may know him as the “Savvy Traveler” from his days on National
Public Radio or you may know him from PBS for his two globetrotting
travel series – Rudy Maxa’s
and Smart Travels with Rudy
I know href=”http://www.maxa.tv” target=”_blank”>Rudy
Maxa as one of my favorite
people in the travel world. In fact, more than eight years ago, he
helped encourage me to start Dream
and even sent one copy of my premiere issue to every one of his
subscribers to his own print newsletter (which no longer exists). Rudy
is the best – not only is he a terrific person but he’s a great travel
journalist – his years as a Washington
investigative reporter have served him well. Whenever I have the chance
to work with Rudy, I jump at the chance!
A Blu-ray/DVD set of his Rudy’s Italy programs –
Maxa’s Best of Europe: Italy style=”font-style: italic;”> – has been released and
anyone who spends a total of $155 or more with Dream
between October 1 and December 31 ( href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/public/10.cfm”>subscriptions,
subscriptions and anything from href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/products/index.cfm”>the
online store, before shipping,
count towards the total) will receive a FREE COPY of Rudy’s
Blur-ray/DVD Italy set (one disc plays on Blu-ray, the other on DVD) –
a $28 value!
I recently had the chance to chat with Rudy about Italy an the making
of his travel series. I think you will find what he has to say as
interesting as I did. – Kathy McCabe, Editor & Publisher, Dream
DOI: When did you first
visit Italy? What are some memories of your first trip?
I first visited Italy when I
was in my young 20s, probably around 1973. Even though I grew
up partly in Germany, the drivers in Italy still impressed me
and created my most vivid memory. I was awed at the audacious
driving. And I was secretly proud when I was issued a ticket
for passing on a curve while going uphill in the
rain. Heck, I was just following local custom.
We’re offering href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/products/item255.cfm”>your
Blu-ray/DVD set as a bonus to customers who spend more than $155
in our store/on subscriptions this holiday season.
Tell us about the making of your series. Any funny stories from your
time in Italy? What are some of your favorite scenes? How do
you go about selecting what you would like to film?
Choosing destinations is really up to me and the producers.
When I started hosting the shows 11 years ago, we filmed the
Paris, and so on. But the production company who hired me–I
did not yet own the shows–had worked with Rick Steves for five seasons
and already knew that shows on Italy were among the most
popular. So over the course of the first several seasons, we
shot 11, half-hour shows in Italy.
|image2|The one hallmark about shooting in Italy is how little assistance we
receive from the Italian tourism offices. Almost everywhere
in the world–and I’ve shot shows from Shanghai to Uzbekistan
to Delhi–tourism officials are happy to work with us helping get shoot
permits, local guides or translators, hotel rooms, and so
on. In Italy, bureaucrats know the country is so popular,
they apparently think there’s no need to work overtime
to help anyone publicize it.
I happen to think that’s short sighted on their part, but there you
go. I recall my co-producer sending fax after fax to the
tourism officials in Florence. She never got a
reply. When we arrived to shoot, she visited the tourism
office, and an employee there proudly gestured to a pile of her faxes
to prove they’d received them.
And then there’s the matter of, um, fees. When we arrived at
to shoot, it didn’t matter that we had the necessary paperwork and an
overall insurance policy that all film crews carry in case
they cause any damage. The official at Pompeii informed us
we’d have to pay $7,000 on the spot as “insurance” to shoot. When my
producer accompanied the bureaucrat to his office to discuss this, a
local guide approached and told us if we gave him $200, he’d
take care of everything. And he did. He guided me
and the crew around the entire complex, slipping a few bucks to
gatekeepers along the way. And by the time our producer
emerged to say no agreement could be reached, we’d already shot the
The recent, tragic collapse of a historical building there reminded me
of that incident. I love Italy, but I have a hunch if we’d
paid that $7,000, not much of it would have gone toward the
upkeep of the historical site.
