iJourney Italy

High-tech tours give clients an insider view

By: Bryce Longton

It’s just after nine in the morning and already the heat has claimed the heart of Rome. By now lines will be over a mile long at the Vatican as clusters of camera-clad tourists stretch their necks to see the latest stop on a walking tour.

These same paths are traveled each season throughout Italy, and although they offer clients ample information, group tours aren’t always convenient or easy to hear even with earpieces and microphones. Tours also require scheduling, and if travelers are hungry or tired, they must soldier on.

If your clients prefer a private tour that gives more of an insider’s look at Rome or Venice, Florence or Pompeii without the high price tag, you might want to book them an iJourneys self-guided walking tour. The audio tours can be purchased and downloaded from the company’s Web site and used on an iPod or mp3 player. Less tech-savvy clients can opt to order a CD instead.

iJourneys is the brainchild of Elyse Weiner, a longtime news producer and foreign correspondent. Weiner brings incredible background to the 60- to 75-minute tours, literally, as hers is the voice clients will hear in their headphones.

Hailing from New York, Weiner’s resume is stacked with impressive names and hard-to-pronounce corners of the world. During her 20 years in the news business, Weiner produced for the likes of Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, covered news for ABC radio and, of course, she traveled. About two years ago, Weiner watched a tour group trudge through a Miami shopping mall and iJourneys was born.

Written for an American sensibility and recorded on location, the tours are perfect for business travelers with a few hours to sightsee, budget travelers or clients who would like more than the hit-the-high-points tour.

I got to test drive Weiner’s tours during a recent trip to Italy. Having lived in the country for almost a year, I thought I already had the “insider’s view,” but these tours showed me otherwise.

The first tour took me through the heart of Ancient Rome from Capitoline Hill to the Coliseum the opposite way of many other walking tours.

The views of the ancient housing, lore about the virgin palace and facts about the Roman water system were all part of the tour. But the highlight had to be Weiner’s directions to the little-known kiosk where tickets to the Coliseum are sold. I barely waited for my ticket, when at the Coliseum the wait for the same ticket was over an hour.

iJourneys’ Old Rome walk included the top tourist spots the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, several monuments and churches as well as information on the best cappuccino spot in town. The tour also included stories about the Roman baths, tips on driving etiquette and where the Pope buys his robes.

The Florence walk took me from the famous doors at the Baptistery by the Duomo to the artists lining the streets near the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. I got the sense that I was walking through history and learning what it was like to be a Florentine.

My final tour took me to Venice, where Weiner spoke of seemingly everything from the birth control-laced pigeon food sold to tourists to stop bird over-population to the Bridge of Sighs where prisoners walked to their deaths.

Again, Weiner made sure I hit the highlights Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco and the Rialto but she also tucks in things like the out-of-the-way Scala Di Bovolo and charming shops. Add to that the convenience of my pause button, and Italy was mine to explore.

The Details

Currently, iJourneys offers a Paris tour and five tours in Italy: Ancient Rome, Old Rome, Florence and Pompeii. Upcoming cities include Barcelona, Prague, Hong Kong and Amsterdam.

Each tour is 60-75 minutes and comes with a downloadable and printable map. For tourists worried they will get lost, Weiner gives detailed instructions and plenty of markers to ensure clients will stay on the right path.

Cost: $14.95 per tour (travel agents receive a 10 percent discount)

Commission: Check with company for details