July 21, 2024

Speaking to Rick Steves, the travel writer and television personality, is like speaking to the friendliest European history professor you can imagine, who just came back from his latest trip and sat down to have a coffee with you.

Steves, who has been in the business for decades and who has hosted his show “Rick Steves’ Europe” since 2000, has a new season focusing on art history that debuted this month on PBS stations across the country.

So naturally, with this absolute treasure trove of information at our disposal, we asked him how often he thinks about the Roman Empire.

“I think about the Roman Empire probably daily,” he laughs, noting his girlfriend had “just” asked him that question. The joke, of course, is that the women of the internet have discovered that many of the men in our lives seem to spend a lot of time pondering the late empire.

But for Steves, he says, thinking about the Roman Empire makes sense. After all, it’s his job.

“I think for me, it’s because it’s in my work,” he explains. “You can’t think about the Renaissance without thinking about the Roman Empire. For me, I can’t think about the Reformation without thinking about the Roman Empire.”

He adds that he can’t think about Germany without thinking about the Roman Empire because the Romans spread “as far as the Rhine River, and everything north of that was barbarian” while the Romans considered everything south “civilized.”

“And then, 1,000 years later, everything north of that was Protestant and everything south of that was Catholic,” he explains. “So that interesting continental divide for the cultures was Roman Empire and everything else. … You (probably) don’t spend that much time thinking about that kind of thing about Roman Empire. But I do.”

He added that “those are the wonky little things that I like to share in a way that people find actually worth knowing.”

Rick Stevens
If anyone should have a firm grasp on the Roman Empire, it’s Rick Steves.Courtesy Rick Steves

He and his team produce hours and hours of television in a way Steves believes an audience will find interesting.

“My producer Simon, he gives everything what we call the ‘Joe Six-Pack Test,'” he says with a chuckle. “So then I got to figure out a way to say it in a way that won’t cause people’s eyes to glaze over.”

Steves adds that he hasn’t always been a fan of art — in fact, in college, his friends used to play a game where they thumbed through the course catalogue and had a contest to find the “most boring, stupid, worthless class” you could take.

“And I used to think art history. Why would that even matter? What a boring thing to do,” he says. “And now, I just dedicated two years of my life writing this six-hour TV show to celebrate art history.”

Though Steves says he couldn’t possibly narrow it down to just one favorite work of art of all time, he and his TV crew have a slightly raunchy joke they employ after seeing something truly beautiful.

“When we finish shooting something really, really beautiful, we say, ‘I need a cigarette,'” he says. “None of us smoke cigarettes, but I guess that’s what you do after really good sex, you know? We all kind of go, ‘Yes. Let’s take a moment here.'”

Where does Rick Steves recommend you travel to this year?

Steves says that while his beat is Europe, he hopes people will just think about where their “travel dreams” are taking them and make a decision based on that, “regardless of the season and regardless of the exchange rates.”

“If you’ve got Irish heritage and you always wanted to go back to the old country, that’s where you should go,” he says. “If you were fascinated by World War II and you wanted to go to the Normandy beach sites, that’s where you should go. If you love Italian food and wine, well, don’t go to Norway.”

He adds, “Find out where your travel dreams are taking you, study that area and equip yourself with good information, and expect yourself to travel smart, and you will. And if I can be any help in that regard, that’s why I’m here.”

Steves opens up about recently becoming a grandfather

Though Steves spends much of his time traveling, he has a new focus these days. The travel guru recently became a grandfather to baby Atlas.

His daughter, Jackie, and her husband, Damian, welcomed Atlas in late 2022.

Steves says Atlas “just took his first steps a couple of days ago.”

He adds that he visits Los Angeles “every chance I get” to visit the baby and his parents.

“If you haven’t had a grandchild — and it’s not news to people who have had a grandchild, but this is my first grandchild — it is a joy to hold that little baby in your arms.”

Steves says he’s been surprised to see how much his grandchild reminds him to slow down and take a moment to appreciate family.

“There’s so much more to life that we can just hold in our arms,” he says. “Precious little, little child and these wonderful things about family that when you get caught up in your work and all your important adult activities, sometimes that gets bulldozed to the side. And it’s a great reality check, to be able to hold a little baby in your arms and look into that little baby’s eyes and think, ‘Wow, this is my flesh and blood.'”

How to watch ‘Rick Steves’ Europe’

The show airs on PBS stations across the U.S.; check your local listings. Episodes are also available on Steves’ YouTube page and the PBS Passport app.

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