Should you take an escorted tour to Italy, plan a trip on your own or something in between? The age-old question when traveling to Italy. Luckily, travel industry insider Steve Born of Globus and Monograms has some answers. Host Kathy McCabe and Steve talk about how you simply must make time for serendipity in Italy and how to do that.
Thanks to our sponsors Fruits&Passion CUCINA (Save 15% at fruitsandpassion.com with the promo code DREAMOFITALY15) and to Medjet (Save on multi-year memberships at medjet.com/dreamofitaly).
Transcript with Show Notes Embedded:
Steve Born, Monograms/Globus: You know, our heads are down, in our phone, and we’re GPSing where to go next. Put it down, go, take that path. You will not get lost. Someone will help you everywhere that I’ve had a chance to go in Italy, it’s been true.
Kathy McCabe: This is Kathy McCabe. Welcome to the Dream of Italy Podcast. You know me from the PBS travel series, Dream of Italy. And the award-winning website and publication. Join me as we explore the sights and sound of Bell’Italia. From the canals of Venice to the piazzas of Puglia. From the fashion houses of Milan– Ciao Bella! … to the vineyards of Tuscany. Hop on! It’s going to be a great ride. Andiamo.
Kathy: First, some words from our podcast sponsors.
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Medjet. While travel should always be dreamy, sometimes it is not. That’s when it pays to be a Medjet member like me. If you’re sick or injured, and hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, domestic or international, Medjet gets you home to the hospital of your choice. Something many travel insurance polices don’t offer. Get your own Medjet membership at medjet.com/dreamofitaly.
Kathy: I’m here with a friend of mine who is probably as passionate about travel as I am. Steve Born, who sometimes goes by his Italian alter-ego, Stefano Bornio, is vice-president of marketing for the Globus family of brands, one of the largest travel companies in the world, based here in Denver, where we are in the studio together. For more than 15 years, Steve has spent his days helping travelers discover la dolce vita.
When he’s not managing marketing initiatives, Steve can be found indulging in a hearty dish of pasta or a glass of Barolo, or jetting off to Italy himself, where we are told he is frequently mistaken for an Italian shoe model. Welcome Steve, I’m so happy to have you here today.
Steve: Well hi Kathy, it so nice to see you again and to be able to talk with you about Italy. Two of my favorite things, right here in one room.
Kathy: Oh, thank you very much. I know that we could literally talk travel, the business of travel and Italy for hours.
Steve: You know it. And again, you bring it out of me. It’s just, I love the place so much, and when I get to connect with you and hear your stories about it, just brings it out of me. I love it.
Kathy: I’m glad to hear that. Then I am doing my job. So let’s dive in, because I think we have a lot of great things to talk about. I’m really fascinated by your job and Globus. You sell, Globus and your various brands, which we’ll talk about, sell travel to 83 countries. But this year, and I think many years, Italy is your number one seller.
Steve: It is. And you know, Italy had been star of the show through the ’90s. And in recent years, it took a little bit of a dip. And realized it wasn’t an Italy issue, it was a touring Italy issue. And what we found is that touring was known for Rome, Florence, Venice, did it, great, got a good orientation, but then I did it. And so we’ve really invested a lot of time and product development that’s off the beaten path.
We call it Undiscovered Italy. And it’s building new tours for both Globus and Cosmos outside of that Rome, Florence, Venice pattern. We still do that, and we do it in spades, but really thinking of a tour in a new way that helps people get to the places that, they’re the postcards. The picturesque, authentic Italy that they dream of.
They just don’t know where that is, how to get there, some cases even how to pronounce it. So we found a real niche with that, and it’s just sky-rocketed. Italy and our overall Europe business.
Kathy: It’s amazing. And I noticed it myself. It’s not, everyone is going with, on their own, or various tour operators. These cities are overrun. And it’s a good problem to have. But tell me about Undiscovered Italy. So what are some of the places you’re sending people to now?
Steve: Well, really it’s, there are so many parts of Italy that are the authentic Italy. Not just the postcard brochure cover sights. And so, what we did is, we looked at areas of the country, north, south, everything from the Italian Alps to the Lake District, to Apulia to Sicily, and just took stock of all the places that are really, where Italians go for holiday.
