In May and June 2016, we had the chance of having Rick Steves, together with his team, as our guest. Although it was not their first visit to Romania, it was the first time they were about to produce a travel documentary about Bucharest, Transylvania, and Maramures.
The program was very well organized by Cameron Hewitt, Rick’s assistant, who had visited Romania a few months earlier. During this trip, he realized he would need good tour guides if he wanted to discover the real Romania, which stays hidden from the hordes of tourists. So, with the help of a few reliable people he had met during his first trip, he contacted several tour guides for different regions. In Bucharest, he had two tour guides; in Transylvania for 5 days, they asked for my help; and for Maramures, they had a local journalist.
My part started in the center of Bucharest where I met the entire team: Rick, Cameron, Karel, the cameraman, and Simon, the producer. After that, we took another rental car and ours, and from there, we started to drive toward the famous Peles Castle, located in the Carpathian Mountains. But before leaving Bucharest, we made the last stop in Herastrau Park, the largest in Bucharest. It was just two days before June 1st when we celebrate the International Day of the Children, so the park was full of parents with their kids, just a perfect and genuine scene for the show.
On the way, passing by the city of Ploiesti, known for being the capital of Romania when it comes to the world of petrol, we reached a field of poppies. It was fun seeing four grown men running back and forth, amazed by the beauty of nature. In fact, we spent so much time there that we realized we wouldn’t have time for a proper lunch, so we stopped at a gas station for some coffee and pastries.
Around 2 o’clock, we were in front of Peles Castle, and they liked it right from the first glimpse. Rick was impressed by the tall and graceful silhouette of the castle, by the beautiful view of the valley from the main facade of the castle, and by the stunning landscape. It was the perfect blend of nature and the castle. Peles can get very crowded, but I knew that in the afternoon, it might be much better – and I was right. The team was able to shoot the castle, both inside and outside, with no problem. By evening we were in Brasov, ready for the next day.
The next day I took the team without Rick, who remained in Brasov, to different sites. Bran Castle, the most famous site in Romania for its connection with Dracula (which is pretty tenuous in any case), is still a must, so we did it. But quickly. Then I took them to some hidden villages located deep in the mountains. I was smiling each time I was heard Karel saying, “Wow, Romania is so amazing!” or “Definitely, this is my next family trip.”
On the way to Sighisoara, I managed to persuade them to make a detour for Prejmer, the largest and best-preserved fortified church in Romania. Because it was an unscheduled stop, we didn’t have a permit to film there, but with a few calls, I solved this problem. Rick couldn’t believe his eyes looking at the sight – so massive, so old, and so well preserved. He was going up and down, examining every detail. Finally, he was so impressed that he started to record a short film for Facebook with his own small camera.
Passing by the fortress of Harman, where we stayed only for about 10 minutes, and taking a lunch break in a simple restaurant along the main road where we had a delicious goulash, we reached the village of Viscri. Located in a remote area, this village is known for its dirt roads filled with cows, geese, ducks, and horse-drawn carts. In addition to the house belonging to Britain’s Prince Charles, the village is known, especially because of its beautiful fortified church, UNESCO’s world heritage monument. It is one of the oldest in Romania, and we spent few good hours there exploring as much as possible.
Probably one of their most interesting visits was the Roma family. Unfortunately, the Romanian authorities were not very pleased in letting the team film a genuine Roma family, thinking this might negatively affect the image of Romania. Knowing that this type of thinking is just part of the discrimination many Roma people have to endure, I agreed to take Rick to a lovely family located in the heart of Transylvania. It’s a family which consists of three generations. They live by making intricate copper pots, from huge brandy cauldrons to simple souvenirs like small teapots.
In Sighisoara, we spent two nights roaming the cobblestone streets, climbing the towers, and enjoying the views. We also took a short drive to Biertan to see its magnificent fortress. There, I also introduced them to some locals, and it’s here that the team filmed a group of lovely kids playing with a horse.
After this final shoot, our journey finished. I went back to Bucharest while Rick and his team continued their journey to Maramures. I was impressed by how easy it was to work with Rick and the other guys, how many interesting stories we shared, and how many laughs we had along with the long drives. They were interested in the real Romania, both good and bad, in its culture and the current vibe. And by watching the movie, I think you can agree that they did an excellent job.