We have been in some lovely towns in Italy, but in its size and age class, Verona is tough to beat.
Just one hour from Padua, this city has a compact center, which spans the Roman era to the 19th century – with very little of the modern intruding into the architecture.
Our tour began on the lovely Piazza Brà at the Roman Arena, which has been an entertainment site since the first century AD. Of course, gladiator battles and executions are not today’s idea of amusements, so the 100-year-old opera festival now holds court every summer. Half of the arena was removed for other building projects, but it is still a very large venue.
The main entrance gate to Roman Verona still stands, and provides a lovely entrance to the ancient city. It leads to the Piazza Erbe, a market square that was once the forum. There is a Venetian lion watching the action, reminding the crowds that Venice ruled here from 1405 into the 18th century. The center fountain has been here in various forms since Roman times. The piazza is a great place for people-watching, with more of a French attitude toward the crowds.
And then there is romantic Verona. As there were indeed many warring Veronese families, the Capulets and the Montagues would have fit in nicely. Some entrepreneur in the ‘70’s decided to give the people what they want, and now lovers and tourists of all descriptions make a pilgrimage to the House of Juliet, complete with balcony. It is a bit astonishing to think that this faux location of a fictional character attracts hordes every day to leave their own love messages on the walls, find a place to secure their love padlock, or go into the house and draft a plea to Juliet for success in love. Inside (ok, we admit it – we went inside) there are the Zefferelli costumes and Juliet’s bed. We kissed on the balcony, and will end up in many slide shows in Japan, no doubt. Still, it was a nice house…
The Piazza dei Signori is lorded over by Dante, as morose as ever, even though he was able to find asylum here in Verona. This is another lovely square, much more peaceful than the Piazza Erbe. It is also the home of the 14th-century Scaligeri family, as powerful as the Medicis – for a while. Their tombs are nearby on pillars, even now looking down on the townspeople.
The most lovely church we saw was the Church of Sant’Anastasia, begun in the late 13th century. It is a riot of color and filled with the most lovely ornamentation.
There was on original Roman bridge over the river Adige, but it was bombed in WWII. The marble blocks were salvaged from the river and the bridge rebuilt. The views nearby are lovely.
Our last stop was at the Duomo, begun in the 12th century. It was not so charming as Sant’Anastasia, but it did have a Titian, so there.
This town is captivating and chock-full of lovely streets and by-ways. It has a well-earned confidence that raises it above the pure tourist destination, and a history that insures there are many, many good reasons for us to come here.
Don’s Food Corner
Will we never learn? Today was such a beautiful day and Verona such a beautiful city that instead of searching out one of the many recommended restaurants we succumbed to the allure of an outdoor café overlooking the passing scene on the main piazza. None of our three reliable sources of recommendations listed any restaurant on the piazza. So, we rolled the dice and landed in one that looked like it had a diverse menu, double table cloths and waiters in snappy uniforms.
We had high hopes. But the attractiveness of the location quickly became a disappointment when the food arrived.
Since we had such a good experience yesterday with vitello tonnato we started with that. In comparison to yesterday’s delicately complex (and clearly homemade) version today was simply humdrum. The “veal” seemed like it had been sliced from a roll of prepared meat in a deli. The tonnato had an institutional aura about it.
We both had a pasta dish. Jo went with lasagna. If we had a lasagna served to us back home like this we would have been ecstatic. The pasta was fresh. The cheese was creamy and not grainy. The ragu was fine. But here it was nowhere near the complex quality lasagna we’ve had elsewhere. We’re ruined! (I remember last year’s trip to France when we had beef Burgundy in the heart of Burgundy in Dijon thinking how I could never be pleased with it again after having tasted how it was meant to be prepared. Ditto for the Lyonnaise potatoes that we had in Lyon.)
Similarly, my plate of tortellini in a sort of carbonara sauce was OK, but clearly the tortellini was not homemade and I don’t think the sauce was either.
At the end, they brought us a little cake and told us it was “for the home.” I assume they meant it was “on the house.”
Overall, the meal was the only somewhat disappointing note of an otherwise great day.