Rick Steves’ Europe Behind the Scenes: How to Make a Travel TV Show

This fall, we’re excited to be premiering Season 10 of Rick Steves’ Europe on public television stations across the USA. The new season includes episodes on Scotland, Portugal, Sicily, Greece, England, and more.

I just love it when a new season of shows comes out. It’s like Christmas morning. Like a lot of travelers, I first got to know the Rick Steves’ Europe travel philosophy in the late 1990s, through his TV show (on WOSU-34 in Columbus, Ohio — what was your station?). And that same spirit still inspires and informs so many traveling Americans today.

Previewing some of these new episodes has got me nostalgic, and a little jealous…because making travel TV is a lot of fun (and, yes, a lot of hard work). Not long ago, I scouted, wrote, and field-produced two episodes (Bulgaria and Romania) of Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9. It’s fascinating to be a fly on the wall of TV production. Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek into the process — from that first idea to your TV screen — with links to my in-depth blog series, which features lots more detail about each step.

Step 1: Pre-Production

Every show starts with a destination. But it’s not as simple as saying, “Let’s do a show on Romania!” You have to collect enough vivid experiences to fill 30 minutes of television. And then you have to whittle down that inspiration to fit just right into a 3,200-word script.

Over three decades of TV production, Rick has developed a keen sixth sense for what makes great TV. Anytime he says he’s “researching his guidebooks,” that’s also code for his process of sorting out whether and how a destination can best be captured on TV: Which local guides, experiences, and nuggets of history and culture will make the cut? He comes home from every trip with lots of ideas lashed to his budding script.

Occasionally we decide to film a show where we don’t have guidebook coverage — such as Romania and Bulgaria. That’s why, a couple of years ago, I headed to each of those countries on a whirlwind scouting trip, scouring the countryside and kissing lots of frogs to figure out what would make great TV.

Once the first-draft “shooting script” is finalized, it’s time to schedule the shoot. Our producer, Simon Griffith, arranges guides, hotels, transportation, and — most important — permission to film what we need to film. This usually involves working with the national tourist board, which might need to pull some strings to make sure we’re legal once we show up at a museum, church, or other landmark with our camera. All of this happens before a single frame of film is shot.

Step 2: On Location

A TV shoot is a whirlwind of “covering the script” (making sure everything that’s mentioned is supported by footage). That includes three main components: “on-cameras” (where Rick explains difficult-to-cover topics by talking straight into the camera), “walk-and-talks” (where a local guide gives Rick an on-screen tour of a sight), and — most of all — “b-roll,” which is all that beautiful footage that can be artfully stitched together to convey a sense of place, and to illustrate points that are mentioned in the script.

Of course, everything is complicated by the need to constantly chase down good weather. Color-correction — the last step in the process — can do wonders to compensate for a cloudy day…but sunny is still better.

It takes about six days of intense travel to shoot a 30-minute episode. While that one-day-per-five-minutes ratio seems like it should be easy, people who work in TV field production are astonished that Rick Steves’ Europe can produce broadcast-quality shows at such a breakneck pace.

That’s thanks largely to Rick’s supremely talented “crew of two”: producer/director/fixer/gaffer Simon Griffith (the jovial, bearded Kiwi you see Rick dining with all over Europe); and a talented camera operator, who’s equal parts athlete and artist. I’ve worked with Karel Bauer, but other “shooters” have also worked with Rick and Simon.

That’s right: Except for rare occasions when an associate producer is dragging them down (ahem, ahem), most of the episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe you see were filmed with just that skeleton crew, occasionally assisted by a local guide…another detail that befuddles most TV production crews.

With more than 10 seasons of TV under their belt and an astonishing work ethic, Rick, Simon, and Karel are able to be unimaginably efficient. Simon usually hauls the tripod and other heavy gear, Karel also wears the hat of sound engineer (listening to the audio as he shoots the footage, to make sure it’s clean), and Rick…well, Rick’s an Energizer Bunny who — between writing, re-writing, and filming on-cameras, and polishing his guidebooks, blogging, and running his business on the side — still manages to leave everyone else in his dust.

