Verona, a love story.....

Verona, the city of love, for here by the Casa di Giulietta sets the stage of one of the most famous love stories of all, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and one of my favorites, Letters to Juliet. Who can resist a good love story? I think it’s safe to say that I was more excited than Jim to spend the day exploring Verona.  

We purchased round trip train tickets from Ferrara to Verona online for $62.82. With only six and a half hours in Verona I planned our day by creating a spreadsheet to ensure we’d have enough time to see everything that was on our list. Yep, all the way down to the minutes between walking from place to place. I should know by now that nothing ever goes as planned.

Those that know me, know!

We were still unsure of the reliability of the local Ferrara buses and with limited runs so early in the morning, we chose to walk the 30 minutes to the train station. We were out the door at 6:45, giving us plenty of time to stroll through the quiet morning streets.

At the time of booking we didn’t have the option to choose seats for the trip and our ticket stated that we could sit in any vacant seat. Thankfully there were plenty of empty seats, so we chose two comfy window seats upstairs. The train was clean and comfortable and our experience thus far has been positive. We had an hour ride with a few stops before we had to change trains in Padova. Since we had 49 minutes to change and with a McDonald's right outside of the station, it was the perfect place to grab breakfast. 

Jim was excited to finally be getting his first McDonald's fix. I am not a fan, but I found myself looking forward to a bacon egg cheese biscuit and a hashbrown to fill my hungry stomach…we both were going to need the energy. The only item on the menu was a chicken sandwich which didn’t seem appetizing to either of us at 9:00 in the morning. Unfortunately, none of the kiosks were working and we both lacked coffee and the basic understanding of the Italian language, so we headed back to the train station to find something to eat. There were two small cafes serving pre-made soggy sandwiches or a slice of cold, hard pizza for 13 euros. We settled on sharing an apple and a few cookies that I had packed thinking that would hold us over until lunch.

I was hopeful that the crowd of people waiting on the platform with us were waiting for the next train to Milan. But as that train came and went, the platform only continued to get more crowded. Jim and I both prepared ourselves for the possibility that this ride might not be as comfy. As we continued to wait, I hoped that our train would arrive empty so that we could easily find a seat. NOPE! There was no need to look for a seat, the train was packed, we just crammed in and stood by the door. There were two stops in Venice and I figured that we’d only have to stand until then. Surely not all these people were going to Verona. NOPE! We stood for the whole hour. We were the only few who exited at Verona Porta Vescovo, the rest were headed to Verona Porta Nuova, the last stop. Since my plan was flexible, we could start either with the Tomba di Guilietta and end strolling through the Giardino Giusti, or vice versa. We decided to start at the Giardino Giusti. 

As we made our way to the gardens, the city filled with trash and uneven sidewalks was something I thought unusual for the famous city of love. We seemed to be the only tourists in this area, receiving looks from locals, wondering if we were lost. We stopped at this one shop to ask a question, and the Italian man sitting behind the counter spoke like Marlon Brando from the Godfather. I was sure we offended him in some way; however, as he spoke, leaving us both in a trance, he was really helpful and kind.

Giardino Giusti (20 Euros)

In the 14th century this was a wool dyeing site for the Giusti family, which was the main source of wealth in Verona. The garden area is where they would boil and soak wool in enormous cauldrons of dye before laying them out to dry. During the 16th century it was replaced by a beautiful garden. The lower garden is divided into nine square sections of boxed hedges, labyrinths and fountains with different Greek statues. The main pathway is lined with cypress trees with steps leading up to the grotto and a grotesque face that used to spit fire and smoke. We took the secret staircase, in the small dugout tower that led to the highest point of the garden to enjoy the breathtaking view of the city. This was a perfect start to exploring the city of love. 

We decided to skip the Funicolare di Castel San Pietro ride. We felt satisfied with the beautiful view of the city from the gardens. Plus it was 11:30 and the pizza place we planned to eat at was only open for a few hours and we were both starving. 

On our way to lunch we crossed the Ponte Nuovo bridge that overlooked the Adige River, the second largest river in Italy.  Pictures made it look beautiful, but today it looked more like a mud flow due to the recent flooding from the north. We walked through the Piazza Bra, a large central plaza with one side lined by colorful buildings, the other with the Verona Arena and a beautiful garden and fountain in the middle. 

La Pissa de Verona

After weaving in and out of the crowds of people and traffic we finally arrived at La Pissa de Verona.... starving. My plan didn’t account for lunch, I figured we would find something along the way. But Jim found this place the night before, with 4.9 stars and 545 reviews and ironically our first Italian meal. The Italian pausa seems to be enforced by law in Ferrara leaving only Chinese and Japanese restaurants open during our normal lunch time. 

It was a small pizza place run by one man, who does everything and is only open from 12:00-3:00. There were three tables inside and four tables outside. We were lucky to get a spot outside. We each ordered a pizza and a beer. The heart shaped pizza was good, but Bar Hemingway in Albania still has my vote for the best pizza. 

At the end of our meal the owner brought us both a shot of limoncello and a delicious dessert. For some reason shortly after we finished that, he brought us another round of shots and desserts. I downed the shot and just licked the topping off of both desserts and stuffed the rest in my napkin, so as not to appear rude. We had two pizzas and four beers, along with the complimentary shots and desserts for $31.72.

