Rick Steves' Travel Blog

I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick

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When filming in Europe, if the light’s good, we’re rolling. The weather report is horrible for the next couple of days in Bulgaria, so we’re shooting like there’s no tomorrow — covering as much of our script as we can before the sun sets. And here, just 15 minutes before the sun dipped behind the Balkan Mountains, we nailed one of my favorite “on cameras” of the year. We are so excited about our new episode on Bulgaria — airing with our new season of 10 episodes on public television this fall. (And you can bet a close-up of these poppies will make the final cut.) Sharing this clip, I’m a mix of exhausted, exhilarated, and thankful: thankful to be collaborating with such a great crew (Simon Griffith, Karel Bauer, and our Slavic Europe expert, Cameron Hewitt); thankful to be able to share all we’re experiencing with our public television viewers; and thankful for work that we hope helps America feel less threatened and more open to people from far away who embrace life a little differently than we do. My cultural flavor of the day? Bulgaria!


This is Day 50 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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Hooray for Кириллица (Cyrillic)! There’s nothing like a parade to celebrate the use of your particular brand of alphabet. In Bulgaria, a day comes in late May when there’s no school. All the generations gather for dances, laying bouquets on memorials, and a grand parade to celebrate their Cyrillic alphabet (which is also a celebration of their language and their culture). We’re in the city of Kazanlak, and today it’s all about those medieval missionary monks (Methodius and Cyril) who promoted Christianity to the Bulgarians and gave that corner of the world its alphabet — named not for Methodius … but for Cyril. Enjoy the scene as this humble town in the poorest country in the EU is filled with the simple joy of being Bulgarian. It’s fun, as an American, to be reminded that people across our globe treasure their heritage every bit as much as we do.


This is Day 49 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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This clip captures the simple joy of just being out on a Sunday afternoon in Bulgaria. I love the fact that there are songs that mean absolutely nothing to an American like me that get the local crowd, both young and old, jumping onto the dance floor. This one was a real favorite. Enjoying this scene in Sofia, it occurred to me, I didn’t need no stinkin’ folk show on some tourist stage. This was the real thing. Scenes like this demonstrate that, even in the poorest country in the EU, there’s an abundance of joy. And sharing in that joy is one of the beauties of travel.

(Notice also the joyful woman — who I just had to dance with — for whom dancing is clearly a fountain of youth.)


This is Day 48 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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Plovdiv is to Bulgaria what Krakow is to Poland: It’s the historic capital and the most enjoyable city (even though the capital city — Sofia or Warsaw — is much bigger and more consequential). Plovdiv has ankle-breaker cobbles, a fun little foodie/hipster zone, and a great paseo vibe on its long pedestrian boulevard. Like cities are doing across Europe, it has artfully incorporated its archaeological sites into its modern, people-friendly layout. The layers are fun to ponder: Under the happy 2016 ambience is a stern Communist shell; an Ottoman-era mosque; and finally a racecourse where, 2,000 years ago, chariots careened around this corner. Whenever I’m here, I find myself wondering why most Americans don’t give Bulgaria a second thought. Sure, it’s got the alphabet and the religion and the Slavic blood of “Mother Russia.” But the dreams and the aspirations are facing West — a reason to encourage us to travel East.


This is Day 47 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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From time to time, we share a random video to fuel your travel dreams. Today, we’re sharing this clip from my TV episode about Belgium. Join me as I visit a Bruges museum that displays masterpieces by the great Flemish painter Hans Memling. In the St. John Altarpiece, Memling shows us the full range of his palette, from medieval grace to Renaissance realism to avant-garde surrealism…all in a luxurious setting somewhere between Bruges and heaven.

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When ideologies change so do the statues on the square. And with the end of the Cold War about 25 years ago, statues from Vilnius to Varna came tumbling down. Bulgaria, so subservient to Mother Russia throughout its 45-year-long communist nightmare, had more than its share of these propaganda statues. And many of them fill the backyard of the art museum in its capital city, Sofia.

I remember visiting the tomb of Georgi Dimitrov (the father of the Bulgarian Communist Party) here in Sofia back in the day. It was like going to a mini-wannabe Lenin’s Tomb. Today, no one even thinks of him. And his statue is just another face in this stony junkyard of propaganda.