Step 3: Deal with Serendipities, Good and Bad

While the “shooting script” provides a blueprint for filming, the crew has to be ready to flex with whatever comes up. Rick is constantly rewriting to accommodate changing conditions, bursts of inspiration, happy accidents, unhappy accidents, and whatever might find its way into Karel’s viewfinder. The rewriting process — called “scrubbing the script” — is also collaborative, as Rick debates each and every word with his weary crew…often late into the evening, after the gear is stowed, or on long road trips.

On the Bulgaria and Romania shoot, we enjoyed lots of serendipities — both good and bad. Bulgaria, a wonderful and underrated little country, provided us with vivid and surprising moments. For example, one morning we woke up in a remote town to find it was the day of their annual parade celebrating Slavic culture. And our visit coincided perfectly with the early-summer rose harvest, on the outskirts of that same town.

Romania — while a stunning and fascinating land — treated us to more bad serendipities than good ones. Even so, we found Romania so dense with great travel that we wound up having to cut it to the bone to reach our 30-minute runtime — losing one of my favorite (and most challenging-to-film) segments, at a remote shepherd’s settlement high in the Carpathian Mountains.

Romania also presented us with one of the most bizarre experiences the crew had ever had, when — after months upon months of assurances we’d have access to film the interior of the over-the-top Palace of Parliament — at the last minute, Karel was forced to sneak in his camera with a pack of tourists…only to be unceremoniously kicked out. Then, a couple of hours later, we got a phone call that permission had come through after all. Returning to the parliament, we were greeted with a literal red carpet and complete VIP access. (I was told this insane experience was far from typical…which, come to think of it, would be an appropriate tourism slogan for Romania.)

Step 4: Post-Production

After all that work in the field, we still don’t come home with a TV show — just with a polished script and a bunch of raw footage. That’s when our master editor, Steve Cammarano, takes over. Steve has edited every single one of the more than 100 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe (plus all of our specials). And he has the process down to a science.

First, once Rick is satisfied with the final script, he records a rough “scratch track” that Steve can cut to. Then, Rick and Simon watch Steve’s rough cut to make final changes, with the help of script consultant (and RSE Special Projects Manager) Risa Laib. (They often come up with some clutch last-minute fixes.)

The final soundtrack is recorded, and the show is color- and sound-corrected to even out inconsistencies between cameras and filming environments. Our graphics team comes up with the maps used on-screen to orient the viewers. And finally, the show is complete and delivered to public television.

Step 5: You Sit Back and Watch

That’s where you come in. Whether you’re tuning in on your local public television station, streaming, or watching on DVD, it’s a privilege for us to bring Europe into your living room.

In case you didn’t realize it, every single episode of our TV series is available to stream, completely free and ad-free, in its entirety, on our website, YouTubeFacebook, and Hulu — including those shows on Bulgaria and Romania. The twelve brand-new episodes of Season 10 will air nationwide on public television beginning in early October, and soon after each episode is on TV, you’ll be able to find it on our website. And, if you’re still into Blu-ray or DVDs, you can get them in that format, too. (We’re preparing a new Blu-ray/DVD anthology that will include all 10 seasons, plus all of our specials, which will be available in time for the holidays.)

Phew! That’s a whirlwind account of the tedious but immensely rewarding process of travel TV production. At the end of the day, it’s all more than worth it — for the joy of sharing Europe with our American viewers. Thanks for watching.

What are your favorite episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe? Any places you wish we’d film?

For more on Rick Steves’ Europe Season 10, check out our TV page.

For all of my full-length “Behind the Scenes” posts, with lots more photos and anecdotes, you can find the complete lineup here.

If you’d like to watch a video version of this post, check out the wonderful “Making Of” episode of Rick Steves’ Europe from a few years ago — so you can see Rick, Simon, and Karel in action.

Rick Steves’ Europe Behind the Scenes: Post-Production

After a busy shoot — scrambling to get as much usable footage as possible while dodging the weather — we return home with a hard drive that’s loaded up with all that hard work. That’s when Steve takes over.

Rick is the creative spark, Simon is the logistical mastermind, and Karel is the artistic eye. But Steve Cammarano — who has edited every single one of the more than 100 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe — is the one who puts it all together.


In the field, Simon and Karel always have Steve’s concerns in mind — making sure they provide him with footage that can be cut together easily. For example, it’s jarring to cut straight to a close-up — you need to ease the viewer into it with an establishing shot. So Simon and Karel make sure they’ve shot all of the bits and pieces that Steve will need.

