Rick Steves Travel Blog: Blog Gone Europe

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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All this week, I am sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the production of my new public television special, “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.” In this clip, I found some fellowship on my first night in Palestine. After dinner with my guides, I came back to my hotel and met a dozen Lutheran pastors in the lobby. They were heading into a 2,000-year-old cave, upon which the hotel was built, for a devotion service and invited me along. I was really tired but followed my current travel ethic: If an opportunity presents itself, say “Yes.”

The pastors were just finishing a multi-year Pastoral Leadership Institute program. Their theme (as taught by English church leader Mike Breen): up, in, and out (“up” is relationship with God, “in” is relationship with community, “out” is outreach beyond their immediate community). I climbed down into the cave with them and enjoyed a wonderful hour of singing, reading, and sharing.

While our image of “no room at the inn” is brick and wood, the “inn” of Bible fame was very likely a series of caves. And “no room” meant a woman about to give birth would not be welcome in the main quarters, as it was an unclean thing. Mary was sent to the manger cave where the animals hung out to give birth to Jesus.

The next day I told my guide about the wonderful evening. He said, “Yes, but if you hear it as much as me, it is annoying.” Nearly all the tourism in Palestine is religious tourism. While I would have enjoyed covering more of the Christian dimension to travel in the Holy Land, my main interest was in introducing Christians to the Muslim and Jewish heritage of the region.

The Holy Land” has already aired to great success on stations in several locations. Many other stations, such as WTTW 11 in Chicago and KCTS 9 in Seattle, are excited to air it soon. Call your local public television station to find out when you can see it too.

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All this week, I am sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the production of my new public television special, “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.” In this clip, I sat down to good food, excellent beer and lots of laughs during my first hour filming in Palestine.

Leaving Israel I took a cab to the Security Barrier, then walked through the lonely no man’s land, which reminded me of the US-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana. Once across, I hopped into one of the many Palestinian cabs waiting on the Arab side of the wall for the quick ride into downtown Bethlehem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem are just minutes apart…except for the nasty border.

I checked into my Dar Annadwa guesthouse (run by the Lutheran Church and a great place to call home in Bethlehem) and within minutes met the two guides I’d hired for my week in Palestine (Hassam Jubran and Kamal Mukarker). Organizing my time in advance was tough because I couldn’t really know just how complicated getting around would be.

Hassam and Kamal took me to a tourist-friendly restaurant called “The Tent.” It posted a “families only” sign so they could turn away rowdy young men. I guess we looked harmless enough as they let us right in.

We sat down and an impressive array of Palestinian plates appeared. We enjoyed a great meal, and planned our itinerary. The Palestinian beer, Taybeh, was excellent. And I think I laughed more in my first two hours in the West Bank than I did in the entire past week. This was a great introduction to my Palestine filming adventure.

The Holy Land” has already aired to great success on stations in several locations. Many other stations, such as WTTW 11 in Chicago and KCTS 9 in Seattle, are excited to air it soon. Call your local public television station to find out when you can see it too.

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All this week, I am sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the production of my new public television special, “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.” In this clip, we visit the the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem.

When considering the horror of the Holocaust, it’s hard to really imagine the extermination of six million people. And it’s hard to imagine that roughly a quarter of these people, slaughtered like animals, were children. The Children’s Memorial helps make it real.

The Holy Land” has already aired on stations in several locations. Many other stations, such as WTTW 11 in Chicago and KCTS 9 in Seattle, plan to air it soon. Call your local public television station to find out when you can see it too.

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All this week, I am sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the production of my new public television special, “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.” In this clip, we visit Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem.

Yad Vashem is the most important Holocaust memorial in Israel. In its Hall of Names, a vast archive surrounds a powerful collection of faces of people killed during the Holocaust. Of the roughly six million Jews murdered, about half have been identified by surviving family and friends. Pages of their testimony are archived here. The purpose of it all: to give as many victims as possible, whose deaths were as ignominious as their killers could manage, the simple dignity of being remembered. With our “Holy Land” TV production, we wanted to show context for today’s tensions. And the Holocaust is certainly part of that big picture.

The Holy Land” has already aired to great success on stations in several locations. Many other stations, such as WTTW 11 in Chicago and KCTS 9 in Seattle, are excited to air it soon. Call your local public television station to find out when you can see it too.

