I went to language school in Italy hoping to improve my communication skills. It worked. I have a basic grasp of the language now. More than that though, I learned what it takes to make a real difference in the lives of less fortunate people and just how lucky I was to be raised in Canada.
My Italian was so bad when I first moved to Italy, I got myself into a few embarrassing situations by using the wrong words for things. It was pretty funny at times, but it showed me that I needed to get better at the language fast.
Guest Blog: Helen Romagnoli Kotrus' grandparents left Abruzzo for Canada more than 100 years ago. In 2016, Helen visited Abruzzo, and with the help of Amazing Abruzzo Tours, she reconnected with her heritage. She visited her grandparents' village of Rocco San Giovanni on the Adriatric coast, the church they were baptized in, and she even met cousins. Read as Helen visits the land of her dreams.
When the kids started arriving at the villa in July 2016, we adjusted our tours to fit. The plan was to be less National Geographic and History Channel and more cartoon and scary movie. Turns out, the pre-Roman, Roman and medieval landscape and history of the Abruzzo region of Italy are perfect for this. Everywhere you go there are heros and villains, blood thirsty stories, magic, and more poopy jokes than you would think.
When we first told people in Italy our plans for a tour company and holiday villa in the Abruzzo region, they were pretty skeptical. But after renovations on the villa were finished and guests started arriving by the van load, it didn't take long for people in our town of Torre de'Passeri to get in on the action.
The weather in Abruzzo in May, June and July of 2016 - our first months of operations - was some of the wettest on record. We had to abandon our planned tour schedules and improvise day trips for our guests. It was challenging but we found a way to do it thanks to some of my new heroes, Italian meteorologists who came to our rescue.
When Lisa and I started out last year, we worried about how groups of strangers were going to interact in the intimate settings of our villa and tours. We hoped that by creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere, our guests would feel comfortable being themselves and get along. It worked out better than we imagined.
During our second week of operations, Lisa and I were so burnt out, two of our guests took it upon themselves to give us a couple counselling sessions. It helped us realize we needed to rest and relax for two reasons: We couldn't go on as we were; and our health was now linked directly to the health of our business.
During our second week of operations, I made the obvious mistake of sending a group of guests on a day trip without having done the trip myself. It resulted in a harrowing drive on a terrible mountain road for our guests. Luckily, afterwards, they were gracious about it. Dumb move Jake. Lesson learned.
The minute we opened our doors to guests in the spring of 2016, our chef Cesidia and tour guide Luca were stars. This was a good thing because my wife and I had exactly no experience running an Italian tour company and holiday villa.
Our first guests arrived on April 30, 2016 and the last couple weeks before were pretty nutty as we scrambled to get the place ready and our construction crew put in long hours finishing off our pool and terrace. After almost five years of planning and toil, we were finally open, and it felt great.