When filming, each shot needs to be identified to facilitate Steve’s work. There’s no literal slate clapboard, but at the beginning of each shot, Karel verbally “slates” what he’s about to film: “Hey Steve, this is that communist statue.” “Hey Steve, another angle on that statue.” “Steve, a close-up of the two main figures.” “OK, this is a wide on the Square of the People, where that statue is.”

Steve also gets a copy of the (semi-) final script, which has been tweaked and polished throughout the shoot — a process we call “scrubbing the script.” “Scrubbing” means simply reading through the entire script, again and again, making each word earn its keep. Part of the scrub is knowing which footage worked — and which didn’t — and tailoring the words perfectly to what’s in the can.

When we’re satisfied with the script, Rick records a “scratch track” — a quickie voice track of the entire script, whose sole purpose is to give Steve something to cut to. This doesn’t have to be perfect — it’ll be replaced later — and in a pinch, Rick might even record it on his iPhone in a hotel-room closet (between hanging clothes to buffer echoes).


In his rabbit’s warren of an office, Steve uses the script, the verbal slates, and the scratch track as guidelines for piecing together the show. Like every other part of the process, editing TV is equal parts science and art: Steve has a clear blueprint, but he employs his own artistic vision in how he pulls it all together. It’s also tedious: Steve has to rewind each little snippet and rewatch it, again and again and again, to cut it just right. (I used to work in an office adjoining Steve’s, and I must admit: Overhearing a little two-second audio clip — say, a Swiss cowbell clanging, or a Norwegian girls’ choir singing a Christmas carol, or Rick shouting “Freeeedooom!” on the Scottish Highlands — 20 or 30 times in a row was enough to drive me batty. How Steve maintains his sanity, I’ll never know.)

Once Steve is finished with the rough cut, Rick and Simon watch it and weigh in with notes. If the show comes in a little long (not unusual) — or a lot long (as was the case in Romania, which was nearly four and a half minutes over) — it’s time to reach a consensus about what to trim. It’s a tough decision. Some cuts are pretty obvious, but others come down to a no-win pick-’em between two equally good bits that both deserve to be in the show. But at the end of the day, each show gets just 30 minutes (24 minutes and 16 seconds of actual content, to be exact, once you subtract the open, credits, and underwriting). And to be honest, those time constraints are probably a blessing in disguise: They force us to respect the attention span of our fans, and make tough decisions rather than bore our viewers.

Once the final cuts are made, Steve sends the footage to be color-corrected, evening out variations from different shooting situations to help the show feel visually cohesive. (It’s amazing what a good colorist can do to spruce up washed-out or cloudy footage.) Meanwhile, Rick and Simon watch the final cut one more time — the final “scrub,” with the help of ace wordsmith Risa Laib — and make a few last-minute wording tweaks. Finally, Rick records the final voice track, Steve cuts it to the color-corrected final cut…and the show is finished.


The last of 10 brand-new episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 (Cornwall) is airing across the country right now. We hope you enjoy them. And if you do, keep in mind the many talented experts — both in front of and behind the camera — who make that scrappy little show some of the most lovingly produced and most compelling travel television out there.


Thanks for tuning in for this “behind the scenes” blog series on Rick Steves’ Europe. And, of course…keep on traveling!

This is the ninth and final installment of my “Behind the Scenes” blog series about Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 — now airing nationwide (check your local listings). You can also watch the Bulgaria and Romania episodes for free. And in case you’re in a gift-giving mode, the brand-new, 10-episode Season 9 DVD is currently on sale in our Travel Store.

Rick Steves’ Europe Behind the Scenes: Romania’s Parliament Votes No… Then Yes

After filming more than 100 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe, Rick and the crew have seen most everything…until they got to Romania. While we wound up with a great show, the crippling red tape didn’t make things easy.

I want to be clear that we worked with dozens of exceptionally gracious, helpful, and capable people in Romania. Sadly, they all seem to be trapped in a ridiculously dysfunctional system. They tried to help us — they really did. At every major sight, the tourist authority would dispatch little delegations to greet us: guides, local tourist board representatives, big-name hoteliers, and so on. But at the end of the day, all of them answered to a higher power that seemed to relish saying “no.” Our contacts’ main function seemed to be commiserating with us when things fell through.

