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An Ode to Great Guides

My parents just returned from two weeks in Italy. I visited them a day after they got back. In two hours, they only got through telling me about Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast (about half of their trip). They loved it all, but both got the most excited when talking to me about their day trip to the Amalfi Coast with their guide, Carmine.

Carmine is from Sorrento; he knows everyone in Sorrento and around the Amalfi Coast. His connections and knowledge of the area enabled him to bypass long lines of bus traffic, take my parents to lesser known — but equally lovely and less crowded — sites and give them real insights into local life.

So many of those insights came just by getting to know Carmine. After only one day, my parents knew all about him. They knew that all his siblings went to university for tourism, but that Carmine isn’t a school kind of person so he taught himself everything by reading. They met his boyhood friends, Mario and Luigi, who run a hotel in Sorrento. They could rattle off the names of countries Carmine has been to, how he wants to expand his guide business and how he’s having girl problems. The point is, when all was said and done, they couldn’t say enough good things about him and the memorable day he gave them on the Amalfi Coast.

Carmine isn’t the first great guide my parents have had. When I was 21, we took a family trip to Israel. That was 19 years ago, but I still remember our guide, Ron. It was from him that I learned the nickname native-born Israelis give themselves: sabra, a fruit that’s hard and prickly on the outside but soft inside. Ron took us to so many amazing places, told us the history of every place we went, introduced us to locals and even took us, very briefly, into the West Bank.

A great guide can make all the difference when traveling. Sure, you can take yourself around, using a guidebook and some Internet research, but without the color, knowledge and passion a local guide brings to the experience, it’s just sightseeing.

Have you ever had a truly great guide? Where were you and what made him or her so wonderful?

— written by Dori Saltzman

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