A self-guide to guided tours
BY CHRIS JOHNSON
To guide or not to guide… that is the question.
I’m not a fan of the guided tour (see the Travel section of Australian Medicine October 15, 2018 edition for more on that).
I would much rather wander around significant sites at my own leisure, read the information boards, marvel at what’s to be seen – and go have a coffee.
Some travellers love the guided tour and gain immense satisfaction from being instructed by an expert.
And there is a lot to be said for that, if that’s your thing.
For some, two hours following a guide is the perfect tourism experience.
A couple of recent outings have convinced me that when all is said and done, the type of guided tour experience you have as a tourist pretty much comes down to the tour guide.
Both of these tours occurred in Italy in this year’s northern hemisphere summer. A friend had paid for a day trip in Tuscany, leaving from Florence and venturing into the Chianti wine region, and beautiful small towns of San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, and Siena.
The tour was a gift and I was very grateful for it. And I loved it. The locations were wonderful and there was plenty of free time to explore for ourselves.
And then there was Raul.
Our guide, Raul, was a nice enough fellow and he certainly knew his facts and figures.
Intense might be an apt way to describe Raul.
On the bus ride he sat at the front, faced the passengers and spieled off names, dates and numbers by rote. No emotion. All very clinical.
Raul even told people off for talking in the bus while he was speaking.
So… when it came to Siena, our last stop of the day, and a two-hour guided walking tour with Raul, I absconded and discovered tall towers, darkened alleyways, old colleges and churches, and more than one enticing bar/café all by myself.
I had the best time in Siena and I have Raul to thank for that.
A few days earlier, I was in Rome. It was my last day there and I just had to see Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
I didn’t care about anything else in the Vatican, but I had to see the Sistine Chapel.
Long lines into the Vatican meant I could have been there a few hours before even getting to the ticket booth.
I allowed a touter to talk me into a ‘jump the queue’ guided tour that cost me five times as much as the price of entry.
It was worth it.
Not only did it slash my waiting time, it enhanced my whole experience.
And that had everything to do with Ruza.
Ruza was my guide, and our group was about 20 people.
She was Croatian and gave tours in English, Spanish, Italian and maybe even Swahili (maybe not).
Ruza was fun and funny, and she kept the whole group engaged.
She cracked jokes, she had really interesting facts, and she made the whole tour – not just the Sistine Chapel part – an enjoyable experience. I found myself hanging off her every word.
The Vatican tour was incredible, and it had everything to do with Ruza.
And I’m sure some of the people I saw lined up waiting for tickets on the way in were still there when I came out a couple of hours later.