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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Visiting several Israeli settlements (built over the border from Israel in Palestinian West Bank territory, and therefore controversial), I can see the appeal of these neighborhoods — especially for young families. But I’ve learned that these settlements embitter the Palestinians as much as violent resistance embitters Israelis. And the more settlements are built, the more the West Bank becomes fragmented, and the more difficult a mutually agreeable two-state solution — or any solution — may become. While I hope it’s not true, the aggressive establishment of these settlements today could haunt Israel’s prospects for a happy resolution of the tensions in the Middle East tomorrow.
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.
From my experience traveling here, I’ve learned that it’s all about control of land. That’s the crux of the problem between Israelis and Palestinians, and symbols of that ongoing struggle are everywhere. Israelis are developing settlements — secure and fortified communities on the tops of hills — and, in doing so, are reaching far into internationally recognized Palestinian territory.
Supporters of these settlements make the case that developing this land is justified because the land was unused, and because the language of the treaty designating it Palestinian was open-ended (“until a final status agreement is reached”). And many Jews (and Evangelical Christians who are inclined to support them) believe it is God’s will that they occupy Biblical “Judea and Samaria,” which is what they call the West Bank. I chatted with several settlers to get their perspectives.
Terminology is a delicate dance in the Holy Land, and settlers (who don’t refer to themselves as that) have their own strict vocabulary. In the ongoing debate, many in Israel make the case that “Palestinians” are actually Jordanians, and that the word “Palestine” comes from the ancient Philistines — a completely different race from the Mediterranean. (It occurred to me that you could attempt to discredit plight of our “Indians” in a similar way.)
After a busy day of filming the major Christian sites along the Sea of Galilee, I enjoyed this view from my hotel window in Tiberias.
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.
We worked a long day, and it went very well. Here are the eight sequences we covered in the script today:
A short drive up Israel’s coastline, and then into the interior, takes us down — 700 feet below sea level — to the Sea of Galilee. Israel’s top source of water is fed and drained by the Jordan River. This area has long been popular with Israeli vacationers and pilgrims. For Christians, Galilee is famous as the place where Jesus did his three years of ministry and where so many Bible stories are set.
In the Jordan River, the faithful believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus. And today, Christians from all over the world come here in droves to affirm their own baptism with a dip into that same fabled river.
Long before tourism, and even long before Christ, the economy around the Sea of Galilee was fishing. At the Kibbutz Ginosar, a museum contains a boat that dates from the time of Jesus. Recently discovered and excavated, it’s likely the same kind that those first disciples fished from. This busy north end of Galilee is where Jesus walked on water, calmed the storm, and talked fishermen into changing careers.
In the Bible, Matthew writes, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”
Pilgrims and the faithful come here to worship and be inspired. In this church, a rock marks Mensa Christi — the place were Christ, resurrected after his Crucifixion, ate with his disciples and said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” For Roman Catholics, this is a very important site, as it established the importance of Peter — the first pope — among the disciples.
Tour buses shuttle the crowds from one sight to the next. Another church is built upon the place where, according to the Bible, the five thousand who gathered to hear Jesus preach were miraculously fed by a few fish and loaves of bread. This mosaic is from the original church that stood here in the fifth century.
And this church, perched high above Galilee on Mount Beatitude, marks the place where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. Beatitude is Latin for “blessing.” The faithful from every corner of Christendom come here to remember how Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. And blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
I wanted to give our viewers empathy for Israel’s unenviable position: surrounded by threatening Arab states. That’s why we filmed at the Gadot Lookout, on the Golan Heights, a former Syrian pillbox looking down on the Sea of Galilee (Israel’s primary source of water — critical in the days before desalination).
For the last year, my usual laser focus on Europe has been diverted with preparation for our Holy Land shoot. With our regular TV production in Europe, I do the scouting, rough up the script, and line up local contacts as I research my guidebooks. With our Iran special in 2009, we wrote the script pretty much on the fly as we were filming. But for the Holy Land, I dedicated a special trip this spring just to sort through the options and come up with a plan. While this project has distracted me from my normal work, I have great hopes to help my American audience understand (as much as a travel writer/TV producer can) the context of the problems in this notoriously troubled part of the world. And now, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to take our crew to the Holy Land.
