In Italy I guess it’s not uncommon to leave for dinner around 8PM. It wasn’t that I was especially hungry, but we had all day meetings starting in the morning and I was hoping to get to bed around 10:30. However, since we didn’t get to the restaurant until 8:30 or so I figured that I was just going to have to forget whatever notions I had for that night.
There were a few people from Italy who drove their own cars to the hotel, so we rode with them instead of taking taxis. Thankfully for my ride to dinner I took a seat in the back.
My driver was from Milan and careened around the roads tailgating pretty much the whole way there. He was also a very animated talker, (Italian, remember), with large hand gestures and frequently turning to look at the people in the car instead of watching the person a few feet in front of him. I was pretty sure we were going to get into an accident so just stopped looking out the front window and decided that whatever was going to happen would happen.
(No accidents, by the way.)
The person driving us was also our host and wanted us to try some of the best of the region. There were a lot of appetizers from fried pizza dough to various things with mozzarella and/or prosciutto. My favorite was a mozzarella ball filled with a cream mixture with prosciutto and bread. There were also various wines. While I am not usually a fan of pizza margarita, I was told to try it for my entrée and it was quite good—very different from what I have had in the states with exceptionally flavorful basil, (which is hard to say about basil as it is usually pretty strong).
After dinner I did not order desert, but a person next to me “forced” me to share some of his coffee gelato, (a few scoops of vanilla gelato floating in a shot of espresso). It was not as good as the chocolate gelato I had the other day, but the balance between the sweet and bitter was quite good.
Then when I thought we were going to wrap things up there was a flow of various sweet spirits. Those were not especially to my liking, so mostly just took a sip or two to be gracious before passing them off to someone else. The flavors were interesting, though—juniper, coriander, sweet and bitter oranges, (I had no idea that “bitter” oranges were a thing), some sort of mini-lemon, sugar and so on.
As things seemed to show no sign of slowing down I was about to call a taxi, but a few others seemed to have the same idea and stood up with me. Then a few more stood until the whole group ended up spilling out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk. After a bit of milling around I ended up heading out with three other gentlemen who seemed to be of the same mind thinking I’d at least get back by 11:30.
Our driver this time was a native of Turin and had a well-traveled Land Rover. Not well-traveled as in it was worn down, (it was in very good shape), but because he had driven it all over. He had even taken it to Iceland—twice. (I was a bit skeptical of this, but it turns out there is a ferry from Belgium that takes 48 hours to get to Iceland. It stops for the night at some island on the way making it a two day journey.)
He decided to take us on a sightseeing tour of the area from the old royal palace through what remained of the Roman gateway to the city. The streets got progressively smaller while the speed remained constant. And while I was in the back seat, the Land Rover is set up in such a way that the rear seats are elevated, so you see everything going on around you. No tailgating, though, just a roller-coaster ride at the expert hands of someone who had traveled these roads for 30-some years.
When we started to turn out towards the hotel another person in the car asked if we should head back or stop for a bit. We ended up stopping with me thinking (again) that I’d call a taxi after a little while. But I ended up sticking around and am glad I did.
We wandered into a pub and I asked if there was something uniquely Italian to try. After a bit of back-and-forth between the bartender and our (Italian-speaking) driver we ended up with something called an Americano, (and no, it wasn’t like the Americano I get at a coffee shop). We ended up sitting outside in a plaza sipping the semi-sweet concoction of vermouth, oranges with burnt sugar, pomegranates, liqueur of some sort and other things. I did not care too much for the drink and it did not seem like others did either. No one ordered anything else though and I think it was because the conversation was much more interesting.
A couple generations were present. There was a story about being a kid with one parent from Serbia and another from Croatia who fled to the Netherlands during the war. They expected to go back, but the war lasted longer than anyone thought, so ended up in Amsterdam. Renting an apartment in Germany so one person could buy a Mercedes without paying a high luxury tax on it. Fond memories of a four year marriage that started after one person moved into his parent’s attic with his girlfriend, but the mother had a falling out with the girlfriend, so they moved out and got married. A 24-year relationship that “someday” would “probably” end up in marriage. (The latter person got a bit of flak for this—hey, what better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary! We almost forced the poor guy to drive us to his home where we’d serenade his girlfriend.)
So, now I’m heading to bed four hours later than expected. But this sort of cultural and personal experience with others is frankly priceless.