Kelly Jo Horton
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Posted in Travel and Places on July 13, 2014
We had arrived at the harbor in Split at 3pm after a long day of driving from Dubrovnik to Mostar (Bosnia) and then to Split. Our driver had a quick chat with a man on the ferry dock and assured us the next ferry to Hvar (pronounced Huar) was at 4pm. Fantastic. Only an hour to kill before heading to our island paradise.
We walked up to the ticket window to buy tickets and were informed that the next ferry was leaving at 6pm not 4pm. We paid the extra Kuna (Croatian currency) for the “fast” boat, which would get us to Hvar in one hour instead of two, and then tried to decide what to do for the next three hours.
The walkway along the harbor was dotted with cafes, touristy trinket kiosks, a bus station, and a lot of students sporting backpacks. It was 96 degrees and smelled like a combination of cigarettes and hippies. We settled on a cafe that had shade and the fewest people smoking.
The only food options were sandwiches and savory pastries that looked like they had been sitting in the full sun all day, but what are you gonna do. We killed the next three hours eating lukewarm pigs in a blanket type pastries, drinking Coke Zero and coffee and trying to forget how hot it was.
We randomly met a Scottish guy named Stevie based on the fact that we needed each other to watch our bags while we took turns going to the pay toilet. Note to self: always carry 5 Kuna in coins, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free pee in Croatia.
At 5:30pm we started noticing that people were starting to line up for the ferries, so we happily jumped up and walked over to the pier with Scottish Stevie. We got in line for the first boat we came to and got halfway through the line before someone told us the boat was going to Vis not Hvar.
We finally found the right line for the right boat and joined the queue. It was not one of the big lumbering ferries that you can drive cars onto, but a sleek catamaran that looked like an Airbus inside. And the A/C was on! Oh happy day. We each grabbed an aisle seat so as not to get trapped between anyone who hadn’t showered in a week, or anyone who looked like they might be the seasick type.
As soon as the boat got underway Stevie offered to buy a round of drinks. “What do you want? Gin and tonic? Vodka? Wine?” he said. “I don’t know,” I said. “Surprise me.”
When Stevie finally returned he had a bottle of water, a Coke Zero, a beer and a glass of white wine. “What happened to the gin and the vodka option?” I asked. He explained, “I asked for a gin and tonic. They were out of gin. They told me they had vodka, so I asked for a vodka tonic. No tonic. I asked what mixers they had, and they said Orangina. So I got you a glass of white wine.” You can always trust a Scottish guy when it comes to booze.
Just as I was beginning to enjoy my glass of wine we started to hit some chop. The further we got from Split the worse it got. The guy next to me was fanning his girlfriend who looked like she was going to blow at any minute. It was 6:50pm, and we were supposed to arrive at 7pm, so we all figured we could keep our lunch down for 10 more minutes. Then the boat started to slow down.
When a ferry starts to slow down it usually means one of two things: you’re close to port, or you’ve lost power and the captain is about to hand out oars. I decided to survey the situation, and when I stood up to look out the window over the bow I could see we were still miles away from Hvar.
We were all speculating as to why we were cruising at less than warp speed when one of the uniformed stewards came by and said, “I don’t know why everyone is panicking. One of the engines sucked in a piece of wood and had to be shut down, so we are only using one engine right now.” Well thank goodness we didn’t hit a body. It was just a piece of wood. We were limping along on one engine, and our “fast” boat was now a slow boat that turned the 1-hour cruising time into almost two.
We did finally make it to the port of Hvar under our own power, disembarked with a throng of 20-somethings on holiday, and realized we had just landed ourselves in the middle of Croatia’s version of Cabo during Spring Break. My girlfriend and I silently wondered if we had made the right decision, booking five days on Hvar. On the other hand, young Scottish Stevie announced (with a huge smile on his face) that he was going to call his boss and ask for an extra week off.
Posted in Personal Stories on June 10, 2014
Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year.
Sometime back in the dreary days of Portland in February I was sitting at my desk and wondering what it would be like to take the summer off. I mean really take the summer off. Go on runs whenever I felt like it, sleep in past 6am, get a new stamp in my passport. In general, answer to no one.
So I gave my notice. My last day in the office was a Friday, April 18th.
