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

Lobbying for the Hungry: The Value of Advocacy

Yesterday, I shared some exciting news: Our community of travelers has now raised one million dollars to help empower Bread for the World, an advocacy organization that speaks up for hungry people in the halls of government.

We did it! Rick Steves’ Europe travelers have met our goal of raising one million dollars to help empower Bread for the…

Posted by Rick Steves on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

 

Many of you understand the value of advocacy. But a few questioned why we would fundraise for “lobbyists in Washington D.C.” and not for groups that directly feed the poor. As one commenter, Rolf, said, “Man, I’m sure the Salvation Army would have done a whole lot more with that money.” Tim agreed, saying, “I would prefer that my donations go to organizations that actually feed people.” And Alan wrote, “This 1.078 Million can just be flushed into the riches of those unneedy while the truly wanting go unfulfilled.”

Then, just last night, I received a briefing from Bread for the World president David Beckmann about the impact of their advocacy (or “lobbying”). In his note, he explained vividly how huge the stakes are when it comes to US government budgeting decisions — and why the $1 million that we raised together will have a far more powerful impact than more traditional charity giving. Here is what he said:

This afternoon, Congress passed a Farm Bill with no cuts to SNAP (a.k.a. ‘food stamps’), and improvements to international food aid. Bread for the World has been a significant player on that issue. The House of Representatives had passed a version of the Farm Bill that would have taken $20 billion in groceries away from struggling American families. Thankfully, this version of the bill failed.

Bread for the World and its members have also done a lot of work on criminal justice reform and this year’s appropriations. A compromise criminal-justice reform bill seems likely to pass Congress during this lame-duck month.  The bill is not as good as we wanted, but it will definitely improve conditions in federal prisons and reduce sentences for some people who shouldn’t be in prison any longer and fund prison programs that prepare prisoners to make a living when they get out. The big appropriations package that we’re hoping will pass this month includes increased funding for international and domestic anti-poverty programs. (That’s being held up by President Trump’s demand for $5 billion for the border wall. No one knows how that stand-off will be resolved.)

It’s important to remember that with every dollar Bread for the World raises, it leverages $100 in terms of assistance and funding that is vital to hungry and poor people in our country and abroad. (That’s the great thing about advocacy — our government wants to do the right thing, when properly encouraged.) Assuming that ratio holds, our $1,000,000 donation will generate $100 million in life-giving, hope-instilling funding.

Together, we are giving struggling people a voice in Congress. Again, thank you for your generous partnership. I find it both loving and patriotic.

You can still elevate your holiday season by joining in with a $100 donation at www.ricksteves.com/bread. (And when you do, I’ll send you my European Christmas gift pack or my Complete Collection DVD Box Set as a thank you gift!)

 

Behind the Scenes: Filming Christmas in Norway

To celebrate the season, I’m sharing clips, extras and behind-the-scenes notes from Rick Steves’ European Christmas.

In writing the script for the special, I had to choose which countries would “make the cut.” I could fit only seven into the mix. Being Norwegian, I admit that I was biased…and Norway was destined to make the cut. But when we started filming, it looked like Norway would be a weak segment…so I needed to scramble.

Norway happened to be wet and warm when we visited, and the secular Norwegians don’t really do Christmas with the gusto I had imagined. I visited my very traditional cousin, only to find that their holiday celebration felt about as robust as Columbus Day.

But we did manage to go to Drøbak, the self-proclaimed Christmas capital of Norway, and take part in Santa Lucia Day, which brings everyone out to dance around the trees…with their crowns of real candles.

In Oslo, we had one night to get some music. When a concert we planned to film fell through at the last moment, I searched the entertainment listings and found the Norwegian Girls’ Choir performing in the oldest church in Oslo — the tiny, heavy-stone, Viking Age Gamle Aker Kirke. We drove there and arrived just half an hour before the concert began. With the crew double-parked in the dark, I ran in, found the director, pleaded my case…and he said, “Ya, sure.” We finished setting up just minutes before show time. The lights went out and an angelic choir of beautiful, blonde, candle-carrying girls processed in, filling the cold stone interior with a glowing light. As the harpist did her magic, I just sat in the back, feeling very thankful. This concert ended up giving us several of the best cuts on our European Christmas CD and some of the most beautiful photos for our European Christmas book.

Scheduling was also tricky. Certain events — such as a choir singing “Silent Night” in the church where it was first performed near Salzburg, Santa Lucia Day in Norway on December 13, and Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican — were fixed, so we had to work our schedule around those. Each of the two crews generally had three or four days to film a region, and then one day to travel to the next. Our script was designed to playfully let the Christmas season build — but never quite reach a holiday climax — in each place we filmed. Then, in a festive finale, bells ring throughout the Continent as Christmas Day sweeps across Europe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself — that clip is on its way. First — like a video Advent calendar — we have lots more windows to open, peeking in on families and cultures and countries as Christmas approaches.

