove directly into the six-lane traffic tornado which constantly swirls around the Arc de Triomphe. Wedged into a backseat corner, our photographer filmed an avalanche of near misses as Francoise calmly narrated the rules of the Parisian road. "We have a priority on the right. So, if I know who is there, this is easy..."
Next we featured France's Alsace. Standing on the German border like a flower-child referee, Alsace changes hands after each war. It's a fascinating blend of two great cultures: French and German, Catholic and Protestant, a romantic joy of living with just enough discipline. Restaurants serve sauerkraut with fine sauces.
The people actually speak a dialect of German called Alsatian. Many family names are German, but in the wake of World War II, parents preferred French first names. To prove the point, we filmed a montage of locals introducing themselves...Maurice Flatz, Monique Freudenstadt, Domenique Freyburger.
In Reims our script called for building a Gothic cathedral out of 13 people. Our budget of $300 for this stunt was plenty as a quick trip to McDonald's netted us 13 strapping French lads happy to earn a quick 100 francs each. We lined them up: six "buttresses" supporting six "columns" with arms raised high to make pointed arches. And as the triumphant "spire" hoisted himself high above his friends, I had the teaching thrill of explaining to the camera the fundamentals of Gothic.
We closed the show on a bubbly note in nearby Epernay, the birthplace of Champagne. It was here in 1670 that the monk Dom Perignon ran through the abbey, shouting, "Brothers, come quickly, I'm drinking stars!"
Next we headed to family-friendly England, joined by my wife Anne, our seven-year-old Jackie and ten-year-old Andy.
Getting the kids to act was tough. After four takes, it made no sense to them to eat food that had gone cold. And doing it with a smile was out of the question. When I asked Andy to "look happy," he said, "But Dad, that's not honest." But a child doesn't need to be an actor to enjoy England. Poling a punt down the Cam River, swinging from the torture rack in Warwick's castle dungeon, and tooting whistles in York's world-class railway museum, smiles came naturally.
Surviving Europe's greatest collection of white-knuckle rides, our children declared Blackpool "better than Disneyland." As I was strapped into the world's highest and fastest roller coaster, the attendant bragged, "You can see the Isle of Man from the top." All I could see was my hand pressing my glasses to my face as we hurtled down the summit.
Celebrating our survival, we asked the grandmotherly waitress who brought us our fish and chips for advice on a good night out. She raved about the latest rage in Blackpool — "Funny Girls." This nightly burlesque-in-drag act did its best to bring our show to a new cultural low.
Wiping the lipstick off our zoom lens, we moved from incredibly tacky Blackpool to the divinely pristine Lake District. The Cumbrian Lake District was the home of great poets and writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Potter.
In these remote valleys, sons follow in their father's muddy footsteps, leaving school as soon as possible to prepare to take over the farm. Market trends are killing the small farmers, but wives make the equation work by running farmhouse B&Bs. At our photographer's request, a father, son, and revved-up dog rounded up the sheep and pulled one out to shear. After 10 minutes the skinny sheep ran free. After folding and tying up its fleece, the farmer tossed the heavy bundle to me, asking, "What would this fetch in the market?" I guessed ten pounds ($15). He said "Only a quid" ($1.50).
Our England shows featured "the rainiest month in a century." This caused us to scramble. Drying off our camera in a steamy pub, a hiker — chipper in his woolens — reminded us, "In England there's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing." "Rain mixed with bright spells" was a weather forecast to celebrate.
At Durham Cathedral, two vergers spent 15 minutes in an animated debate over fine points in our script: Was St. Cuthbert a scholar or a missionary? Was the sanctuary the church provided to medieval criminals a right or a privilege? Were the pointed arches early Gothic or proto-Gothic? We filmed the cathedral in glorious action — during an evensong service. And our verger-tuned script was thoroughly blessed.
We shot three shows on Scandinavia. After sailing through sunny Denmark, I started our Stockholm shoot in trouble. Our photographer was angry at me for putting us on the night train to Stockholm rather than flying. Thankfully, on our first afternoon, he looked over the camera eyepiece and said, "Did I tell you I'm moving to Stockholm?"
