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

  • We are monitoring this blog carefully for inappropriate posts. Before you post, read our Community Guidelines.

Our crew is heading home after two busy weeks of filming (first in Italy, then in Greece — since Orthodox Easter was a week later than Western Christian Easter this year). Meanwhile, our second crew shot Easter festivities in Spain and Slovenia. Our challenge now is to squeeze all of the amazing footage we collected into 60 minutes. We’ll do it…and it promises to be an hour that informs, entertains, and inspires — as I hope you’ve come to expect from public television. Watch for it during Easter season, 2016.

 

greek salads.JPGWhen filming in Greece, our crew loves the Greek salads. The waiters respond with wonder when each of us orders a salad. When we asked our guide if we did something wrong, she pointed out that each salad came with serving spoons; they were designed to be shared. Remember: In Greece, most dishes are meant to be eaten family-style.

 

 

lamb not on spit.JPGIn Greece, Easter is not Easter without lamb roasted on a spit. Wandering through a village, it seemed every family was roasting an entire lamb. I’ll not forget watching the lamb go limp when our host withdrew the skewer. He then laid it across a chopping block, pulled out a big cleaver, and, in about two minutes, reduced the entire roasted lamb to two platters of meat — watch out for the bones!

 

 

square with explosion.JPGThe finale of Holy Week is celebrated the moment midnight strikes, announcing the arrival of Easter Sunday. The town square is packed, and the bishop spreads the “light from Jerusalem” as every candle is lit. He declares, “Christ is risen!” Deafening firecrackers light the square behind the silhouetted crowd, everyone shares the traditional “Easter kiss of love,” and — candles still flickering in hand — they all head home for a giant feast. (Impressed as we have been with all of this, the Greeks seem impatient with all the Easter-related rituals.)

 

 

long service.JPGGreek Orthodox services are very long if you come from a Catholic or Protestant tradition. And there’s little interaction. Father Dionysis explained, “We stand when we pray because when you stand, your entire body participates.”

 

 

IMG_3057.JPGHere’s my hardworking crew for the Greece shoot: cameraman Karel Bauer, our wonderful local Greek guide Patty Staikou, and producer Simon Griffith.

 

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Heart of the World

For me, a strong symptom of getting older is being thrilled with the thoughtful and transformational travels of young Americans. That’s one reason why I’m so excited about (and proud of) my niece, Nicolina, and her adventures in India. I’ve linked to Nicolina’s blogs in the past as she paints her love of life on distant and dusty corners of our planet. Currently she is storming the small towns and megalopolises of India with her “Hearts of the World” project. In humble places she brings poor children, who have little access to art, the supplies, tools, instruction, and inspiration necessary to spill their inner selves onto templates of anatomically correct hearts. After her adventure, she’ll share her favorite murals at an art show in New York City. She’s reporting from India now at nicolinaart.tumblr.com and, when you follow Nicolina’s travels, you’ll understand why India is my favorite country and why I’m so inspired by my niece. Please, follow along as Nicolina brings Hearts of the World to India.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Just before midnight on Easter Saturday, Nafplio’s main square fills with people. The bishop gives a blessing and declares that Christ is risen. Then the candlelight (which came to Nafplio from Jerusalem via Athens, as it does each Easter) is brought out and sparks a sea of flickering flames, as it spreads from candle to candle. At midnight, huge firecrackers make the square feel like some Middle East disaster before fireworks light up the sky. (Church facades in villages all over Greece are literally pockmarked with these celebratory Easter explosions.) Finally, everyone shares the traditional Easter kiss of love before heading home for a huge after-midnight feast. For weeks after Easter, Greeks will still be greeting each other with “Christ is risen!” (Christos Anesti!).

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Filming little kids can be a wonderful experience. But for our crew, it’s never been quite as delightful as last week, when we shot a sequence with little Evalina with her godparents. Even with a strange film crew in the living room, she was perfectly at ease. And when we needed to repeat a scene, she did it exactly the same way.

In this video clip, you’ll see our guide Patty keeping the yelping dog quiet outside, while beautiful Evalina receives (for the third time) her Easter gift of a big chocolate egg and a candle. With this candle, she’ll join in the ritual lighting of candles at midnight as Easter Sunday arrives. The candles have nice little gifts attached — in this case, earrings.