I was giddy with visions of all of the “Me” time I was going to have, until the alarm rang at 6am the following Monday morning, and again on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and you get the picture.
It was then I realized that single parents can’t take sabbaticals. There’s no such thing as a sabbatical from parenthood. The only difference between the working me and the sabbatical me was I had more time to do laundry. I was still spending my mornings getting kids to school, and my afternoons picking them up and shuttling them to their various after-school activities.
The fact that I couldn’t escape my environment was killing my sabbatical. My morning, afternoon and evening routines were exactly the same as they had been when I was working full time. The only difference? I was doing laundry and running errands on weekdays during the middle of the day instead of cramming everything into my Saturdays.
So what did I do? Went back to work, well, sort of. I accepted a part-time contract writing job so I could fill the middle of my days with putting words on paper instead of putting dishes in a dishwasher. The thought of spending my entire summer driving my kids back and forth to dance and soccer, doing chores, and hearing, “I’m bored. What can I do?” was enough to scare me out of the house.
My fantasy of taking a real sabbatical was a total fail. But there is a small light at the end of the tunnel. My kids will be going to Australia with their dad for three whole weeks to visit their relatives. The first time in over 23 years that I have had three consecutive weeks to myself.
How much adventure can you cram into three weeks? I don’t know, but I aim to find out.
Posted in Celebrities on July 24, 2013
Being a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has its perks, however, living in Portland makes it rather difficult to take advantage of most of them. Members of the Academy often get free passes to movie screenings, plenty of DVD screeners for TV shows during Emmys voting season and countless invitations to evening events where networks parade their stars on panels for every TV show you can think of.
I have been telling myself for years, one of these days I’ll buy a plane ticket and actually attend an event where I don’t have to wear an uncomfortable floor-length gown and heels. That event showed up in my Inbox on July 1, at 10:56am. The subject line was:
“An Evening With Carol Burnett – July 22.”
I immediately clicked through because I have tried to attend these events before, and my experience has been if you snooze you lose. I signed up, me +1. Yes, I agree I will really show up and you won’t be sorry you gave me these two seats. Submit.
The confirmation came back immediately, and then I panicked. I needed a plane ticket and I needed a plus-one. Think, think, who would actually buy a plane ticket to go see Carol Burnett with me? Wait a minute, who lives in SoCal who might want to go? Hmmmm.
I ended up taking my sister Shannon who lives in Laguna Beach. She picked me up at the Burbank Airport on Monday at 2:20pm, and we made our way to NoHo (North Hollywood) to try to find a place to eat and drink. After all, we had three hours to kill before heading over to the Academy.
We parked the car near the Academy and started walking around looking for a place that served decent food and had a bar. I had no idea this would be so difficult! After passing several restaurants that served burgers, pizza and soft drinks we noticed a sign on the sidewalk just down the road that said “$4 Margaritas.”
“Who cares what kind of food they have,” I said. “They have $4 margaritas!”
We sat at that bar in Bow & Truss for the next two and a half hours eating Mahi Mahi tacos, shrimp ceviche and an odd kale salad while Bartender Ben looked on and occasionally interjected. Oh, and we had a few margaritas and they were well worth the $4.
At 6:25pm we walked across the street to the Academy and got in the back of a line that snaked its way back and forth across the courtyard in front of the building. I had been warned to arrive an hour early if I wanted to ensure I got a seat, because they had given out way more tickets than they had seats in the theater. They often do this because so many people sign up but don’t show up. Not tonight.
We did get in, and we did get good seats, but if we had come any later we would have ended up in the overflow room with the other 100 people who didn’t get into the theater.
The lights dimmed promptly at 7:30pm, and the evening started with a short reel of clips that chronicled Carol’s history in television. Then the lights came up and the President of the Academy introduced Carol Burnett and the moderator/interviewer for the evening, Kristin Chenowith.
There isn’t enough room in this blog to hold all of the stories Carol told, but I will tell you that she did talk about growing up poor with her grandmother, roller skating in the hallway and the day she met Julie Andrews. And of course there were stories about Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence. Wow. What a comedic team they were.
After about 45 minutes of chit chat with Kristin, Carol finally called for questions from the audience. I had spent the entire plane ride thinking up what I would ask her if they actually called on me and handed me the microphone. I really wanted to know what the boundaries were for sketch comedy on the major networks back in the day of the Carol Burnett Show.
