Staying at the right hotel is the dividing line between a successful business trip and a memorable experience. When traveling in Europe my temporary residence is often a four-star or, occasionally, a five-star business hotel as close as possible to the venue where my meetings are to take place. I usually follow the advice of my hosts and when they offer to handle the reservation themselves I normally agree. These hotels are quite comfortable and provide efficient around the clock services. They and most of their clientele are sadly soulless though. I'm not always fortunate to run into a Fenella after all. Sigh!!!
On my third trip to the Netherlands over the last year I have learned my lesson well enough not to put my fate in the hands of efficient secretaries. Despite the inconvenience of changing accommodations for one night only I find myself opting for this choice more and more. The hell with the business suit and tie, the hygienic room in the middle of nowhere and the bar full of boring stiffs who talk only about work even when drunk. On my last night in a new city I'm moving my ass out of there in search of a cozy little place either in the heart of things or away from the screeching silence of the business environment.
March has been one of those months for me where I lived off my suitcase. Well, it's no longer a suitcase in the real sense of the word as I have become very apt at traveling light. I can handle any four or five-day trip now with a single carry-on and instead of waiting for my luggage to arrive on a maddeningly slow carousel I can have a head start on my first beer.
I spent a wonderful evening in the buzz of Amsterdam and a relaxing walk through her back alleys followed by a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast at the Avenue Hotel on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal Straat in the center of the city. After a brief interim in Tartous I found myself in Venice with one last free afternoon and a rainy sky. I had worked out of the port of Venice for two days and I really looked forward my alone time in a small suburb of Mestre called Zelarino. This is not the first time I stay at the Antico Moro, a three-star hotel built on the original structure of an 18th century palace owned by the Foscari Family and it hopefully won't be the last. I really relish the privacy and the placidity it offers after a couple of days of hard work. I waited the rain out in my pleasant room and listened to it tap-dancing on the shingles of the vaulted ceiling. Then I went out into the night and walked along the deserted main street to the sounds of bells from the chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata. An hour of brisk walking changed my mind about not having dinner but all I could find were small ice cream parlors and the ubiquitous Italian cafes. I sought advice from the night clerk and he was rather surprised that I was asking for a good place to eat.
“This way prego.” I followed him to the back of the small lobby where he opened a door and I found myself stepping into the fantastic Sotto il Sogno, Pizzeria e Ristorante. The waitress asked: “Would you like meateh, fisheh or Pizza?” Since I was only familiar with the last one that's what I chose. Now don't get me wrong, I like a good pizza. I always thought that I offended my Italian colleagues and friends when I told them that the best pizza I've had was in Chicago. Accordingly I stopped saying that completely. They are sensitive those Italians you know and they take everything personally. I also never gave justice to Italian beer simply because, apparently, I was always taken to the wrong places.
I sat alone at my table facing the wood fired oven and watched the tall and skinny chef handling the dough. I always assumed a good cook must be fat, or has a full waste line at least. Very wrong assumption, I'm glad to admit. And, not only did this place look terrific but lo and behold they had a beer menu. I ordered an amber Rurale Birra. The waitress warned me: “But it is biggeh!”. I simply smiled at her and said: “Certo ... So” (Sure... I know).
It didn't turn out to be that big after all, a mere 750 cc any healthy boy like me should easily gulp down with a pizza. And, Ahhh, that brings us to the real stuff. I ate the best Quattro Stagioni, well really the best pizza ever, anywhere, anytime.
As I went outside for one last walk late at night, the buzz of Zelarino was no less magnificent than that of Amsterdam, a fitting end to a long stretch away from home. Did I mention that the beer was goooooood? Well it was and I can't wait for my next visit. When the petite waitress tells me that “it is biggeh the beer” I will answer, again with a grin on my face: “quindi si prega di fare loro due ” (Then please make them two).