With full bellies and really wanting to take a nap, we took off to the Arena. 

Verona Arena (20 Euros)

The Arena di Verona was built in 30 AD and once was the home to many gladiator flights and city entertainment, at times housing 30,000 people. Today there is only a small wing of this layer that remains and the arena is now used for concerts and opera performances that seats 22,000. And of course this month kicks off its 100th Opera Festival, which could explain the crowds. 

We waited in line in the hot sun for 20 minutes to purchase tickets. Upon entering, we were extremely disappointed. Where gladiators once fought, we found cushioned chairs. We took a seat and watched as a crew worked on the stage for an upcoming concert. I am sure watching a concert here would be nice, but it looks nothing like an arena, we felt like it was a waste of money. Verona is also known as the “little Rome” and the arena, “the little Colosseum” and there is a reason it is called that.... don't waste your time or money…..go to Rome and see the Colosseum, especially underground, you won’t be disappointed!

Casa di Giulietta (Free)

I wasn’t feeling the love from Verona, so I was hopeful that our next stop would be all that I expected. It is of course the reason for our visit and the most famous place in the city of Verona. The famous courtyard of Romeo and Juliet; where one could place love letters in the stones, the balcony where Romeo poured out his love to Juliet and of course the bronze statue of Juliet and her breast.  

“For I will ray her statue in pure gold;
That while Verona by that name is known,
There shall no figure at such rate be set
As that of true and faithful Juliet.”
~Shakespear Romeo and Juliet-Act 5 Scene 3.

As we approached Via Cappello there was a line all the way down the street. I continued to walk past, thinking it must be the line for tickets into the house and balcony. I had decided prior to coming that I didn’t care to go through the house or out on the balcony, I just wanted to walk around the courtyard. As I continued down the street and found the tunnel leading in, I realized the line was to actually get into the courtyard, which is free. WTF!  At this point I turned to Jim and said, let’s just skip it. He could hear the disappointment in my voice, knowing how much I wanted to see the setting of the epic love stories that took place here and he convinced me that the long line was moving quickly, so we got in line and waited. 

As we approached the entrance, I hoped it would be worth the wait.....we would stroll around the courtyard looking at the letters crammed in holes or held by gum.... all waiting for the Secretaries of Juliet to collect them at the end of the day. As we walked through the tunnel that led to the courtyard it was filled with graffiti of hearts and names. 

Once inside the courtyard my dream was shattered. There will be no strolling around. As Jim put it, it was like a mosh pit, all waiting to get a picture with the bronze statue of Juliet. And now that it is a World Heritage site, instead of letters being stuck to the wall or shoved in holes, there is a red mailbox hanging on the wall. We joined the mosh pit and got a half ass picture of us while I rubbed Juliet's right breast for luck in love.

We both were done fighting the massive crowds and decided to skip Scaliger Tombs and Tomba di Guilietta and head to the Piazza for a cold drink. 

Piazza delle Erbe 

This is the central square located in the heart of Verona. It was crammed with people strolling through the markets, buying souvenirs, eating and drinking at the side cafes and playing in the fountain.  We immediately made our way to the Fontana Madonna to cool off and then found a quiet spot with misters to sit back and enjoy a cold beer. 

Here we sat and had the conversation about the “expectations of Alisa” and how things are never as you expect or plan and sometimes it’s just better to see things for what they are, without any expectations of what you hope they will be. He always knows how to make me feel better. So we sat there enjoying our beer watching people wash themselves, their dogs, filling up water bottles and drinking straight from the water that poured out of the Madonna…and we both laughed thinking that the water just cycled through the fountain…hmmmm.

Right behind us was the famous Whale bone.

Whale Bone of Arco della Costa

According to legend the whalebone, possibly a rib, hangs by a chain beneath a catwalk and no one knows where it came from. They say it was found in the mountains outside of Verona and was hung up as a superstitious protection since the 17th century. The bone is believed to fall on the first truthful and just person to walk under it. Well, it didn’t fall on either of us or the million other tourists who tried their luck.

As we made our way back to the train station, we soon realized people left from the new station because of the shadiness of the location of this train station. Justifiably tired and sitting on a metal bench, Jim just yelled “English” to the crazy man who came up to us yelling in Italian. He left and went on to bother others. We were both exhausted and thankful to board a nearly empty train for the entire ride back to Ferrara. 

I know I shouldn’t be disappointed, I feel fortunate to see Verona, but everything felt like an illusion of what I thought to be real. Shakespear never even visited Verona. Romeo and Juliet are make believe characters in a love story. The 13th century house that Juliet lived in belonged to the Cappello family, not the Capulets and the balcony wasn’t even added until the 20th century. For some reason I thought we would have this magical day in the city of love, where everything would go as planned as we explored. But instead it was filled with make believe love stories and superstitions. It was all an illusion, made up... some things are just better left to the imagination.

It was an exhausting day! I guess if you find yourself in Verona, go without any expectations and definitely visit the Giusti Gardens and then find yourself a cool spot in the square to sit and people watch. And when it comes to love and romance, stick to the real deal…love is not a fictitious character or in the setting of a city, but in the person beside you. The one who will spend over 14 hours, sitting, standing, waiting and walking (over seven miles) in the hot sun, all with a broken toe from falling down stairs a few nights before (story to come)...... without complaining…..that is love.  


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