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Verona: a lot more than a Shakespearean drama

I have always adored Verona. Memories of summer vacations in the city, leisurely strolling the small streets (and occasionally offered free city tour by Italian boys), staying at a hostel managed by religious order (no mixed dorm and strict curfew), stocking up Fiorucci goodies (back when it was enjoying a brand revival), and importantly, being mesmerised by the opera at the Arena, of candles lit up at the first strike of the orchestra, just as the sun was setting.

Verona

Verona

How would the memory from my youth hold up to today’s reality? It has been years since I last visited Verona – during the early noughties, I travelled regularly in France and in Italy – as other travel opportunities took me elsewhere, to new countries and other continents. I was secretly afraid that I could not recapture the magic that I’ve built up in my mind. And, what if F doesn’t like Verona, after all the glowing praises I’ve bestowed?

Outwardly, the city hasn’t changed much and at most turns and corners, I see familiar sights, buildings, streets that lead to somewhere I know even without the benefit of a map. And yet, of course things have changed. The city is busier than I recall (even though it was September), the madness of the congregated crowd outside Juliet’s house is not something common in my past, there seems to be more luxury shops than ever to feed the buying frenzy, and a couple of the places where I used to eat were gone. Even the hostel management has changed – F and I managed to get a room to ourselves!

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

It is easiest to start exploring Verona from Piazza Brà, where the Roman-built amphiteatre Arena di Verona stands, its interior intact and remains in use for performances, notably popular operas in the summer (late June – early September). Cafes and restaurants lined the length of Piazza Brà, mostly geared for the tourists, and just around the corner, a couple of established gelateria (although since surpassed by others in quality) could be found tucked in via Roma.

Via Roma leads to the Castelvecchio, a former medieval castle built by Cangrande II that today houses a museum with many fine Venetian sculptures and paintings. An entryway by the side continues on to the Ponte Scaligero, a reconstructed red-bricked arch bridge, following destruction by retreating German army in 1945. Some of the masonry was even recovered from the River Adige!

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Our stroll along the riverfront took a right turn at Ponte Garibaldi, in the direction of Piazza Erbe and Piazza dei Signori. The former is named after the city’s old herb market, although today, we’re seeing more stalls selling tourist souvenirs and other random items when we passed by in the evening. On the next day, we spotted a more functional food market, offering fruits, vegetables, herbs and cold cuts. La Madonna Verona stood above these stalls and kept a watchful eye over them.

On the shortest side of the piazza, a Venetian lion stood atop a marble column in front of the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, a 15th-century palace which was expanded in the 17th century to add a third floor under the guardianship of six Greek gods: Hercules, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Apollo and Minerva. Former merchant houses sat to the western end of the piazza, and across them are striking frescoed façades of Mazzanti Houses. Brightly coloured, I wonder what these buildings serve nowadays?

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

At the corner between Piazza Erbe and Piazza dei Signori stands the Torre dei Lamberti, a tower of 84m and the go-to place for anyone wishing to get a vantage view of Verona. We paid for a token to get past the barrier, and started walked up the couple of hundreds or so steps. (At this stage, we’ve done several tower walks during this Italian holiday that I’ve lost track of which is which…)

The view from atop is, of course, breathtaking. On the highest level, nettings are in place, presumably to prevent someone from doing something silly, but made it difficult to take photographs that holes had appeared in parts, likely due to rage of certain photographers. Just one level down though, no netting, still great view, so we stayed pretty much at this level to admire the view and the descending sun. Sadly, the tower was closing sooner than the sunset, so no sunset pictures to be had.

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

In the adjacent Piazza dei Signori, connected to Piazza Erbe via the Arca della Costa (where a whle rib use to hung beneath!), a statue of Dante dominates. It is surrounded by notable buildings including the Palazzo della Regione, which situates adjacent to the Torrei dei Lamberti, the Palazzo del Capitano, the former home of Verona’s military commanders, and the Loggia del Consiglio, another Veronese frescoed building and topped by statues of notable locals, such as Pliny the Elder.

Just beyond Piazza dei Signori, the street narrowed to give way to the Prefecttura di Verona to the left, and the church of the Scaligeri family – former ruler of Verona – to the right. Outdoor tombs are to be found here, raised on ornated marble platforms and decorated with Gothic spires. A couple of trivia: the tomb above the entrance of the church belongs to Cangrande I (grandfather to Cangrande II of Castelvecchio fame) and while presided over by his equestrian statue, it is guarded by two dogs (“cani”); and the other tombs bear emblems of ladders (“della Scala”, of the steps). Pretty clever incorporation of the family names, I must say.

