Serendipity strikes in the strangest ways sometimes – which is, I suppose, why it’s called serendipity. At a meet and greet I went to with my coworkers in Portland over the summer I met a guy who, upon hearing about my love for Italy, said, “I know someone you should meet.” As it happens, a friend of his had recently moved to Rome. He put me in touch with her, and we’ve since emailed a few times.
Well, now I’m pleased to introduce her to all of you, via the second WhyGo Italy interview.
Adrienne Davis is one-half of A&R Tours, which runs customized tours of Rome and elsewhere in Italy. She has a degree in Art History, so as you can imagine she’s quite content in Italy. I’m always interested in hearing what makes people fall in love with Italy, so I was curious about what led to her move.
Although she was raised in Oregon, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting Adrienne in person – I’m looking forward to meeting her in her newly-adopted city of Rome someday. She was kind enough to answer some questions for me via email, so let’s dive into learning more about Adrienne!
What brought you to Rome in the first place? Was it an affection for art history because of your degree, or did an early trip to Rome make you want to study art history? Or was it a little of both?
My grandfather fought in the second world war in Naples where he also fell in love with Italy. He continued to travel back to the peninsula eventually bringing my mother and her sisters. I was forced to watch the slides of their trips at family parties so the mystery was embedded at an early age.
After high school my sister and I did the traditional “backpack trip” through Europe, 5 countries in 2 months. Well, as soon as we landed in Italy, first stop Pisa, I felt the magic rushing through the ancient land up through my feet and into my heart… You can imagine when we got down to Rome. All the stories I had heard from family members, all the pictures, all the things I learned in school, finally came to life and made sense.
When I returned home all I could think about was the energy of the eternal city. I enrolled at University taking various History and ancient culture classes. After a year I missed it so much that, with the help of my mom, I found an amazing family in Rome and spent a year there as an Au Pair (nanny). I learned the language and culture first hand, falling in love with the art/history and Italy as my grandfather had. Upon returning in Oregon I changed my major to Art history and studied abroad in Florence. I was so inspired by what I had seen and I was eager to learn as much as possible.
How long have you lived in Rome now, and how long did you live in Florence?
I have lived in Rome for just over 2 years now and I lived in Florence for 4 months in 2004. I have traveled from the most northern point to the southern tip, seeing everything in between… I must say I prefer the south, it’s warmer so therefore the people are as well; the food is incredible, the hospitality is unbeatable, and the art is so vast and diverse.
Tell us about your favorite things about living in Rome – and a couple of things you don’t love, too.
One of my favorite things has to be the style of life, that old “la dolce vita.” My friends would say my favorite thing is the cusine, and I must agree. It seems like everyone here has time to stop and chat, have long meals together, and take leisurely walks at any time of the day.
The quirky things about italy that used to make me giggle are starting to become a harsh reality. My boyfriend bought a house so I got to experience first hand the archaic bureaucracy here. It is also nice to have a 3 hour lunch every day, but it is impossible to run errands between 12:30 and 4pm.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you hear from visitors to Rome? What are some of the oddest or funniest questions you get from visitors about life in Italy?
The first thing visitors comment about is the loud and aggressive way the Italians talk to each other. It seems as though they are always fighting or screaming but it is just the extremely passionate manner in which they speak.
Everyone asks if we really have 2 hour lunches and 3 hour dinners… To make them feel better I say that is reserved for holidays.
They also ask if all the Italian men cheat on their wives and live with their parents till they’re in their 40s. Well, they cheat as much or as little as any other culture and they do stay at home longer because family traditions are very important and it’s so expensive to move out.
Talk a bit about what inspired you to start your company, A&R Tours. Had you taken some tours that didn’t quite do what you wanted them to, or was there some other impetus?
When I got to Italy 2 years ago I knew I wanted to be a tour guide, so I started taking tours with some of the “old school” pros and mapping out my own routes. After I was completely prepared, I started working as a freelance guide for various companies, big ones.
It gave me amazing experience, and now I can deal with any kind of problem that may occur in this often unreliable city, but I would have groups of up to 50 in the summertime. It was very impersonal and with such big groups people can’t ask questions, so much intimate interaction is missed. I longed to get to know the people in the group to see what their specific interests were to better formulate the tour; it is so rewarding to do or to explain that special something for a visitor.
Many of these larger companies are so disorganized and they make people wait around a lot. Time is precious on vacation and I have learned all the tricks to save time. Sometimes I would have private tours and I saw the difference in quality, for both myself and the tourist. Renato was also my great inspiration, being Italian and having the patience and knowledge to get a business going here.
I particularly like that Renato, your tour company partner, studied mythology – I don’t usually see that as a background for tour guides in Italy. I would think it would provide an interesting take on Roman and Italian history, especially in addition to your art history knowledge. How do your tours work – do you and Renato run every one together, or do you each have tours that fit your interests and expertise?
Mythology is so important in understanding Roman history. All of the ancient traditions, and gods and goddesses of Rome, come from Greek mythology. From the Roman Forum to the Vatican City, everywhere you go in Rome you see signs of mythology. The way in which Renato presents the wild and interesting stories is captivating and it all leads up to the Renaissance. We have noticed that the myths are some of the things people remember the most – they shed light on so many things and leave people saying, “Oh, that’s why…” and so on.
The original thing about A&R is that we do run every tour together. We have a great chemistry and have perfected the way in which we combine our knowledge for an unbeatable tour full of humor as well. We tease each other about cultural habits to explain differences (such as driving and coffee), and if someone asks a specific question about Italian history or politics, Renato knows it all. People feel safe because we have an Italian on our side – we never get taken advantage of.
We each have our own field of expertise but we constantly study and grow together so we continue to intertwine knowledge. Even if we have a simple Shopping Tour, which seems like an exclusive girl thing, Renato acts as the Private Chauffeur and fashion adviser.
Ha! What better fashion adviser could there be, ladies, than an Italian man? Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Adrienne, and best of luck with your tour company!
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Adrienne Davis’ passion for Italy led her to an Au Pair job in Rome, a stint studying Renaissance art and the Italian language in Florence, an Art History degree from Portland State University, and finally starting a tour company in her new home in Italy’s capital city of Rome. After 10 years of traveling back and forth to Italy, she’s happy now to be settled in the country she loves, and to be sharing that love with the people who take her tours. You can learn more about her tour company, A&R Tours, at the website privatetoursitaly.com.
All photos courtesy of Adrienne Davis and A&R Tours and may not be used without permission