Two sisters, both alike in wanderlust,
In fair Verona where we lay our scene...
The northern Italian town of Verona is famous for being the setting in which the famous star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet lived out the world’s most legendary (and may I say short-lived... seriously, all that in three days?!) love story. As such, it is a popular destination for romantic holiday-makers from around the world to go and shamelessly put their love on display for all to see. Funny then, many seem to think, that I visited this city with my sister.
As I have often pointed out, one of the best things about living in England is how accessible international travel suddenly becomes. And so it was that on Boxing Day my sister and I found ourselves scrolling the web for cheap flights, both of us looking ahead to the new year and full as always with a strong sense of wanderlust. Verona was simply the cheapest location outside the U.K. that we could find. Knowing nothing about the city other than its Shakespearian connection, we both shrugged, turned to each other and said, “why not?” Because really, travel to anywhere is travel worth doing. Yet another trip to a European destination I had no pre-conception of proved this point to me yet again. It was kind of stunning.
There is so much more to this city than the romantic tale for which it is known, and please rest assured Verona is not just a place for star-crossed tourists; it is equally as ideal a destination for a girls’ weekend. Packed with trendy bars and cute cafes, the centrally located Verona University gives a strong student-feel to the town, ensuring the population here is young and active. Like any Italian town, there is also no shortage of beautiful Italian men to appreciate – and be appreciated by. Oh, Italy.
Verona is one of those truly magical places that have the ability to completely transport you back in time. Walking the streets, I hardly needed to stretch my imagination to picture life beneath the city walls a hundred, even a thousand years ago. The city is steeped in history from ancient Roman times, through the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Main streets suddenly give way to pits cordoned off to protect ancient Roman ruins which lie casually beyond; ancient city walls run through the town as locals casually cycle through them.
Arguably the highlight for me was the hugely impressive – and impressively huge – Roman Arena. Built in 30 A.D., it pre-dates Rome’s famous Colosseum and in fact served as inspiration for its architects some 40 years later. The Arena seemed to me somewhat casually plonked in the middle of town, having since been surrounded by apartment buildings, cafes and shopping streets, and I was taken by surprise when the narrow city streets all of a sudden opened up to reveal the massive ancient structure. It only got more impressive once we went inside. Yes, I may have tried to re-enact ‘Gladiator’s’ most epic scenes and yes, I may have used my umbrella to pose in a warrior-like fashion. I’m a geek, okay? I challenge you to visit a place this goddamn epic and not do the same.
Another attraction worth visiting if you ever find yourself in fair Verona is the Torre dei Lamberti, or Lamberti Tower, which costs €6 to climb but offers a unique and breathtaking view of the city from its very core. Crumbling terracotta roofs and distant hills as far as the eye can see. Dreamy.
Of course something you really can’t miss out on, whether you’re here with your lover or friend or sister, is ‘La Casa di Giuletta,’ the famous 13th century house which belonged to a noble family by the name ‘Capello.’ Thanks to the similarity of this name to the famous ‘Capulet’ household, it has since been named the home of the famed tragic heroine Juliet. Although a tourist trap, it is a sight worth seeing nonetheless, if not only to say you have stood on Juliet’s balcony. I mean, that’s pretty cool.
Be warned though, it’s a hugely popular spot so you have to just embrace the crowd. If you want a photo from the balcony you may have to wait a sweet while. The funniest thing was the number of people who went to take a photo on the balcony together, only to get their phone out for a selfie and suddenly realise that oh, that’s not really what they wanted. If you go, make sure you leave someone down below to get a good snap of you looking all wistful on the balcony above them! Go in warmer months if you can, so the walls of ivy are green and lush for your photos, rather than dead-looking and sad like they are in mine... oops.
Really though, the best way to enjoy the beauty of this city is to simply walk its streets and – to use one of my mum’s favourite expressions – “soak up the atmosphere.” Not hard to do in a place where the atmosphere is so rich you can practically taste it. Verona is about as different from my beloved Sicily as it could be, and yet it still encapsulates something so undeniably Italian. Is it the green shutters over every window whose paint is flaking from so many years in the sun? Or the pastel coloured bikes that lean against pastel coloured walls as their owners sit and sip a coffee or aperol spritz (the drink of choice in Northern Italy and one of the best things the Gods have ever given us, period. Bright orange never tasted so good.) Maybe it's the weathered frescoes on the sides of buildings in all shades of pink and orange and yellow that make it feel warm even when the sun is not out. Or perhaps it's the ancient plaster that has peeled back to reveal red brick underneath in the way Italian restaurants around the world imitate to feign authenticity... something that you really feel walking these streets.
Lastly some quick recommendations for food – you really can’t go past La Tradision for cheap drinks and delicious antipasto platters complete with ALL THE CHEESES. I was glad I thought to ask a local lady in the market where the best spot for dinner was, and was not disappointed by her recommendation, Osteria del Duca. Full of locals, very authentic, it was a perfect first dining experience in Italy for my sister, and a cute, charming waiter to boot who recommended the BEST wine I have ever tasted. I’m literally starting to drool just sitting here thinking about it.
Sorry for the photos overkill... every corner I turned I'd want to take another! Feel free to contact me at Rachel@the-room.co.nz - I’d be more than happy to gush about this town some more. Simply delightful, highly recommended for any Italian adventures you may go on in the future!