And are magical and authentic and quaint and off the beaten path. And these are the places that more and more Americans want to see, and be there, and overnight there and soak it up. And it’s really a lot of those places, we identified, we really have 20 places where we looked at where the tour category is in the States, where tour operators are focusing, and we found 20 destinations that we overnight that are unique to our portfolio.
Kathy: Oh. So tell me a little bit.
Steve: So, you know, the places like San Marino and Bari and Fasano and Perugia and Marsala, Lecce, Lucca, Montecatini. I mean, the places that you even say, and it’s like, oh my gosh, I don’t even know what that is-
Kathy: Just book me! Book the trip!
Steve: … but, I got to be there. I mean, it’s just quintessential Italian. We don’t have the benefit of the images here, but you just see the photography-
Kathy: We can imagine it.
Steve: … and the video. And it’s just, it just pops. And the reaction has been great, because it’s given travel agents and people who have toured Italy in the past, a reason to say, “You know what? I loved it, and I want to go back, and I want to see more of it.” And a tour is a great way to do it. Because it’s so easy functionally.
We get you there, put you in the right spot, when you’re there with the hotel, have the tour director there to help guide you, and you get to just relax and soak it up, and pretend you’re Italian.
Kathy: There’s nothing more fun. So you mentioned Fasano and Bari, those are in Puglia–
Kathy: … which is one of my favorite regions, and in fact, people ask me, like, if you were going to buy a house, where would you live? And Puglia, which is in the heel of Italy, facing Greece, it’s definitely at the top of my list. Beautiful beaches, Lecce is a Baroque city, the olive trees are three feet in diameter and they’re 600 years old, and they look like monster sea creature with the arms going out all over.
And stone walls. Again, we did do, the first season we did an episode there, and I just think it’s one of the best areas of Italy. And I’m glad to hear that you’re bringing people there, to new places.
Steve: Well, you’re really paving the way for the work that you do and what you get to showcase with your shows. You’re paving the way for that interest in these places. Not only do you bring out the best of the Rome, Florence, Venice and the undiscovered spots there, but you’re helping us be comfortable in getting off the beaten path and to see it.
Kathy: I appreciate that. Now Steve, you’re also running the marketing for Monograms, which is one your brands, and a proud sponsor of Season Two of Dream of Italy on PBS. And in season two we really got off that beaten path, and we went to Basilicata with Francis Ford Coppola, and Matera, we went to beautiful Matera, which is a cave city.
It looks like Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, so I can imagine, in a year, or two, or even this, you may already have Matera on your list. That we’re getting the audience used to these places and then you’re going to take them there.
Steve: Well that’s exactly it. Where there’s demand and there’s infrastructure there in Italy to support the tourism industry, demand created with people like you and programs and Americans getting more exposed to the places off the beaten path, the really interesting, intricate, authentic Italy. And then our role is, let’s make it easy. Let’s build it, put it into our product.
So, it’s really if you build it-
Kathy: They will come.
Steve: … they will come and we will come and we’ll put it together. So that’s really our pattern for product development is to be that safety net for the travelers that, they have interest in it, but they can’t, or don’t want to, or shouldn’t do it on their own. That having someone in between that’s there on site to put it together, means that they can just focus on being there and enjoying it.
Kathy: So, and I love talking and when we’d meet, because we would meet about sponsorship of the series and the season, we’d have great conversations. I love talking about the business of travel. Do you think that travelers are more sophisticated, or becoming more sophisticated these days?
Steve: That’s a great question. In a way, yes, in a way, no. And let me explain that. In a way, more sophisticated in that travelers are super prepared when they get there. The research part before they go, before they book and before they go-
Kathy: Yeah, the internet, these shows, podcasts…
Steve: Exactly… is, sometimes is the best part of their entire experience. And they get to dream of themselves there in that location, and being there. And there’s so much that they have access to. And in a way, now we’re much more sophisticated because we create these expectations.
Like, oh my gosh, look at this. I see it, 360 videos where they can actually place themselves there. But on the other side, we’re less sophisticated and more naive. Because we have these expectations, but don’t know how to put it in practice. It’s like we have the playbook, but we haven’t had game experience on the field with it.
So you don’t know, well, how long does it take to get there? What am I going to have to go through to get there? When I’m there, how much time do I need? How hard is it going to be to get around? Do they have Uber, even? While I’m in that place, is it going to be easy to find restaurants that are accommodating, that’s that magical meal that I dreamt of?
