We must put a clear disclaimer on this post, there is one thing that we both hate more than a layover in anywhere that begins with Den and ends with a Ver: it is tour guides. WE DESPISE THEM! In so many places we have seen the gaggle of tourists led by someone that is supplying very simplistic remarks. To identify them simply look for the person holding the metal stick with a yellow flag on top- sporting the clipboard. You might hear them say, “There is a fine example of Greek statue….ok moving right a long.” This in front of the Venus de Milo! Or the most egregious example was a tour guide who said in front of the Celcius Library, “This is the library; imagine it,” and walked off. End of disclaimer. Ok one more disclaimer…(We are never, ever paid/compensated for anything that we review or comment on.) This is really the end of disclaimers.
We found a truly unique and frankly awesome service, Context Travel. This is not your run of the mill tour guide. You are paired in small groups never more than 6 people, with a true expert in the field. When we say expert, we mean….someone that has devoted a lifetime to study in a given field. Imagine having an architecture tour of Rome with someone with a Doctorate in Roman Architecture! Or a tour of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul with someone that wrote a book about the palace! Or even an incredible tour of Wall Street with a former bond trader! With Context Travel you get just that. Ok…must be expensive right? It really is affordable. Tours are much more specific in their breadth, but much, much more profound in their depth.Our guide Claire in Istanbul. She speaks seven languages and literally wrote the book on Topaki Palace. We spent four hours with her and it was a highlight of our trip!
Most of our tours with Context have been just Mike and I. They are not in every city. They don’t cover every topic. They don’t even offer tours to some of your typically touristy spots. But what they lack in quantity, they certainly make up in quality.
We have taken the following tours with context:
Imperial Rome: Architecture and History of the Archaeological Center
HISTORY AND CONTINUITY IN ISTANBUL
Tasting the Immigrant Experience
Many of the tour descriptions sound more like a college syllabus than a promo for a tour. Don’t be scared away. The beauty of Context is the questions you are able to ask. Forget the trite quicky response (quicky’s are good just not on a tour). You are always going to be surprised and enlightened. (In-depth info really makes you sound cool at cocktail parties.)
We have only had one bad experience with Context. Our foodie tour of NY. But he really ruined it for himself. He speaks fluent Chinese, so in Chinatown he kinda didn’t pay attention to guide.
We have recommended Context to many friends and now our blog-followers! A friend recently went to Rome with her two teenage daughters. They used Context to see the Vatican and the Vatican Museum. My friend said her daughters even thought the guide was cool! Context really puts things in, well, “context.”
We HIGHLY recommend:
Scholar-led Walks of the World’s Greatest Cities
Context is an in-depth alternative to traditional tours. We are a network of architects, historians, art historians, and specialists who organize over 300 different walks in 12 cities around the world.
- Small Groups (6 people max)
- Walks are led by Ph.D.-level scholars and historians
- Seminars: like going back to college
- Not a tour company; no umbrellas
I always avoid tour guides as they always seem so impersonal and really uninformative, though I always wanted to know more about the places I was visiting or the sights I was seeing! Such a struggle! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing Context Travel! I think I’ll give it a try in the future!
Glad you found a company that’s able to satiate your thirst for adventure and knowledge. I like to be my own guide so I’ve never done a tour. I’ll keep Context in mind when the day that changes (which I’m sure it will. Nothing is static.)
Now don’t laugh, but this is what comes to mind when you mention an impressive tour guide: the Jungle Cruise @ Disneyland. The ride operators are always the best in the park. They always seem genuinely interested in giving their tourists a good show. So I’m kind of picturing the Context guides with 1920’s style safari gear on right now :)
So happy to hear you enjoyed our walks. We look forward to having you on our walks again!