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All this week, I am sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the production of my new public television special, “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.” In this clip, we sit down to our first lunch while scouting TV production in the Crusader town of Akko, Israel. We were treated to a typical and colorful array of mezze-style plates: delightful dips, soups, and salads that are a daily edible reminder of how fertile Israel is. A few months later, we were at the same table with our crew and the camera rolling. Delicious.

The Holy Land” has already aired to great success on stations in several locations. Many other stations, such as WTTW 11 in Chicago and KCTS 9 in Seattle, are excited to air it soon. Call your local public television station to find out when you can see it too.

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Many of you know that I am a board member of NORML and an advocate for marijuana policy reform. And if you’ve understood my position, you know that I’m not in this to be “pro pot.” I am involved to end an expensive, racist, and counter-productive prohibition as wrong-minded and costly to our society today as the prohibition against alcohol was back in the 1930s.

An exciting new documentary movie called “Evergreen” tells the story about how my friends and I helped legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in my home state of Washington. (And is the closest I’ll ever get to “starring in a movie”.)

Since the last election, my state, along with Colorado, considers responsible adult recreational use of marijuana a civil liberty. And now, we are working to legalize marijuana in Alaska and Oregon. If you would like to get involved in this work (which I consider good citizenship), here’s a great opportunity to support us. Simply join NORML with a donation of $50 and they’ll send you a free DVD copy of “Evergreen.”

In what I call “the lower 48” states, hundreds of thousands of people—not rich white guys but black and poor people—are arrested each year for marijuana possession. But, in Washington and Colorado, thousands who would have been arrested are not, saving our states millions of dollars and avoiding untold heartache. Great things are happening as our country is, step-by-step, ending the war on marijuana and undoing the prohibition of our age. We have exciting momentum. There’s lots more to do. That’s why I’m donating these DVDs to NORML for this campaign. And that’s why I’m packing up and heading to Oregon next week for an intense week of media and lectures in ten different cities.

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Since 1980, we’ve been producing guidebooks. My first book was self-published. I gently drove the precious little bundle of 256 lovingly typed pages (with white-out fixes and ballpoint-pen drawn maps) to Ed Wise, the owner of Snohomish Publishing. A couple of weeks later, I took delivery of 2,500 copies of my first edition of Europe Through the Back Door. I stacked the boxes along the side of my piano-recital studio, where family members could sit on them–if there were no seats left–when their children performed.

Flash forward 34 years: I’m hosting a monthly all-staff meeting as about 60 of my co-workers are gathered together. And we have four guests joining us from our printer, Friesens, an employee-owned company located in the little town of Altona near Winnipeg in Canada. They have traveled here to Edmonds to present us with a delightful handmade quilt of one of our book covers—a tradition when they print a million books for an author and publisher. (While we don’t have a single title that sells in that range, Friesens has collectively printed a million of our guidebooks.)

Rick Steves quilt

Photo: Patricia Feaster

As our guests explained how thankful and proud they are to print our books, and how their little town of 3,500 includes 500 people who work in their plant, I enjoyed the beautiful thought that it takes a village to bring a guidebook to our travelers, too. And the people who make sure the pages are in order, the covers are crisp, and that the right paper stock is in supply are as critical as the researchers in the field and the sales reps who visit the bookstores.

It’s fun to work in an age of dramatic change. And we’re leaders in our field in electronic guidebooks. But I remain “a print guy.” Fortunately, the print market for guidebooks is steady and we’re selling more books in print than ever before. Of all the travel guidebooks sold in the last six years in the USA, our market share has more than doubled—from about 8% to about 18%. And for that we have a lot of people to thank… including you! Thanks for helping keep our Canadian friends in Manitoba busy and us as well. And happy travels.

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We’re ramping things up for our public television special, “Rick Steves’ Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today,” which is airing all over the country. I’ll be giving talks around my state (and in Dallas on Oct. 1 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center), and I enjoyed doing an interview with Dave Ross on Seattle’s KIRO Radio. I thought you might like to listen in, so here is our entire 19-minute conversation, uncut.