Leaving their house, our hosts bid us Kali Anastasi — “Have a good Resurrection!”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Last week, I enjoyed filming Easter traditions in Greece for an upcoming public television special. Here are some of the vivid images that we captured.

By the way, many Americans are not traveling in Greece these days because of this country’s economic woes. I find this totally illogical. I’ve been here for a week, and let me tell you: The traveler is barely aware of the economic crisis. Rather, the main impressions I’ll take away from this trip are about the importance of health, family, friends, and embracing life.

red egg eye.JPGIn Greece, Easter eggs are dyed deep red, symbolizing the blood of Christ shed at the Crucifixion. You can buy packets of blood-red dye at any store. On Easter Sunday at the big family feast, loved ones will crack their eggs together. The person whose egg doesn’t crack enjoys good luck in the following year.

 

dying egg.JPGIt’s a custom for godparents to have a little quality time with their godchildren at Easter. Why not decorate eggs? We filmed a delightful moment as this godmother lovingly helped her sweet godchild in the kitchen.

 

ostrich egg.JPGEven more than Western Christian churches, Greek Orthodox churches are slathered in symbolism. In our little Nafplio church, ostrich eggs hung from the chandeliers. Of course, eggs are a part of any Easter celebration — secular or religious. Easter is celebrated this time of year because it has pagan, pre-Christian, “end of winter, start of spring” roots.  This ostrich egg may be precious, but like any old egg, it symbolizes how, just as life comes from an egg, life also comes with the Resurrection of Christ.

 

easter bunnies.JPGIn our script, we mention how Easter is likely designed to replace the pagan spring festival of the fertility goddess Eostra. And Eostra’s sidekick was a rabbit — a very fertile critter, and the reason why we still have the Easter Bunny today. Here in Greece, I didn’t see a bunny anywhere, until I spotted these two guys on our last day.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Celebrating Easter in Greece is an unforgettable experience. On Good Friday evening in Nafplio, it seems the entire town turns out for what is essentially a grand funeral procession. As pallbearers navigate the winding back lanes, flames flicker on faces, and grannies look down from balconies, you feel the centuries of tradition going strong. Candlelit choirs sing of how the Virgin Mary mourned (“Life is sweet, I’ve lost my son, my sorrow is too much to bear”).

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




Here are a few more photos from my recent TV shoot in Greece — one of several countries included in my upcoming Rick Steves’ European Easter public television special.

The Easter greeting here in Greece, “Kalo Pascha,” literally means “good passing” — a passing from sadness (the Crucifixion) to happiness (the Resurrection). I was told, “It mixes together, like births come with pain.”

Most of these photos were snapped in the middle of the night, as Good Friday was just starting. On Good Friday, the faithful fill the church as if attending a funeral. You’ll notice lots and lots of flowers. As flowers are an important part of any Greek burial (they’re tossed into the grave with the dirt), the priest scatters flowers upon the symbolic tomb of Christ. He then ritualistically showers the entire congregation with flowers. (Tracking the priest with our cameraman, I found myself in an April shower of petals, and folded my hands prayerfully. Later I saw that the more appropriate response was to just have fun and enjoy the moment.)

Be sure to click on each image below to learn more about Good Friday rituals in the Greek Orthodox faith.

christ on cross.JPGOn Maundy Thursday, Jesus and his apostles have their last peaceful moments together at the Last Supper. Many Greek Orthodox hardly sleep that night, as the crucifix is decorated with flowers.

 

candle boys.jpgOn Good Friday morning, a service is held as the priest removes Christ from the cross. When it passes behind the iconostasis, the figure is replaced with a shroud bearing the image of Jesus. This is paraded through the church on its way to a symbolic burial. These boys with candles lead the way.

 

epitaph adoration.JPGAfter the shroud is placed in the ceremonial tomb (or epitaph), people line up to kiss it.

 

epitaph leaves church.JPGWith huge emotion and commotion, the epitaph is carried out of the church and into the city…and the Good Friday procession begins.

 

people in procession.JPGIt seemed the entire city was out, young and old, walking with the epitaph. Choirs sang, and old-timers looked on from balconies — their candles lit in worshipful solidarity. It was a timeless experience.

