There were six of us total. We walked to the train station in Florence and set out to what turned out to be my favorite city in all of Italy. Shall I be more specific? “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.” Now before I continue… I feel it is necessary for me to admit that my whole life I have believed that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is completely fictional. But that was before I went to Verona. There is something so magical about that city. It’s like living in a fairy tale. It was raining when we arrived. From the train station in Verona I took my first Italian taxi, which was only slightly terrifying, to our apartment. The apartment we found was perfect, adding to the magic of the city. It wasn’t without its faults though. Like how it had three bedrooms each with their individual air conditioning units but only two could be used at once. But to us it was perfect considering none of us had air conditioners in our apartments in Orvieto.
We arrived in the evening on a Friday because of our daylong field trip in Florence so there wasn’t much we could do in Verona on the first night. However, we were eager to explore the city and we were starving! So the search for a restaurant for dinner was our mission. As we walked through the city we made notes of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do the following two days. Seeing an opera at the Arena di Verona was at the top of our list. But first… dinner. Our first meal in Verona was glorious. It was a three-course dinner and I chose the most traditional plates (part of a personal experiment I was conducting to see how my family’s cooking compares to true authentic food in Italy). Primi Piatti: cheese board. Secondi Piatti: antipasto salad (which was surprising because salad is not as common in Italy as you’d imagine). And for the main course: spaghetti with kalamata olives. Bon Appetit! Did I mention we drank a lot of wine? I also need to point out that during this meal Jacob was the bravest of us all. His main course? A very fancy sounding Italian translation of horse meat. Yes that’s right, he was so hungry he could eat a horse… and he did… and I tried it too… and I liked it. The end.
The following morning we went out to explore the city and see everything that we had scoped out the night before. I should point out that at this point in writing my blog, I am recalling events that occurred six month ago, and exactly what I feared would happen has happened. I have forgotten the small details. I can remember events and situations but not in the exact order in which they occurred. To be honest, it’s heartbreaking because I know I cannot do my memories and this incredible city the justice I know it deserves. But I will try my best! Our apartment was somewhat close to the main sights of the city… close enough to walk… but far enough to be exhausted by the time we got to wherever we were going mainly because we lived on one side of a river and the town center was on the other side. The medieval bridge we crossed every day was incredible. It was so breathtaking (like most structures in Italy) that I am sure there is a story behind it. Perhaps a war story? I may never know. It made me realize something while I was in Verona with my friends. Since we weren’t there on a field trip with a tour guide, everything we were seeing and experiencing was up for our own interpretation. Instead of it being “the bridge where so and so fought over such and such” it was the bridge where my friends and I overlooked Verona and it’s glorious river. It’s the bridge where we saw six different wedding parties on a Saturday evening taking photos (I didn’t start photographing them until we had seen about three). It’s the bridge that we crossed at one o’clock in the morning while eating crepes the size of my face after sitting through a four hour long opera. My memories of Verona do not consist of tour guides and headphones with listening devices and microphones. They consist of Kimberly, Corey, Olivia, Jacob, Mike and our incredible weekend.
We went to Juliet’s house. And like I said above, I thought Romeo and Juliet was a fictional story. But Kimberly, Jacob and I purchased tickets to enter her six-story home (but it was maybe one room per story so in the grand scheme it wasn’t as grand as it sounds). Regardless, the Italian people worship Juliet and pray to her for luck in love… which, I’m sorry, but is it just me or is that ironic? Yet when we were in her house, admiring props from different film adaptations of the story, I was overwhelmed with the sense that we were inside a fairytale. Then it happened, Juliet’s balcony was right before me. I waited in a single file line with other tourists from around the globe. Kim went first to stand on the balcony and overlook a courtyard full of tourists looking up at her. I leaned out a window to photograph her and in turn she did the same for me. And for the first time ever, I was grateful that I read the play in Ms. Clary’s freshman honors English class in high school. **Wherefore art thou Romeo?**
Besides her house itself, the experience of visiting Juliet’s home included her statue, where it is good luck to touch her right breast (insert the most awkward photo ever taken here). Is it bad luck that I touched the left breast? Anyways, there is also Juliet’s wall, where all of the visitors sign their names. Can you imagine a wall covered in ink from years of tourists writing on it? It was disgusting but I totally had to sign it because when in Rome right? Thankfully Jacob had a Band-Aid in his pocket and I had a pen in my purse. We signed the Band-Aid and found the perfect spot for it on the wall. After that, we were off to see Juliet’s tomb and Verona officially became the fourth Italian city that I’ve been lost in.
They sell tickets to see Juliet’s tomb at her house but her tomb is in a completely different place- a very far different place. Kimberly, Jacob and I found it thankfully… well they found it and I just followed. But on our way we got to see more of the city including what I thought to be quite an extraordinary cathedral and some ancient ruins. Our tickets for Juliet’s tomb included an art museum as well which lead to the tomb. I don’t know if I should give everyone a heads up right now before I spoil the surprise but THE TOMB IS EMPTY! That’s right- its just an empty box and suddenly the fairytale I felt like I was living in got a reality check. Perhaps we fell victim to a tourist trap- but the art we saw around her tomb was still worth getting lost and walking across the city to see.
