Racconti in valigia: A Friend in Rome

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Today the panda has the pleasure of interviewing Silvia, head of A Friend in Rome, a service that offers personalized tours to the millions tourists who reach the capital every year.

How was “A Friend in Rome” born?

I have always been passionate about travel and the Rome’s history, when I was a child I didn’t play “mom and daughter”, but “travel agency”, with my family members forced to pretend to be customers to whom I organized incredible trips around the world. At the age of 20, I started working in tourism for an important tour operator as an incoming specialist from the USA. I learned a lot, but I suffered from a small “detail”: I’ve never seen “my” customers, except when something went wrong and they called my in anger. When everything went smoothly, most of the time, I didn’t see their smiles. And there I began to desire a job in the front line. In 2000 I organized my honeymoon in Mexico and I knew a couple of Mexican boys who studied in Rome and who put me in touch with their families. Those two days were illuminating: escorted by “local”, in which we found ourselves making tortillas at their home and eating churros in a remote neighborhood of Mexico City. I continued to work with the tour operator for several years, but the spark of “A Friend in Rome” is there. When the opportunity arose to change (I had to wait several years to obtain my tourist guide qualification, since the exam is not always available and had a “biblical” duration, 4 years!) I put together those ideas, my knowledge of Rome, the emotions I experienced during my travel and everything took shape.

What are the services offered by your business and which, in your opinion, is the added value from yours compared to other tours in Rome?

Our tours are “really” personalized: there is no list of proposals, I ask to my customers what they want from their holiday and I try to create a program suitable for each isituation. Thanks to the ideas of our guest and to the  creativity of the wonderful team of guides with whom I collaborate, every year  our list of proposals became more and more complete. 

We also offer traditional tours, but we extend the range of action to the whole city: the peripheral areas, the undergrounds, the neighboring places that can be reached in one day (I have a parallel site called www.aroundromedaytrips.com). We move on foot, by public transport, by bike, by Vespa, by car, in “calessino” (an Ape Piaggio for passenger’s transport), in vintage cars. 

During these years we had improved our services: nowadays our guests could learn to do “typical italian thing” , for example making pizza or a little fresco. We are passionate about “street art” and we have included this passion as a proposal for our guests. 

But what really makes our tours special is the friendly approach to the customers. 

Our tours are only for people already knew each others: families, couples, groups of friends, in order to create a unique relationship with our new friends.

We do not mix people who don’t know each other because this obliges to standardize the proposal and limits the possibility of improvising, changing plans as it happens when friends are waiting for you in their city and are eager to let you know it, just like it happened to me in Mexico 20 years ago.

It is impossible to choose the most beautiful place in Rome, magic in every corner, but what are the most requested tours?

Traditional tours are certainly still popular, from the Vatican to the archaeological area. But it often happens that we offer what we call an “orientation”, an introductory walk to the city that is modeled on our guests, right from the starting point that varies according to where they’re staying. Then, we modulate the tour according to specific interests: food and wine? We will make ad hoc tastings. Curiosity? Rome is full of secrets to discover. Children? Our stops are the best-known ice cream parlors in the historic center, but it is only an excuse to make the whole family marvel at how much beauty there is between one ice cream stop and another. Hot summer? We start at dawn and see the city that wakes up finishing the walk with croissant and cappuccino. Underground Rome and the ancient Appian Way by bicycle, which we love!

Something out of the ordinary that you would recommend to those who undertake a trip to Rome?

Well all those already anticipated: surely a walk at dawn is something magical. And then carve out at least half a day to go “outside the walls”: whether the destination is the basilica of San Paolo, the Mausoleum of Constance or the park of the Aqueducts does not matter, that follows the inclinations of everyone. But only in this way can we see real Rome where the Romans live, joke, drive in their own way, meet friends and enjoy the sun while having mid-morning coffee.

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