Q&A: Rick Steves Talks New Travel Special, ‘Europe Awaits,’ Premiering Aug. 19

July 19, 2021 Alyssa Beno Leave a Comment

Travel-lovers have spent the last year or so dreaming of where they’ll visit post-COVID-19.

In a brand-new special, Rick Steves’ Europe Awaits, America’s leading authority on European travel transports viewers to the continent’s bustling cities, quaint villages and picturesque countryside. The program premieres 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19 on PBS Wisconsin and on the PBS App on your phone, tablet, Roku, Apple TV, other digital TV devices and many Smart TVs.

In this two-hour special, Steves recounts his recommended travel itineraries for a variety of locations that will delight European travel aficionados and novices alike. Viewers will explore the rich history and cuisine of Sicily, the romantic Greek island Mykonos, rustic and historic Porto in Portugal’s northern regions, the majestic Cotswolds in England, the vibrant traditional folk life of Romania and enjoy an authentic taste of la dolce vita in Italy.

Ahead of the PBS Wisconsin premiere of Rick Steves’ Europe Awaits, we spoke with Steves about post-COVID-19 travel and how a travel-lover like himself has enjoyed life in one place.

PBS Wisconsin: How did you determine which locations to feature in this special?

Rick Steves: After coming out of COVID-19, we need something that’s good for the soul. We’re longing to travel, and I thought I’d gather together some destinations that I think would stroke our wanderlust in a way that really fits our needs after COVID. I want to find places where you can get away from the crowds, places where traditional culture is alive, places that are close to nature, places where we’ll really be welcome. Places where we can recharge our enthusiasm for exploring the world. My beat is Europe, so I had to sort through what I had for options in Europe, and that’s how I came up with Sicily, Mykonos, England’s Cotswolds, Tuscany, Romania and Portugal. Each destination has a reason, and I was just really thankful the way it came together. It really felt cohesive.

PBS Wisconsin: Tell us about the program.

Steves: You’ve got the great food in Sicily, you’ve got the romantic island time in Mykonos, you’ve got the quaint, half-timbered charm of the Cotswolds villages in ye olde England, you’ve got the second-city idea in Portugal visiting Porto, sort of the industrial town that suddenly is vibrant and filled with creative energy. You’ve got the opportunity to settle into a farmhouse BnB in the hills of Tuscany, and then you’ve got the very, very vivid folkland from Romania. That all comes together to celebrate how much of Europe is ready and waiting for us to visit once we come out of COVID.

Steves strolls through Mykonos town, on the Greek isle of Mykonos. Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe.

PBS Wisconsin: What was your guiding travel principle for this program?

Steves: It’s perfect for people who don’t want to sit with a bunch of other Americans in a theater watching cultural clichés on stage. A lot of people go to Europe, and they’re completely victimized by promotional budgets. They all go to the same places and they crowd together and they’re just part of the economy. I want to travel in a way where I’m not part of the economy as much as part of the party. In these places, traveling the way we’re promoting there, we really are part of the party.

PBS Wisconsin: How do you think people’s perspectives on travel might change post-pandemic?

Steves: It’s going to be incremental. Europe is starting to open up now, and I think it’s fragile. I’ve told my staff that we need to be patient. In Italy they say, “piano, piano” – little by little. For me, Europe is not open until all of Europe is open. Social distancing and Rick Steves’ style of travel have nothing to do with each other. I want to have my cheeks kissed in Paris and I want to pack into the piazzas of Rome and have my gelato as I do my strolling with all of the people and I want to crowd into those pubs and clink glasses with new friends in Ireland. I don’t want to do anything dangerous, but I really believe with the vaccinations we are on a glide path to normalcy, and it’ll just take a few months. In my company, we’re not promoting Europe in 2021. We’re opening up our program in early 2022. That’s not to say that individuals can’t be traveling safely in 2021, but it’s complicated this year, and I think it’ll be wide open starting in early 2022.

PBS Wisconsin: Has staying in place changed your personal perspective on travel?

