Eleven years ago, Karin Kibby took a trip to Italy...and made it her home. Working as a Rick Steves guide for the past seven years, her tour members describe her as an adventurous, fun loving spirit who adores living the European lifestyle. During the course of a year, Karin leads a fun mix of Rick Steves' Italian tour itineraries: Venice-Florence-Rome, Best of Italy, Heart of Italy, Best of Rome, and Village Italy tours.
How did your love affair with Italy begin?
After growing up in Corvallis, Oregon and attending the University of Montana in Missoula, I decided to head off to Italy for a year — really just for the warm weather and great food! After a year of waitressing and learning Italian, I decided to teach English and extend my stay. One thing led to another, and that year-long trip has now stretched into eleven!
Is there one city or region in Italy that stands out as a favorite for you?
I spent two wonderful years in Rome. And although the city has so much to offer — and I still miss it — Tuscany is the place for me. I've spent nine years in the region, living in Siena, Florence and now Livorno. I'm on the coast near some great beaches, but still just an hour from Florence and half an hour from Pisa and Lucca. I love living so close to the best tourist spots, but in a town that has almost no tourism whatsoever. Livorno is a port town — some people call it "the Naples of the North." It feels very open and carefree, and the sense of humor here is the best I've found in Italy. The city's history is fascinating and the food and wine are unbeatable!
What surprises Americans the most as they travel through Italy?
I think visitors are most surprised by the vast cultural, linguistic and culinary differences in the twenty regions that make up Italy. We think of Italy as ancient, but as a unified country it's a lot younger than the U.S. It's a bonus for travelers that the ingredients haven't all melted together yet. Most people are surprised to learn that if a Roman and a Venetian are speaking in dialect they really can't understand each other. You can drive literally two hours from one place to another in Italy and find a completely different architectural style, language dialect, food, style of dress, and outlook on life. And, from the Italian Alps to the volcanoes of Sicily, I can't think of a place with so much geographical variety packed into a country the size of California.
You've guided nearly all of our tour itineraries in Italy. Is there one you think is best for first-time visitors?
To get a real feel for Italy you can't beat the 17-day Best of Italy itinerary. If you don't have 17 days I'd go for the 9-day Heart of Italy tour. From the art of Florence to the seafood of the Cinque Terre, both of these tours give great overviews of Italian city and country life. If you've already traveled here and like the feel of small town Italy, the 2-week Village Italy tour is for you. If you are an art lover, the 10-day Venice-Florence-Rome tour is great — just remember that most Italians do not live in big cities like these.
For variety, this past summer you assisted on one of our 2-week Family Europe tours. What was it like touring outside of Italy?
Ahhhh I was finally let out of Italy to explore a bit of the North! Traveling beyond Italy for me was a bit disorienting because I didn't speak the languages and everything seemed so orderly! I am used to everything being a bit more flexible and spontaneous. But I love the precision of the Swiss and Paris is one of my favorite places on earth! And I truly enjoyed helping the kids learn about and fall in love with Europe. I would love to lead this tour in the future.
We hear you are about to get married! How is planning an Italian wedding different?
Well, as I've never been married before I am not so sure about wedding planning in America! One of the biggest differences I think is that in the U.S. there is a lot more ceremony to the actual ceremony. As we are not getting married in a church, the main gist of the ceremony is the reading of the Italian civil code that pertains to marriage. An official of the mayor's office is the one who performs the wedding. We also do not have a wedding party per se (you could never get Italian women to dress the same anyways!) but the bride and groom each have two witnesses who sign the marriage certificate. The Italians are also doing away with traditional wedding gifts. As more and more Italians marry after 30, the rage now is to open an account with a travel agency and have guests contribute to your honeymoon. While Americans love coming to Italy for a honeymoon, one of the most popular honeymoon destinations for Italians is the American Southwest: road-tripping through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. No kidding.