Saturday, November 17th
Warning: This blog entry has no computer architecture content... feel free to skip the travelogue stories!
On Saturday, November 17th, it was a travel day. We had to be off the boat by 7:15 to catch an 11:30 flight. This seemed ridiculous to us until we realized that even 30 minutes later and we would be competing with 3000 or so passengers being tossed off the ship. Wow! What a production these huge ships run. So it was yet another bus ride to the airport with funny tags on our luggage (did I mention we brought WAY too much stuff and the wrong stuff... packing and unpacking was a nightmare). We got to the airport so early that there were no AirItalia employees there to check our luggage for over 45 minutes!
So, after a few hour wait in the Barcelona airport, we had an uneventful flight to Rome and then an overly eventful taxi ride to the hotel. First of all, we were smart enough to ignore the hordes of unlicensed drivers trying to get us into their cabs and found the taxi line. When we squeezed our 4 huge suitcases (and carry-on luggage) into the cab, there was barely room for us to sit. Next, the driver scared the heck out of Lisa by driving 160KMPH (or about 100MPH) down a crowded freeway. No, mind you, Lisa likes speed in the car but not in crazy traffic and not when she has no sense for the skill level of the driver.
Soon (actually, too soon), we were at the Hotel Excelsior on the Via Veneto which is a LOVELY part of Rome. It is across the street from the US Embassy, full of nice restaurants, and a short walk to downtown. We spent a few hours unpacking (did I mention we brought too much stuff?) and then set out to find a place to eat. It was around 4:30PM. We learned that dinner is IMPOSSIBLE to get before 7:30PM in Rome. We made 7:30 reservations at a place recommended by the concierge and he drew the approximate location on the map but said the street itself was too small to fit on the map. We asked about a local pizzaria and he told us about one a few blocks away but wasn't sure if it was open.
So we set out and realized it was COLD (a little above freezing and dropping). We found the pizzaria and met a waiter named Bonifatio (I may have misspelled this but I know his name is the Italian equivalent of Boniface). He was a blast, the pizza was great, the house wine was great, and we were feeling pretty darned good! So it was time to set out to explore the city. I had the hotel provided map (which I called my "decoder-ring") and we proceeded to attempt the 30 minute (assuming no mistakes) walk to the restaurant near the Piazza Navano.
It was COLD and we didn't have adequate jackets! I was lobbying to bag it and take a cab back to the hotel but Lisa wanted to trudge on. We took refuge for about 20 minutes in the Galleria (a nice shopping mall) and then continued on. Close to the Piazza Novano, we found a nice "Tourist Information" booth and the people inside helped us find the street containing the restaurant and soon, we found the restaurant. So, at 6:30, we were freezing and knocking on the door of the Restaurant Pietro Valentini. The owner (a nice man in his 60s) answered and told us to come back at 7:30... the Piazza Navano was just around the corner and we should walk around for a while! OK... Off we went to walk around for a while but we were still freezing. Indeed, the Piazza Navano is a beautiful place but we were too cold to figure that out until a few days later.
By 7:00, we were back at the restaurant to ask if we could wait the 30 minutes in the warmth. The two daughters were there and they welcomed us in and immediately brought us water. Soon, another table of six arrived with a group of Americans (in the 40s or 50s) who were friends and family of each other from various parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. They were open and friendly (especially Gary who was a complete character). Then, another table with a 40-something couple from Connecticut who appeared to be very mellow folks that might be high-school English teachers arrived. Soon, everyone was laughing and telling stories. It seems that Gary and his wife came to Pietro Valletina on their honeymoon 4 years earlier and it "was the best food in the world". They were finishing a 12 day Sicilian exploration and had to take an evening in Rome solely to visit Pietro Vallentina!
Soon, out came the homemade cheese bread which was fabulous!
Then, there was the complementary serving of Poppa's recipe for a cocktail which was sparkling wine, Cointreau, Whiskey, and muddled mint. It was prettry darned good and we were encouraged to photograph the ingredients to ensure we could remember them.
Momma and the two daughters came out for a photo and they were a riot! The blonde daughter on the left did most of the job waiting on us and she was so amazed to think of all of us coming from the US. We asked her if she had been there and she said "Oh, No. And with a husband who is afraid to fly and a five year old son, I doubt I will get there!" It is the same all over... when we say we're going to Europe, it sounds very exotic (and desirable) to many Americans. For many Europeans, going to American sounds exotic and wonderful!
So, the specialty at Pietro Vallentino's were dishes with white truffles and dishes with black truffles. We had one of each!
Gary and his friends/family were a blast! Also, it turns out the fellow from Connecticut is a professional tattoo-artist! They were both hysterical.
The evening ended with all the crazy Americans laughing uncontrollably as we told each other jokes! The cab back cost us 10 Euros... It seemed like he was going the long way back but it wasn't until later in the week that we really knew we had taken the long way home and it should have only cost 5 Euros. Good thing I tipped him!