The first person raised his hand, then the second, then the fifth. I was wiggling in my seat, do I raise my hand? Is it a stupid question? I just knew if I didn’t ask a question I would regret it. I noticed an attendant with a mic just a few rows down from me, made eye contact with her and shot my hand in the air like a 5-year old who has to pee. Okay, here she comes, now I really have to do this. Shit.
There were three more questions from the other side of the room before the woman handed me the mic, motioned for me to stand up, whispered something into her headset mic and told me I was next. Then she pointed at me at me in that silent TV way and mouthed the word “go.”
I swallowed hard and hoped something intelligent would come out when I opened my mouth.
“Hi Carol,” I called from 20 rows back, waving so she would know where the voice was coming from. “Were there ever any characters you wanted to play or skits you wanted to include on the show where the network just said no?” The audience mumbled in approval of the question. Oh yes, it was indeed a good question.
Carol paused for just a second and then she said, “No.” Silence.
Crap. This can’t be happening to me right now. Are you kidding me right now? Nothing? Never? Nada?
Then she continued. “Oh wait, there was this one sketch…” And she proceeded to tell the story of the sketch she and Harvey Korman did about a nudist camp. Her character was positioned behind a fence with just her feet and her head showing, and Harvey was on the other side talking to her about what it was like in the nudist camp. His line was something like, “Well how do you dance in a nudist camp?” And she responded, “Very carefully,” to which the network responded, “You can’t say that on TV.”
She said the best part was that the line they finally agreed on seemed even more suggestive than the one the network nixed in the first place. During the live taping when Harvey asked, “How do you dance in a nudist colony?” she answered, “Cheek to cheek.” Yes, really.
The story got lots of laughs, and I stood there grinning from ear to ear, holding that microphone like it was a stolen Emmy. Because I knew that as soon as I let go of that microphone my moment with Carol would be over.
There were a handful of questions after mine and then Carol and Kristin were gone. But for a few brief minutes that evening I felt like I, Kelly Jo Horton, was having a personal conversation with the legendary Carol Burnett.
Posted in Personal Stories on February 23, 2013
I never got along with my mom. She always said I didn’t turn out the way she expected, and she never failed to remind me every chance she got. So when she passed away nine years ago I didn’t really miss her. Sounds cold and callous but it’s true. I don’t miss her criticisms but I miss the fact that I no longer have that historical link to my past.
Was I really this annoying when I was 14? Never mind, don’t answer that, I think I know the answer. My daughter is just like me isn’t she. Yep, Karma’s a bitch.
How did you handle this when you were a single mom, working full time with three angsty teenagers in the house? You must have been thrilled when I went to Finland for a year in high school. You’re welcome.
Just so you know I turned out okay. I know I was never the daughter you wanted, but I have thrived in my own unique way.
Your first grandson is graduating from college this year. Yes, that little kid who used to play in your tool drawer is now 22.
My youngest son is smart, funny and easy. You would really like him.
Then there’s my daughter. Mom, she would drive you crazy just like I did at 14. She is stubborn, defensive, creative and beautiful. She’s like that crazy brew we used to make at camp when everyone would bring a can of soup and all of them would get poured into one pot. Sometimes it tasted good, and other times it was the nastiest brew ever.
What do I do with her? I think I remember you just letting go and trusting me, and it worked Mom. You gave me wide boundaries as I recall and I never abused them. I made mistakes but I learned from them. And that’s the important part, right? Is that what I do with her? Set her free? Let her make mistakes?
This is hard. This single parenting stuff is hard, Mom. I don’t know how you survived, but you did.
I thank you for not clipping my wings and letting me become the person I am today, even though I’m not the person you wanted me to become. I’m better for it. Thank you.
Your angsty daughter,
Posted in Dating and Relationships on November 22, 2012
If there’s one thing every Dating Ninja knows it’s that first impressions are everything in the world of online dating. That first email you send to someone on an online dating site can make or break your chances of getting a response. But with a little thought and little effort you can increase your chances of getting a response.
These are the DO’s and DON’T’s for that first email:
- DO personalize the email and mention something from the person’s profile and tie it back to you. For example, I notice you like Green Day. Did you see them when they were in town last year? It was a fantastic show.