If you’ve seen the Holy Land show in your city, please let me know your thoughts. If your public TV station has yet to run it, please call them and ask when it’ll air. Thanks.

(By the way, you can find more of Dave Ross’s extended interviews here.)

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Paramount Theater, Seattle

Last week I enjoyed an amazing experience as a guest on National Public Radio’s popular quiz comedy show, “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” Each week the show has a guest join the panelists for a bit called “Not my job.” And last week was my turn. They taped the normally Chicago-based show before a live audience last Thursday in my town of Seattle. The host and panelists were on stage with the guest, with a back table full of radio editors. About 3,000 NPR fans packed the Paramount Theater, adding energy and lots of laughs. The event lasted two hours, which was edited down to an amazingly fast, smooth, and smart one-hour package of entertainment. (The program’s editors edited on the fly as the show was taping, and before the night was out the host had a short list of little pick-ups that were needed to make the production smooth.) They actually taped two versions about the Scotland vote, because the result was not yet known the night they were recording the show (to air two days later). Within about 24 hours, the live show was edited and tight and ready for prime time. I was on stage for 20 minutes, which was trimmed down to this nine-minute bit. I’ve never been surrounded by such comedic genius. It was an exhilarating ride. I could say just about anything and they’d run with it in such a fun way. In a few minutes the brilliant and funny host, Peter Sagal, had me talking about things I’d never before talked about (along with a few of my standard lines).

Click here and enjoy.

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After a lifetime exploring Europe — four months a year since the 1970s — I love to go to new places and affirm my deep-seated belief that you can never exhaust Europe of what it has to offer travelers. And visiting Gdańsk, on the Baltic Coast of Poland, did just that. You may associate Gdańsk with dreary images of striking shipyard workers from the nightly news in the 1980s — but there’s so much more to this city than shipyards, Solidarity, and smog. It’s one of northern Europe’s most historic and picturesque cities. This was the perfect finale — the last stop on my two-month summer trip.

gdansk-cityscape

Gdańsk is second only to Kraków as Poland’s most appealing destination. Its historic center boasts block after block of red-brick churches and narrow, colorful, ornately decorated Hanseatic burghers’ mansions. The riverfront embankment, with its trademark medieval crane, oozes salty maritime charm. Gdańsk’s history is also fascinating — from its medieval Golden Age to the headlines of our own generation, big things have happened here. You might even see Solidarity’s portly old Lech Wałęsa still wandering the streets.

 

Gdansk-Shipyard-gate

As a fan of freedom, hiking to the Gdańsk Shipyard, where the Polish shipbuilders’ union Solidarity was born (kicking off the beginning of the end of the USSR and the communist rule of half of Europe), was like a pilgrimage. My guide, Agnus, told the story vividly as we stood at the gate under a “Solidarity” banner hanging where a big “LENIN” once hung. The crude yellow board listed the workers’ demands. After my time here, and in Poland in general, I’m eager to make two new shows on Poland and you can bet guides like Agnus will be at my side.

 

Polish-workers-stand-strong-in-line

I’m inspired when regular people stand bravely in the face of tyranny anywhere in the world. And photos of Polish workers standing up to a repressive and seemingly invincible Soviet empire is a perfect example. Imagine the bravery of these Poles. In 1980, a wave of strikes and sit-ins spread along the heavily industrialized north coast of Poland, most notably in Gdańsk.

 

Militia-against-polish-workers

The world is full of uniformed and well-armed pawns who crush peoples’ movements in return for steady employment. These troops found themselves facing down legions of courageous Polish workers risking their lives for freedom. And the workers ultimately prevailed.

 

Gdansk-Solidarity-Square

When Solidarity negotiated its way to victory in 1980, one of their conditions was that the Soviets let Poland erect a monument to workers killed a decade earlier while demonstrating for the same workers’ rights. The government agreed, marking the first time a communist regime ever allowed a monument to be built to honor victims of communist oppression. Lech Wałęsa likened it to a harpoon in the heart of the communists. The towering monument, with three crucified anchors on top, was designed, engineered, and built by shipyard workers. In just four months after the historic agreement was signed, the monument was finished. Today on Gdańsk’s Solidarity Square, this monument, with a trio of 140-foot-tall crosses, honors those martyred comrades and is a highlight of any visit to this city.

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