Possibly best known to most people for having been the setting for two Shakespeare plays, Verona has its own rich history. Our stay in Verona was meant to be a bit of a “chill out” time as we were getting to the end of our trip. The idea was that we didn’t have to do or see anything in particular.
When we arrived at the train station, Mike suggested that we could probably drag our suitcases to our hotel. He got “the look” and we took our first taxi of the trip so far.
More for location than the name, we were booked into the Giulietta y Romeo hotel.
Our home for the next two nights:
As we tend to do, once settled in the room, we wanted to go out and get to know the neighborhood we were in. Not much was open because it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday -but we found a spot for a quick refreshment.
Our hotel was steps away from a very large Piazza -pretty much the center of things- called Piazza Bra. It is lined on one side with at least 12 restaurants -almost all with outdoor seating.
It is also the location of the Roman amphitheater -which was finished in 30 AD. It is not entirely intact, but it is still quite impressive.
We sat down for dinner – the view from our table included the amphitheater. Our menu was about 50 pages big because it was full of added information about the region, foods and cooking techniques -etc.
By now I suspect that no one will be surprised that I had pizza for dinner!
Or shocked over me having gelato for desert!
Verona is a very walkable city. The front desk at the hotel provided a map that showed us all the points of interest. We decided to walk in the direction where most of them were located, but we did it in a more wandering way than strictly following the map.
We went one street over from our hotel and started walking along a very nice pedestrian shopping street. This was a water fountain along the way.
This is the beginning of the Piazza Delle Erbe. In Roman times, this area was the forum. It was rebuilt in the 1200s and is still a market square -but mostly selling souvenirs. It was named Erbe (herb) because spices and herbs were sold there.
The fountain is known as Madonna Verona. It was created in the1300s and is a symbolic representation of the city. The woman is a medieval queen and the scroll in her hands has the city’s motto on it: This city is the bearer of justice and lover of praise. In the past, a queen would have been addressed as Mea domina, and that got shortened to “Madonna”.
We passed through the piazza and kept going in the basic direction of the Adige River, which passes through Verona.
We reached a wall along the river -after crossing a small parking lot. The bridge in the picture is called the Ponte Pietra (or Stone Bridge) and was built by the Romans in 100 BC. All but one arch of this bridge was destroyed in WWII.
We zigged and zagged through a few streets to get to the bridge in the picture.
We came up to a city gate that opened onto the bridge.
I asked Mike if he wanted to climb up to the castle on the hill or not. He answered that he was about 5% willing…and I said I was about 55% willing. I joked and said that that made us 60% willing, so the vote was in favor of going up. Mike didn’t get my joke and enjoyed correcting my math as we headed over the bridge to find our way up the hill (despite the low average percent of interest) We were always going to go up anyway!
I’m glad we bothered. The views were really fantastic.
When we got to the top, we realized that there is a funicular that we could have taken -but I enjoyed walking up the stairs, to be honest.
It was a bit disappointing on top because the castle isn’t open to tours. The top of the hill was a good defensive location and was occupied during Roman times and probably long before. In 1398, a castle was built over the ruins of a previous castle from around the year 900. The 1398 version, in turn, was blown up by the French in 1801. In the 1850s another structure was built -which I assume is what we saw up there. I didn’t try to take a picture of it because all we could see was just a big wall really.
We did walk around the side to see if we’d somehow missed an entrance or ticket office, but all we found was the “back door” to the castle. I thought the old gate was pretty.
We knew that somewhere near, and below, the castle that there was an old Roman theater, but it wasn’t obvious how to find it. As we walked back down the same stairs we’d just come up, there was a point where we could turn left through a wall instead of right the way we’d come. I asked Mike, “Where do you think we’ll end up if we go left here?” Before he could answer I’d already turned!