So it’s this, it’s a little bit of a gap between these great, sophisticated expectations from all this information we have access to, but then putting it in practice we’re just naive. We just haven’t gone through it before. And that’s the role that we play. Is that, we want to bridge that gap. So that they don’t have to do that all on their own. That we can put it together.
And then we have people there, with them, on the ground to help make it happen, when there are twists and turns in their journey, when they’re there, that we have folks with them to make sure they’re getting out of it what is matching the expectations that they had going in.
Kathy: I think one thing I was thinking when you were speaking is, and I’m sure you build this in to your packages and your tours, the thing about Italy is to leave some room for serendipity. You can’t over prepare because the best things that happen-
Steve: So right.
Kathy: … like, getting invited to somebody’s home for dinner or discovering a little shop that you didn’t know about, that’s what makes Italy special.
Steve: So right. And those are the things that you can tell on your show how authentic that is, when that happens to you. You can tell, you can just see it on your face. Like, “Oh my gosh, we were going to be here and they surprised me.” And it seems so Italian too with their nature of hospitality to surprise you.
Kathy: Absolutely. And I have a funny story from season two, it’s not, some of the things that we did really were serendipity, some of the things we did, nobody told me about ahead of time. So my best story is, we were in Florence and we were doing, we wanted to do a segment about this workshop at the Duomo where for 500 years they’ve been creating the stones to replace on the front of the Duomo, where Michelangelo sculpted at this workshop.
So I thought it would be just typical Florence, let’s do it. We went, saw Marcello, the sculptor, doing his thing, and then my producer Fabio’s like, “We’re going over to the Duomo. We’re going to film outside.” Great. We walk up, there is a crane. Nobody told me that I was going to go on a crane up to see the most iconic image of Florence, and certainly of Italy, the cupola of the Duomo.
And why it was so spectacular, even on film is like, I was so excited I could pee my pants I was so excited. And if I had known ahead of time, you wouldn’t have captured that. It was my surprise too. And I find that in so many things that I do in Italy.
Steve: It really, to me, that’s my experience as well, is that the hospitality spirit in Italy is so strong, that they want to surprise and delight. And that there’s planning that goes in to that. And when they have a guest, which is our guests, and you’re a guest there, that they want to make it really special. It really is true. And what you said about serendipity, I absolutely agree.
Just make time when you’re there is, would be my advice to people, to take wrong turns.
Kathy: Don’t over plan. Leave a half a day. Because you might get to where you’re staying, your hotel, your villa rental, and the guy who owns it might say, “Hey, do you want to come over for lunch tomorrow?” Or, “You should really go to this place or that place.” And we are so over planned in our lives anyway.
Steve: And we’re, our heads are down, in our phone, and we’re GPSing where to go next. Put it down. Go, take that path.
Kathy: I know.
Steve: Make time for it. You will not get lost. Someone will help you get back. Just, make time for that in Italy. And to me, everywhere that I’ve had a chance to go in Italy, that’s been true.
Kathy: So let me ask you this. I think a common problem for people who are traveling to Italy, especially the first few trips. They really have a debate with themselves. Do I want to go on a fully escorted tour, or do I want to buy a package, or plan it on my own?
And I know you offer various solutions. How does someone make that decision?
Steve: So there’s so many ways to do it, right. Italy is so diverse, and so many ways that you can experience Italy. What I tell people is, place yourself there. You’re there, it’s that magical day, you’ve finally arrived, what do you want that to look like? If you have multiple things you want to do, access to, a lot of different site, maybe transportation that you need to rely on to get you from point A to point B, let’s say trains or any way to get around.
If it’s complicated, save yourself. Tour would be a thing that you would want to look at, because it’s going to liberate you from the logistics.
Steve: If, on the other hand, if you’re placing yourself in that ideal Italian experience and there are not many connection points, you’re going to be in one place, you just want to be there, hang out, soak it up, you’re convinced that that’s it, then being on your own, doing it on your own, finding a villa or a hotel or an Airbnb, could work out just fine.
But look at, when you’re there, what do you want that to look like? If there’s a lot to it, save yourself. Even just the time you would have spent getting around, because we know how challenging that can be sometimes, or standing in line, even.
Steve: Then a tour is going to get you right to it. My favorite example I use for that is just the simple Colosseum visit in Rome.