- DON’T start with, “Hi, how are you?” It’s an empty question with a one-word answer – “fine.”
- DO keep it short. Three to five sentences is about all you need in a first email.
- DON’T send the same email to every person you write to. It’s impersonal and lazy.
- DO check for spelling errors before you click Send.
- DON’T ask a question that is already answered in the person’s profile. It is a big red flag that you never actually read the person’s profile.
If you’re not the best with words and you don’t know where to start, use this formula:
- First sentence is about the person you’re writing to.
- Second sentence is about you.
- Third sentence is a question that gives the person a reason to respond.
Dear Dating Ninja,
I love the photo of you in front of the Trevi Fountain. I was in Rome in June, and threw a couple of coins in the Trevi myself. What was your favorite spot in Rome?
While the above email comments on a photo in the profile, an email that comments on something that you read in the person’s profile can increase your chances even more.
Dear Dating Ninja,
I see you have a passport story…me too. I learned that you should always know the expiration date of your passport! What’s your story?
The bottom line is be authentic and engaging. Good luck!
Posted in Dating and Relationships on September 9, 2012
A very good friend of mine in the UK called me last week to tell me he had finally found the lid for his pot, or as they say in Cockney Rhyming slang his perfect China Plate (mate).
We have both been single on and off for the past 10 years, and have had many Skype sessions discussing the various reasons why. But it wasn’t until this past week that we came up with the perfect analogy for our unsuccessful dating histories.
Test driving Volvos when you want to buy a Ferrari.
That one phrase pretty much sums up both of our online dating experiences. Online dating sites are chock full of Volvos. There is nothing wrong with a Volvo. It’s a sturdy, stable, reliable car, but there’s really nothing extraordinary about it. And it’s just not sexy.
There are plenty of people who want to drive a Volvo, and plenty of people who want to drive a Ferrari. Me, I’m more of a Tesla girl. The Tesla is a one-of-kind car, a unique driving experience, and very adventurous. Here are some real comments from the Tesla website:
“It’s one of the most fun vehicles I’ve ever driven.”
“There has simply never been another car like this one.”
“…my eyes are wide and my jaw has dropped.”
That is exactly what I’m looking for in my China Plate. Someone who makes my heart pound and my jaw drop. In the words of Jeff Bezos I want someone who’s resourceful. Someone who could get me out of a Third World prison. I’m pretty sure a Tesla could do that.
I have been lucky enough to test drive a few Tesla’s in my life, and I’m still hoping to find the perfect model. But for now it seems like I’m looking for a Tesla in a city full of Volvos.
What’s your perfect model?
1962: Born. Okay, I don’t really remember that part, but the important part is that my dad had a degree in math and we moved six times before my 6th birthday. And that last move landed us smack in the middle of what would become Silicon Valley.
1962-1968: I remember the teachers at school whispering and giggling about this radical musical ‘Hair,’ and I remember a lot of low-waisted bell bottoms, blue eye shadow and headbands. That is all.
1969: My parents get divorced. You may not see this as an important milestone on my road to geekdom, but in fact it is, because after my parents get divorced my mom quits her job as a teacher and goes to work as a secretary for Fairchild Semiconductor. Boom.
1972: Pong. My first video game.
1973: Sometime around 1973 my dad moves to San Diego, but the rest of the family stays in Silicon Valley.
1974: Mr. Demerelli gives me a C in math and I realize I did not inherit my dad’s math gene. Sigh. How will I ever become a geek if I can’t wax on about calculus and write my friend’s phone numbers down in binary notation?
1975: My dad quits working for large government contract companies and starts a company called Antares, and begins designing and building I/O circuit boards that allow commercial computers to interface with Naval Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) devices or systems.
1976: My mom needs to keep me busy for the summer so she brings me to work with her every day and pays me some exorbitant salary (probably 50 cents an hour) to type invoices and packaging labels for semiconductor parts.
1976: Bill Joy invents the “vi” editor for Unix (This will become important later. Trust me)
1977-1979: I discover that working summer jobs in startups is way more interesting than working in retail or fast food. I spend my summers editing code I don’t really understand, do secretarial work, and soak up the energy of the startup entrepreneurs.
1979: I ask my dad what I should major in in college and he says, “Major in art. It doesn’t matter. You’re just going to get married anyway.” Yeah, didn’t take that advice, but thanks anyway.