I’m so glad we did. We were able to see some of the old theater from the stairs we were on. The theater was built in the first century BC. Over time it was damaged by time, weather and neglect. Eventually it was hidden by “miserable huts” which is what one site I checked called the buildings that had been built around and over the ruins. Around 1830, a wealthy man from Verona bought all of the “huts” at his own expense and demolished them, starting the work to uncover this wonderful part of history.
Further down, our stairs rejoined the original ones.
We came to the Verona Cathedral from behind – here’s a few pictures before we got to the front.
The church was consecrated in the year 1117.
There was no putting it off anymore- the time had come for us to visit Juliet’s house. Technically, there really aren’t real locations for anything to do with Romeo and Juliet. But years ago some enterprising person decided to capitalize on the story’s connection to Verona. Interestingly, the “hanging by a thread” connection here (if there is one at all) is that a poet wrote a poem in the 1500’s based on an older story about Romeo and Giuletta and the deadly feud between the families Montecchi and Capelletti, which had been written by two Italian writers. The house now touted as Juliet’s was owned by a family named Capello. The house dates back to the 1200s. However, Juliet’s balcony wasn’t added until the 1900s.
Some of you might remember a movie from 2010 called Letters to Juliet. It was inspired by the fact that people leave notes for Juliet in the courtyard -and they also mail letters to Juliet. In 1972, the Juliet Club was created. From that moment on -all of the letters to Juliet have been answered by a group of volunteers. Here is a link to the background of this club. https://italialiving.com/articles/lifestyle/letters-to-juliet-and-the-real-juliet-club/. People used to leave the letters folded up and wedged into cracks in the wall, but now there is an official mailbox in the courtyard. I missed seeing it -it was probably hidden by a wall of tourists!
We arrived at the courtyard without actually realizing it, but we should have been alerted by the immense murmuring noise that was floating down the street from the crowd in there. I just happened to look left as we walked down the street and thought -what’s going on here? And walked in to see.
I waited patiently (Mike is rolling his eyes at this claim -because I’m never really patient) for a brief moment where someone wasn’t posing with Juliet’s statue. There was a well orchestrated tap dance going on. One person would step up -strike a pose- and someone would take the photo. Before they were 2 steps away, the next person was lining up for their pose. It took awhile, but I got it!
Meanwhile, Mike photographed the balcony for me.
There was a small museum and a gift shop -both of which might have been interesting, but as everyone knows by now, we just don’t cope well with shoulder to shoulder crowding. Our instinct is to “run away” -as Monty Python so aptly advised and demonstrated in the movie –Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
It was time for lunch -so we picked a random restaurant as we walked in the general direction of our next point of interest. We had a nice lunch. I took a picture of my meal because I knew everyone would be amazed that it wasn’t pizza!
We were on our way to the Castelvecchio (old castle) – and I took some pictures along the way:
This is the Gavi Arch. It was built sometime before the year 100 AD by a wealthy family -pretty much as a monument to themselves. It functioned as a gate on the major Roman road through the region. In 1805 the French military had it demolished basically because it was in the way. I was amazed to learn that in the 1930s, it was reconstructed using as much of the original parts that could be located. Rather than putting it back in its original location, they set it off to the side of the road. The dark area directly underneath in the picture is a relocated section of the original road that still shows old cart tracks.
We arrived at the Castelvecchio
We walked along the front side of it, but couldn’t see a way in or a ticket office…. but we noticed that the sidewalk led around the far side toward the river, so we followed it.
It led to the Castelvecchio Bridge.
Castelvecchio sits on the ruins of what was a Roman fort. In the mid-1300s, the ruler of Verona had it built as a deterrent to the powerful neighbors -such as the Gonzaga (whom we met in Mantua) and the Sforzas (whom we met in Milan). The design was intended to allow the residents of the castle to escape across the river in the event of a revolt or takeover.
In later years cannons were added for further defense. When France was in control of this area of Italy in the late 1700s, Napoleon chose to headquarter in the castle.
Sadly the bridge had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by the retreating German army in 1945.
We ended up circling around to the Piazza Bra, entering through the city gate I’d photographed the first afternoon.
