Sunday, 31 October 2010

Verona...

Strolling along the ancient boulevard
Day two of our first Italian trip was spent in Verona, made super famous by one Bill Shakespeare, but deserving of a grand reputation in its own right.  Some quick facts first,Verona has a population of something over 260 000 (more than 700 000 in the greater area), was founded sometime before 550 BCE, and now holds UNESCO World Heritage status.  Having such status used to really impress us, but like medieval churches, it doesn't seem quite as special when places with Heritage Status appear to be about a dime a dozen in our part of Europe.
The Adige, with something that might be a church in the centre

Verona sits astride the river Adige, the longest river in Italy after the Po, and which, like all European rivers flowing through cities, is pretty without being particularly inviting.  The oldest part of the city lies on the right-hand side of the river (coming downstream), which you can access from a number of cool old bridges (real age may differ from the perceived age of course).

We headed in on a Saturday morning, starting our day with the obligatory coffee and pastry, and my goodness was it a revelation to have access to decent coffee again, before wandering the streets in no real direction for a few hours.  The great thing about cities like Verona is, like Venice, you don"t really need plans as such, the weight of history means every corner of every street in old towns like these have something to offer.  If I'd written this earlier, I'd have been able to tell you of the courtyards and churches we wandered through and around, but two months later is too late sadly.  What I still remember though, about from the amazing amount of effort required to beautify the buildings, is just how old everything feels.  Old in a different way to Germany, which is definitely old, but Italy is ancient, and that things are still standing despite the tumultuous history of the region makes it all the more impressive.  We added a photo exhibition to the itinerary too, on show in a Roman era excavated basement, but alas, and perhaps ironically, we weren't allowed to take photos of 'em.

A tomb to someone, middle ages definitely, but to whom it belongs I cannot remember


The Balcony itself
We did make a special effort though, to find Juliet's Balcony, one of the most ridiculous of all Italian tourist destinations.  I say ridiculous, because it is a balcony that may have been like the balcony imagined in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - may have of course because the play is enitrely fictional, but that doesn't stop thousands of tourists visiting the site every day.   People go there for two reasons, one, to see the famed balcony, and two, to rub the right breast of a female statue in the courtyard, which, faux-traditionally, will bring you fortune in love.  Despite the whole thing being based on extremely dodgy premises, it is a still quite a neat site, and, despite my misgivings, it's a worthwhile stop if you happen to be around.

"Juliet" in all her glory
Giant Roman buildings are always, always awesome!
After the pilgrimage to the Balcony, we continued our wandering through the streets, stopping to eat in the tourist district, where the food was adequate without being spectacular,  but the service was excellent (only because the owner gave Matilda a wooden Pinocchio doll).  We then headed towards the Arena, which is another legacy of the Romans and is still used for Opera and other productions in the summer.  We headed home along another beautiful medieval bridge, before heading back in for dinner (of horse and donkey for me) and a gelato in the evening. By night, in late summer/spring, the town is abuzz, it's cool and in a different time I think it would have been grand to spend a very late night out.  As it was, the day and evening we simply brilliant, and if you ask me Verona is definitely worth getting off the beaten track to visit.

Castles...
....arches, frescoes.....






...and Tiramisu!  What else can you possibly need?



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