Earlier this month, my crew and I flew to Tel Aviv to film three new public television shows on the Holy Land: individual half-hour episodes on Israel and Palestine (part of our new eighth season of Rick Steves’ Europe, premiering in October of 2014); and an hour-long special on the Holy Land as a whole, designed to give context to the challenges of that region, and to help viewers better understand and empathize with the people sharing it (scheduled to air in mid-2014). Over the next month or so, I’ll be posting every day right here about my experiences filming these new shows.
Hearing about my travel plans, several people have asked me whether I really want to wade into the quagmire of Israel and Palestine, where it seems like anyone who probes for the truth will anger people on one side or the other. Believing that the vast majority of Americans are not partisan on the issues here — and emboldened by the burgeoning movement among Palestinians and Israelis to find an enduring solution that gives dignity and security to people on both sides of the divide — I think this is an exciting and timely project. And, frankly, I’m tired of extremists exploiting social media to exaggerate their numbers, creating the illusion that a vocal fringe of our society is more legitimate than it actually is. With these new shows, my only agenda is to appeal to open-minded people who simply want to do some armchair travel, hear a variety of perspectives, and be given the opportunity to form their own opinions.
I was in the Holy Land this spring scouting for these new shows. Now I’m excited to head back and start shooting with our crew: my producer, Simon Griffith; two cameramen, Karel Bauer and Dean Cannon; and a cadre of both Israeli and Palestinian local guides, drivers, and helpers. We’ll be working in Jerusalem (bursting with history and culture); Tel Aviv and Haifa (so joyful and full of modern life); and Masada and Yad Vashem (which give poignancy to the Jewish struggle, from Roman times to the Diaspora to our own generation). Then, heading into the West Bank, we’ll be curious sightseers in Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and Ramallah — experiencing “reality travel” in places almost completely unknown to most Americans. We’ll walk in the sandal-steps of Jesus with Christian pilgrims at the Sea of Galilee, taking Bible stories to a new level. And we’ll learn about the Separation Wall and the settlements that vex the desire for peace.
With the help of local Israeli and Palestinian guides, we’ll make a point to listen to local voices on both sides of the issues. In Israel, I’ll be wearing my yarmulke and eager to learn. And in Palestine, I won’t be wearing my keffiyeh — but I’ll be equally ready to learn.
After several weeks of traveling throughout the Holy Land this year, it’s my hunch that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians have come to the conclusion that violence is not the answer. And I believe that, while any sane person wants peace, a wise person understands there can be no real peace without justice. Like the destinations themselves, these themes will prove to be a fascinating area to delve into.
The Holy Land — which is “holy” to about a third of humanity — is a richly rewarding place to travel. Join me right here over the next month, as I’ll be posting every day about my explorations of this fascinating land. And share a link with your friends who might be interested in traveling along. Together, we’ll strive to overcome fear with understanding.
My niece, a street artist in New York City who goes by the name Nicolina, is off on another trip adding color to Vienna, Venice, and Naples. I’m so inspired by her waif-with-a-paint-brush (or, in her case, can of spray paint) approach to travel and the way she writes about her adventures, that I’m re-connecting her personal blog to our travel site. Not many of us will travel with just a satchel of art tools, nearly no money, and no hard plans, but we can all be inspired by Nicolina’s spirit of adventure and love of art.
Nicolina, who just finished decorating a series of unused doors in New York City (a project Nicolina and her “Free Art Society” calls “13 Portals”), is in Vienna now scouting for an interactive public art installation she’ll create next year. Then she heads to Venice for the Biennale (a gathering of avant-garde artists from around the world), and finally to Naples. While in Naples, she has a commission from the city to paint one of the city’s traditional trolleys as she did to great acclaim in Valparaiso, Chile. In Naples, she’ll also host “Hearts of the World,” a project Nicolina has taken all around the world letting (often very poor) children fill in the outline of an anatomically correct heart with whatever is in their hearts. The intent of “Hearts of the World” is to introduce art as a tool to help people realize their passion.
