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August 2017

IT Consultants on the Road, Viva Roma! Edition

This post isn't about a single visit to Rome--it stretches from a visit in January through a visit just completed now in August.  And it won't be the last.  Several more visits are likely, as we work with this UN agency to implement Office 365.  Our (my) job: getting people to use some of the goodies that are in Office 365 besides email.

And I know it doesn't make things look any less romantic, but I'm not actually in Rome.  I'm in a business park about 10 miles outside the city.  So, it's not all cafe correcto and la vida dolce all the time.  That said, I've been to places much less desirable than this.  So read on for some quick hits across my trips so far...

January

This was a relatively last-minute trip.  I had convinced my boss that developing multiple, parallel relationships with a new customer, the World Food Programme, would be a good idea.  And when I volunteered to take a red-eye to Rome that sealed the deal.  So it has been a trip featuring one day of meetings and another Anthony Bourdain-style layover day in Rome.

Why is it, on boarding my British Airways flight, I want to stand up and apologize for America?

I’ve seen more nuns in a single day in Rome than I normally see in a year in the US.

Aah Europe; it’s all coming back to me.  I have to put my room key in the card slot to work the lights.  And it’s just as well I never figured out the TV.

I’m such a goof.  “I know, I’ll buy one item for Crystal for now, and another for her birthday!” Ya, except her birthday was LAST WEEK.

Walking to the Vatican, it strikes me that being ambassador to the Vatican has to be one of the cushiest jobs ever.

Second thought: it’s amazing to think how a religion started by a poor immigrant of Middle Eastern descent would grow to be such a wealthy power.  I don’t know if that’s amazing-good, or just amazing.

Seems like the route to salvation at one point was to sponsor the building of a church.

How often do you get to attend Mass in a church/basilica that dates (originally) from the 3rd Century?

Dinner cooked up by a friend’s son and his peers, here on a high-school exchange program.  Amazing to learn their perspective on the world.

The free smartphone at the hotel was such a cool thing.  Maps, restaurant reviews and all.

The new normal: armed police/national guard blocking off roads in front of tourist locations.

Tourist hawkers. Then—fake handbags. Now: selfie sticks and fidget spinners.

Who thought triangular buildings was a good idea? I’m constantly walking into corners.

You can go a long way with “please,” “thank you,” and “good day” in the local language.

Instructive to see how the Christians took over the Pantheon and made it into a church.  Turns out, if you want to preserve a building or architectural site, the trick is to turn it into a church.  Then the Church will look after it.  Your weekly collection dollars at work.

How deep is the River Tiber?

Why is the espresso here so damn good? And thanks, Mike, for your admonition that it’s only espresso after 9 AM.

Kind of fun to see Rome in the “low season.”  Seems more genuine, or maybe just less overrun with tourists.

Trump enacts his immigration ban while I’m out of the country. What a shit-show.  There’s a huge crowd to greet passengers arriving at SFO.  I’m a little embarrassed, thinking that I’m not part of the group this crowd is cheering for.  It does make me smile, though.

Jet lag is a cruel thing.

June

Here after a last-minute company decision to send me from Dublin (where I was vacationing with Crystal) to Rome.  Crystal is off to Holland for her company meetings, I go to Rome.  Mary kindly is watching Mona back home.  This whole co-traveling lifestyle is more disturbing than cool.

This hotel is very close to the customer, which is its saving grace.  There’s a painting of the hotel on the wall (kind of like an architect’s rendering) and the cars in the painting date the hotel to the 1960’s.  That and the 3-D picture of Marilyn Monroe.  I keep expecting Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to show up at the bar.

Customer has decided they want me here all summer.  Um, I don’t think that’s going to work; looks like I'll be in Rome two weeks out of every month for the summer.  Expect a lot of Italian Christmas gifts this year.

July

One day after returning from vacation in Hawaii, I’m off to Rome.  This flight to DFW is the coldest I've ever experienced.  Maybe I just got used to Hawaiian weather.

Fun fact: they turn the temperature down because people tend to faint at high altitudes.  Now you know.

It’s interesting that in all these far-in-the-future Star Wars movies, the rebels are always dressed in clothes better suited for the 18th Century.

Landing at 9:15 AM and it’s straight to the customer for meetings all day.  I used to do this all the time in the 1990’s.  Now—not so exciting.

There’s a lounge singer in the hotel bar performing a rendition of Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way.  (Hear it here) Can’t say I expected to hear that.

Walking along local roads after work to get in my 10,000 steps (I’m a slave to FitBit’s social engineering).  There’s no shoulder and lots of traffic so it’s a more exciting experience than I had expected. 

After my previous faux pas flinging spaghetti sauce on my customer host, I’ve learned to stick with risotto when we go out to lunch.

More walking after work, along a new route.  The nature preserve along this route is appealing, but there also seem to be slums nearby.  It’s a little disturbing.

The vendors with their fresh fruits and vegetables at Campo dei Fiori make me miss my garden.

The Borghese Gardens are only green on the map, at least in the summer. 

26,000 steps?!  Even I was complaining about how much I was walking. 

If the chef asks you if you'd like a dish he makes for himself, always answer "yes!" Sicilian roasted sea bass at Da Claudia.  Spectacular.

Excursion to the Isole Pontine.  I was a little disturbed when the tour guide led us in prayer to ask for a safe journey. 