1980-1982: I share a 2-bedroom apartment near San Diego State with three strangers, one of whom is a Computer Science Major. I watch Shelly carry stacks of cards back and forth to the computer lab, and I finally get curious enough to come with her one day to see what she’s actually doing with all of those cards.
1982: Stanford classmates Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, Andy Bechtolsheim, and UC Berkeley computer science graduate student Bill Joy co-found Sun Microsystems (SUN is the acronym for the Stanford University Network). I have no idea this is happening, but it will become very important later.
1983: I register for Computer Science 101, a class that just barely scratches the surface of what an operating system is, and how you can program it to display “Hello World.”
1984: I graduate with a Journalism degree, with an emphasis in Advertising, and minors in Spanish and Television & Film. I know, nothing to do with computer science, but just hang in there. I assure you this all comes together in the end.
1984-1985: Did I mention that I graduated during a recession? I couldn’t get a job in an advertising agency, so I became a cocktail waitress. Boom. I know what you’re thinking. Major life detour. What does this have to do with becoming a geek. Well, if I had actually gotten one of those advertising jobs my life would have taken a different path.
1985: I decide I’ve had enough of the cocktail waitress life, pack my bags, buy a one-way ticket around the world and leave.
1985: I make it all the way around the world, run out of money in Hong Kong, come back to Silicon Valley and head to the Volt temp agency. They place me at a little startup called Sun Microsystems as an administrative assistant. Geek heaven. I am amazed by Sun’s internal email system, Suntools, so I decide to write a User’s Guide for the employees. I am bored in my administrative assistant job so I read Henry McGilton’s book “Introducing the UNIX System” cover to cover like a recipe book, trying out every command as I go. I ask Henry to lunch so I can discuss further. I’m well on my way to becoming a geek.
1985: ARPANET becomes the Internet and I discover online forums that you can only find if you know the IP address.
1986: I become a certified Sun systems administrator, and discover how to hack through Sun’s screenlock and report this as a major security bug. I take a Pascal programming class and write my first computer program.
1989: I am working for another startup called Frame Technology when I discover a proposal written by someone at CERN about something called the World Wide Web. I decide this is going to be something amazing and I write a white paper about it that no one outside my company ever sees.
1989: Frame Technology founder Steve Kirsch comes into my cubicle and tells me he has this brilliant idea to create a way to let us find things on this Worldwide Web thing without having to know the IP address of what we’re looking for. That idea becomes Infoseek, one of the first Internet search engines. At this point I consider myself a full-fledged card-carrying member of the geek club.
The years from 1989 up until now have been a blur of information and cutting edge technology. I have spent the past 20+ years working with a multitude of different companies (mostly startups) in a consulting capacity or as a full-time employee.
2012-????: This chapter is being written every minute of every day as I continue to chase the top of the wave—which for right now is social media marketing—and look for the next one to ride.
I am the daughter of an entrepreneur, and I thank my dad every day for telling me to major in art, because I’ve never really been good at doing what I’m told.
My sisters and I meet up at our family cabin in Incline Village (Tahoe) every summer for a week, and we’re continually looking for new and exciting adventures to keep our kids occupied. I am not one to sit on a beach and do nothing all day, so when a friend suggested taking the kids on a mountain biking adventure I decided to check it out.
My friend Greg recommended the Flume Trail in Tahoe, saying it would be a great ride for the kids and everyone would enjoy it. Now let me just point out that Greg rides his mountain bike five days a week, and he considers a 5-mile ascent at a 45-degree angle a fun ride, so I should have taken this fact into consideration before dragging my family into this adventure, but I didn’t.
We honestly didn’t know much about the Flume Trail ride so we called the Flume Trail Bike Shop the night before we planned to ride and asked a few questions, like how hard is this ride really. The answer was a bit vague being, “Oh there’s a bit of a hill at the beginning, then a few miles of flat terrain, and then a few miles of downhill.” We would soon find out that this was the understatement of the year.
The ride begins at Spooner Lake at 7000 feet and climbs to 8157 feet at the summit. If the hills don’t get you the altitude will.
This is no joke. I spent the first five miles of the “ride” walking with my 14-year old daughter who was so frustrated with the climb that she literally gave up and sat down on the dirt trail. It took me about two hours to talk her out of turning around and get her up to the summit. My 21-year old son and 12-year old son were able to ride up most of the five miles with a few exceptions, but they had to wait 90 minutes for us at the summit.
FACT: If you have to stop for any reason you will be eaten alive by mosquitoes.
My daughter spent the first five miles swatting at flies and mosquitoes and shouting, “I am not an outdoors person!”
The next couple of miles past the summit were a walk in the park compared to that first five miles of hills. We really enjoyed the easy miles of trail that winded along the edge of Marlette Lake. However, the cakewalk was short lived, because you see the actual Flume Trail is 4.5 miles of single track trail hugging the side of a mountain with a 1600-ft drop off.
FACT: People with a fear of heights should NOT ride the Flume Trail.
This part of the ride is not family friendly. There is one place on the trail where you actually have to pick your bike up and carry it over a pile of large boulders.
The last few miles of the adventure are all downhill on loose sand and gravel, which is a challenge. But when you’ve been riding the last 4.5 miles on the edge of a cliff it’s a welcome change of pace even if it is harder to keep your bike upright.
All seven of us arrived at the end of the trail (at the Ponderosa Ranch) relatively unscathed, but incredibly thirsty, because you see we all ran out of water after that first 5-mile climb and had to ride the last 10 miles with no water.
FACT: You will need three bottles of water per person if you want to stay hydrated on this ride.
Four of the seven of us said we would do the ride again if we were more prepared. I would have absolutely loved this challenging ride had I not spent the entire time trying to talk my kids through it. So if you want to do this ride take my advice:
- Park at the Ponderosa Ranch parking lot and take the shuttle to the Flume Trail Bike Shop where you can rent a well-equipped mountain bike.
- Bring your own riding gloves, because they run out of loaners early in the day.
- Pack three bottles of water per person.
- Bring ample snacks, as you will be burning in excess of 1500 calories on this ride.
- Pack a small first aid kit, because the only way you can get help if you’re injured is to have someone ride back to the bike shop, which could take hours.
- An experienced rider may be able to finish the ride in under two hours, but it took us five hours, so keep that in mind.
- Wear lots of sport sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses to keep the dirt, dust and sun out of your eyes.
- Apply mosquito repellent liberally.
- Do not bring children or inexperienced riders. This is a moderately difficult ride.
- Rent a place with a hot tub because you’ll want a long soak afterwards.
Posted in Sailing Italy, 2010 on June 7, 2012
I rarely eat ice cream at home, but when in Rome…
One of our sayings on our sailing trip in Italy was, “It’s our last night in (insert city name here). We should have gelato!” Never mind that we were in a different city almost every night. Needless to say I tried a lot of gelato, and as I found out as I worked my way through Italy not all gelato is created equal.
I had been curious about one thing: where did all of the gelato come from? It obviously didn’t come in prepacked tubs like ice cream, because it always looked like it had been poured into the pan and decorated by hand no matter where you bought it. But just like ice cream there were definitely varying degrees of quality.
I was wandering the streets of Rome on one of my last nights in Italy when I stumbled upon a place called Gelateria Valentino. I walked in and asked the attractive middle aged man behind the counter my burning question. “Do you make your own gelato?”
Turns out the man behind the counter serving up gelato was none other than Valentino himself, who explained that most of the gelaterias around town used a powdered mix that they pour into a gelato machine. Ah ha, I knew it! I knew there was a difference.
Valentino explained that he used only fresh fruit for the sorbet-like gelatos, and in fact he grew his own lemons, oranges and grapefruits for his fruit flavors. I tasted the lemon and it was like nothing I had tasted at any other gelato stand. You could tell it was the real deal. He insisted we sample almost every flavor in the shop, and explained how he hand crafted each one.
By the time I left Gelateria Valentino with my small Biscotto gelato I had spent 30 minutes with Valentino who was kind enough to not only share pictures of his wife, his son, and his grandchildren, but to share with me the culinary delights of hand crafted gelato.
