A Conversation with a Lucca tour guide


Wanda Martinelli is a certified guide in the picturesque city of Lucca, Italy. She was interviewed recently for a travel website. Here's the Q&A:

Why did you become a tour guide?

I had been working for over 15 years as export sales director before changing careers. I always loved Lucca, its history and architecture, and having studied some foreign languages as a girl, I decided to qualify as a guide.

What cities and towns do you tour? What are your subjects of expertise?

I'm licensed to give tours in Lucca and its surroundings as a guide. As a tour leader I have often traveled with foreign groups all over Italy and with Italian groups all over Europe. My subjects of expertise are Lucca and music.

Why did you select these topics and cities?

I have always had a special attraction for the big angel standing at the top of Saint Michael church and for beauty in general. Music, and the piano in particular, is something I studied as a child. I had no talent for playing but music still remains my main interest. Puccini and a number of very good musicians were born in Lucca. The Puccini Festival brings thousands of opera lovers to this part of the world every summer so my music studies turned out to be a great asset.

What part of your work gives you the most pleasure?

Meeting all sorts of different people and always learning something from them, plus the fact that there is always something "new" to study.

What surprises people most on your tour?

Lucca offers spectacular sights starting from the massive wall that still surrounds the city center to the contrast between narrow lanes and open spaces. It is an open-air museum.

What makes this area of Tuscany special?

Well, to begin with nature gave us everything here. We have a plain, hills, mountains, seaside and lakes. Lucca was an independent city state for centuries, a Republic in fact, incredibly rich for its size, in touch with the powers and culture of Europe but always very much on its own.

And it still has a life of its own. Lucca is one of the richest industrial areas in this country but you can see businessmen doing their bank rounds everyday riding a bicycle like everybody else. Understatement is the motto here and this is something that keen travelers can see very well for themselves.

Please explain the qualification process to become a tour guide.

To begin with I had to produce a high school certificate and undergo an oral and written test in each of the four foreign languages I considered I knew fluently. The qualification course consisted of 700 hours of lessons ranging from tourism laws, museum administration, archeology, history, art history, local art and economy. My colleagues and I went to school for one year and we were very lucky as the teachers we had were all top experts in their different subjects. I look back at that time as one of the most intellectually exciting experience of my life.

What is your personal background?

I was born and bred in the hills of Lucca where generations of Martinellis were small but proud landowners. I was educated in Lucca and then studied Politics at Pisa University. As a child I always wanted to know the reason for everything! My professors encouraged me to try for a diplomatic career but I had no time for bureaucracy then. So I found myself the perfect job for that period of my life. Making use of my language skills I became  the export director of a local company, organizing sales and exhibitions and travelling all over the world. Later on I worked in the same position for another two, larger companies until 1996.

We found a website reference indicating that you speak four languages: Italian, English, French and German. Is this correct?

Yes. Learning languages was one of my hobbies as a young girl. I also know Latin which I studied at school for 7 years but I don't use it much nowadays!

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