I’ve been nursing this one all week, carrying it around like a little warm egg to fend off what has otherwise been a fairly crappy week. Now, week finally over and prosecco at hand, I think it’s time to rave about how great our flying trip to Verona was last weekend.
Maybe there was a special kind of alchemy at work because Marney and I had both come back after Christmas full of determination, good intentions and New Year’s resolutions – the whole trip to Verona was just wonderful. It powered us through accidentally getting on the wrong train and nearly getting run over by a homicidal beeping bus driver, and saw us walk under a beautiful Roman bridge to find ourselves still chipper (and discussing Jackie O at length) in the heart of Verona’s old town. To be honest even at that point we had a bit of a suspicion that someone from the FBI or possibly the Matrix was watching us via our googlemaps – we just had time to say “gosh wouldn’t this be better if there was some Old Stuff to look at”, when *poof* there’s Verona’s Roman arena and as much Old Stuff as our eyes could eat. The nice Matrix people had even put a picture of Jackie O on our B&B wall for later, how thoughtful.
It worked on our treat night out too, despite how ridiculously capricious we were being. Fancy a proper Italian dinner trying local specialities? Here’s a lovely restaurant where the only vegetarian options are exactly what you wanted (polenta with mushrooms, followed by pumpkin tortellini with pomegranate, in case anybody fancied a case of food envy.) Decide you want to live it up in swanky bar for a bit? Stroll round the corner and someone will have conveniently left the poshest of all bars there for you, dripping with chic fairy lights and moody, black-clad Italians. Get tired of being out-poshed really quickly and realise that what you REALLY want is a nice grimy bar and a pint? Find that the only place left open is a wonderfully weird Cuban pub thing with a help-yourself beer fridge and a few dudes smoking cigars with the barman and listening to salsa. There’s only so many times you can imagine something really niche and then stumble across that exact thing without getting suspicious that someone, somewhere, is setting you up a bit.
The next day we accepted that we were probably just guest stars in the Truman show, and decided just to go with it because in fairness whoever the producers were, they seemed pretty nice. The plan was this – eat constantly all day, because it’s important to sample as much local food as possible and calories don’t follow you home anyway. Then sightsee for a few hours, negotiate the bus to Primark, splurge on fun cheap things, return home triumphant.
A solid plan I must say, and it worked a treat. We started with our first truly Italian coffee shop breakfast, involving standing at an orange marble counter with a cappuccino and a ridiculous coffee eclair pastry. Aside from being delicious, it kick-started a day of genuinely fascinating people watching. Italian pasticcerias are apparently where the well-heeled go to buy big trays of tiny tiny cakes, which you choose for yourself in the world’s most upmarket pick’n’mix type arrangement. I liked to imagine all these stylish people off to immaculate coffee mornings with their artfully groomed dogs and pom-pommed children in tow. Outside, we discovered a fabulous breed of Sunday-best Italians, with its own uniform. For the under 50s it’s big designer sunglasses and sky high heels for the women, bomber jackets for the men. Leather trousers for EVERYONE. For the over 50s it’s even better – the women can now dye their hair amber, put on a full length real fur coat over their heels and head to church. The men are now sporting swept back silver hair, cigarettes and dark glasses, and can generally be found leaning atmospherically on a wall, watching the fur coats go by.
Aside from the fashion show, Verona itself was also stunning. You can loop through most of the old town in a couple of hours and take in churches, the Duomo, the Roman gates to the city, the Ponte Pietra bridge and its accompanying views of the river, Juliet’s balcony and then finish at the arena again.
Because Juliet’s balcony is one of the big tourist draws of the city, they let you leave little messages on the walls in the archway into the balcony courtyard or fix a lovely little padlock onto the gates. We didn’t go as far as a padlock but you can see our contribution to the love in blue. Have suddenly realised we ballsed up the date – presumably a clever ploy to fool the Matrix people! There was also some kind of historical parade going on in the town, which we managed to stumble on after breakfast. It was surreal – everything from a brass band to a medieval knight. No idea what was going on.
Fun selection of weird things we saw in the parade. We followed it around for a while trying to work out what the theme was – no clue. Answers on a postcard.
By far the most beautiful church we saw, Sant’Anastasia.
So there it is, Verona in a nutshell. Not that it was a disaster-free experience (no hot water, for one thing, and one particularly unpleasant incident with a bus ticket inspector and a lost bus ticket) but even so an absolute highlight of Italy so far. Hopefully we’ll be going back again, partly because we didn’t get anywhere near as much time to look around as we wanted, partly because the Primark there is bloody enormous, and partly because the Matrix people didn’t manage to organise us any arancini to eat this time, even though I popped into the nearest cafe as soon as we fancied them. They must have been taking a coffee break.