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Brad McEwen has been a tour director with Insight Vacations for over 10 years. Born in America, he now lives and works in Italy.

I awake in a hotel that is 500 years old and look out onto the impossibly built city of Venice, Italy. An army of barges is already milling around the canals, making their morning deliveries – including the fresh produce for our morning breakfast.

Breakfast gives me a chance to chat to my guests, answer their questions and join in their discussions. These can range from advising on the best place to buy Venetian glass to discussing ancient monuments and current events. Some comments I hear will stay with me forever. One guest, having won the group over on the first night with his innate charm, followed up the next morning by asking the local guide in Rome “were you beautiful when you were younger?”.

An awesome day greets everyone as our private launch ride closes in on St. Mark’s Square. Our orientation takes us into the heart of the “Serene Republics” history and improbability, being constructed upon wood pilings driven into sand in a tidal lagoon prone to flooding. Venice just blows your mind and could never be re-created. The group splits up to either see Venetian glass being made or to hit the museums. I take 20 minutes to grab a real espresso, reconfirm my gondolas, and navigate the maze of paths that is Venice to arrange the marvels that our guests are to experience during the rest of their stay.

Gondola ride in Venice

Gondola riding in Venice

Gondola time! Groups love these sleek aquatic vessels, gliding along in a few centimetres of water fully laden and, in the past, the secret the Venetians had used to glide over the many sandbars in the lagoon. This is why Venice was the only European city immune from attack: the lagoon was the ultimate moat with two low tides a day to snag the unwary boats that may venture into her grasp. This enabled Venice to adorn their palaces with art to entice visitors – unlike the rest of Italy and Europe which was forced to deter visitors as a method of defence.

Next we go to the jewel of the lagoon, Burano, the famous lace makers’ island with incredible seafood restaurants adorned with art. Art is visible everywhere you go in Burano: it’s populated by small, brightly-painted houses which follow a specific system dating back years – if someone wants to paint their house, they have to submit an official request to the government and are then advised of the permitted colours they can use. You have to love Italy.

Rialto Bridge in Venice against a July sunset

The Rialto Bridge in Venice

In the evening I complete my final administration for tomorrow: the local guides in Florence are ready, our next hotel has processed all the paperwork needed, the hotel porters and army of gondolas are poised to take our baggage to our driver who will take us to Florence. One final check of the weather forecast predicts another glorious day.

Now, let’s see about reading more on the Roman Republic for tomorrow’s chat before we leap beyond the Rubicon into the Renaissance …