I love to visit places like this and think of politics — compromise, diversity, respect, democracy, pluralism — and the treasure we have in our freedom. Here’s a quick tour.


This is Day 46 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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When filming in Europe we very rarely accept invitations for fancy gatherings or meals from local officials or VIPs. (In Tehran, working on our Iran special a few years ago, we even said no thanks to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who invited us to meet with him.) It just gets in the way of our work. But I love Bulgaria, so we made an exception when the US ambassador to Bulgaria, Eric Rubin, invited us for dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful evening in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital) with Ambassador Rubin, his wife Nicole, and his staff. It was a more casual dinner than their norm, and we (especially my East Europe co-author, Cameron Hewitt, who’s joined us for this shoot) enjoyed a fascinating evening “wonking out” with Eastern Europe experts.

While so many Americans are cynical these days about our civil servants, we came away thankful that we have smart, experienced, and hard-working people like Ambassador Rubin and his staff. They are dedicated to maintaining stability in this complicated corner of our shaky world. The thought that someone as experienced as Rubin could be replaced by a new president with a political appointment (a crony or fund-raiser) who had no previous experience or interest in that country (as often happens) is heartbreaking. Ambassador Rubin assured me that it generally happens in the nicer posts (Norway or Ireland, for example) where the cronies would enjoy living — rather than the tougher, more challenging posts like Somalia or Pakistan. (Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, for example, was sent to Japan rather than Kuwait.)

I felt funny shooting a video in his living room. But I wanted to share with you a quick look at the evening and the lovely place where the USA entertains in Bulgaria. By the way, Ambassador Rubin is the gregarious guy with the brown shirt gesturing at the end of this clip.


This is Day 45 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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Hello Bulgaria. I have an affinity for Bulgaria — so overlooked and underappreciated…and so charming in a Slavic way. In my student days I spent lots of time exploring Bulgaria and its capital city Sofia: playing chess in the park, watching paranoid people huddled on street corners talking sports and wishing they could talk politics, seeing locals dutifully lining up to visit waxy figures in public mausoleums. Today, I’m back in Sofia in those same parks where people still gather and the old guys still play chess. But, while it’s still one of Europe’s poorest countries, Bulgaria is free and, step-by-step, building a new prosperity.

I finished this video with a bandstand in the distance where little schoolgirls were dancing to the latest pop tune. Only later was I reminded that this is the exact spot where the mausoleum of Bulgaria’s first communist dictator, Georgi Dimitrov, once stood. This is where the grandparents of those little dancers spent a good part of their rare vacations lining up to view Dimitrov’s embalmed body — the Bulgarian version of Lenin’s Tomb.

(Hold on — this clip is as smooth as a piggyback ride. We’re just kicking off a wild ride through Bulgaria and Romania.)


This is Day 44 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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Cameron Hewitt (my wonderful co-author and fellow guidebook researcher) is ruining Lucca. That’s my job: to take an undiscovered, untouristy gem and then tell the world all about it. Cameron’s just done that with Italy’s Lucca (just a stone’s throw from Pisa) in an insightful way supported by delicious photos as only Cameron does. Sure — it’s just everyday, Old World Italy with no famous art masterpieces; it’s not on anyone’s bucket list…that’s the whole idea.

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Cameron is reporting on his European travels in tandem with me this spring on his blog. If you enjoy Cameron’s take on Europe, be sure to also “like” his Facebook page — he’ll be reporting from Salzburg and the Austrian Alps before meeting up with me and our TV crew in Bulgaria and Romania. Don’t miss out on Cameron’s keen insights.

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Cannabis lounge

I was in a cannabis club sharing marijuana jokes with a table of friends in Madrid. One girl referred to her boyfriend as a “kangaroo.” I asked why and she told me.

Spaniards call potheads “kangaroos” because when the police come, they stow their joints – not in pockets which can be legally searched – but inside their underpants where the police can’t go without a warrant – hence the nickname “kangaroo.” (In Spain you actually need a warrant to search someone’s underwear.) This quick stash is done so routinely by so many people here that, over time and with evolution, Spaniards may develop a kangaroo-like pouch just below their bellies.


This is Day 43 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

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