So, you can go on your own. There are, I’m sure as you’ve experienced, nine different lines. There is no way to know where you’re supposed to be. Each line is long and scary, and no one will tell you if you’re in the right line or not. You just go. And it’s like, oh, well, this wasn’t what I imagined when I said I was going to go to the Colosseum.
I pictured, I was going to be there. And it was going to be magical. So what we do, is, first, we’ll take the coach right up almost to the entrance, probably illegally, pull you right up there. You don’t even, there’s no concept of line for our guests. Is that we have a scheduled time, we have our local guide, whisk you right in, walk right by.
The people in line think you’re some sort of Italian rock star, going right in. And then when you’re there, you’re with someone whose life’s work is to bring alive the stories of the Colosseum.
Kathy: That is so important.
Steve: It’s like night and day, that experience versus what typically people would do, is grab their app or their guidebook and line up and off they go.
Kathy: I think it is essential, if you’re going to Rome, Venice, Florence, these places with such depth, you must go with a guide. Whether you’re planning your trip on your own and you hire someone for four hours, or you go on an escorted tour, the context is staggering.
Steve: And Italians take their guides very seriously, as you know.
Kathy: Yes. Yeah.
Steve: I mean, they’re the best. We go all over the world, and the local guides-
Kathy: You have to study for years, and you take a local exam. It’s very difficult to become a licensed guide in Italy. You have to truly be an expert in architecture and art and history, culture, anthropology.
Steve: And this is something I don’t think we know as typical travelers, the depth of that. And you know it when you experience it. But that’s something really for travelers to keep in mind when looking at an Italy experience. Sure, anyone could go on Expedia and piece together something, but really, what do you want to get out of it?
Steve: And look a little deeper.
Kathy: Well, we’ve been talking about guides and locals, and I know that you have a really unique offering through Monograms, because I experienced it myself. In Venice, I met one of your local hosts, her name is Grace, and she was phenomenal in showing me Canareggio and the Jewish ghetto. And we went to a bakery, her favorite bakery and had some really good bread. Tell me how that works. How your local host program works.
Steve: Graziella. Yeah, so Monograms really is one of the best-kept secrets in travel. I’m working hard to make it not so much a secret, and you’re certainly helping with that. It’s really a hybrid between escorted touring and going on your own. Where we provide the hotel, transportation, sight-seeing, optionals, choice of overnights, and the local host like Graziella. And the rest is up to you.
It’s almost like we’ll provide the scaffold, and you fill it in. And it’s that perfect balance between what a lot of folks want as structured, with a lot of free time and lack of structure that they can feel comfortable and go out on their own. So the local guide is the secret sauce for that. They’re the ones who are there with you every step of the way.
They’re based at your hotel, and their job is to make your experience in that city come to life. And they’re from that place and they’re experts in it, and they’ve also got huge hearts. And want to deliver what you want out of that city. And so with Monograms you have a local host in every city. And the most popular package worldwide is actually a Rome, Florence, Venice package.
And so we have people like Graziella there waiting for you at the hotel, and it’s been growing like crazy. It’s really taking off now and yeah, getting the word out. Because it really was a category unto its own. It really didn’t exist before we’ve entered into this. So just out there, telling the story about this new way to travel.
Kathy: Coming up next. Steve and I talk about serendipity while traveling. We’re talking magic, people. But first, a travel and life tip, from the pages of Dream of Italy. The travel publication I founded in 2002. Were your ancestors from Italy? Did you know you might be able to become an Italian citizen? Yes. Italy recognizes citizenship jure sanguinis, by blood.
No matter where someone is born, if at least one parent is an Italian citizen at the time of the birth, the child is considered Italian and can usually pass on citizenship to his or her descendants. There are many advantages to holding dual citizenship with Italy. Dream of Italy members can find out all about it in our special issue on ancestry and citizenship.
It’s one of the 170 back issues of Dream of Italy available online, only to Dream of Italy members. Get a free issue and find out how membership can feed your Italian dreams, at dreamofitaly.com/issue. And now, Steve and I continue our conversation about serendipity and magic.
Kathy: How competitive is the travel industry these days?
Steve: Travel is doing so well right now. International travel. So, what I would say is that the work of people like me and companies like ours is making sure that we are clear in that this, if you want to experience Italy, or your destination, in a certain way, this is the right way to do it. Doesn’t need to be everybody. But it’s just this is what we-
Kathy: You have your niche.