Nicolina has taken her passion for street art to Cuba, Haiti, Chile, Brazil, China, and India. Now she’s in Europe for her first time. As she writes, “It’s fun to dive into a city not really knowing what to expect. Free of preconceived ideas, a new world opens up to you.”
This Saturday, Oct. 26th, I’ll be teaching a series of European travel classes in my hometown of Edmonds, WA, along with my travel-savvy staff–and you can see us live through my free Travel Festival webcast!
No matter where you are, between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, you can watch live from my Travel Festival website, and painlessly raise your travel IQ as you soak up practical tips and insights about traveling in Europe.
Here’s the festival webcast schedule:
- 9 a.m. European Travel Skills with Rick Steves
- 11:30 a.m. Packing Light and Right with Rick Steves and Sarah Murdoch
- 2 p.m. France with Steve Smith
- 4:30 p.m. Italy with Rick Steves
- 7 p.m. Europe 101: Art and History for Travelers with Rick Steves
For those who tune in, I’ll also offer 20 percent off everything at my ricksteves.com travel store and $100 off any Rick Steves 2014 tours.
I’m very excited about this opportunity to share our travel teaching with a worldwide audience. Tell your friends! I hope you can join us.
This year the Society of American Travel Writers recognized my public radio show Travel with Rick Steves with a prestigious Lowell Thomas Award Gold Medal. While perhaps not as well-known as my guidebooks and television show, my weekly radio show is one of my favorite endeavors. Rather than being the guide, I get to be the curious traveler–I act as a conduit between experts on travel/cultural topics and my traveling listeners. We’re in our eighth year and air on over 200 stations, so I’m thrilled this show and its talented production crew are getting the recognition they deserve. Here’s a huge thanks to the show’s producer–Tim Tattan–and his production assistants–Sarah McCormic and Isaac Kaplan-Woolner. This show is great because of their hard work and expertise.
In particular, the award committee recognized our 2012 Mother’s Day episode that followed a mom as she relocated her family to a village in Croatia, an American raising her first child in Paris, and a tribute to my own mother after her death in 2011. You can listen to it below.
Our weekly program is available free to any public radio station, so if your station isn’t airing it, ask them why. You can also go to my radio show to browse our archive and subscribe to our podcast. All my interviews are a simple click away.
Congrats again to Tim Tattan and his staff for crafting a beautiful program.
I didn’t think my goofy old photos would stimulate such a great bunch of comments. I’ve had so much fun reading your questions and thoughts. Many people suggested I write an autobiography and asked for more details on these formative “Europe Through the Gutter” days. I was tempted to reply to each comment directly, but it occurred to me that I have just the book to answer all of your questions: “Rick Steves’ Postcards from Europe.” For each photo I uploaded in this series there is a fun backstory–and it’s all in here. It’s probably my worst selling book. But I must say, those who read it seem to really enjoy it. It’s my best shot at telling the story of how I became a travel writer, how we built our tour business, how we make our TV show, and my favorite behind-the-scenes experiences, encounters, and memories–all lashed into a single fantasy trip through my favorite European itinerary.
To cap off this little nostalgic blog detour, we’ll sell this book for about half price–$10 for the next 24 hours only. Then, I’ll rejoin the 21st century and take you along as I venture to the Holy Land with my TV crew to film episodes on Israel and Palestine.
So, if you want to read all about my vagabond past, take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy my worst selling book for half price. You’ll enjoy the most intimate, behind-the-scenes collection of stories this traveler can share.
You and your friends can buy up to five books for this price through this link only (not via my website) until 10 a.m. PDT, Thursday, October 24th or while supplies last. Regular shipping fees apply.
By the way, there are a lot of you, so if the shopping cart is slow, just check back.