Ciao, Ciao Verona e Italia (12/14/03)
Last updated 12/14/03
Verona, a beautiful city of a
truly authentic Italian spirit, changed my opinion of Sundays in Europe
as sleepy, housebound days when the town is mostly deserted by the
locals and blanketed with a serene, restful feeling. No, Sunday in
Verona is the time to go out and mingle, in as loud and crowded a
manner as possible, to the point where lunching at a local pizzeria can
become an overwhelming experience because the locals keep pouring in in
groups of 20, eating their 5-course meals (appetizer, primi piatti
(pasta), secondi (meat), salad, coffee and dessert), expressing their
emotions over the soccer match on TV, choosing not to restrain their
kids who are also going crazy with that Sunday feeling, all the while
your non-English-speaking waitress is literally throwing plates of food
onto your table, and this is at 2pm when the celebration hasn't even
really started yet. By 3 o'clock the entire downtown area resembles a
county fair, and you need much determination and strong shoulder
muscles to get wherever you need to be, especially if you happen to
walk along Via Mazzini. This upscale shopping street seems to attract
99% of Verona's residents, for what reason -- I know not, since they
can't possibly all be out shopping there in the land of 700-euro shoes;
instead it must be THE PLACE of that afternoon promenade with your
lover, or child -- no, make that multiple children, half of them in
strollers, or a group of girlfriends, or even on your sweet own, since
you will certainly not be alone any more as soon as you hit Mazzini.
If you do happen to come with a lover, stroll on at a turtle's pace
until reaching Via Capello, at which point a right turn will shortly
deliver you into another crowd, this time mostly composed of tourists
(Italians more than foreigners) who are trying their best to get into
Juliet's courtyard to see the famous balcony, sung by Shakespeare,
where Romeo entreated Juliet with his promises of undying love.
Although we all know how badly their story ended, and would readily
discard any other 13-year-old's claim to eternal love, people keep
flocking to Juliet's house to leave love notes on the walls, take
pictures of the balcony, and rub Juliet's right breast for good luck.
No joking here -- see for yourself: the picture of Juliet's statue
plainly shows that her right breast is shiny like well-polished copper,
unlike the rest of her sculpted body. Oh, and if you are in the
vicinity anyway, go back on Via Capello to Piazza Erbe, check out the
bustling fruit and souvenier market in the middle of the square, and
then turn into the adjoining Piazza dei Signori for a puzzling view of
emptiness -- there's nobody there, except the lone statue of Dante who
seems to be asking himself "Why doesn't anyone ever come to see me? Why
The rest of Verona offers many architectural delights: old town walls,
palaces, belltowers, castles and churches, including probably our last
Italian Duomo. On this last day of enjoying Italy I finally took the
trouble of looking up the word in the dictionary, as every town we've
been to proved to have a Duomo of its own. and quite naturally, the
word turned out to mean just "cathedral".
Now that we're leaving Italy I'll toss in my 2 cents worth on this
marvelous country. I previously thought that perhaps the whole 5-course
meal thing was just a sham that restaurants used to get tourists to buy
a lot of food, but now I know better. After today's lunch experience in
an "authentic" Italian pizzeria (magnificently captured by Daria in her
portion of the blog), I now truly believe that Italians actually do eat
that much food. For those tourists who decide to follow suit by
indulging in all sorts of Italian treats, including their tantalizing
pizzas (much thinner and usually, but not always, less cheesy than
those back in the states) and hearty pastas, not to mention those
delictable dolches (sweets), I'd highly advise much walking around
town, otherwise you could easily find your previously comfy clothes
becoming a bit too snug for comfort! (I'm feeling heavier just from the
thoughts of all that food).
Italian coffee is wonderful (they actually do have and serve Illy
coffee here for those of you who've seen/tried this brand) and they
actually know the appropriate size for a cup of coffee (be sure to ask
for an "americano" or you'll get a tiny espresso by default) and the
cappucinos are definitely not to be missed. Like the rest of Europe (I
don't recall the trend in Germany, but I'll let you know after Munich),
the same drink at the bar is about 1.5 to 2 times cheaper than getting
it at the table. Italian sweets are incredibly delicious, and if you
visit be sure to visit a gelateria for yummy ice-cream, or stop by a
caffeteria or a caffe for a slice of tiramisu, you won't be
disappointed. That's enough on food, though I could go on for hours if
given the chance (old foodie habits die hard).
One really funny thing about Italy is to hang around a coffee-shop and
see all the people inside greet a newcomer (or say goodbye to someone
who's leaving): it's a chorus of "ciao's". It really does sound pretty
silly to hear all these grown adults going "ciao" in an almost singing
tone -- like something kids would say. But as silly as it sounds,
it won't be long before you find yourself saying "ciao" to the
proprietor of a cafe or bar on your next visit. Try it, you may even
find that you like it.
If I could only visit one place in Italy ever again in my life it would
be Venice with its ubiquitous canals and efficient vaporettoes (never
did get to try those gondolas, but it didn't look like much fun in the
cold weather). The steep, tiny streets of Siena made this the other
city I would definitely recommend to anyone planning a visit to Italy.
All that's left to say is: ciao bella Italia.
Capuleti, or Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's House) in the center of
Verona, is the place that supposedly served as Shakespeare's
inspiration for the story of Romeo and Juliet. Verona of the Middle
Ages was infamous for family feuding, and the Capuleti clan seems to
have truly existed, which is more than we can say for their rivals
Montegue, since there is no "Casa Montecchi" in Verona or elsewhere in
Italy. Well, one tourist trap of this kind is probably sufficient...
the kitschy nature of the place with its "authentic" balcony and green
courtyard, always filled to the brim with visitors, did not preclude us
from leaving a little reminder of ourselves on the wall. The band-aid
strip with our names, forever joined by the loving heart, found home
among its sister band-aids, make-it-yourself chewing gum stickers and
other ingenuous species of graffiti on the walls of Casa di Giulietta.
Arena, the 3rd
largest Roman amphitheatre in existence (the first one being Colosseum
in Rome, and we are not clear on who's on second), dates back to the
days when Christ walked the earth, or maybe shortly thereafter (1st
century A.D.). Quite amazingly, it is still in use, serving now as
Verona's opera house! It also manages to blend well with the enormous
modern-art item (shooting star? I can never tell with art pieces...)
that crosses over from the square into the Arena's inner circle. All in
all, quite a sight to see... and they also have Christmas decorations
all around, including a very tall tree with lights.
Examples of medieval and more
ancient architecture in Verona: from town walls to 1st-century bridges
to impregnable castles...
Duomo! Ciao, Italia!