Steve: … have to offer. That, if you want that added support, if you want a little bit more out of your destination, out of the place in Italy that you want to go, then there’s a tour operator. If you want to just run on your own, there are options for that too. So, competitive, that’s a really interesting question, because I wouldn’t say it’s, there’s a lot of room within that.
Because so many Americans, it’s top on their list. It’s the first thing they want to do.
Kathy: This is my whole life’s work. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I live and I breathe Italy. I go as often as humanly possible. I talk to people all day about Italy. I am still shocked, all the time, how it moves people. How much they want to go. And how much they return again and again. What is it, what is it?
Steve: Well, you know it, I mean, you know it-
Kathy: I know, but what are those words?
Steve: … because you’ve been there.
Kathy: What is it?
Steve: The word that jumps out to me, is something I hear a lot when I’m in Rome. And that’s layers. That really, people describe the city as these really interesting layers.
Steve: And you can see something on the surface, and there’s a layer beneath it that has a whole other story, and another layer, and just generations of history with each layer. And I think of all of Italy like that. That each place has these different layers that you can go back again and again to the same place, and it’s never the same twice.
That you can see different layers, and too, it’s also got of course this undeniable combination of great weather and diverse destinations that are close together. And the food, and the natural beauty, and the architecture and the history. And the Italians, of course. They alone are a reason to go to Italy.
Kathy: So, when people ask me why Italy? Why? Why? I say that the first time that I went to Italy, I felt like I was in my grandparents’… who were of Italian-American descent. But I don’t know that they would have had to have been. I felt like I was in my grandparents’ living room where I used to go every day of my childhood, and something was cooking on the stove in the kitchen next door.
And I just felt safe and warm and happy. And it’s really an experience unlike many others.
Steve: And what is it about Italy do you think that brings that to life?
Kathy: The people. The people and the way, the generations of their history, their generosity. Italians are also crazy. Let me be completely honest. They’re nuts. I’m not going to sell you but they’re fun. And they’re complex. And what I mean by nuts, is they can not form a line to save their lives. And the worst offenders are the little nonne, the little grandmothers, they’re horrible. You go, I was in, I think I was in Florence and I was buying a train ticket.
And I had a question so I didn’t go to the kiosk, I was going to a person, and man, this little grandmother cut right in front of me. And they, you know, there aren’t a lot of rules.
Kathy: Rules are, we live in a country that probably follows rules much more than Italy does. And some of that is fascinating, just their history. Everyone was in Italy and conquering and occupying, and they don’t have as much trust in the government as other countries. So there’s something sort of beautiful about letting yourself go and not following the rules.
Or, also having rules like, and there still are places where there’s an afternoon break or siesta, where a store is closed for four or five hours. And that’s missing in a lot of the world these days.
Steve: Well, it goes back to your advice earlier about serendipity. Don’t follow the rules. Go, make time to soak it up, and to let the day come to you. And I think that’s also a neat thing about what I do for a living, is that our products are designed to make room for that.
And see all the sights. Get that done.
Steve: We can do it efficiently, to leave room for you to soak it up.
Kathy: I’m a big fan of that, and I’m glad that you recognize that. Because that is the beauty of travel. Is, the unexpected. And gosh, I don’t know how Instagram has, it’s done wonders for the travel industry, I’m sure, giving people dreams and ideas. But then we’re also almost trying to follow, oh, this is a great place to take a picture, or some formula. And there’s so many influences on our decisions of how we travel.
Steve: Well, and too, you find people, they’ll get the selfies, the first day, do the sights, and then they won’t, because they’re soaking it up and enjoying it. And it gives you a chance to get beyond that, just the postcard view-
Kathy: Yes. Yeah.
Steve: … of the place, and really, to be there. And be in the moment.
Steve: Which we never do, when we’re here. We never do at home. We need to do that when we travel.
Kathy: I think Italy is one of the antidotes to modern life. But you can get caught up in, you still have wifi access. It’s a fully functioning place.
Kathy: But, I think it is so demanding on your sense, your emotions, beauty, taste, that it does pull you away from all those other distractions.
Steve: It is. It’s a full vacation.
Kathy: A full sensory experience. And talking about sensory experiences, we can’t talk about Italy without going into depth on eating, and the culinary aspect of travel, and wine. Tell me, Steve, do you have a memorable meal from one of your visits?
