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Verona: city of love and legend

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September 2009

Verona is the enchanted city, paved in pink marble, whose beauty inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet.

I met Gianfranco in Perugia and we decided to take a little trip together. He is from Puglia, the southeastern region of Italy, and moved to Perugia to study linguistics. When we met, he did not speak a word of English, but with my knowledge of French and three weeks in Italy, I had picked up enough Italian to get by.

With a population of roughly a quarter million, Verona is located in the region of Veneto in northern Italy. It took five hours by train to get there from Perugia, with a stopover in Florence.

Verona has everything one would expect from an Italian city: ancient Roman monuments, fine wines, narrow streets, high fashion, centuries-old basilicas, castles and a river that flows through and around the city. What we didn’t expect was how pleasantly affordable it was to visit compared to such other fashionable Italian destinations as Venice or Florence. We found a budget hotel in the centre of town, only a few blocks from the train station. We also bought Verona cards for $10 each, which gave us entry to all the museums, churches and sights in the city for one day.

Our first stop was the Castelvecchio, the castle next to our hotel – the Residence Hotel Castelvecchio. It was built in the 14th century by the della Scala family and features classic castle architecture complete with courtyards and crenellations. It is now a museum that holds a collection of sculptures and paintings (mostly religious-themed).

We walked a few blocks to the magnificent first-century Roman amphitheatre. It is the third- largest amphitheatre in Italy and holds up to 25,000 spectators within its 44 tiers of pink marble seats. It is still used today for a variety of events including fairs, theatre and opera. Unlike at the Coliseum in Rome, there were neither pushy street vendors trying to sell me cheap bracelets nor overpriced tours inside. The arena was ours to explore at our leisurely slow, Italian pace.

The main reason I wanted to visit Verona was to explore the city that was the setting for the most famous tragic romance of all time – Romeo and Juliet. We walked to the Capulets’ house, which is called “Casa di Giulietta” (Juliet’s house). The small brick house is filled with paintings and frescoes of the lovers. Gianfranco took my picture on the famous balcony, which for some reason I had imagined to be much larger and full of flowers. It was just a plain little balcony. The balcony overlooks a courtyard with a bronze statue of Juliet whose right breast is polished from all the tourists who touch it for luck. The passage leading to the courtyard is, in essence, an international hall of love graffiti. Lovers from all over the world sign their names and draw hearts on the wall. Oddly enough, the house has no historical connection to the real Capulet family. However, the Montague house, “Casa di Romeo,” just a few blocks away, really was home to the Monitague family. The villa is privately owned, with no real defining Shakespearian artifacts other than a small plaque next to the door inscribed with a quote from the play “O, Where is Romeo? … Tut, I have lost myself, I am not here, this is not Romeo, he’s some other where.”

We walked down Verona’s famous fashion row, paved with pink marble and lined with exclusive high-fashion shops. I relished in the open-air shops in the main piazza selling a variety of Italian glass jewellery while Gianfranco patiently sat on the bench and talked on the phone.

We wandered around and across the Adige River, then up countless old steps to the Castel San Pietro. There we sat, communicating in a mixture of broken Italian and sign language as we admired the foggy, enchanted city.



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