As for the making of the series, we travel lean with me (the host), the
episode producer, a grip, and a shooter. Sometimes, if we have
the budget, we’ll hire a dedicated sound man. We
usually shoot a show in seven to eight days. We arrive with a
rough script and, hopefully, all our permissions and other details in
order. We don’t simply arrive and start shooting things that
look interesting. We know what we want to shoot and how
things fit into the theme of the show. Obviously, if
something interesting happens while we’re there, we go with the flow,
and often that makes it into the script that has to be re-written to
the pictures upon our return to the US.
I know you recently returned
from Florence. Any recommendations for our readers?
I was not there on business,
so my hotel came out of my own pocket. I stayed in a four or five-room
B&B on style=”font-style: italic;”>Piazza Santo Spirito
that is unmarked except for the name of the place by the
doorbell: href=”http://www.vecchiafirenze.it/en/index.htm” target=”_blank”>Vecchia
Firenze. A double room
cost $95 a night or less in early November. Just downstairs
was a spirited wine bar called Volume that served heavy hors
d’oeuvres in the early evening and offered free Wi-Fi. For
breakfast, a few doors down a cafe called href=”http://www.florence.ala.it/ricchi/bar.htm” target=”_blank”>Ricchi
served freshly squeezed orange
di arancho“) and great
pastries. Immediately around the corner from the hotel (if
you take a right out the B&B’s door) are two great places for
da Lupi and href=”http://www.trattorialacasalinga.it/” target=”_blank”>Trattoria
La Cassalinga. Great
prices. A few blocks away, I enjoyed my last,
celebratory meal at a slightly fancier place, href=”http://www.4leoni.com/” target=”_blank”>
Trattoria 4 Leoni.
Other advice: Don’t be shy about ordering the house wine in
restaurants–I was never disappointed. And don’t rent a car
to get around the city–much of Florence is a historical
district with narrow streets and confusing one-way alleys.
Only local residents can drive those streets. Cameras will photograph
your license plate, and you’ll get a fine of $90 if you enter the
historic neighborhoods, though that is waived if your hotel writes an
e-mail to the police, gives your license number, and says you entered
the restricted zone just to pick up or drop off luggage.
Rental cars are expensive (purchased insurance is mandatory),
so only rent one if you are going to take day trips to Siena or into
the hills of nearby href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/public/department55.cfm”>Tuscany
Oh, one more tip: There are two sets of street numbers on buildings in
Florence. The blue numbers are assigned to businesses, the red ones to
residences. So you might well be walking down a street and
see consecutive buildings numbered 42, 138, 44, 140, and so on.
People always ask me my favorite city in Italy. What is yours? Any
favorite hotels and restaurants?
Well, I got engaged years ago
at the href=”http://www.villasanmichele.com/web/ovil/villa_san_michele.jsp”
target=”_blank”>Villa San Michele
in the hills just above Florence, in Fiesole. So that’s surely
a favorite hotel. Who wouldn’t love the href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/public/378.cfm”>Villa
d’Este on Lake Como?
On this most recent trip, I checked out the luxury hotel attached to the href=”http://www.castellobanfi.com/” target=”_blank”>Castello
(At least take a lunch at the Castello Banfi–book a table in
advance.) There are so many gorgeous hotels now in
Italy–from grand palaces to luxury boutique properties–it’s
difficult to have a bad night’s stay. Favorite
city? I think I have to say href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/public/department58.cfm”>Florence.
Why do you think travelers are so attracted to Italy? You’ve
traveled all over the world. What makes it so unique?
First, at least in my book, there’s the food. And then, in
spite of all the bad government Italy has had over the decades, somehow
the authorities and
locals have managed to spare some of the most gorgeous countryside
(think “Tuscany” and “Umbria”) from over development and cheesy
people, of course, are happy to see visitors, and the natural
topography and climate of Italy are very appealing.
Any plans to return to Italy for additional episodes? Where?
It is time to return to Italy and re-do some of those 11 destinations
that I last shot seven to 10 years ago. We’ll do the basics–from href=”https://dreamofitaly.com/public/department56.cfm”>Rome