We headed back to the central area of the city where the most magnificent structure in Verona is located. The Arena di Verona is an ancient Roman amphitheater still in use. And yes, ladies and gentlemen that is where we saw the opera, Aida. Outside the arena was the town square heavily populated with tourists like us, so we fit right in when we were taking in the scenery. There were areas with fountains, luscious grass and patches of flowers. On opposite sides of the square there were huge contraptions of bells with six men each pulling ropes to make them ring. Another corner featured a group of actors/magicians performing for a crowd. However, my favorite part was the gated area containing all of the props from the operas. I guess it makes sense that an ancient arena wouldn’t have a storage room right? So all of the props were just out in the open for us to admire.
One of the many reasons Verona became my favorite Italian city is the incredible pastry shop Corey and Olivia discovered. When they brought me to it I was overwhelmed with all of the colorful treats displayed behind glass. It was there that I ate the second most delicious thing in all my time in Italy (behind the creamed salmon pasta dish I had in Piazza Navona during my first trip to Rome). But back to the second most delicious thing I ate in Italy: a lavender macaroon. I know- so random right?! I asked for five total and happened to point to a purple one… and it was to die for. If I ever find myself back in Verona, I will probably purchase every lavender macaroon that I see. We spent some time shopping while enjoying our desserts. I had to stop in one shop in particular due to its name: Scout. This happens to be my dog’s name, which is completely irrelevant but it was a tiny reminder of home, which I appreciated.
As we walked back to our apartment to freshen up before dinner I noticed a plaque that I must have passed by a handful of times before I paid close enough attention to realize what it was. It contained quotes from Romeo and Juliet and marked the location where Romeo avenged the death of Mercutio by killing Tybalt. WHAT? (This is where I start to believe Shakespeare’s story is real again). Romeo practically killed Tybalt in the front yard of our apartment. Crazy- I know.
After we freshened up we went to dinner. We walked back over the bridge, past the plaque, and into the town square near the Arena di Verona. The hunt for a restaurant that had an available table for six was more difficult that we thought. I don’t remember what made us so late for dinner (something tells me it was my hair) but thankfully Mike found a restaurant that was more than accommodating to our large group. They sat us in a private room full of bottles of wine (this is what I picture heaven looking like). So. Much. Wine. I ordered ravioli carbonara and like usual, I loved it.
After our meal we rushed off to the Arena di Verona. With our tickets in hand we made before the show began. I can’t even begin to describe what it was like inside the arena. It was quite a spectacle. There was of course the set of the opera: a giant pyramid to for the Egyptian setting. Then of course there was the audience, and it was definitely a full house. We sat in the nose bleeds. And by nose bleeds I mean, as far in the back and as high as a person could possibly be seated. When the actors made their first appearance and began singing (in Italian of course) I was astonished that we could hear them so perfectly despite our distance and their lack of microphones. And by some miracle, the Arena di Verona had wifi. Since the four hour long opera was entirely in Italian, I took advantage of the internet access I miraculously had and searched the story line of Aida. I read each act as they were being performed, careful not to read ahead and spoil the ending. So much to my surprise, I was devastated that after sitting there for four hours, the opera turned out to be a tragedy and the main characters all died! I was actually upset because I was so engaged in the performance that even though I couldn’t understand the words, I really was following the story (thank you Wikipedia). And when you are routing for the two main characters (who are in love but cannot be together, just like Romeo and Juliet) for four hours, after drinking a lot of wine, you just can’t help the feels you get after they suffocate in a dungeon. Sorry for all the spoilers.
Regardless of the outcome of the story, we had an incredible experience at the opera. We sat in our nose bleed seats and watched the sun set, and the darker the sky got, the more magnificent the set of the opera became. We were hungry considering it had been four hours since we had eaten and the only restaurant that was open was a small crepe shop. This ties us back to the beginning of this blog post. We ate our crepes and crossed the bridge again just like we always did to go back to our apartment. I was overwhelmed with appreciation for my friends and for the incredible weekend we were having in such a glorious city.
The next morning we packed our belongings and prepared to return back to Orvieto. Corey, Olivia and I made a quick trip to get some coffee and see some of our favorite sights one last time. When we returned to the apartment we gathered our things and called for a taxi to take us to the train station. Mike and Jacob decided to walk to the train station so they could get some breakfast on the way. Since Kim, Corey, Olivia and I hadn’t eaten anything before we arrived we were starving too and our options for food were somewhat limited at the train station. So here it is ladies and gentlemen, the truth: we ate at McDonald’s. Since I have been back in the states, one question I continuously get asked is, “Did you ever eat at McDonald’s in Europe?” This may come as a surprise to some people, but the Big Mac I ordered at the train station in Verona was one of the best burgers I have ever had in my life. I’m not saying that the next time you find yourself in Europe you should go out of your way to eat at McDonald’s, I’m just saying that if you really have to eat there, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.