Before she became a guide for Rick Steves, Sarah had already traveled to 50 countries around the world. Now that she lives in Italy and guides our Best of Italy, Heart of Italy, Village Italy, and Venice-Florence-Rome tours, she finds herself staying closer to home for work and her travels. Her favorite trips combine spectacular landscapes, vibrant cities, and something new to learn about a place's history and culture. That sounds a lot like what a Rick Steves tour has to offer!
What brought you to Italy?
My love for Italy has developed over the years. I came to teach middle school math and science at the American school in Milan in 2005, intending to stay just three years. I didn't speak a word of Italian and really, I didn't know very much about Italy. Now, all these years later, I live in Verona, and my passion for all things Italian continues to grow every day. Aside from the obvious natural and architectural beauty surrounding me every day (and the food!), I love how much diversity is packed into this one country, culturally, and geographically.
When did you start guiding?
After teaching for 15 years, I found myself looking for a new job in my adopted home of Verona. Several friends and family members suggested that I could build a new career around all my travel experience. I only applied to one tour company: Rick Steves' Europe. I now have my dream job working with Americans and sharing my appreciation of Italy — and I still get to teach! It's true, Rick Steves tour members are a bit different than middle-schoolers (who are wonderful in their own way). Guiding constantly motivates me to continue learning, whether it's from interesting questions from tour members or my own quest to delve deeper into the history and culture of Italy.
What is your favorite area in Italy?
I look forward to each destination on my tours, so I can't say I have a favorite place in Italy, other than where I live. That's in the Veneto region of Italy, between the big cities of Milan and Venice. I moved to Verona in 2013 because it's my favorite place in the world. A city on the river Adige, it has a small town feel and plenty of ancient and medieval sights to visit. A short drive (or bike ride!) away is the famous Valpolicella wine-growing region. Then, there's Lake Garda, the biggest in Italy, only 15 miles away. Most tourists in Verona are there to see Romeo and Juliet's balcony. I like to tell tour members that it dates from the 1930's when a museum curator saw a way to profit from tourists who started to come to Verona after the release of the film about Romeo and Juliet. He found an old Roman sarcophagus and cut off one side and affixed it to the side of a building that could have been Juliet's house had she actually existed and ecco! 1300s fictional Romeo and Juliet came to life — and increased tourism for the city as well.
Is there an aspect of traveling with our groups that you especially enjoy?
My favorite part of bus rides are the Italian lessons I give. I love it whenever I hear a tour member try out an Italian phrase I've taught them. Italians are so forgiving of mistakes Americans might make, so I encourage tour members to just go for it! I get really "wow'd" when a tour member has studied Italian before coming to Italy.
How about favorite memories from your tours?
One year, my tour was in Assisi during Calendimaggio, a medieval festival in May. Schools closedown and all residents join their side of town, the upper or the lower, and compete in friendly contests such as tug-of-war, archery, and drumming. My tour members and I were so close to the action, we really felt like we had traveled back in time to the Middle Ages. And we enjoyed the food and drink at the makeshift taverns set up all over town, too!
Another "wow" moment is perfect weather in the Dolomites, the kind that leaves everyone speechless from the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. And there was nothing like the day in October one year when the locals brought their cows ceremoniously down from the high meadow, right into the town of Castelrotto. It was a unique event with alpenhorns being played below as cows decked out in flower headdresses and massive cowbells were herded down the mountain. Young people dressed in traditional costumes followed in wagons, handing out pancakes to onlookers, and some older guys had bottles of schnapps to share!
You lead several of Rick's Italy tour itineraries. What sets them apart and what do you like about each of them?
I love all my tours equally! But they are different. The Best of Italy tour gives the perfect overview of the geographical and cultural diversity of Italy's north and central areas. We cover eight of Italy's 20 regions, with the grand finale in Rome. It would be hard to pack more quality destinations in 17 days. The Village Italy tour has a slower pace and a bit more eating. While we only visit one museum in 14 days, this tour allows you to get really close to Italian culture with visits to an olive oil press, the workshops of local artisans, and a truffle farm. Each of these visits is a chance to connect personally with our hosts. After 14 days, tour members are surprised at how many places we visited without the tour feeling rushed! There's never a dull moment on the Heart of Italy tour. In just nine days it's amazing how much variety we pack in, starting in Rome, staying in a Tuscan hill town, lounging (or hiking!) in the Italian Riviera, and finishing in Renaissance Florence. Rick's Venice-Florence-Rome tour combines the most visited cities in Italy. Many people come on this tour because of the chance to see in person the great sights of the canals of Venice and the Coliseum, not to mention the Renaissance art, including Michelangelo's David. But because we stay in each city for three nights, there's also time for some extra activities, like a lagoon tour in Venice, a cooking class in Florence, and wine tasting on the way to Rome.
Here's what Sarah won't tell you…but her tour members will:
"After each trip we marvel as to how Rick can find such exceptional guides — and Sarah tops them all. Sarah is organized, thoughtful and hard-working (and she provides the best treats of any guide). Under Sarah's leadership, our group developed a family feeling. People are still emailing and sending photos two weeks after the tour!"
— Linda in Renton, WA