The tourist authority was over the moon that Rick was going to film in Romania. But they were also nervous. Apparently, another American travel TV personality filmed a show in Romania a few years back, and it did not go well. We were told that the presenter — known for employing his sharp tongue to call it like he sees it — grew so frustrated with bureaucratic snafus that he decided to take it out on Romania itself, producing a show that made the country seem like a miserable wasteland. The tourist authority was terrified that Rick, too, would present Romania in a negative light. And so — as if to guarantee the very thing they feared most — they gradually tortured us by trying to (subtly and not so subtly) exert control over the project.

Their paranoia bred paranoia in us. The night before we arrived in Romania, I got a call from the tourist board. Due to a “clerical error,” we had been assigned a guide who would accompany us at all times. He explained that this mistake was only just discovered, the guide had already been booked, and it was impossible to cancel. Rick — who remembers traveling here during the communist era, when any visiting foreigner was assigned a “minder” to report their activities to the authorities — wondered whether this “tour guide” was only there to keep us in line.

It turned out that he was a great guy, and that it really was just a mistake…probably. However, because we had already arranged our own, trusted local guides all over the country, our government-provided guide had literally nothing to do the entire time. We began brainstorming errands we could send him on, just so he could feel useful. (He was.)


The biggest headaches came along with Europe’s biggest building: the Palace of Parliament, which was built to accommodate communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s ballooning ego. It was a must to film the palace’s jaw-droppingly vast and opulent interior — a priority we had made explicitly clear to the authorities months before we arrived. They repeatedly reassured us that all was being arranged.

But then, something happened. The night before we were to film, we found ourselves being told by the honcho of the tourist authority that we probably wouldn’t be allowed official access. It was suggested that we show up anyway, buy a tourist ticket, and send our cameraman in with the regularly scheduled tour to film it on the fly. It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. It had to work.


The next morning, we were greeted by a half-dozen tourism officials. As instructed, we bought tickets for the official tour and lined up. But then, moments before the tour began, we were told that the authorities were onto us. To keep a low profile, we decided to send only our cameraman, Karel.

Karel hung his DSLR around his neck and headed inside to “play tourist.” Rick, Simon, and the entire delegation waited nervously outside, hoping Karel could get the shots we needed. But just a few minutes later, Karel walked out the door. “I got kicked off the tour,” he said apologetically. Nothing could be done.

We decided to bail on the parliament and began filming other sights around Bucharest. A few hours later, as Rick was filming an on-camera with the parliament in the distant background, my phone rang.

“I am sorry to say there was a misunderstanding,” came the voice of our tourist authority contact. “But we have now obtained permission, and you may go film at the parliament.”

We didn’t buy it. “Are you sure we have official permission to film?”


“With our big camera?”


“And with our tripod?”


“Complete access?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Do we have to tag along with a tour?”

“No, you may go wherever you like. They will provide you with your own guide. In fact, do not go to the tourist entrance. Go to the parliamentarians’ entrance. ”

Still skeptical, we hopped a taxi back to the parliament to be warmly greeted by a literal red carpet and a press secretary. Sure enough, we had the run of the place. Talk about a turnaround: from being kicked to the curb, to VIP treatment…in just a couple of hours. (And the Palace of Parliament segment turned out great.)


While much of Eastern Europe is doing well these days, Romania still struggles. Throughout our shoot, we got to know many wonderful Romanians grappling with a system that simply doesn’t understand how to function. When pressed, many locals deny that this is an artifact of Ceaușescu’s brutal rule (embodied by the opulent palace that he literally starved his people to build). But, given the success stories I’ve seen in so many other formerly communist countries, and the number Ceaușescu did on poor Romania, it feels like they protest too much. Are they in denial? Or still trying to hide the damage that was done?

Thanks to the help of many fine individuals, we came home with 30 glorious minutes of TV celebrating the beauty of Romania. On my scouting trip, several locals quoted a cryptic saying: “Romania is a beautiful country…what a pity it’s inhabited.” I’m charmed by Romania, and couldn’t understand where this cynicism came from. But after dealing with the red tape of filming a show here…I have a new appreciation for the unofficial national motto.