In Stockholm, the queen's palace theater is famous for putting on the most authentic Baroque performances in Europe. On creaky floorboards, under candlelight, with lutes and a harpsichord accompaniment, we saw "Euridice." From 1600, it was the first opera ever performed. I bet it's the slowest as well. Like ghosts on Valium, the performers seemed to enjoy keeping fidgety Americans in their seats. Of the seven hours of footage we bring home for each program, only 30 minutes makes the cut. Don't hold your breath for "Euridice."
Filming in Norway was old-home week for me. My Hans Christian Andersen-type uncle, Thor, was my pal for Oslo sightseeing. In his gentle Norsk English, he described the City Hall's mural of the Nazi occupation. Recalling the end of the war, his voice broke as he said, "Then once again, we could sing our national hymn."
In 1988, "Travels in Europe" was only a dream...52 shows in four 13-week seasons. Now, after the tireless support of my partners at Small World Productions and from so many people in public television, those 52 are done. The next best thing to a plane ticket remains public television.
Travels In Europe: 1997
Behind the Camera 1995: Filming the Third Series
Tall and proud on his decked-out horse, the little boy rode into his Turkish hometown. Ibraham was the center of almost too much attention. The entire village was converging upon his house to witness and celebrate his circumcision. And to make matters worse, there was an American film crew set up to share the event with public television viewers across the USA. As they say, "If public television doesn't do it, who will?"
I'm thrilled to bring a better understanding of faraway cultures to our country through my work with "Travels in Europe ®." Turks celebrate circumcision as a rite of passage, calling it a "wedding without in-laws." Filming Ibraham's circumcision may seem crass, but we paid for a grand day that his family otherwise would never have been able to afford. (And little Ibraham healed up just fine). The festival (squawky band, fancy horse, Ibraham's "little prince" outfit, the doctor, 200 Turkish pizzas, and all the decorations) cost $300.
This is people's travel on people's television. The travel feels real because it is. We film like I travel — as temporary locals, without lots of reservations, opening doors with smiles rather than tips. With a crew of three or four (me, a camera person, a director and often a grip/sound/light person) we shoot a 30-minute show in five days. On the sixth "day of rest" we travel and lick our wounds. It takes 78 days in Europe to film 13 shows. We shoot Beta-SP video at a 13-to-1 ratio (6.5 hours of footage to edit into a 30-minute show). Our six-year-old Ikigami camera shoots great footage but is about twice the size and weight of new cameras. Our crew per diem on our last shoot was just $60 a day for hotel rooms and meals — just as I recommend in my guidebooks.
Our filming process is intense. Six days is never enough to do all we want. The scripts are drawn from my experiences leading my Europe Through the Back Door tours and writing guidebooks. My script editor then reminds me that TV shows are not guidebooks. Between my determination to teach smart travel and my Small World Productions partners' understanding of what makes good TV, we hammer out our scripts. Each script has about a 14-minute "spine" (actual read- through time) leaving us the necessary room for creative "meadows," to capitalize on what TV people call "positive serendipity"...or to recover from "negative serendipity."
We work to capture a real travel experience. In 1993, I stepped off the train in Prague without a hotel reservation and found a dozen hustlers, carrying scrapbooks featuring their B&Bs, eager to take me home. Returning in 1994, I brief my cameraman about the action we hope to capture upon arrival. At the station, he gets off on one end of the car and I hop off at the other...just another tourist in need of a bed. Precisely as I hoped, the B&B gang is there, armed with scrapbooks, still eager to take me home. And my buddy with the big camera gets it all on video.
Each show's script is divided into "on-camera" bits (determined by lines that are hard to "cover" with other visuals) and "voice-over" bits. I give the memorized "on-camera" parts directly to the camera. The rest of the narration is usually done in a one-star hotel room draped with acoustically-correct blankets. Because of our hectic post-production schedule, the "voice-over" recording needs to be sent home with the video footage so the show can be cut together back at Small World headquarters in Seattle.
As the on-camera host, my mentor is Ringo who sang "All you gotta do is act naturally." My first shows were plagued by a distracting "eye thing" where at the end of an "on camera" my face would freeze, and looking like Steve Forbes with two glass eyeballs, I'd turn slowly away. (I now kill the "eye thing" with a Bob Dole-style blink at the end of each "on camera.")
I also took a while to accept my coach's admonition to "internalize your lines." Another problem of mine which exasperated our director was my habit of echoing comments by locals, Ed McMahon-style. As if to reward me, when I finally got over the "eye thing," started internalizing my lines, and quit "stepping on people's lines" with my echo, I was let off my audio leash. For the first series I had been tethered to the camera by a microphone cord which ran down my pants leg. (To mask that, you never saw my feet). After the first series, we invested in a wireless microphone and I was freeee.