 

Video: The Christmas Story

Christmas is almost here! Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing clips, extras, and behind-the-scenes notes from my one-hour special, Rick Steves’ European Christmas.

The tour guide in me was determined to cover the biblical story of Christmas in the special while also explaining related holidays and traditions and meeting the locals. We learn about Epiphany, Advent wreaths, the origin of St. Nicholas, the pagan roots of so many Christian traditions, and all those fascinating cultural differences. For example, German Christmas tree lots were just opening up on December 22, as most Germans don’t put up trees until Christmas Eve. We celebrate the holiday with Umbrian peasants, trendy Norwegians, Victorian English, dirndl-clad Tiroleans, and Burgundian monks, all of whom contribute to how their community celebrates Christmas.

In this clip, we begin where the Christmas story does: with the Annunciation of Mary and the birth of Christ. While each European country gives Christmas its own special twist, they all follow the same story of how the son of God was born on earth, as told in the Bible and illustrated over the centuries by great artists.

 

We Met Our Goal! $1,000,000 for Bread for the World

a photo of rick steves jumping and text that says "we met our goal! $1,000,000 for bread for the world"

 

We did it! Rick Steves’ Europe travelers have met our goal of raising one million dollars to help empower Bread for the World to combat structural poverty and hunger.

2,323 of you gave $100 or more each, totaling $378,292. As promised, I matched your donations 2-to-1 with $700,000 — and together, we raised $1,078,292. All this money (100% of it) was given to Bread for the World to advocate in our halls of government for policies that help the hungry both at home and abroad.

Good Americans, surrounded by a sea of abundance (and in the midst of what I see as a political storm of greed), struggle to simply feed their children. Our initiative will result in legislation that will help shape a world where struggling people, both at home and abroad, can work hard to raise healthy, well-nourished children and have reason for hope rather than despair. There are a lot of prayers out there, and this is how prayers are answered. The more you understand the work of Bread, the more you see that this is smart compassion in action.

Now let’s see if we can go even further! You can still elevate your holiday season by joining in with a $100 donation — and when you do, I’ll send you my European Christmas gift pack or my Complete Collection DVD Box Set as a thank you gift.

Giving in partnership with caring travelers like you makes my work even more gratifying. Thanks, happy holidays, and Merry Christmas to all.

 

Behind the Scenes: How We Make TV

I work with a really small TV crew — just me, my producer, and one cameraman. And after shooting about 140 episodes over the last 20 years, we have a great filming process. These photos from our Scotland shoot give a few peeks at how we work.

rick steves with a scottish piper being filmed by a tv crew in front of a large camera
While you can shoot an “on camera” just about anywhere, we search out beautiful and meaningful settings for me to talk directly to the camera.
rick steves standing on a white sand beach while his tv crew are huddled over a camera that's pointing at him
We only shoot “on cameras” for material we can’t cover well with images of locations — generally heavy history. Here on the Isle of Iona, I’m recalling a horrible act of Viking plunder.
rick steves looking at a script and discussing it with his producer simon griffith while standing in a field in front of a castle
I love working on scripts with my producer Simon while we’re on a shoot. In the field, we debate and fine-tune each sequence as the situation unfolds.
rick steves sitting on a bed in a hotel room with a laptop on his lap and simon griffith sitting in a chair next to him
Back in the hotel or B&B, we “scrub” the script. Our final text couldn’t be more lovingly crafted. Each word earns its keep.
rick steves sitting on the edge of a cliff and the tv crew pointing a camera at him in the foreground
My producer Simon and cameraman Karel routinely climb like mountain goats up rock faces or do other heroics to get the right camera angle, making me a nervous wreck.
rick steves sitting on a beach overlooking the sea with food in his lap and a seagull is overhead very near to him
I often try to replicate on camera an experience I had on a previous trip. Last year, on the Isle of Skye, a seagull stole my fish and chips. I decided to make that a fun bit for TV, and we shot me trying to eat my lunch without another cod-napping.
rick steves with his arms around karel bauer and simon griffith and karel is holding a large camera. the three are standing in a green field
I am grateful for my small and mighty crew: cameraman Karel Bauer and producer Simon Griffith.

My three new Scotland episodes are airing now on public television across the country. Check your local listings for Season 10 of Rick Steves’ Europe — and keep on travelin’!