This is part eight of my “Behind the Scenes” blog series about Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 — now airing nationwide (check your local listings). You can also watch the Bulgaria and Romania episodes for free. And in case you’re in a gift-giving mode, the brand-new, 10-episode Season 9 DVD is currently on sale in our Travel Store.

The Unkindest Cut: Shepherds, Mud, Dogs that Bite, and Cheesy Polenta

Stepping out of our car into the mist, Karel and I begin to organize our filming gear. Our guide, Teo, has driven us up a twisty road high into the Budeşti Mountains of Maramureş, in Romania. He’s brought us here to visit a very traditional shepherd settlement, where people still make rustic cheese as they have for centuries. It should make for great TV.


Gathering up the heavy tripod and the industrial-strength golf umbrella, I hear a pack of mangy, mud-stained, mismatched dogs bark furiously as they gallop across the soggy fields to greet us. They are very protective of their settlement — even though, to our eyes, there’s little worth protecting. “Don’t worry,” Teo says, with his wry smile. “Their bark is worse than their bite.” Over the chorus of yelps and growls, the shepherd yells something to Teo in Romanian. A flash of concern crosses his face. Translating, Teo points to one of the dogs. “Careful,” he says. “That one bites.”

We trudge through the muddy settlement, scouting what we’re about to film. Near the road is a paddock. A hundred yards uphill is a little roofed shed, a small hut, and a picnic table under a tarp. Everything is soaking wet. And everywhere we step, our feet squish.

Teo introduces us to the settlement’s owners, a Mutt and Jeff duo: one built like an aging linebacker, the other an emaciated beanpole. These shepherds live up here through the summer, tending their flock of goats and sheep, milking them three times a day, and making cheese. This is a far cry from the log-cabin-cutesy, government-subsidized cheesemaking huts high in the Swiss Alps — with flower boxes, antique cowbells hanging from the eaves, and lederhosen-clad, apple-cheeked farmhands straight out of Central Casting. No, this is a much more authentic scene: a patch of mud with just enough pasture to graze a flock, and buildings so basic they barely qualify as “buildings.” Nevertheless, the shepherds take pride in their work, and do it with precision.


It’s time to milk. The motley mix of goats and sheep huddle up at a rickety wooden turnstile separating the two halves of the paddock. Another stout shepherd — more linebacker than beanpole — plants herself in the middle of the paddock, gently prodding the livestock toward three shepherds who hunch on little stools, evenly spaced under a plastic tarp.


They grab each animal as it passes through, and milk it into a stainless-steel bucket. Teo explains that every goat and sheep is different, so the shepherds gradually figure out the preferred technique for each one.

Karel gets to work, detaching his camera from the tripod for a shoulder-held shot. A few minutes later, Teo and I watch helplessly, in slow motion, as a curious goat sniffs the tripod until it tips over. Its delicately machined head lands with a damp thump in a goat patty. I spend the next ten minutes fruitlessly trying to polish it with a few tattered tissues I find in my pocket.

Meanwhile, Karel is lost in his viewfinder, squatting a few inches above the muck. A nosy goat waddles up and tickles Karel’s ear with his goatee. But Karel holds the camera steady…he knows he’s shooting gold.


The chorus of barks crescendos again, and we look up to see another shepherd coming over the horizon. He brings his own ragtag herd of sheepdogs, who quickly engage the local pack in a delicate do-si-do for dominance. It’s a commotion of fur and teeth, barking and growling and posturing — until, finally, one of the guest dogs goes too far and starts biting. The shepherds exchange angry words until the neighbor retreats to his own settlement with his pack — all of their tails tucked between their legs.


After about 45 minutes, the entire flock has been milked, and we follow the shepherds as they lug the buckets up to their little house. Pulling back the curtain at the door of their dirt-floor cabin, they reveal an impossibly spartan lifestyle: a cot covered with heavy blankets, a simple basin on a shelf, and a little potbellied stove. Standing in the doorway, they pour all the milk into a wooden bucket, then sprinkle in a powdered enzyme.


After 15 minutes, the shepherds dip in a cheesecloth to skim out the curds. Then the skinny one carefully hand-shapes them in a slow, rhythmic, squeezing motion, resulting in a tight little clump of cheese. Karel stands in the doorway, filming, while I hold the golf umbrella to keep his gear dry. Feeling the several inches of liquid mud and dung finally crest the cuffs of my shoes, I don’t even mind.


