This is a continuation of Italy Trip series that was started on Day 1 Breakfast After last night's wonderful headache I didn't expect to sleep well but I did. I even woke up before the three alarms that I had set for myself and the wake up call I had requested. So I was up before 7:20am European time. I got ready for work and headed down to the hotel restaurant to partake in the free breakfast and to meet up with my coworkers before heading to the office. I had some scrambled eggs (a little too runny for my liking), some bacon (it was barely cooked), and a chocolate filled brioche (croissant) with some orange juice. There was also pear juice and pineapple juice but both did not sound appealing to me. Breakfast filled me up and meeting up with my coworkers, a couple of them I haven't seen for years, was a great way to start the morning.
Driving to Work The office where we were going to have our meetings was in a small lakeside village of Comerio. The drive from the hotel to the office was about 15 minutes along a well trafficked two-lane road that went through a whole mess of small villages. In fact you wouldn't know that you were changing villages if there weren't these huge signs letting you know when you were exiting one and entering another.
The cars in Italy or small for the most part. There are some "rich" people that have SUVs or medium sized cars. My rental car was a Mercedes-Benz A-Class but it was rather roomy on the inside. It was also an automatic which is very rare in Italy. Now I have heard the stories of the crazy drivers in Italy but I really didn't see it where I was. Yes they are aggressive and tail-gate constantly but they all seemed extremely attentive drivers with really good reaction times. I have no doubt that there are accidents but I didn't see any signs. Speaking of signs...they are absolutely crazy there. There seems to be a sign for every type of curve or situation and almost all of them don't have words just symbols. And the actual street signs are either non-existent or obscured by other signs, tree limbs, or the position/angle of it's placement. This makes navigating with a GPS that much more important and difficult. More important because you have no frame of reference and more difficult because when the GPS spews forth street names it is nearly impossible to match it to an actual road. We ended up just going with the upcoming turn direction and the distance to said turn.
Work So the first day in the office was very nice. The guy that was heading up the European team for my company showed us around the office and introduced us to the key people. There was another consulting vendor with representatives from France that we were going to be working with exclusively during the week. I had apprehensions at first as my previous experiences with other third party vendors has been less than stellar. Anyway, I kept an open mind and we set to work in our client's mutual interest. To my pleasant surprise the rep. from the other vendor was very knowledgeable and a blast to work with.
Mix of Cultures Many of the conversations in throughout the day revolved around the differences in cultures between countries, languages, regions, and continents. For instance one of the traditions in the office is group coffee breaks (caffé). We would head to the break area (an oversized hallway with vending machines) and make a selection from the machines and stand around chatting while drinking the tiny beverages chock full of caffeine. Most of the time the conversation had little or nothing to do about work. This typically happened a few times a day.
Style One thing that is very apparent when in the office or walking around the streets in Italy is that everyone is dressed very stylishly. The office dress code seemed to very greatly from complete suits to blue jeans but regardless everyone looked like they stepped out of clothing catalog. I would have said a fashion magazine but those styles seem so cutting edge that I couldn't imagine anyone wearing those outfits. Scarves seemed to be very popular among both men and women. The weather there was extremely pleasant so these scarves weren't the type used to bundle up from the cold but the type with frills and what not to flaunt style. I actually kind of liked them but they are totally out of place in Florida. The Italian women in the office, which I only saw during lunch time, seemed to dress rather provocatively. Plunging necklines, see-through blouses, and white pants that reveal too much, well let's just say it could be distracting. Anyway, regardless of where I went or how I dressed I always felt like a bum in the fashion/style department. But that is OK because I am a bum when it comes to fashion and/or style.