Steve: I do. It was probably one of my first trips to Florence, and I was with Monograms. One of our local hosts, Francesco, in Florence. And it was kind of what we were talking about with little element of surprise with, that comes with Italian hospitality. We went to a place, actually, I knew you were going to ask, so I remembered the name, I brought the card-
Kathy: Oh wow. You still have it.
Steve: … actually. I remembered.
Kathy: That’s a memorable place.
Steve: Because it was that, I was like, ah, if I ever go, which I haven’t, but I’m going to, Piazza del Vino. And so he’s like, “Oh, we’re going to go to dinner, and this is a place that we recommend for our guests.” And it was off the beaten path, I never would have found it. That’s one thing, is, rely on locals when you can find them for recommendations beyond the guidebook.
So, took me there, kind of a nice Florentine steak house, I would describe it as, and you could tell that he knew, guests were coming, and this was going to be a special night. And I got the sense that everyone is special to him.
Kathy: I was about to say, it’s always a special night.
Steve: It’s always special. And he had gone out of his way to prepare. He knew the owner, obviously, which it seems like everyone there knows everyone.
Kathy: This is true. Especially Florence is very small, yes.
Steve: Yeah, within the industry, no doubt. And a little twist on it, he had actually spent time in the States and fallen in love with southern barbecue, of all things. So he had imported, from the States, a smoker, and had a twist on Italian meat, on steak Florentine, with a smoked twist. And it was-
Kathy: I have to go. I have never, I’ve been to Florence many times, bistecca alla Fiorentina is the most popular dish-
Steve: Oh, it’s great.
Kathy: … but I’ve never had it smoked.
Steve: Well you know what, I got the sense that this doesn’t really, this is not a usual thing.
Steve: That this was a special thing. But to me, it was so memorable because, not only was it amazing, completely unique, unexpected, but just, I knew Francesco had gone out of his way to make it special. And I’ve always kept that in mind when thinking of dining with Italian folks. Is that, that’s what they want to do, they know it’s special, dinners are special. And especially dinners with friends.
Kathy: Absolutely. It’s the linchpin, the center of Italian life. Like, Sunday lunch, if you live in, say, Florence, you drive out to Tuscany, you maybe go to a vineyard, you go to a restaurant that’s out in the countryside, you sit on the terrazza, and you eat and you talk and you drink for three, four, five hours.
Even the waiters, did you know, the waiters in Italy, it’s a profession. It’s taken very seriously.
Steve: It is.
Kathy: It’s not some, necessarily like a part-time job or a summer job, these are people who’ve been doing it 20, 30 years. Italians take their food, their wine, service, very, very seriously.
Steve: And too, I don’t think you can really make a mistake when eating in Italy. Just take chances. Go off the beaten path. Everyone does their homework before they go, but you know, when you’re there, rely on locals too.
Kathy: I think one recommendation I would give is, maybe you’re shopping or walking down a street. Pop into a store, and ask. Even if you can’t speak, many people speak English now, but say, “Ristorante,” or ask for a recommendation from the locals. You will usually find a place you never would. My job is a little different, but I try not to look, and I try to just happen upon something.
Steve: And you’ve probably always, those are probably some of those most memorable meals, right?
Kathy: Yeah. Because, absolutely. But I also wonder, you know, we were talking about preparation for travel, are we reading TripAdvisor and Yelp too much?
Kathy: Without planning every dinner and planning every place we want to go. So again, I think the theme, even of our discussion today, is letting things happen.
Steve: That totally is. Leave room.
Kathy: In Italy.
Steve: Take a wrong turn. Because there’s no wrong turn.
Kathy: You never know what you will find. I’m thinking about driving in Italy and I’m laughing, because that’s another-
Steve: That’s a whole other story.
Kathy: I mean, and that is a reason people may want to travel with Monograms or with Globus. I happen to enjoy it, but I’m a bit of a risk taker.
Steve: Well, I can’t imagine. And I think I’m a good driver. But driving in Rome, no.
Kathy: It is not-
Steve: I am not Italian, so I just don’t think that that’s my thing.
Kathy: I have done it twice. Once was in August, so everyone was on vacation, and that was completely acceptable and fine, and…
Kathy: I grew up near New York City, I lived in New York City, I drive my parents to New York City all the time. And so I’m a pretty experienced driver. I’ve driven in Ireland, Sardinia, Sicily, but Rome, my God, I was trying to return the rental car to an office in the city. Number one mistake. Just take it to the airport. Trying to get to this place it almost killed me.