Having wrung out as much moisture from his newly formed clump as possible, the spindly shepherd pulls out a spindly ladder and climbs up to place the new cheese in the little attic above their supply shack. It seems that this is the only dry place in the entire compound: Its sharply angled roof protects food, jackets, towels, and damp laundry. On the roof rest tools that look like the spoils of a folklore museum heist.

Finally, it’s time for a break. We retreat to a heavy wooden picnic table under a jerry-rigged tarp, and break bread over the plastic paisley tablecloth. With gratitude, we nibble on little samples of their very young, semi-flavorless cheese.


Then they bring out a red plastic bowl with a special treat: polenta mixed with cheese. One of the shepherds pulls out a wicked pocketknife, wipes it on his sleeve, carves off a little chunk, and hands it to me. Popping it into my mouth, I bite into a decadent, creamy texture — halfway between cheese and polenta — and taste the pungent kick of goat cheese. Fantastic.

In our travels around Romania, we’ve learned time and again about the importance of polenta. It’s such an important staple here that, in this part of Europe, Romanians are nicknamed “polenta-eaters.”

To finish the meal — and cut through the chilling wind — the shepherds pull out bottles of homemade firewater, along with a fascinating concoction: a dense, sweet syrup made of pine needles. Taking a sip, it’s sweet, but not too sweet, and mildly piney…unexpectedly delicious.

We bid farewell and head back to Teo’s car, where he winds us back down the mountain to the dry, warm comfort of our hotel. Karel and I are well aware that our Romania show will be too long. But we don’t yet know that the cheesemaking segment we just filmed will wind up on the cutting-room floor.

Trimming an overstuffed show to fit its 30-minute window requires some difficult calls, and — in the context of the entire show — this was the right call. But thinking back on the magic we captured, it feels like a particularly unkind cut. Maybe someday, somehow that footage will see the light of day. But even if it never does, my rainy afternoon on a Maramureş mountaintop was well worth it: I came away with a vivid travel memory.

Rick Steves’ Europe Behind the Scenes: Rugged, Rewarding Romania

Romania is a big, fascinating country with an epic story. Fitting the entire thing into one 30-minute TV show was a scripting challenge — and filming it was a logistical challenge. The Romania shoot included glorious scenery, extremely helpful local guides, and more fascinating opportunities than we knew what to do with…but it also came with some unique headaches. (More on that in my next post.)


On our first evening in Bucharest, bigwigs from the national tourist authority threw us a blowout welcome dinner. Knowing that Bucharest’s nightlife scene is legendary, Rick and I had designs on filming the after-hours al fresco bars and cafés. But producer Simon and cameraman Karel weren’t necessarily sold on working after dinner, and proposed that we try to fit it in the next night instead.


After a long and decadent dinner of Romanian food — and drink (the plum firewater, țuică) — we stumbled out of the restaurant and found ourselves in the middle of an energetic, open-air cocktail party that sprawled for blocks in every direction. As we began our wobbly walk home, Simon and Karel’s eyes got wider and wider as they took in the lively scene. I could practically see their TV-production gears kicking into motion. With a wordless glance and nod, they set up their gear and began shooting the scene. It’s not smart to drive while tipsy. But apparently filming while tipsy can work out just fine…and they got some great stuff for the show. (Best of all, it wound up raining the next night — making us relieved we’d grabbed the outdoor nightlife while we had the chance.)

Romania offered serendipity to spare…but not always the serendipity we wanted. On past trips to Romania, I’d been struck by the bizarre scenes that play out along the side of the road. For the script, I’d brainstormed a montage called “Roadside Romania” — a collection of whatever slices of life we’d come across: Horse carts hauling car parts. Roving packs of dogs. Humble peasants on the shoulder of a highway, selling everything you can imagine — from produce to homemade cheese to appliances. Someone sitting on a little three-legged stool, chopping wood, right in the middle of the main road through town.


We had our camera cocked and loaded, ready to shoot whatever we saw. But then…nothing. We saw plenty of strange stuff, sure. But it just wasn’t right for TV, or it appeared at moment when we were rushing to the next location, or the light made it too hard to capture. By the end of the shoot, we were stressing ourselves out trying to hunt down spontaneity. Finally, we realized that serendipity is, by definition, un-plannable. Our script was already overstuffed. “Roadside Romania” got left by the side of the road. (But if you wind up driving through Romania someday, I promise: You’ll find it right where we left it.)


