Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Gentleman in Verona

Juliet's Balcony

"Pleasant Verona! With its beautiful old palaces, and charming country in the distance, seen from terrace walks, and stately, balustraded galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of today, the shade of fifteen hundred years ago." ~ Charles Dickens

Our plan today was to head to Verona for a few hours and then head to Peschiera del Garda, a town on 15 minutes away by train. Mike hadn't been to Verona before, and I thought he'd enjoy seeing it as it's quite different from most of the other towns we've visited, and Peschiera is a beautiful town on the south shore of Lake Garda. A friend recommended we visit it.

"What's the weather forecast for Verona?" I asked as I was getting ready this morning.

"Well," he hesitated, "it's going to be 91, 94% humidity, and no rain."  I groaned.  No, I whined. We still went.

When we arrived in Verona, the temperature really wasn't too bad. Of course, we walked in the shade most of the way from the train station to the city center, and there was a slight breeze blowing.  I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Weather Channel had it wrong.

The train without shock absorbers
As we walked through Piazza Bra, the main square in town, I saw a tourist train.  Since I wasn't keen on doing another HOHO in Verona this year, I suggested we take it so Mike could get an overview of the place.  Let me give you a little advice:  Take the bus.  Walk. Avoid the train.

I say that simply because I have never been on a more uncomfortable ride in my life.  The streets in Verona are mostly cobblestone, pitted, and very bumpy, and the train has no shocks.  I'm afraid to look at my back tonight for fear I have one big black and blue mark where my spine kept hitting the wooden seat back as we pounded along for almost 30 minutes.

I love the apartment balconies in Verona.

Still, we got to see some things I didn't see when taking the HOHO bus the last few times I was in Verona.  The train, because it's smaller, can get through the more narrow streets, and I love the architecture of the older homes.  So many apartments have balconies, and this time of year, flowers and greenery flow from them.

At different points in history, Verona was actually part of France and part of Austria, but in 1805, Napolean took it back and held it until the Austrians defeated him in 1814 and took Verona back.  In 1866, the city permanently became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Wurstel pizza
I bring up this history because you can still see the Germanic influence in Verona today.  Note the "wurstel" pizza above. Every restaurant sells some kind of "wurstel" which, if you didn't know, is a kind of Vienna sausage...or hot dog.  (Please note: We did NOT try the wurstel pizza.)  Many of the Veronese have lighter skin, blonder hair, and blue eyes.  In addition, the dialect is quite different from what I'm used to hearing. I had a hard time understanding the Italian in Verona because of how they pronounce many words.  As an example, the number "three" in Italian is "tre," and it's pronounced almost like the word "tray" in English.  A lady who waited on us said our bill was "try euro."  The German word for three is "drei," pronounced  almost like "dry" in English.

The Adige River

 Because of its location in the country, Verona has been important to the differing regimes.  Mussolini had a headquarters here, and the Nazis staged trials and executed Italian officers—including il Duce's son-in-law—on the banks of the Adige River.

One more bit of history, and this one concerns Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers about whom William Shakespeare wrote.  They didn't exist.  They did exist. They were English. They were Italian. They were Spanish. This much is true: Shakespeare did not write the original literary piece about the two lovers. He based his play on an Italian tale that a British poet translated in 1562 and a piece of prose written by another British writer in 1567.  Yes, Shakespeare "borrowed" heavily from both of those pieces in writing his own play.

The balcony that thousands of tourists visit daily is, indeed, part of a house that belonged to the dell Capella family. While the house itself dates to the 13th century, the balcony is only 95 years old.  I don't want to ruin anyone's visions of what the courtyard looks like, but it is anything but romantic. To get to the balcony, you have to walk through a short alley which is covered, and I do mean covered, with graffiti and love notes.  (Last year, the walls were filled with bandaids on which people had written love notes.  Apparently the city cleaned that up.) The courtyard itself has one wall on which people have stuck chewed gum and written their initials.  Not too romantic.

By the time we had taken the train ride, walked to Juliet's House, and walked through a few streets and alleys, the temperature was on the rise, and we could feel the humidity.

"Maybe we should just have lunch and head back," Mike said.  As much as I wanted to see Lake Garda, I was ready to head back to Bologna.  Heat, humidity, and crowds just do not mix.

Mike tries to lead a tour group.
As we headed to Piazza Bra, we noticed a few tour groups heading our way.  The tour guides were all holding things up so that their particular group could keep track of them.  One held an umbrella, and another held an expandable pointer topped with ribbons. My two favorites were a gal holding a blue water bottle upside down (I swear she had small holes in it so she could sprinkle water on herself.), and a guy waving his hat.

"I wonder if I can get anyone to follow me if I wave my hat around," Mike asked me.

"You should try it," I urged him.  "Let's see what happens."  Never one to shy away, he walked ahead of me a bit, got in front of a group, raised his hat, and started walking towards me.  As I lifted the camera to take the photo (above), everyone stopped about 10 feet behind him to let me take his photo (except, of course, for the guy in the blue shirt who wondered why I was laughing).

"They all stopped to give you room," I told him.

"People just can't follow directions," Mike replied.  "I'll find another group."

One little girl actually paid attention.

 There was one older gentleman walking ahead of us.  "Go in front of that guy," I said to Mike. "You can lead him down the street."  He wasn't too excited about that prospect.

"He's one guy," he replied, "and he's walking with a cane.  What if he hits me with it?"  Mike walked about 20 feet ahead of me.  He walked in front of a crowd of people who were headed my way, took off his hat, and waved them on.  "This way," he said.  I took the photo (above), and noted that only one little girl even noticed him.  "I guess no one wants to go on a tour with me," he added.

"They're probably all German and didn't understand you," I comforted him. 

We arrived at Piazza Bra and had lunch at an outdoor cafe where we could sit and where he could wave to people.

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