Context was conceived at the conclusion of an eighteen-month voyage aboard a 38-foot sailboat. After 8000 nautical miles of ocean, fourteen countries, and innumerable interactions, we learned one very important lesson: What turns a good trip into a great trip is finding someone who really knows the place you are visiting, the people, the institutions, and how to get things done. Whether it was trying to buy a new outboard engine in Guatemala or searching for the best Berber pizza on the border of Algeria. Nothing is possible without knowledge. For a true traveler, local knowledge is priceless.
When we finally landed in Rome, pregnant with our first daughter, we decided to make it home (for a while, at least). It seemed only logical to apply what we'd learned from our travels to help others with theirs.
Context began with one docent—Paul—who was working at the time as a stringer for Architectural Record. With a background in the classics and several books about garden design and garden history under his belt, people began asking Paul to lead groups out to Villa d'Este, Villa Lante, and the other great gardens of Rome. Soon, they began asking for the Vatican, Colosseum, and other sites in which Paul had no direct specialization. We began to reach out to the community of scholars and other professionals in Rome, finding an absolute treasure trove of accomplished people who enjoyed sharing their city with visitors.
Lani's experience in design and technology allowed us to create a brand and a business that could support the growing network's activities. Working with the cultural association Scala Reale, of which Paul was a member, Context moved their business online and expanded into art history, archaeology, and other specialties. We eventually folded Scala Reale into Context at the beginning of 2004, counting about 20 docents in our Rome program at that time.
At the urging of many clients, and due to the fact that we put together a pretty fantastic group of staff to run things in Rome, Context branched out. Beginning in the early fall of 2004 we recruited docents in Florence, Naples, and Paris and began expanding the thematic, seminar-like walks that we'd become known for in Rome to a series of other cities. In short order we reached Venice and followed with New York, London, Philadelphia, Istanbul Madrid, Athens, Boston and Washington D.C.
Although each of these cities is different and our heterogeneous group now numbers over 200 docents from a wide range of disciplines, Context Walking Seminars are united by one simple idea: to connect intellectually curious travelers with that priceless local knowledge that we've come to understand is so crucial to a great experience.