Once upon a time Karin Kibby took a trip to Italy…and she made it her home! Over the many years that she's been working as a Rick Steves guide, her tour members have described Karin as an adventurous, fun-loving spirit who adores living the European lifestyle. During a typical 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 Best of Sicily.
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 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 now I call Italy my home.
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. 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 20 regions that make up Italy. We think of Italy as ancient, but as a unified country it's a lot younger than the US. 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, 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 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 Best of Italy tour. If you don't have 17 days, I'd go for the Heart of Italy tour. From the art of Florence to the seafood of the Cinque Terre, both these tours give great overviews of Italian city and country life. If you've already traveled in Italy and like the feel of the small towns, the Village Italy tour is for you. If you are an art lover, the Venice, Florence & Rome tour is great — just remember that most Italians do not live in big cities like these. Our Sicily tour draws many in search of their roots or an island experience that blends Italian and Greek history like nowhere else.
You had an Italian wedding a few years ago. How is that different from an American wedding?
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 US there is a lot more ceremony to the actual ceremony. Most Italians do not get married in a church, so 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!
Here's what Karin won't tell you…but her tour members will:
"When I think of Italy I think of Karin. She was the voice of Italy. She answered the questions we did not know to ask. She looked out for her flock of tour members with patience and quiet understanding. She was approachable, available, warm and engaging — and a great ambassador for Rick Steves' tours. Most importantly, Karin's love of her adopted country and its history was palpable."
− Thomas in Shreveport, LA