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Other spots worth exploring are the various cathedrals and churches in Verona. We were a little tired of traipsing in and out of churches by the time we got to Verona, so we barely searched for them. However, we did peek in quickly at Sant’Anastasia to admire its beautiful ceiling. (Please note that a number of these cathedrals/churches require tickets to enter, Sant’Anastasia included, which you can purchase either individually or for the “set”.)

We also headed uphill, towards Teatro Romano and Museo Archeologico, by way of Ponte Pietra. The walk up was picturesque, and it also afforded a view of Verona that differs from that we saw from the Torre dei Lamberti. We sat here for a little while, unwilling to move, just absorbing the beautiful scenery before us.

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

We could not leave Verona without at least catching an opera performance. Carmen was on schedule. As F had never been to one before, and he was also just recovering from a cold, we were reluctant to get a better category tickets in case we need to leave before the end of the performance. On the plus side, we could see the stage well. On the down side, the reach of sound was “thinner” and we could not always hear the singing.

We did end up leaving at the interval of the second act, but for the portions that we saw, I thoroughly enjoyed it. We also could not understand a girl seated near us whose eyes and attention were glued 100% to her mobile phone throughout the first act of the opera, before she left at the first interval. What was the point of being at the opera without even watching it?

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

The Veronese menu has a couple of interesting staples, featuring horse and donkey. I was surprised when I first read “donkey sauce” in the menu, and curious as to what kind of local preparation it may be, we tried it. It was actually not too different from eating, say, stewed lamb. The horse, on the other hand, we tasted it in a dish in the form of meat floss. It tasted elasticky, and neither F nor I really fancy coming across more of those…

We also took to ordering more and more antipasti as a main dish, because we kept coming across great selection of cold cuts and cheeses. This is something we’ve been missing since we got back to Paris. Not that we can’t find good cold cuts here, but rather they could get so pricey by comparison that we need to be sensible about our budget.

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

We strolled Verona not only by day. If it was at all possible, the main piazzas were even more busy and packed in the evening! Understandably, Piazza Brà would be lively but I would have thought that with many inside the Arena watching an opera, it’d be a bit calmer. Clearly, not the case.

However, just any couple of streets away from the main thoroughfare, it was silence which enveloped the night, punctuated by occasional roar of a motored vehicle passing by. We felt like we owned the city, intertwined in intimacy, and protected from the world. As we crossed the river towards the hill, light shimmered in the water while the water gently lapped against the walls.

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

Verona

I was glad we managed to avoid pretty much anything that has link to Romeo and Juliet. The directions of Juliet’s house are sign posted everywhere so just about everyone went there, while Romeo’s house falls into obscurity, right next to the Scaligeri tombs. Tour group after tour group tried to push their way through, while the shops nearby tried capitalising the fame with novelty gifts bearing the name or photo of Miss Capulet. Quelle horreur!

With this little visit in Verona over, we had only one last destination to our Italian Getaway 2014 to get to. There, we would be meeting with some old friends for a major reunion and celebration!

Verona: full photoset on Flickr

All posts in this series:
Italy: Postcards: Centro Storico di Roma | Flickr Photoset
Italy: Postcards: 2-hours in Florence | Flickr Photoset
Italy: The walled city of Lucca | Flickr Photoset
Italy: Dining in Lu.C.C.A – L’Imbuto
Italy: Sunsets of Cinque Terre
Italy: The villages of Cinque Terre | Flickr Photoset
Italy: Postcards: Lost in Parma
Italy: Bologna: the city of a gazillion porticoes | Flickr Photoset
Italy: The Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca
Italy: Verona: a lot more than a Shakespearean drama | Flickr Photoset
Italy: Postcards: In search of Padua
Italy: A very picturesque Bassano del Grappa | Flickr Photoset



Category: Europe, Italy, Travel

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6 scribbles & notes

  1. med says:

    Wow. What a great post lil!!! I want a holiday soon. Great walks, interesting looking majestic opera and goody food too ;)

  2. med says:

    Will definitely get your input when I am planning one muahahaha

  3. med says:

    Woooooooo….thinking heheheh

Scribble a note to med × Cancel reply


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