ROME -- Having dinner in a private home has become almost a staple of the local experiences offered by travel companies today.
Yet I could tell some fellow travelers on my Luxury Gold "Utlimate Italy" trip were skeptical. It was just our second night on the 10-day journey so everyone -- particularly those doing their first-ever group trip -- was still getting to know each other and trying to figure out exactly what they had gotten into.
When we walked in the house in a beautiful neighborhood on Gianicolo Hill, the highest point in Rome, our hosts' niece was singing traditional Italian songs in a flawless voice.
The view from Gianicolo Hill, the highest point in Rome. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing
Our hosts, Debora and Max Lanini, were warm and outgoing, both professionals who I would guess were in their 50s, the same age as much of our group.
Still, it was unclear if it would turn into one of those awkward meals with forced conversations about the local food.
The mood changed immediately, however, once, Max, an Alitalia pilot, turned on the karaoke program on the television over the fireplace and took over the mike to belt out -- what else -- "Come Fly With We."
Our hosts Debora and Max Lanini. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing
Then, to everyone's delight, the family dog came out. And by the time the evening was over, everyone was on their feet, waving napkins and singing along to Dean Martin and Neil Diamond songs.
It was a key bonding dinner, not only with our hosts, but with each other.
As we headed back to our coach -- stopping first at an overlook to take in the views of Rome below -- the group was unanimous that while the food -- which included vegetarian lasagna, a traditional Roman dish of chicken and ham, and tiramisu -- was good, it was the company that was outstanding.
And everyone was just a bit lighter on their feet, relaxed and excited about what lay ahead as we prepared to head out in the morning for Pompeii, Capri, Florence, Venice and points in between.