Steves: For the last year, year-and-a-half, I’ve not been on an airplane. It’s the first time since I was a schoolboy that I haven’t gone to Europe for a hundred days. One of my phrases during COVID has been “be patient.” Patience is not an American forte, it’s certainly not a Rick Steves forte, but for the last year, patience has been my middle name. And also, play the cards we’re dealt. This is a serious crisis. We’ve just got to be patient and diligent. Much more important than my travel dreams or my business performance during a time that’s very difficult for anybody in travel or tourism, much more important than that is taking care of our neighbors. I’ve been more tuned into what our needs are here in our community, I’ve been tuned into the fragility of nature, I’ve been tuned into the big gap between privileged people and people who are struggling, and I’ve been made aware of the importance of good governance, of embracing science and that the challenges that confront us in the future are going to be like this. They’re not going to be like some conventional war, they’re going to be challenges that don’t see borders, challenges that are impervious to conventional weaponry and walls, and that are going to need nations working together and science and good governance to handle. Those are the challenges that will be in the news in the rest of our lifetimes and I think this is kind of a wake-up call for that.

The seaside at Cefalù, on the north coast of Sicily. Photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli.

PBS Wisconsin: What’s your non-traveling life look like these days? 

Steves: I can’t travel, but I can employ what I call the traveler’s mindset here at home. I’ve been really amazed at how interesting it’s been. To me, a good traveler is curious, a good traveler is eager to get out of their comfort zone and happy to make mistakes in order to learn, to try new things, to grab the opportunities as they come by it, and I’m employing that same sort of “embrace life” attitude right here at home without a plane ticket in sight. It’s been fun, and I’ve been so focused on travel for 30 or 40 years that I’ve forgotten there are other dimensions in life. I’ve learned how to cook, and I’ve learned the beauty of having dogs and taking dogs for a walk, I’ve gotten to know the hummingbirds and their rhythm, and every sunset is like a devotional. To me this COVID-19, admittedly I’m a very privileged person and I have a comfortable place to stay safe and do my work at home, but for me COVID has been God’s way of saying, “Slow down.” It’s been therapy for a workaholic, and it’s been a really good reminder that there’s more to life than increasing its speed. I’m eager to get traveling again, but I think, first things first.

PBS Wisconsin: What do you hope viewers take away from Rick Steves’ Europe Awaits?

Steves: I’m really thankful for public broadcasting to have an opportunity to share the lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of exploring Europe. For me, Europe is my beat; my favorite countries may be elsewhere, but for me Europe is the wading pool for world exploration. My mission is to inspire Americans to venture beyond Orlando, and Europe is the next best step to becoming somebody who is comfortable with our world. The beautiful thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of traveling is the world is filled with love and joy and wonderful people. If you never travel, you really never get out there to get to know the neighbors, and you’ve really missed something in life. If you travel correctly, I think you realize culture shock is the growing pains of a broadening perspective, and broadening perspective is a beautiful thing because it lets us take home what I think is the most beautiful souvenir, and that is an empathy for the other 96 percent of humanity. That’s my joy for being a travel writer and a TV producer for public television. With Europe Awaits, it’s so much fun to be able to share those ideas with all of your audience in Wisconsin. I hope people enjoy the show!

Want more Rick Steves’? Tune in to these programs airing in August on PBS Wisconsin.

Rick Steves’ Europe: London – Historic and Dynamic

9:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5

In many-faceted London, ponder royal tombs in Westminster Abbey, learn how to triple the calories of an English scone at teatime, uncover Churchill’s secret World War II headquarters, shop where the Queen shops and straddle the Prime Meridian at Greenwich.

Rick Steves’ Europe: North England’s Lake District and Durham

9:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12

Hiking through the Cumbrian Lake District – England’s green and pristine mountain playground – Rick Steves admires idyllic lakes, discovers misty waterfalls, tours a slate mine and conquers stony summits. And he meets the locals – and their beloved dogs and sheep – everywhere.

Rick Steves: Best of the Alps

1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21

From Italy to Austria and all the way to France, Rick Steves Europe: Best of the Alps is packed with scenic train rides, breathtaking lifts, majestic glaciers and unforgettable hikes. In this greatest-hits blitz of the Alps, Rick celebrates both nature and culture while visiting the high points of Europe.

Rick Steves’ Europe: Copenhagen

9:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26

Denmark’s capital is the most fun-loving in Scandinavia. As you get to know Copenhagen, discover reminders of its Viking history and see reflections today of its proudly independent ways. Stroll down Europe’s first great pedestrian boulevard, ogle crown jewels in the palace treasury and take a bike ride through an inspirational hippie squatter community, finishing at Copenhagen’s full-time carnival, Tivoli Gardens.

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