Mama mia! Donato Chmura has led more Rick Steves tours in Italy than any of our other guides. Canadian born and raised, Don now makes his homes (he has two in Italy) in Rome and near Lago di Bolsena.
How did you get involved with Rick Steves and tour guiding?
I met Rick in the late 1980s in Gimmelwald, Switzerland, when I was looking after the youth hostel there. We talked one evening about all different kinds of things until about 2 in the morning, and before we parted ways he asked me if I'd like to be a tour guide for him. I was allowed to sleep on it that night and tell him in the morning before he continued on his way. Well, I slept on this new idea of becoming a tour guide for the next five years. In 1993, I finally decided to accept his offer, and I've been guiding tours ever since. I sometimes think that perhaps I should've taken him up on his offer when he first made it, but I've learned that there's a time and place for everything.
What do you like best about leading Rick's Rome city tours?
Well, it feels like home to me. I've been visiting Rome for several decades now, and finally I decided to make it my year-round home. The Roman people, their food, their culture, language, and traditions are all wonderful! For most visitors the city is small enough to walk, and public transportation is quite good. And the sights! Rome offers nearly 2,800 years of history — everything from the republic, empire, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and modern times — all laid out before every traveler's eyes in art, architecture, and archaeological sites. The city comes alive in its street markets, in its restaurants, in the public squares, in the traffic, and in the interaction of the people...the choice is yours. If you're bored in Rome it's time to check out!
What are your most rewarding moments as a guide?
I suppose at the top of the list is when I see the reaction on the faces of my tour members as they see something absolutely amazing right there in front of them for the first time, or their reaction when they make a personal connection about history or art or whatever and finally understand something about it that has eluded them until that moment. I also love to hear laughter during a group meal and to see a smile after a sip of wine. All of these reactions lead me to believe that my tour members are enjoying themselves, and that is a big part of what a tour is all about. Second thing on the list would be that I have the opportunity, like the tour members, to learn something new about this world — past and present — and about myself. Often it's from them that I learn. As a guide I'm not only a teacher, I'm also a student.
What's life like when you're not guiding?
When I'm not guiding I'm looking over my shoulder for about 25 people that I think should be following me. No, seriously, when I'm not guiding I spend my time between my new house (actually a very old house) in Italy near Lago di Bolsena, my apartment in Rome, and my mother's home in Canada. I read a lot and travel around in Italy quite a bit to understand the differences of the various regions (and there are a lot!). I usually visit another country during the year just to keep my perspective straight. And, I take time to enjoy good food, good wine, and good friends.