Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A weekend in Verona

A week ago, I visited Verona. I recommend it wholeheartedly, and not just because you can wander round the city humming "M- m- m- my Verona" to the tune of The Knack's My Sharona.

Verona has a big arch. So far, so St Louis, you may say. However, unlike St Louis, Verona was the setting for Romeo and Juliet. 

It's also home to a stone amphitheatre that was built in the first century and is still in use today. In summer, this arena hosts opera concerts. As the audience members arrive, each of them is given a candle. When the sun sets, the performances are lit exclusively by the flickering flames of the spectators. I'm not an opera fan, but friends who've been tell me these are magical events.

Verona's Piazza Bra

The arena is in the heart of the old town, which is architecturally stunning. Statues are dotted around charming cobbled streets and one photogenic piazza runs into another. A few streets away, the river Adige weaves its way through the city, topped with impressive bridges.

The Ponte Scaligero

Star-crossed lovers

In truth, the Shakespearean connection with the city is rather overdone. Visitors can pay a few euros to see the houses of Juliet and Romeo. However, it's hard to find meaning in the home of a fictional character – particularly given that Shakespeare never visited the city and his Capulet and Montague houses weren't based on these buildings.

Instead, I recommend just visiting the garden of Juliet's house, which is free. After you've been, you can put the money you could have spent on going inside toward something more useful. Like alcohol.

Juliet's garden, featuring her famous balcony and (at the back if you enlarge the photo) her statue

In Juliet's garden, you can stick a love note on the wall (alongside hundreds of others), take a photo of her famous balcony and have a picture taken touching her breast.

I should probably explain the breast thing...

In the garden, there's a bronze statue of Juliet. It's said that touching the right breast of the statue brings luck in love. If I was cynical (and I am), I'd guess this might be a marketing gimmick by the people who own the house rather than a legend that's grown up organically. Whatever the source of the rumour, there's a constant queue of people waiting to have a grope – and as a result, her right side gleams brightly from all the greasy hands that have touched it, while the rest of the statue is a standard dirty bronze. 

If you want to cop a feel, you should probably bring some hand sanitiser...

Fair Verona

Aside from bacteria-coated breasts, Verona is a genuine treat. Aesthetically, it's on a par with Florence but has fewer tourists. Also, it's located directly between Milan and Venice. If you're going from one to the other, it makes sense to stop for a day or two.

The city was gearing up for Christmas when we visited, so each piazza had a tree decked with baubles, and there was a festive market flogging mulled wine, reindeer hats and German biscuits.

Energetic visitors can cross the river and climb a hill to watch the sun set over city's spires. Even on the foggy evening that Ms Ciao and I did this, it was worth it. Although Verona isn't huge, there's easily enough to keep you occupied for a weekend. I simply can't recommend it enough.

Verona, on a poor day with a poor camera. Just imagine the summer sunsets...

A Turinese tribute 

The following weekend, we visited Torino (where we hummed "All the Way, Torino" to the tune of REM's All the Way to Reno). It was a much less memorable place, but we chanced across a free gig featuring local tribute bands for the Foo Fighters and the Smashing Pumpkins. (As you may have noticed, Ms Ciao and I like free things).

If you're in town and you like the Foos, keep an eye out for gigs by The Fresh Fighters. You won't be disappointed...

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Attribution: Juliet's garden photo by Dominic Schwöbel (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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