 

people pack square.JPGThree churches all paraded their respective epitaphs through Nafplio. All of the processions met on the main square, where the bishop (who happened to have the longest, whitest beard of all) gave a blessing. People then dispersed to await the Resurrection.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the events of Good Friday begin late Thursday night, and proceed step by step with elaborate rituals and incense-filled services. This clip captures the intensity.

On Good Friday morning, a service is held during which the priest removes Christ from the cross. Christ is covered in a shroud and carried through the congregation. Disappearing behind the iconostasis, the body re-emerges as an image on a shroud. The priest carries the shroud to be placed in a flower-bedecked tomb. As flowers are a big part of any Greek burial, the priest strews flowers upon Christ, and then showers petals on all gathered. In this clip, notice the empty cross and the flower-covered tomb awaiting the arrival of Jesus’ shroud.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




IMG_3054.JPG
Our Easter special for public television is in the can. We finished shooting on Eastern Orthodox Easter — which was this past Sunday — in Nafplio, Greece.

For our filming, we were blessed to find the friendliest Greek Orthodox priest, Father Dionysis, running the town’s amazing little Church of Panagia (Mary Above All Saints). Our first day was spent scouting, making connections, and getting the religious rituals sorted out.

A fun part of my work is to give another culture meaning so it becomes less foreign to an American visitor. Without a little context, Greek Orthodox ritual, music, and worship can look like ZZ Top at a séance. But, as with most things, once you understand it, you can see the beauty in it.

I like to ask Orthodox priests why they wear long beards. Father Dionysis said, “Orthodox priests wear long beards as a sign of wisdom, experience, and respect.” (In Bosnia’s Republika Srpska a few years ago, when I asked a long-bearded priest, he joked, “It’s to frighten Americans.”)

I think Eastern Orthodox Christianity seems foreign to many Western sensibilities because we in the West strive to be more cerebral. In the East, people allow the brain to take a back seat to the soul, heart, and emotions. Father Dionysis explained that Orthodoxy is not an ideology, but a feeling. He told me, “You look at the sky with eyes of the earth. An Orthodox Christian looks at the earth with eyes of the sky.”

As we left, he bid us goodbye saying (in his tiny English), “Forever happy.”

 

Father Dionysis

Some Orthodox Christians refer to non-Orthodox as “those who have yet to enjoy the incense.” Father Dionysis explained that every aroma comes with its own philosophy. Sorting through his various incense powders, he explained that during the service on Holy Saturday (after the Crucifixion but before the Resurrection), a change in the aroma would usher in the transition from Crucifixion sorrow to Resurrection joy. After all, worship is for all the senses. The entire body participates.

 

priest aroma.JPG

Trying to illustrate how each aroma elicits a distinct emotional impact, Father Dionysis asked us to inhale one that was “the Passion and the Resurrection.” In this shot, our local guide, Patty, gets a whiff of something smoky — “of fire, symbolizing the heart in flames so the prayer has a special warmth.”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




IMG_2990.JPG

 

In an effort to add some whimsy to the stiff legalese on the copyright page of our guidebooks, for years I’ve inserted a little attempt at humor into the “we accept no responsibility for injury sustained by anyone using this guidebook” line. I think these could be much funnier, and I would love some help.

Here’s a list of the lines currently used in each of our guidebooks. If you can improve on any of these, fire away! Please name the book, and limit your comment to 2-3 words — for example, “Czech Republic, stinky cheese.”

  • Amsterdam & the Netherlands: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad herring, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Barcelona: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, soggy tapas, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Belgium: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad chocolate, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Best of Europe/Europe Through the Back Door: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, loose stools, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Budapest: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad goulash, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Croatia and Slovenia: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad burek, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Eastern Europe: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad borscht, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • France/Provence/Paris: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, soggy crêpes, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Germany: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad strudel, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Great Britain/England/London: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, mushy peas, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Ireland: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, rotten potatoes, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Istanbul: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad baklava, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Italy/Rome/Florence/Venice: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, overcooked pasta, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Mediterranean/Northern European Cruise Ports: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, seasickness, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Portugal: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad cod, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Prague: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad beer, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Scandinavia: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad herring, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Scotland: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, kilt malfunction, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Spain: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, soggy paella, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Switzerland: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, cold fondue, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.
  • Vienna: they accept no responsibility for loss, injury, stale strudel, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book.

Thanks a lot!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest