After leaving Paris I spent two days in Grenoble, a city in the south-east of France. This was a business visit, but I did get a chance to walk around a bit one afternoon. Grenoble is on a plain next to a range of mountains, one side of the river is steep cliffs, the other is the plain with most of the town. It is an interesting contrast of old and new, steep and flat.

Another gastronomic delight at a great restaurant close to the station.

On Thursday afternoon I took the bus to Lyon airport and flew Air France to Rome. After the relative calm of Grenoble, Rome was like a shot of adrenalin to the system.

My lasting impression of Rome is (slightly organized) chaos. The roads are crazy, the drivers are wild, and a Roman taxi driver is a breed apart – I don’t believe they have any nerves at all. I was in Rome for four days, took a number of taxi trips will probably have nightmares about them for months 🙂 Might seems to be right on the Roman roads, no passing signs and double white lines are meant for other people to be aware of and the only thing that might intimidate a taxi driver is an other taxi driver. 70km/h in a busy city street is cause for serious fear in my book. On one trip there was some congestion on our side of the road, so the driver darts across into the face of oncoming traffic and through a doorway in a wall that was just wide enough for the taxi to get past (do taxis get fitted with whiskers like cats so they can judge the width of the gap, I wonder), down a step and onto a completely different road.

The chaos extends beyond the roads – walking around the historic areas or visiting the colosseum on a busy day is an exercise in determination and nimbleness. Whatever you do make sure you purchase your tickets to the popular attractions in advance, otherwise you can queue for hours.

I was in Rome for the Agile Alliance board meeting, so I didn’t have much free time, just one day to be a tourist. The rest of the time was work and getting to know my fellow board members. The official proceedings started on Thursday night – time for a quick shower after the plane trip and into the first of those scary taxi rides, heading for a hotel in the centre of the city where the local Agile community had arranged a Q&A session with us. Being on the board seems to mean that we know what we’re talking about and people want to ask us all sorts of questions. It was pleasing that even though this was the first time all 12 of us were together our answers were generally in alignment with each other – kindred spirits and like minds.

After the Q&A session we went for our first dinner together – fast food is a foreign concept in Rome. The meal was a magnificent repast of various anti-pasto dishes (cold meats of every sort, fish, pizza bread, cheeses and olives, some vegetables for those that wanted, salad, and a wonderful plate which had a whole motserella cheese (easily 500g) smothered in Parma ham), followed by a choice of main dish (I didn’t realize the intent was to have another course and had filled up on the ‘starter’ so ended up skipping the main) and desert – I had a lovely lemon sorbet. This feast went on for three hours and that set the pace for most of the meals we shared.

Friday and Saturday were intensive working sessions in a conference room at the H10 hotel where we were all staying. The sessions included morning and afternoon sustenance and lunch in the dining room. At Software Education we do really good catering, but this was amazing. The photograph gives a rough impression, but it doesn’t convey the variety of flavors and options presented to us.

Lunch was a four-course meal – starter, fish or pasta, main and desert followed by espresso, over a leisurely hour and a half. The schedule said an hour, but the kitchen wouldn’t be rushed. On Saturday we made sure we used the time to continue brainstorming some ideas for new ways to connect with and serve the Agile community around the world.

We all ate together on Friday night, another scary taxi ride and a great restaurant. After the big lunch we stuck to only two courses, it still took three hours – good food takes time to prepare and to savor. The time spent together was great for team building and getting to know each other well. We talk a lot in Agile about the importance of face to face communication and the value we got out of the time spent together reinforces in my mind the reasons behind that admonishment.

On Saturday night after the board meeting was finished eight of us went into Rome to do some sightseeing and eat together. This was my first chance to see the sights for which Rome is so famous. We took the bus into town, €1 for the trip. The bus is bigger than a taxi, so they don’t get intimidated, but the ride is far from smooth and was very crowded – perhaps the drivers have a pool going based on how many passengers they can make lose their balance. There was a crisis when we got off the bus as one of our party had left his backpack full of camera gear on the floor – a mad dash down the street and he caught up with the bus and rescued the backpack. Collective sigh of relief from all of us.

We wandered around the base of Mosulini’s palace, taking in the absolute splendor of the place, then climbed up the hill to the central courtyard, then down past the Forum – no entry at night but they light up the area beautifully. The photographs don’t do justice to the feel of the place, hopefully you cam see what I mean.

 On Saturday we had booked a tour of the colosseum for Sunday morning which was a good thing as the queues and crowds were overwhelming. We took the bus into town again, not quite as crowded, and still a bumpy ride. They close the main road past the Forum and the Colosseum to traffic on a Sunday, and it is alive with buskers and street vendors. There was even a pair of performers giving a digeree-do concert – somewhat incongruous to hear in the middle of Rome.

The Colosseum by day is even more impressive than by night, and the crowds waiting to get in are huge. Because we had pre-booked we could bypass the longest line and get in to collect our tickets at the ticket office. The ticket gives entry to the Colosseum and the Forum for two days, and is good value at €18.50 for the guided tour and entry ticket.

We met our guide at the Meeting Point and were handed small radios – the guide has a transmitter and you can hear what she says over the radio even if you are to far back in the crowd to see her. The above-ground tour was about 45 mins and gave some interesting facts and figures about the design, use and history of the building. It’s as big as any major stadium of the modern era, and could seat nearly 100000 people. Over 2000000 animals and 1000000 people died in the games which were designed to entertain and help control the citizenry (watching a group of rebels get eaten by wild animals probably intimidated the next potential rebel into conformity, I’m sure).

From the Colosseum we had a relatively fast lunch (good pizza) and entered the Forum; we marveled at the scale of the building work there – even the remnants and ruins are impressive, when they were in the height of their glory the place must have been magnificent.

One of the party (Al) had done the tours and research and he became our informal guide – the Al-tour was great, he had the pertinent facts and figures at his fingertips and took us to see the most interesting building and spectacular viewpoints. Thanks Al, I really appreciated your generosity in sharing your knowledge with us.

By this time we were somewhat whacked, so taxi back to the hotel for a siesta and shower, then in the evening three of us went back to town to find the Pantheon and see the Triveli Fountain.

We took a cab to the four-rivers fountain, had dinner in the square (only two courses, so it only took an hour) and wandered up and down the narrow streets looking for the Pantheon. Roman side streets are very narrow and winding; it’s an interesting juxtaposition to see modern stores in thousand year old buildings, a motorbike repair shop with ancient cobbled floors.

We found the Pantheon (not that it had been lost or anything) and took the obligatory photographs. Again the size and scale of the ancient Roman building work is amazing. The Pantheon is over 2000 years old and is over 10 stories high.

From there we walked over to the Triveli Fountain – the most beautiful sight. We were far from alone in thinking it is worth seeing – the crowds here (at 11:00pm) were still big, it is one of the most visited places in Rome. I tossed some coins in the fountain and made a wish (it’s the right thing to do there) and took some photos. They don’t do the sight justice, it truly is magnificent.

By this time it was nearly midnight, so another taxi ride back to the hotel (this one was somehow more sedate than the rest – perhaps because the roads were quieter) and bed.

On Monday I rested in the hotel – did some work and packed by bag to come home. The trip is 34 hours all together, Rome to Munich, Munich to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Auckland and Auckland to Wellington. As I write this we are getting close to Hong Kong.

This trip to Europe has been interesting and fun, and I feel I’ve achieved a lot and contributed to the work of the Agile Alliance. Our next board meeting is in Dallas, Texas in January as that is the venue for the Agile 2012 conference and we go to the venue to help plan out the conference.