That mission did, however, result in some great footage we were able to use elsewhere in the show. On one gloriously sunny day, as we zipped between Transylvanian castles, we spotted a shepherd out in a verdant field, tending his flock, in a timeless scene. We pulled over and chatted with him, and he was happy to let us film him.


When we asked our guide if we could pay the shepherd a small amount to thank him for his cooperation, he said that what he really wanted was cigarettes. As non-smokers, we couldn’t hook him up. But later that day, I found myself buying several packs of smokes to have on hand for future interactions. It turns out we never had use for them — and I was happy to throw them away the night before I flew home.


I felt it was essential to include a segment on Romania’s sizable Roma population (sometimes called “Gypsies”). If you wanted to film a muckraking exposé on Roma living in terrible conditions here, it would be easy: Impoverished shantytowns lie on the “other side of the tracks” from many towns and villages. But, in addition to acknowledging the challenges that come with having a large Roma population, we felt it was important to also teach something constructive about Roma culture.


This topic turned out to be radioactive for Romania’s official tourism industry (which, to my disappointment, has utterly failed to constructively serve the many travelers who come to Romania curious to learn more about Roma culture). Fortunately, our excellent local contact for Transylvania, Daniel Gheorghiţă of Covinnus Travel, is adept at serving his clients who, like us (and presumably our viewers), would rather learn more about the Roma than simply dismiss them as some sort of unsolvable societal “problem.”


Daniel brought us to meet Emil, the kind and well-spoken paterfamilias of a Roma family living on the outskirts of a workaday village. Like many Roma, Emil’s family earns a living as constructive members of society by making use of a traditional Roma craft (in their case, metalworking). As we spent the morning getting to know Emil’s family and filming their lifestyle, we got a little choked up at having this remarkable opportunity to use our bully pulpit — public television — to humanize an often-misunderstood population, and to prod our viewers to go beyond knee-jerk “Gypsy” stereotypes. It’s easily one of my favorite segments in the show.


We shot all of the big tourist cliches, of course, including Bran Castle — where we had to toe a fine line of explaining that, while this castle is famous for its ties to Dracula, it actually has no real ties to Dracula. Awkward.


But our most vivid memories came on the rugged and impossibly remote northwestern fringe of Romania — Maramureş, my vote for the most authentic and vivid traditional culture anywhere in Europe.


Many people here still live much as their ancestors did in the Middle Ages. Of course, they do have modern conveniences — cell phones and, for some, cars — but their day-to-day lifestyles have changed little.


While we obviously hope to show a positive view of Europe, we don’t want an artificially prettied-up one. Dropping in on a humble local family of weavers in Maramureş, we were greeted by the gregarious daughter. While we were setting up, she disappeared for a few moments, then reappeared wearing a pristine, starched traditional outfit. We kindly asked if she’d mind changing back into what she’d been wearing when we met her. She graciously obliged, and thanks to that, that segment in our show feels real rather than staged.


To open and close the show, Rick had a mental image of exactly what he wanted: Delivering his lines from a horse cart trotting down a country lane. It was a tall order, but Simon and local guide Teo were on the case. While Rick, Karel, and I shot b-roll around the region, we sent Simon and Teo ahead to find the perfect place and the perfect cart. As we were wrapping up, we got the call: The horse was ready.


We drove to the location and explained to the farmer exactly what we envisioned. Our new friend (in his typical little Maramureş straw hat) worked hard to make us happy — he even asked his wife to sweep the porch behind him while Rick addressed the camera. It worked out perfectly, and when we wrapped, we enjoyed gathering around to show the horseman the result of his hard work, on the tiny viewfinder on Karel’s camera…shaded by his hat.


The horse cart was one of the final bits of Romania we shot. After a long week of hard work, we captured the best of that fascinating country on film. Coming up are two more in-depth tales from our filming in Romania.

This is part six of my “Behind the Scenes” blog series about Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 — now airing nationwide (check your local listings). You can also watch the Bulgaria and Romania episodes for free. And in case you’re in a gift-giving mode, the brand-new, 10-episode Season 9 DVD is currently on sale in our Travel Store.