We’d hoped to see about touring inside the amphitheater, but it was closed for some reason. There seemed to be some sort of construction? because there were trucks and a crane at one end and a lot of gating to keep people at a safe distance -but we weren’t sure what was going on. We walked around the far side of it and started noticing that the fencing that had been erected showed pictures of previous operas performed there.
As it turns out …this amphitheater, which is nearly 2,000 years is is still being used as a venue for modern day events. How cool is that??? There is an annual opera festival that runs from mid-June until the end of August. It started in the early 1900’s after friends of a “tourist” opera singer teased him into singing when he was inside. The acoustics were amazing and the rest is history.
The arena can hold 15,000 people. From the looks of these photos, the sets are amazing.
We went back to our room for a short break. A bit later, we went out to look for some dinner. We were quite surprised to see the Piazza Bra literally vibrating with tons of people. When we looked closer, they were standing in line for the various entrances to the amphitheater. Later, when we went back to the hotel, we found out that the Scorpions (a German band formed in 1965 and still rocking after all these years) were playing. I wondered what the gladiators would have thought of that?
So that is the story of our time in Verona. I liked Verona. It was very easy to walk around the city and there was lots to see.
A few days after we were in Verona, the Giro d’Italia bicycle race ended in there. The last stage was a time trial and as part of the route, the riders rode across the bridge at Castlevecchio on their way to the finish line, which was inside the amphitheater.
The next morning, we took our time leaving the hotel since our train was booked for mid-day. The plan was to travel to the Milan airport where we had a hotel room for the night.
Our train left a bit later than scheduled, which made us nervous since we had a short connection in Milan to change trains to the airport train. There were a lot of people on our train with luggage or large bags and we had to put our bags up on the rack several seats ahead, but needed to depart the train behind our seats. When we got closer to Milan we got up to get our bags situated so we could get off as quickly as possible, but as seems to be our luck… pretty much everyone was trying to do the same thing and we got trapped in the aisle. When the train arrived and we did get off, we had to quickly check the boards for the track number that our next train was departing from and then we started walking FAST… About 2/3rds of the way to the new track/train, Mike looked at the time and started running and so did I… We got on the train with maybe two minutes to spare before it started rolling out of the station. That’s how close of a call it was. WHEW!!
At the airport, we checked into our room. It seemed like we walked all the way back to Milan from the elevators just to get to our room! It was a big hotel. We ended up having to go into the terminal to look for dinner because the hotel restaurants weren’t open. We had a somewhat dismal last dinner in Italy.
The next morning, we needed to be heading for our check-in at the airport by around 8:00 AM. The departures area was a short walk beyond the hotel doors. There, we needed to check an information board to find out what gates the check in would be for our Delta flight. In Europe, the check-in gates are used by different airlines as needed, rather than having dedicated gates. Mike grumped a bit because the gates assigned to Delta were probably at the farthest end of the very large check in area. When we were almost there, there was a roped off area with a man asking to see our boarding passes in order to get through to the last few check-in gates, including Delta’s. We didn’t have boarding passes yet! We were able to convince him we belonged behind the ropes and we were allowed through. The rest of check-in, security, and getting to our gate seemed to go without too much aggravation.
As always, we don’t relax until we’re actually sitting on the plane. For us that’s like reaching home base -safe! The flight to Atlanta was about 9 hours and I was surprised at how fast the time passed.
One last side story about our trip. Mike had seen an ad for “pickpocket proof pants” and he bought a couple of pairs to take on this trip. Unfortunately, pickpockets are something that travelers to Europe must be aware of and prepared for. These pants are the MacGuyver of pants. Mike says that if he gets asked to review them, his line is going to be: These pants are so good even I can’t get into them! Honestly, we had several laughs when he’d walk up to pay for something and realize he’d be wrestling with his pants for several minutes before being able to!
Thanks for traveling with us to Italy. We had a wonderful time and I hope you enjoyed hearing about our d’aventure.