Amanda Scotese leads tours in Italy that do her name justice. She's a Chicago "girl" at heart (and leads tours there with her company, Chicago Detours) but saves equal passion for her other country. Raised in a molto Italo-Americano family, and having lived in Rome, Florence and Siracusa, she understands what gets Americans intrigued by bella Italia. Amanda leads our tours of Sicily, Venice-Florence-Rome and Heart of Italy.
When did you first connect with Italy, and how did you find your way to Rick Steves' tours?
My grandfather was born in Italy, so I grew up in a very Italian-American way. Back in 1997, a friend and I traveled around Europe. We had already visited five countries, and when I stepped off the train in Southern Italy, I suddenly felt like I had come home. Italy felt so comfortable and right, yet it was utterly foreign, exciting, and magical. The architecture, the land, the people, the art, the emotion, the food — all of this led me to learn the language, travel the country, and eventually end up working in tourism as an assistant with another company. However, I was never into the kind of group tourism where people are herded around for superficial visits and shopping promotions. In 2004, after learning about Rick's travel philosophy, I made contact with Europe Through the Back Door. I thought this could be a company where I'd be able to share meaningful travel experiences and work with like-minded people. And lucky for me, I got hired!
You lead tours in Sicily as well as in northern Italy. How is working in each region different?
What a great question! The difference is certainly there. Because Italy's cultures are so distinctive from region to region, particularly between North and South, I have to strategize my planning differently. The South is much more laid-back. If I want a restaurant to be ready for us at 7:30, I just might tell them we'll be there at 7:15. I also expect to spend extra time communicating with the hotels and restaurants because — and my Sicilian colleagues may not like me for saying this — Sicilians are known for repeating themselves. For tour members, Sicily can feel a little more foreign than regions like Tuscany or the Veneto, so as a guide I take extra care in serving as a cultural catalyst to help our travelers gain insights on contemporary culture and have their own personal interactions with locals. People generally come to Italy tours with some knowledge about areas like Tuscany or Rome, but Sicily is relatively unknown. This makes teaching about Sicily's rich history and contemporary culture particularly exciting — especially since I can share a personal perspective from my time spent in Sicily over the past 10 years.
In addition to leading tours for Rick Steves, you've also done research for his Italy guidebook. What is that like?
They are two very different jobs, best done separately! Working on the guidebooks, the focus of the job is on collecting information, not presenting it. A guidebook researcher treks around to every site, hotel, restaurant, book store, Laundromat — every place mentioned in the book — so that everything can be revised for the next edition quickly, efficiently and accurately. It is a very solitary job compared to tour guiding, which is very social. When working as a tour guide, my job is not to dig up new information, but to eloquently communicate what I already know.
What fires you up when you're not in Italy?
After recently returning to the University of Chicago to get my Masters of Arts in the Humanities, I started a multimedia tour company called Chicago Detours, which shares forgotten and overlooked histories of the city. Without a doubt, working with Europe Through the Back Door and directly training with Rick has inspired me to share my love for Chicago through touring. We offer public and private walking tours with really cool visual aids. When I can, I relish in the city's cultural offerings, like the Art Institute, and go biking and exploring by foot.
Is there a place on your tours that you look forward to returning to most?
I have a short-term memory problem when it comes to naming my favorite place in Italy — wherever I am at the moment tends to be best! This is a really hard question to answer so maybe a sampling of my favorite experiences...arriving in the Dolomites and seeing the pink glow of sunlight off the mountains (Best of Italy tour) and knowing that we'll have a beautiful day of hiking together; walking into a pastry shop in Sicily because the sweets there are like works of art (Sicily tour); seeing the glistening blue water of the Ligurian sea on arrival in the Cinque Terre (Best of Italy tour and Heart of Italy tour); and seeing my tour members in awe at the Sistine Chapel. Because I'm a city girl, I get little pitter-patters every time I return to Rome. I like the energy of the city, and the juxtaposition of the ancient sites with people living life to its fullest in the 21st century.