Dinner at Bologna So after work we all head back to our various hotels and relax for a short while before heading to a restaurant in the middle of Varese called Bologna, which is funny considering there is another town not too far away called Bologna. Since I was driving and had no clue where I was going we swapped passengers with another car because he "supposedly" knew where it was. I was able to stay close enough to the lead car that we were able to find the place but finding parking was a little more difficult. I had to circle the block before I was able to parallel park and based on the "New Yorker" in the car I did a horrible job and was the butt of a few jokes. I'll admit readily that I stink at parallel parking. Anyway, this is a place that many of the traveling workers go to on a regular basis because we were given extra special treatment. We were basically given our own room (there was another table with two guys but they left shortly afterward) and by the time the drinks were arriving there were already pre-appetizers. A short comment about Italian dining. There are multiple courses starting with the antipasto, then two main courses, followed by cheese, desert, coffee, and ammazzacaffè ("coffee killer"). You can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_cuisine#Meal_structure. The reason I bring that up is that we didn't order what first came out which was a huge assortment of sliced meats like prosciutto. Then four jars of pickled items (onions, purplish cucumbers, some sort of uncooked sausage, and one other that is escaping me). There were other plates too but I don't even know where to start describing them. And all of these were before we ordered anything. The next course being the antipasto sort of mixed with the first main course. I really should have taken pictures because I have forgotten most of what was passed around the table. I do remember a couple of different risottos, a couple of different gnocchis, and a couple of other plates that I don't remember. Everything was great. Everyone was having a great time especially since the "no work talk" rule was in effect. Basically the rule is that if you mention anything pertaining to work you had to finish whatever drink you had in front of you. Let's just say it was a drinking game and the wine flowed freely. At some point we were deciding whether or not to order the second main course which consists of meats. Well we all decided yes. So then we had lamb, sausage, and I believe veal. Wow, my memory is fading from that evening. So much great food. After all of that people still had room for dessert. We had planned on going to a local gelateria but somebody said that was closed so we stayed at Bologna for dessert. Tiramisus and other desserts were passed around. I passed on the dessert but when it came to coffee I ordered a cioccolata (which I found out is really cioccolata densa). I was expecting a coffee with a chocolate flavoring or maybe something like the hot chocolate that is typical in the US. What I got was basically a cup of melted chocolate. Really thick but good. I wasn't able to finish it as it was too rich and thick. The final order for the night, at least at this restaurant, was the after coffee drinks. This consisted of different liquors that are supposed to help the digestions. I didn't partake but my colleagues tried a few of them. At some point we realized that the lights were shutting off in the other sections of the restaurant. So the bill was settled and we walked around Varese.
The Unknown Bar We walked around the small streets of Varese until we came to a nice little bar with outdoor seating. The place was almost dead (maybe 6 patrons inside) but that is probably because it was around midnight on a Monday night. More alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were ordered (as the "no work talk" rule was still in affect) and the conversations and laughter continued. At some point I asked what the name of the bar was and one of my coworkers pointed at a sign that said "Vietato fumare". I couldn't help but laugh as I told him that that meant "no smoking". Of course this became a running joke for the rest of the week.
Getting Lost So the bars in Varese close at 1am. The waiter that was attending to us had been coming out and standing around as if to hint that it was time to go. So we got the hint, settled up, and left. We all went our separate ways to our vehicles and since it was so easy to find the restaurant (by following people) we figured it would easy to get back. Well, we were wrong. And I had left my GPS at the hotel because I didn't think it would be that hard to find the hotel. So, there are four people in my car. One is supposed to know where we are and how to get back but after 20 minutes of driving around we determined that we were lost. And this is why I paid for the International Data Plan on my phone. We were able to use my phone to pull up a map and directions and make it back to the hotel. Of course it was only about a kilometer or two from the restaurant and we had gone in the absolute opposite direction but we had a fun time being lost.
Billiards at the Hotel We finally returned to the hotel and right as we walk in we see that a group from the restaurant, that didn't get lost, were hanging around the hotel bar and buying drinks. At some point we decided that we wanted to play a game of pool. There was an absolutely beautiful pool table with very tiny holes that just barely fit the balls in. After such a long day and the alcohol consumed by some of the players it took a while to sink balls in those tiny holes. We played two full games and then said good night as it was just after 3am and we still had to work the next day. Some of those that were up until 3am got up at around 6am to work out. They are just crazy.