You have a reputation as someone who has an insatiable thirst for learning. What's the latest?
I'm happy to say that I have just finished getting my Ph.D. in art history from the University of Kansas. My major has been in 19th-century French art with minors in 17th-century Dutch painting and in Chinese sculpture. My dissertation focused on images by Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Frédéric Bazille.
I am very fortunate that both my academic work and guiding for Rick Steves entail the things I like to do most: travel, research, write, and teach. Certainly, my extended research trips to Paris have benefited my guiding of Paris and the reverse is also true. I have taught in the art history department and the Humanities and Western Civilization Program at KU during my doctoral studies, and was fortunate to direct the KU Paris/Florence study abroad program in 2006. I could draw on my knowledge of museums, markets, and restaurants from guiding Rick Steves tours for the benefit of my students. I can also offer tour members on Rick Steves tours a perspective of Paris and Florence from someone who has resided there.
You've been leading Rick Steves' Best of Ireland, Best of Italy, Best of Paris, Best of Europe, and Family Europe tours. How do you keep so many different itineraries and histories straight in your mind?
I think that all of Rick's guides are teachers and have learned to prepare for the many types of tours we guide just as a college instructor prepares to teach several different courses each semester. As guides, after we learn an itinerary, we share strategies and information with each other, and we continue to study and prepare for tours during the off-season. Because I have guided tours of Ireland for 11 years, I have a solid knowledge of Irish history and culture. But during the winter months, I enjoy reading a newly published history of Ireland or a literary work or I'll see an Irish film that will enhance the content of my Ireland tours. I do the same reading for other tours. I just finished a book on the history of Paris from the late 18th-century through 1945. My work in the humanities is multi-disciplinary and integrates social history, politics, economics, and literature and the visual arts. This complements the itineraries of the various Europe tours I guide a great deal.
With so much going on, when do you find time to travel?
My academic work lets me focus on tour guiding during the summer months. I really enjoy the wider range of age groups that can travel with us during that time of year. The weather is frequently at its best during summer, particularly in Ireland and Switzerland. Hiking in the Alps or along Ireland's west coast are two of my favorite activities on our summer tours. We can really enjoy a meal al fresco in Italy or our cruise along the River Seine at twilight because of the warmer temperatures. The additional daylight is great for taking strolls after dinner. And, we find more cultural events are scheduled during the summer. Often, museums will organize special exhibitions during the summer months.
Who is the most interesting historical figure on the tours you lead?
This is a tough question, but as an art historian, I would have to say it is Michelangelo. I am still awed by his genius every time I see his David in Florence or the Sistine Chapel frescoes at the Vatican. I've been a student of Italian Renaissance art for a number of years and there is no definitive or absolute interpretation of his work. His work cannot be categorized because it resonates with spirituality and an emotional core that complement the massiveness and physicality of his figures. Of course, there is the technical virtuosity of his sculptures and painted images that I find so compelling. His letters also provide modern readers with an insight into his struggles with his powerful patrons — the Medici and the Popes — as well as his relationship with his family, and the political instability of 16th-century Florence and Rome. His life story is fascinating on many levels.
When you are guiding in Ireland, is there one place that makes your tour member's eyes light up the most?
I think that most tour members relish our full day on the Dingle Peninsula. The sea, mountains, and the architectural ruins on the Dingle Peninsula are, for me, incomparable. We explore archeological sites from the Iron Age and the Middle Ages, learn about the Blasket Islanders and their rich literary tradition, enjoy some of the best cuisine on the tour, and end the day in an intimate candlelit, 18th-century church, listening to a concert of traditional Irish music.
If you were to retire in Europe, what location would you choose?
You've probably guessed by now that I have a great passion for Ireland and the Dingle Peninsula in particular. I became enamored with County Kerry many years ago while I was a student on a study-abroad program and my husband and I spend as much time there as we can. We love the fact that we can be outdoors almost all year-long. Dingle town has great restaurants, a good library, an important Irish cultural studies center, a theater company, and one of the best music scenes in Ireland. But most importantly, we have made good friends over the years, and they make us feel at home whenever we return.