Sonoma Valley High grad shows Prince Charles around Florence
After completing an 800-hour course on the art and history of Florence, Alexandra Lawrence felt well-prepared to give tours – but nothing prepared her for when she found herself accompanying Prince Charles and Camilla, the Dunchess of Cornwall, around the renowned European city this spring.
Lawrence, who graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 1994, is today both a historian and a representative of the British Institute, where she works as a lecturer in the art history department.
In 2012, she sat for a series of written and oral exams, and received her certification to offer private tours. “I like to call it a history boot camp” she said, “It was an insane amount of work and information.”
Lawrence now provides specialized tours with unique itineraries, including ones focused on Dante, the Medici family and women artists. She aims to offer high-quality, in-depth experiences to her clients, which recently included some of Britain’s most well-known royalty, as well as the current British ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris.
“It was incredible!” said Lawrence, about her time with the royal couple. “I was overwhelmed at meeting such an important dignitary, someone who is part of our living history and whose family has had - and continues to have - such a massive cultural impact on our time.”
The prince and his wife were in Florence earlier this year to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the British Institute, and Lawrence was asked to show them around. “Prince Charles is particularly well-versed in architectural history and both he and the Duchess are great connoisseurs of Italy,” said Lawrence.
“I had a couple of good laughs with Prince Charles about the huge crowds that were lining the streets,” she said. “I had no idea there were so many royal watchers in Florence, and by the sound of it, neither did he!”
Lawrence’s path to Florence began as an adventurous high school student in Sonoma. She was on the swim team and a member of student government. She recalled, “My absolute favorite classes were English with Joyce Cole, and history with Sean Martin.”
When she was looking for colleges though, Lawrence decided to head south to be closer to Birmingham, Alabama, where she was born. She chose the College of Charleston.
“Charleston is also absolutely gorgeous, is on the Atlantic coast, is a history-lover’s dream, and has great food…so it was a no brainer!” she said.
Lawrence’s passion for history was sparked again during a semester abroad in Florence. Although a political science major, Lawrence said it was an onsite art history class during her time in Italy that changed her life. A year after graduation, she took a six-month au pair job in the Tuscan hills. Shortly after, she was hired by an American university program in Florence, where she worked in academic administration for four years.
In 2007, after receiving a master’s degree in Italian Literature at San Francisco State, Lawrence moved to Florence permanently and spent time as the managing editor of a local English-language newspaper The Florentine, and as a university lecturer.
Since, 2012, her tour business has grown significantly, and Lawrence now typically gives two tours a day in the high season from May to October. “I usually have to force myself to take a day off every few weeks,” she said.
Lawrence speaks Italian fluently and raises her 7-year-old son bilingually, using the “one parent, one language” method with her Italian partner Francesco. She hasn’t lost her ties to Sonoma though, and has kept in touch with close friends, including Jayme Powers, owner of Sigh bubble lounge.
Lawrence said, “I used to go back every few years, but will be going back on at least a yearly basis now that my whole family - brother and his family, and my parents - are back permanently in Sonoma!”