"Continuity" is another filming bugaboo. In order to smoothly splice bits of a show together over six days of filming, I must have the same clothes on during each segment. To avoid needless confusion, I end up wearing the same shirt for six days (and ignore my cameraman's comments about how he'll pack an olfactory lens next time).
Compressing the lessons and experience of Europe Through the Back Door through a TV camera to get "Travels in Europe" is a scramble. On one particularly trying day we were arrested briefly for filming in the Rome train station and had a camera bag ripped off at the Forum...while filming a bit on the risk of theft.
Travels in Europe, tickling the traveling fancy of public TV viewers, has been a hit. It's famous in PTV fundraising circles as the third best money maker during pledge season (right up there with Lawrence Welk and the Three Tenors). Of course, that success is due to support from traveling viewers like you. Thanks for your support of our work on PTV — helping Americans see the world as a cultural yarn shop and turning them loose to weave the ultimate tapestry.
Rick's Take on Production
Rick's Take on Producing the Series
How did you get involved in television production?
In the late 1980s a Seattle production company (Small World Productions) combined their passion for travel and TV production expertise to turn the message of my guidebooks into a public television travel series. It was tough to get off the ground. But with a lot of hard work and sweat, the early shows did well and eventually public television programmers came to expect a new batch of "Travels in Europe" shows from us every two years. In 2000 I decided to produce TV shows on my own. Since then, I've done 43 "Rick Steves' Europe" shows plus "Rick Steves' European Christmas" — a PBS TV special airing this December. This past summer we filmed new episodes in Bath and York in England, plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Spain. These and a few yet-to-be-filmed shows will air in the fall of 2006.
Why do you produce shows for public television and not cable or network television?
Many TV producers have tried to lure me into the money-making world of commercial and cable television. But my audience is public television viewers and my passion is to make travel accessible and meaningful. That fits the mission of public television to a tee. I'm thankful to have public TV as my home...and you'll find my shows nowhere else.
What do you enjoy about being part of the public television world?
I think of myself as a teacher and a tour guide with a passion for helping America broaden its perspective through travel. (Only America can be outvoted in the UN 180 to 2 and think everyone else is wrong. To me, this indicates a serious need to get out and explore the world.) Public television runs my shows giving me a huge "tour group" to vicariously show around Europe. In return, I am happy to scramble with public television (spending 20 days a year on the road doing pledge drives) to help them make ends meet in this tough economic climate. As far as this taxpayer is concerned, our society would benefit greatly from more government funding public broadcasting. Then we could spend our energy generating great programming, rather than asking for financial support to pay our bills.
How do you decide which European destinations you'll cover in your shows?
My scripts are inspired by my work as a tour guide and guidebook writer. With my experience leading tours around Europe and exploring new places with my guidebook in mind, I stumble onto activities, experiences, and slices of the local culture that just scream "Put me on TV!" When I assemble an eight-page script of these great travel moments...I do.
What is your favorite country to film in?
Any place that I have something new or different to offer and local friends to buddy up with to give a more vivid and intimate look at that locale. From a nerves point of view, I like places where the sun shines (much better TV footage) and where the local tourism folks see a big camera as a friend rather than an enemy. It's interesting how some places give our crew a big warm and wide open welcome while others make it really tough to film.
What is a typical day like for you in Europe while filming?
We spend six days filming a 30-minute episode and it is a fascinating, exhilarating, and exhausting scramble from start to finish. We generally shoot from 9 a.m. until it's too dark to shoot any more. Then, about half the evenings are spent shooting after dark segments. I spend my late hours on my laptop finessing the script which evolves over the course of the shoot. We start with a carefully crafted 8 page script. But it always changes a lot as the work progresses. I love the collaboration with my producer/director Simon Griffith (who is on location for every inch of footage and then overseeing the post-production back in our Seattle-area offices) and with our camera-person. I work hard because this is my wonderful opportunity to share a favorite slice of Europe with what I think of as a giant tour group watching from the comfort of their own living rooms. My crew is just as committed to the quality of our work and for that I am really thankful.
To interview Rick, please contact:
Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door
130 Fourth Avenue North
Edmonds, WA 98020