When Cities Are Empty - (A Tour Guide's Guide To Lockdown) No.1 - Silvia in Rome
In this series I will be contacting a number of Tour Guides from around the world and asking them how they’ve been affected by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, what restrictions their individual governments have imposed, the impact, what they’ve been doing to keep their business ticking over, what their thoughts are for the future …and things like that.
First up is Silvia in Rome. I met Silvia a number of years ago when me and my dad spent a number of days in 'the eternal city'. Silvia gave us an amazing tour around Trastevere, Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto and would highly recommend trying to book either Silvia or one of her colleagues if one day, you find yourself visiting the wonderful city of Rome.
Tell us a bit about your company?
Hi! I’m Silvia from Rome and my company is “A Friend in Rome”. I started it in 2009 and I mainly lead walking tours, but also bike and Vespa tours. I also like arranging experiences and day trips, so last year, I started another activity called ‘Around Rome Day Trips’, devoted to these explorations just outside the city, for travellers based in Rome.
How has your government’s approach to Coronavirus impacted you and your business?
We were in total lockdown for 2 months and officially blocked in our activity for 3 whole months. Museums and archaeological areas were closed on the 8th March and some are yet to re-open. Those that have reopened have strict limitations to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic. Therefore, we cannot lead tours in these places, or with just very small groups.
One airport, Ciampino, has been totally closed, whilst the other, Fiumicino, only operated for emergencies. We’ve only been allowed to move from one “regione” to another (our counties) since the 3rd June. Restaurants have been closed, and many in the city centre have not reopened yet.
Have you been self isolating / in lockdown? If so, how long and what’s your top tip for surviving?
I was in strict lockdown for 2 months and allowed outside with restrictions for the whole month of May. Luckily I like reading and studying and I had tons of books and studying material at hand and time to dedicate. Also I like cooking, which was something many Italians started doing while forced to stay at home. I was already a reasonable cook, but my results have vastly improved. Lastly, I had already started a programme of home gym before the lockdown and it was a good way to keep fit and active. But the top resource was my sunny balcony …the only one in the house. It became my versatile room, from library to gym, from office to concert hall and dining room. I have felt less trapped.
What have you been doing during this period to keep your business ticking over?
I have been doing research and planning future tours and put the final touches to three or four tours which were almost ready and got new ideas. I enhanced my online activity by writing a blog about the “behind the curtains” job of a tour guide. I studied a bit about marketing and social media. I started my LinkedIn page, revised my website texts with an American friend. Alongside this, I have been networking with colleagues I already know outside of Rome, but also made some new “virtual” friendship and hope to meet them soon in person.
What have you most missed about not being able to do tours?
The relationships with new people every day, walking, being surrounded by beauty and history every day, eating gelato with new friends, meeting colleagues after the tours for a drink. I understood how much I already loved my life.
How are you feeling about the future? Do you foresee changes in the tour guiding industry?
Well, surely it will be different for a while. I’m reading what experts say and I am comforted by the fact the direction they show is more or less what I was already doing: off the beaten path tours, not crowded locations, open air as much as possible, small parties and private customised tours. I am trying now to work more with locals, which is something I already wanted to develop and now it’s an urge, as international travellers won’t probably start rebooking until the autumn (2020), but I really hope I can build a new market for my tours and especially new tours just for Italians and Romans. So, generally speaking I’m optimistic.
Do you think life / business will go back to normal?
In time, probably it will. I hope we can all learn some lessons: gratitude, the importance of relationships and not just in private life. Putting our souls in to the job we do, no matter what it is.
What have you been reading / listening to / playing / watching?
I read several books, especially essays on Etruscans and Suburban areas of Rome. I can’t play but listened to some good albums during my gym sessions and I’m still watching a series of readings by an Italian actor, Roberto Benigni on “The Divine Comedy” by Dante.
Is there something in your city that you’re most looking forward to getting back to / revisiting?
I’m waiting for the Etruscan museum of Rome, Villa Giulia, to reopen as I’ve been focusing a lot of my studies on them during this period. I long to go to Babington’s Tea House here at the Spanish Steps. I had just decided to go and pamper myself there when the lockdown started, so had to put it on hold. Back then it was March and a cup of tea sounded lovely, but now maybe I will convert it to a great ice cream on a Roman terrace.
Many sites already reopened in Rome, so I’ve already been back to St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums, Ancient Ostia, Borghese Gallery and my favourite park Villa Pamphili. Next week I’ll go again to the Colosseum / Forum which reopened last Monday.
Have you found any positives from the current situation?
I understood how important is is to me, to be outdoors, spending time with people who share my interests, experiencing something together like trekking, biking, exploring new places. I understood how much I loved my life already, and my job, and that we do not need too much to be happy: a glass of wine and a sandwich on the grass with good friends was true bliss after the lockdown!
If you're heading to Rome, then I highly recommend booking a tour with Silvia and "A Friend in Rome".
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