Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Verona, Italy

The town famous as the backdrop for Shakespeare's famous play Romeo & Juliet, is so much more than a sleepy little town famous for it's star-crossed lovers. This is a city full of life, of color, of warmth, and of passion.

During our one day in Milan, we decided to hop on the train and travel east to Verona. Train travel throughout Italy tended to be simple, easy, and efficient. Not to mention, a lot cheaper than any other alternate form of travel. At every train station throughout Italy we found simple, easy-to-use self service ticket machines from which we purchased all of our tickets. And though the machine asks you to indicate what day you're traveling and which train you will be traveling on, the actual ticket that comes out is good for 60 days from the day of purchase on the route that you've purchased. The only thing that you need to remember is to always validate your train ticket prior to getting on the train. A validated ticket is good for travel on that route through midnight of the day it is validated. Simple and easy.

The only tough part of any train journey is waiting at the train station for the board to tell you which Platform your departing train will be leaving from. As trains coming into the station aren't generally assigned a Platform until they are within the vicinity of the station, a departing passenger trying to catch the train just needs to stare up at the board and wait until the board flashes with a departure Platform. Then instantaneously, for all of the more popular routes, you'll see a whole sea of people flood to that particular platform.

Once we had gotten on our train from Milano Centrale to Verona's Porta Nuova station, all we had to do was settle in for our almost 2 hour train ride through Northern Italy to reach Verona. As Milano Centrale was the origination point for the train, and Verona was the termination point, it made the journey simple.

We finally arrived in Verona in mid afternoon. Once off the train, I found myself a newsstand to purchase our 1,00 Euro bus ticket from the train station to the center of Verona, known as Piazza Bra. The bus station located just outside of the train station was simple and easy to use. There were lettered terminals, and at each terminal there were signs indicating what bus stopped at that terminal as well as the bus's route. I had researched ahead of time that any bus stopping at Platform A all eventually lead to Piazza Bra and the Arena. Within minutes we were whisked to the entrance to the old City Wall.

Piazza Bra is Verona's main town square. It's enormous in size, so much so that it has a nice green tree-shaded area in the middle of the Piazza, along with the obligatory bronze statue on horse back of Vittorio Emanuele. On it's outer edge it is ringed with multi-colored buildings that are typically Italian and fronted by sidewalk cafes. Then, at the far end of the Piazza, standing like a golden light kissed by the sun, is the beautiful Arena di Verona. Much like the Colosseum, it is 2 outdoor amphitheaters built by the Romans and put together to form an Arena. Though the one in Verona is smaller in scale than the one in Rome, it is also much better preserved and is still used today for the summer Opera series where it hosts nightly some of the most famous operas, as well as opera singers in the world. Only two days before we arrived in Verona, Placido Domingo had just finished a performance inside the Arena.

In order to soak up the sights and the sounds of this beautiful city, and in order to indulge in something that is typically European, we found ourselves a small little sidewalk cafe in the shadows of the Arena and enjoyed an Italian meal that included their version of "ice coffee" along with a Margherita pizza and spaghetti arrabbiata.

After that nice little break we decided to wander through the city. Exploring a little bit of the river area, then walking back through the City Wall and into the bustling Piazza delle Erbe area with it's busy outdoor market, fountains filled with people sitting around the base eating gelato, and the famous whale bone good luck charm that hangs over the crowd.

Eventually, as the tour books say, we found ourselves wrapped up in the crowd and into a narrow little opening marked by a sign in Italian that states "Casa di Guilietta," or better known as Juliet's house of the famous Romeo & Juliet play. Inside the courtyard there's a balcony, purported to be Juliet's balcony. Outside stands a bronze statue of Juliet herself, for which the wives's tale states that if you rub her right breast, it's supposed to bring you luck. Naturally, there's a horde of people waiting in line to rub Juliet's right breast. As luck would have it, when we arrived at Juliet's house, there was an actor and actress playing the parts of Romeo & Juliet and re-enacting the famous balcony scene in Italian. That only added to the craziness that is the story of these two ill-fated lovers. While history had proven that the story of the Capulets and Montagues does not really exist except within the lines of the play, that hasn't diminished people's fascination with the story, nor with this city.

Moving away from the lure of Rome and Juliet, we spent the balance of the afternoon just wandering through Verona's busy streets. Of course, sampling gelato along the way! AT the end of the day, we found ourselves a nice little bench in the green tree-shaded space in the middle of hectic Piazza Bra and just kind of watch the hustle and bustle of people, of crowds, of scents, of sounds, and of this great city known as Verona.

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