Swimming in the Mediterranean (technically, the Tyrrhenian) Sea feels good on a hot day.

Aperitivo of prosecco, cheese and olives under a fig tree along a trail.  Simple pleasures are the best; even the locals are jealous.

Find the hotel on Google maps and pull up the address to show the taxi driver.  I thought that was pretty clever.

Four straight nights of Ristorante Verde Smeraldo.  I like the food, but you can’t eat any place four nights in a row without it getting a little tiresome. 

That said, it’s been entertaining to see the visitors from China out with the local Huawei staff each Monday night.  And the Italian version of America’s Funniest Home Videos translates well in any language.

Here’s a picture of the revolving door on the way into the office.  Apparently, they’ve had to warn people not to attempt to play soccer while in the revolving door.

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I got a kick out of these corner meeting areas.  Still, I’m not sure they’ve got the concept right.

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The pace of the day revolves around coffee.  Coffee in the morning, coffee after lunch, coffee in the afternoon.  Good thing each dose is just a sip or two.

A handy tip: first you pay, then take the receipt over to the espresso counter to get your cup.

One advantage of the time zone difference: I’m aware of Donald Trump’s tweets when they happen, instead of three hours afterwards. 

Sitting on the Piazza della Rotunda watching the crowds outside the Pantheon and listening to an opera singer in the distance.  You can’t ask for much more.

August

Seeing the "no smoking" sign on the plane makes me wonder: does anyone allow smoking on airlines anymore?

A380—very nice experience in "economy plus". First time I had to descend a jet ramp getting off of an airplane.

Yoga pants as travel attire: thumbs up or down?

The British version of Master Chef is quite different from the US version.  The Brits just can't bring themselves to be as loud and obnoxious as Gordon Ramsey.

Speaking of which:  your restaurant in Heathrow STILL isn't open.  I can't wait forever, Gordon!

UPDATE: Now open. Review forthcoming.

I have to wonder who actually shops at these high-end stores in airports.

Fresh buffalo mozzarella from Naples for a group snack.  La dolce vita.

Every day I check in with the receptionist at the hotel breakfast buffet; I give her my name and room number.  Every day she checks the list, finding neither my name nor my room number.  Every day she smiles and says, “OK, go ahead!”

While in the cab on my way to Rome’s city center, I’m reminded of Michael Callahan’s advice: never look out the front windshield.

There is a line three blocks long to get into the Pantheon.  Welcome tourists!

It was refreshing to visit some of the lesser-traveled parts of Rome today.  There were times I was all alone visiting the sites.

Rome is one place where a knowledge of Latin can come in handy.

I think I’ve climbed at least three of the seven hills this city was founded on.

The Baths of Diocletian are enormous.  Still, I’ll take flush toilets and running water in my house any day.

It’s clear to me that Rome has the same problem as Athens: where do we put all these antiquities?

This morning there is a trail of blood leading down the hotel stairs.  I feel like I’m walking through a crime scene.

I’ve learned enough Italian to know that the panhandler I turned down was not saying nice things about me.

Mass at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano.  Built by the Pope before there was a St. Peter’s.  Stealing the giant doors for the church was a nice touch.  Kind of weird knowing that the skulls of Sts. Peter and Paul are in those gold sculptures over the Altar.

And that building across the street? Oh, that’s the Pope’s chapel.  Huh.  Well, it is small by comparison I suppose.  But Scala Santa, the 28 steps? The sign is very clear: you must ascend on your knees.  On marble stairs.  That’s more devotion than I can muster.  Plus the sign off to one side, reminding the devoted that 28 steps will get you an indulgence, but for the forgiveness of sins you still have to go to confession.  No shortcuts!

Take what I said about Dublin: you can't walk a block in Dublin without passing by a pub.  Now substitute “Rome” for “Dublin” and “church” for “pub” and it’s the same.  You don’t notice all the churches at first… until the top of each hour when all the bells ring.

Reggio di Calabria.  Reminds me of LA and the San Fernando Valley, except that the ocean is right there.  Very dry. Very hot.

Here’s a handy tip.  Be sure, when you purchase an airline ticket, that you enter your name EXACTLY as it appears on your passport.  Otherwise, you’ll have to change your ticket; that was an expensive mistake to make.

Banking, leveling off and lining up the runway when the plane is already so close to the ground and the mountains are right there.  You’d think we were on a small prop plane landing in Maui, not a passenger jet.  This pilot is good.

Handy hint: Italians leave for the beach (or the mountains) during the last half of August.  It starts with Ferragosto (August 15th) (also Latin for “hotter than hell in August").  So unless you’re headed to the beach or the mountains, don’t expect to find much that’s open.

So on that note: relying on Rick Steve’s, Yelp or Google to find a good local restaurant doesn’t work when all the locals are gone.  Santo Trastevere, we’ll have to meet some other time.

Here’s another random display of beauty in Trastevere.  And yes, that’s a man filling a water jug.

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Step inside the door, and this unassuming restaurant shows you this.

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When I travel my wife buys things.  The longer I’m gone, the more expensive the purchase.  Now I’m hearing something about property in Hawaii. Time to get home!

At Fiumicino airport, the parking spots reserved for dropping off passengers are labeled “Kiss and Go.” Because Italy.

Why is it that flying North and South seems to take forever?

Ciao, Roma. And thanks for all the rughetta.