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 always Juliet?"

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.


                                        Casa 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...

                                          Ciao, Duomo! Ciao, Italia!