Gelateria Valentino – Via del Lavatore 96, Roma (Fontana di Trevi)
Posted in Sailing Italy, 2010 on June 6, 2012
The first day I arrived in Rome to meet my fellow crew members my motivation was starvation. However, most of my crew members were motivated by price and location. So, when I arrived at the hotel we walked a couple of blocks and ordered pizza at a sidewalk cafe. That 4-Euro Pizza Margherita tasted like a hundred dollar-steak and lobster dinner after an entire day of airplane food. Almost anything would have tasted like a feast at that point.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I had just eaten a meal that I would now rate as mediocre. Hey, but at the time I was jet lagged, starving and dealing with what seemed to be super pollen production of Roman proportions. I was congested and sneezing so how much could I really taste that pizza anyway?
One evening we ventured out to the Pantheon area of Rome, where the piazzas are lined with small cafes with what I call Italian Carnies. You can’t walk by a piazza restaurant without someone trying to hustle you into eating their pasta.
The first thing that I noticed was the menus were all basically the same, and seemed to cater to tourists. The second thing I noticed was that the prices were almost all the same, with few exceptions. I used the basic Pizza Margherita as my yardstick when looking at menus, and it almost always hovered around 4 Euro.
We randomly picked a place based on nothing other than the fact that we were tired of getting harassed by the Italian Carnies. I specifically remember ordering Spaghetti Vongole that night. And I specifically remember getting a plate full of spaghetti and three, yes three, tiny clam shells with little clams in them. At that point I knew I would never eat at a piazza near a major Roman monument again. It’s akin to eating at Denny’s.
The best sources forrestaurant recommendations are taxi drivers, waiters, and people who have eaten their way through Italy before. If you take recommendations from friends, relatives and random people you meet on the plane, ask them to elaborate on the meals they’ve had at the establishments they’d recommend. I’d be much more likely to take the recommendation of someone who described a Tortelli di Zucca as “swimming in butter,” than I would someone who recommended a pizza that was “pretty good.”
One of the crew members had a list of recommendations she had gotten from someone on her flight over to Rome. One Sunday evening the two of us ventured out near the Trevi Fountain to look for a restaurant called Il Chianti. The person who recommended the restaurant had given only the following directions, “Stand facing the Trevi Fountain, walk down the street to the right, look for the restaurant on your left.”
We walked up and down what we thought was the right street but couldn’t find the restaurant, so we finally asked someone, who told us exactly where it was. Turns out we had walked by it several times and missed it because it was set back from the street a bit and there were very few people sitting outside. Not usually a good sign.
We noticed a waiter standing outside the entrance and approached him to ask for a table for two. “I’m sorry but we are closed on Sundays,” he said. “Drinks only.” This was my friend’s last night in Rome and she wasn’t going to get to try the one restaurant she really wanted to try. Then we got the brilliant idea to ask the waiter for a recommendation. He perked up immediately and said, “Piccolo Arancio. First small street on the right.”
You always have to wonder if a waiter or a taxi driver is recommending a place just because their cousin owns it, or if they are really pointing you to something wonderful. We were pretty sure this particular waiter was genuine, and we were willing to take a chance, so we walked up the street, turned onto the first little street on the right and found a sliver of a store front tucked away off the beaten path.
We were one of the first people seated, but it wasn’t long before the staff was fetching tables and chairs out of the storage room across the street to accommodate the constant flow of dinner guests. It was a quiet little street, thankfully absent of the constant flow of moped and motorcycle traffic you get on most streets in Rome.
I scanned the wine list and found exactly what I was looking for: a Banfi 2003 Brunello for Montalcino. I have my priorities.
The waiter brought the wine and a plate of fresh Parmesan to go with it. We ordered the bruschetta, which looked like a pile of freshly diced tomatoes until we cut into it and found the the warm thick slice of bread hiding underneath. My friend had the lasagna, which she rated as “fabulous” on a scale of Never Again to Outstanding. I had the Fusilli alla Malanzane (eggplant) which was simple and perfectly prepared. At the end of the meal we both agreed we had just experienced an Italian culinary orgasm.
The last of the crew members flew back to the U.S. the next day, so I was left to wander the streets of Rome on my own. I made my way back to the street just to the right of the Trevi Fountain, and back to Il Chianti for lunch. It was open, and the Tortelli di Zucca was indeed molto bene and swimming in butter.
Il Chianti – Piazza Fontana di Trevi 81 / 82a
Piccolo Arancio – Vicolo Scanderbeg, 112 00187 Rome, Italy