What if you could discover Italy, the country of romance, beauty, history and splendour differently? Annie Ojile, created the most amazing way to enjoy Italy: Vespa tours. She’s the owner of Personalized Italy, which was recently released, and its purpose is to make others discover the city’s history delights and uniqueness in a more leisurely and stylish way.Personalized Italy and Scooteroma are the perfect way to discover the Italy’s whloe heritage, extraordinary views and the most unknown corners. Thank you Annie for sharing your beautiful story with us. You can follow her @scooteromatours and www.personalizeditaly.com
Could you tell us a little about your upbringing.
I am American and was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I come from an Italian-Lebanese family. I am the youngest of three children. I have a very adventurous sprit so I knew in college that my passions would take me outside of my homestate. My mother is 100% Italian born in Minnesota and my father is half Italian and half Lebanese also born in Minnesota. The Italian (and Lebanese) culture has always been a big part of my life! I was very attached to my Lebanese Grandfather until he passed away when I was 18 years old. Being exposed to these different cultures most likely prepared me to finally live and thrive abroad. Minnesota has Swedish, Norwegian and German origins. So being Italian-Lebanese set me apart from the very beginning! Why did you move to Italy?
I studied abroad in Milan exactly 20 years ago – gasp! I was studying Italian and had an amazing internship with WWD’s bureau office. I was over the moon at this opportunity even though my Italian wasn’t very up to speed. I was answering the phone and speaking terrible Italian with famous designers so I was swiftly moved to managing the sample closet – ha! I always say during my study abroad experience is when I fell in love with Italy; the people, the language, the culture NOT a man or else the love affair wouldn’t have lasted very long. I made my ultimate move to Italy in September 2005. I chose Rome because it was the capital city, the most reminiscent of NYC, at the time there was a lot of Cinema being made at Cinecittà and I thought I could work in tourism until I got my production career jump started.
What triggered the change from the fashion world and media production to what you do today?
I lived in NYC and worked in fashion for years. After 9/11 I felt that I needed a change so I moved back to Minnesota via a 1.5 year hiatus in Boulder, Co. I mean really, where does one go after living in NYC!? When I eventually moved back to MN I started working in video, TV and live event production. Completely unplanned – blame it on destiny! I worked in that field in MN and across the US for 2.5 years and I loved it. BUT I always knew that one day I would live in Italy so when I turned 30 years old I pulled the trigger and set my dream into motion. I moved to Rome with no job, no visa, I had 1 friend and 5 K USD. And that is when my life’s adventure truly began. While I was trying to figure out how to become legal and work in Cinema I started working in tourism because I spoke English. I worked as a Tour Director for a season and then I decided I should open up my own business because I could do it better specializing in private tours and exclusive experiences as we do now with Personalized Italy. Scooteroma was organically born when I lead an impromptu tour for my cousins from CA. During the tour they said you should do this for a living and the rest is history. Could you reveal some insights about the personalized tours you are creating?
We offer experiences that our clients cannot do on their own. Many travelers now book their own airfare, hotel and perhaps listen to a pod cast while walking through the Ancient Roman Forum. We specialize in creating experiences that our clients can only tap into with a local expert, guide or Vespa driver. For example, you need an expert driver to spin you around on the back of a Vespa, we’ll show you the best photographic corners of the city with our Photo Walks throughout the country or perhaps your readers would love a private shopping experience to reveal where Roman women go shopping or how to spot real Made in Italy leather items in Florence.
From what your clients tell you, what surprises them most on a Scooter Tour?
I always say see in 4 hours on a Vespa what would take you in 4 days otherwise. Our clients are always over the moon and often say ‘It was the best thing we did on our vacation!’. I think they are surprised how much they see during the tour, what they discover outside the city’s center and let’s be honest… Riding on the back of Vespa is like no other ride in the world! The epitome of La Dolce Vita. It’s stylish, sexy and an Italian icon.What do you love most about Rome after all the years you’ve been living there?
I chose Rome because I am a very fickle person and get bored easily. I knew that I could live in Rome for the rest of my life and always discover something new every day! What I love most? Driving my cherry red wheels around the city and no matter how long I have lived here I am still humbled each and every day.
What’s an average day like for you?
When I am touring I wake up and have breakfast at home because I need fuel for the road. I live a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona so I take a very scenic 5 minute walk to the garage where I park my Vespa. Usually on the way I think – I am so lucky to live here – pinch me! I hop on my wheels and go meet up with my Vespa squad – we have several Vespisti –> Vespa drivers – who work for us. We pick up our clients at 10 am or 3 pm for our tours. I scooter Roma thinking I have the best job in the world! During high season (April – November) we scooter all day, every day. It goes something like this: Sleep. Eat. Vespa. Repeat. After my morning tour I might meet up with a girlfriend for lunch or head back to the office because there is always so much to do. In the evening, aperitivo (Happy Hour) is obligatory in Rome and Italy in general. So I am always meeting up with my girlfriends for a little bubbly, Moscow Mule or a classic Campari & Soda. The Roman light is absolutely gorgeous when it hits the patined colored buildings. Wherever you roam it’s like being on a film set!Do you have a favorite neighborhood or street?
Neighborhoods of Ostiense, Pigneto and Quadraro are very unique, authentic Roman areas of town because they are covered in Street Art and steeped in urban 21st century history. Out of my passions for Street Art & Street Photography our Street Art Vespa tour was born. Street Art in this tour acts as a catalyst to share important socio-political messages and takes our clients to places they never knew existed in this thriving ancient capital city.
Is there a hotel in Roma you always recommend to your friends?
5 star Hotel de Russie is an urban paradise. Even if you don’t check in for the night pop into their stunning courtyard for an unforgettable aperitivo. A new one on my radar is the boutique hotel Fifteen Keys located in the boho-chic neighborhood of Rione Monti which is a favorite of mine. How do you spend your weekends when you are not working?
Well during high season I usually work every weekend! When I am not scootering Roma or traveling throughout Italy for Personalized Italy you can find me doing Kundalini yoga, walking around town snapping photos, eating grande size gelato & counting my blessings.