My Trip to Verona
As my plane broke through the clouds, descending into Verona, my eyes were met with seemingly endless farm land, a patchwork quilt, broken up by small patches of trees and wandering erratic roads.
We landed at the small airport and for the first time in a decade I felt like a foreigner. I was in Verona for jsDay, having been given the opportunity to speak.
After exchanging dollars for euros I hailed a cab. My driver must have been training for the grand prix as we zigzagged and raced around cars at 140km/h. The exhilarating ride ended at the hotel and my original notion that Verona was mostly flat was thoroughly dispelled.
Soon I met with my coworker and his wife who were in Verona on holiday and we jumped on a bus for Lago di Garda. We spent the afternoon catching up, enjoying the scenery, and eating the local fare.
Jet lag began to sneak up on me as the sun moved into the western sky. We returned to the hotel and began making dinner plans, but before we could execute I ran into other speakers from the conference.
Introductions were made, plans were changed, and the spritz began to flow. At a local Pizzeria, one among hundreds in a several kilometer area apparently, we feasted on thin crust delicacies.
We talked into the night, closing the pizzeria and then the hotel bar. A rag tag group of many nationalities, daring each other to try the grappa.
Finally around 3am I collapsed into bed, exhausted from the last 37 hours of travel and new culture acclimation.
Lunch was catered by the conference center and I mostly feasted on salad, cuts of meat and cheese, carrots, and cooked greens. Red wine was served and rivaled anything I’ve had back home.
At this point I must have been meeting new people at a rate of six or more per hour. English truly is the international language, at least in the programming community.
In the evening they took all of the speakers to the tallest tower in Verona, where I scaled 368 steps and then faced one of my worst fears, heights. It is so strange that I have no problem getting in an aluminum tube that hurtles around the world many thousands of feet above the ground without a second thought, but looking down from a twenty story tower makes me weak in the knees.
After descending we walked across the piazza and sat down at the finest restaurant in Verona. The first glass was filled with Prosecco and I began meeting everyone around the table. Two Californians, a few from Italy, a couple from Germany, and the GitHub delegation.
We all enjoyed conversing, the three course meal and dessert, and of course more red wine. The meal was good but I felt like it was not much different in style or quality from what my wife and I cook at home. The dessert on the other hand, a cream with nuggets of pure chocolate heaven, was fantastic.
After dinner we were bussed back to the hotel and a large number of us headed back to the pizzeria from the pervious night to join the conference attendees. I met more people, sampled the local beer, and once again we closed the place.
Once back to the hotel I settled in at a table in the bar with a Norwegian living in Italy and a Belgian living in Switzerland. We talked into the wee hours of the morning over a couple of beers, discussing everything from nationalized healthcare to the perfect bolognese recipe.
I finally climbed the four flights of steps to my room around 4am and kissed the mattress.
Going to bed so late prevented me from waking up in time to see Douglas Crockford talk in the morning, which was definitely a disappointment. I did make it to a few talks however and it was interesting to see what libraries and tools people were using around the world.
Right before my talk I took a power nap and awoke with an idea for how to engage my audience a bit more.
Before leaving my room I grabbed some mostarda I had purchased and on the way to the conference rooms I ordered a spritz from the bar.
As I began my talk about Hubot the robot butler I walked out into the audience and asked whether they liked it when someone did something nice for them. They didn’t answer immediately so I singled out one young lady and asked her if she would like the mostarda or the spritz. She said either so I gave her the spritz and then held up the mostarda and asked who wanted it. A gentleman in the back said sure and I passed it to him and then headed to the front to start my talk. I had broken the ice, demonstrated a servants heart (a butlers heart!), and calmed myself down in the process by having some one on one interaction with the audience.
It felt like the rest of my talk went really well, my energy level was high, I didn’t stumble, and I actually hit my allotted time perfectly! There were even a few questions and light applause. But later I noticed there was only one tweet and no one really came up to ask me more about Hubot, so I’m wondering if either I spoke too quickly and was hard to understand or if my audience just didn’t really need their own robot butler.
After the talk the usual wave of relief washed over me mixing with the waning adrenaline. Now it was time to prepare for hosting a GitHub drinkup!
I found a group to have dinner with and we began our trek across the city. We sat down to a nice meal and the conversation was relaxed. Then I left them a bit early to ensure our venue was ready for the drinkup.
Arriving at the Kulmbacher Bier-Haus I found my coworker and his wife already there. I went inside and made friends with Tony the bartender, an energetic young fellow with blond hair. The entire staff were dressed up in cheesy Bavarian garb that put a smile on your face.
As the designated hour approached people started arriving and we took our place in the back of the restaurant. My coworker and I took turns greeting each new group that wandered in, asking them what they were working on, what they were excited about in their careers, and answering any questions they had for us. One question was oft repeated: “how do I sell my boss or clients on using git.” I honestly struggled to come up with anything they hadn’t already tried. Definitely something I need to study more and work on, as I haven’t ever had to sell git to a boss or client, I just started using it and didn’t give them a choice. Unfortunately that doesn’t work for everyone.
After the successful drinkup a small group of us migrated to a quiet watering hole down the road, continuing unfinished conversations over a grappa.
The bar closed and we walked back to the hotel, me in the lead, arriving back at nearly 4am. With jsDay over I rested my head on the pillow and had my first good long night of sleep since arriving.
As my eyes opened I realized it was nearly lunchtime, so I jumped up, dressed, and grabbed my Kindle. Leaving the hotel I found myself heading back to the trusty Pizzeria San Marco. I ordered wine and a pizza with prosciutto, fungi (mushrooms), and mozzarella. I spent my lunch reading Objects on Rails and thinking.
When I was done a nap seemed in order so I returned to the hotel and layed down for a few more hours. Waking up for the second time that day I wasn’t sure what to do so I loaded my messenger bag with laptop and Kindle and headed towards the city center. It was a fascinating hike with beautiful sites and delicious smells, set to a soundtrack from my iPhone. I started with Rome and then moved on to The Sulton of Swing.
While crossing over the Ponte Pietra bridge into the touristy center I saw many people with Gelato so I tracked down the source and bought a small cup of Strachiatella, then found a bench overlooking the river and took my time enjoying the purchase. Around dinner time I found a touristy place and had a somewhat awful meal (never go touristy!).
Dinner complete I trekked back to the hotel and found a table in the bar to sit, read, and relax at. I enjoyed my last glass of wine in Italy (for this trip at least) and read Practicing Ruby articles and watched Destroy All Software videos. Completely exhausted from socializing I avoided the party that night and retired to my room early.
After a few short hours of sleep I rose, packed, and grabbed a much more relaxed cab ride to the airport.
As my plane rose into the sky I said “Ciao Verona” and began writing my tale.