Steve: Don’t, yeah. It’s amazing, it’s actually amazing to me to stop and watch the traffic in Rome. Because everyone seems to know what they’re doing and where they’re going and when they’re going to get there magically.
Kathy: There’s a rhythm, there’s a machismo, I will say. There’s a very competitive aspect to driving in Italy.
Steve: It’s a sport.
Kathy: It is a blood sport. Again, the rules, are merely suggestions on the autostrada. There’s a line, and you usually, there’s often cars just going down the center. Instead of two lanes, going down the center. I enjoy it, but again, it may not be for the faint of heart.
Steve: Well you know, to me, the counter of that are the trains in Italy. We use high-speed trains with Monograms between the cities. Oh my gosh. That’s one of my favorite parts of the experience. They’re just so easy and sharp and well run, and it’s a great product, and a great way, the scenery’s beautiful, a great way to get between cities. And that to me is a pleasant surprise too, from our guests, is that mode of travel within-
Kathy: Well, because Americans aren’t taking trains, usually. Maybe on the East Coast, if you live on the East Coast. We’re not using trains the way that Italians or Europeans use them. So it’s a really unique experience.
Steve: Yeah, it’s to me, it’s one of the little undiscovered surprises that we hear a lot of feedback too, about how pleasantly surprised they are about the trains…
Kathy: They’re pretty efficient, these days.
Steve: Pretty good. Pretty good, yup.
Kathy: You know what I missed? I was in a train station, again, I was in Florence recently, and they now have digital timetable time boards. And they used to have these boards that would go click, click click click, click, click, click, click. And I loved this noise of the time changing. And I remember it from like Italian movies and films.
Kathy: And now, it’s all digital. So you don’t hearing the clicking and the noise of the, which track has which train. There are things I even long for, from Italy.
Kathy: Italy is a modern place.
Steve: It’s interesting you bring up those signs, because for us, we provide, we actually have our local host take our guests through the train station to navigate the train station. And so often, we see the Americans staring at the train boards, the signs, hypnotized. Because the words-
Steve: … are not, yes. They’re-
Kathy: Venice. Roma. Rome.
Steve: … lost.
Steve: The time is what? When? What track?
Kathy: Oh, the 24-hour clock.
Steve: Hypnotized. So, that process, I mean, just as an example of, think about when you’re there, and getting around and, if you’ve done that and you’re comfortable with it, great. But most of us haven’t. Just alone that experience of the train ticket and navigating the train station. And we’ll whisk our guests all the way through that process, take them right to the train.
But it’s funny. Oftentimes our local hosts, when we have our Monograms guests at that sign, will adopt other travelers who are roaming around the airport-
Steve: … to help them navigate too. Just to provide that.
Kathy: I was going to ask you an interesting question. What do you think your Italian hosts, what do you think they think of Americans? What is their impression of all these Americans that you send them?
Steve: So we have selling markets in Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Canada, as well as United States. So their frame of reference is the locals in Italy, and from all those other countries. They love Americans. Couple reasons why. Polite, gracious, we wear our hearts on our sleeve. When someone’s done something that we appreciate, we tend to tell them, right?
And generous. We want to, once we’re comfortable, we’re, to stereotype us all, we’re really good travelers. I think sometimes we get a bad rap because in moments we’re not comfortable, that we can be awkward. Right?
Steve: But our job is to make them comfortable. And so once we’re there, comfortable, we’re great travelers. We are generous and appreciative and patient and accommodating and respectful. They don’t believe in the concept of the ugly American traveling. I can tell you that.
Kathy: I’m really glad to hear that. I’m glad to hear that. So Steve, thank you again for joining me and talking about one of our favorite topics, travel to Italy.
Steve: Kathy, it was so nice to spend time talking about Italy, you bring out the best in the people that you speak with. You can see it on your show, and you bring out the Italian in them too. So I appreciate that.
Kathy: You don’t have to be born Italian, I’ll bring it out in you.
Steve: You’ll bring it out. So I appreciate that. Always good to talk to you.
Kathy: Find out how Steve’s company Monograms can help you design a trip that incorporates undiscovered Italy and leaves room for serendipity. Visit monograms.com.
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Photos from flickr – credit to Giorgio Cravero, Naval S, Pedro Szekely, and Star5112