Monday, October 5, 2015


We took a day trip to Verona to check out another Italian town and see the famous balcony. Of course it isn’t the real balcony. Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters after all. Several years ago an enterprising entrepreneur decided that Verona did have a balcony perfectly suited to attract tourists. Situated in a small courtyard off a street near the center of town, it is easy to find and has plenty of room for the hordes of tourists who come to see. Of course there is a gift shop and a museum. The museum surprised me. I expected both more and less. After entering I climbed one floor to reach the balcony and then kept climbing four more floors. Each floor had a couple of rooms with a small display of something from the period. I saw costumes, a bed and several frescoes as I climbed the stairs. No room had more than a couple of items, but they were all tastefully displayed and fit the times. It was worth the time and energy.

Supposedly this will bring you love.

The city of Verona itself has a lot more to offer than just Shakespearean pseudo-memories fortunately. It has a magnificent Roman colosseum and several outstanding churches and museums. We started with the colosseum as we got off the city bus we took from the train station which dominates Verona’s carless square, Piazza Bra. This huge arena, Italy’s third largest, can hold up to 25,000 people. During Roman times that meant fans screaming for their favorite gladiator. Today it hosts rock concerts and a world class summer opera festival which began in 1913.

After climbing to the top of the colosseum, we were ready for lunch at Caffe Rialto sitting beneath the Porta Borsari. This gate served as a tollbooth at the entrance to the Roman city. The café includes a glass panel in the floor showing the original Roman foundations. After lunch we walked up the carless street to Piazza Erbe. We certainly appreciate the number or European cities that have designated carless zones in the city centers. The lack of cars allowed us to take our time and see several interesting bits from the past in the walls of the buildings.

Plaza Erbe hosts the outdoor market place and is close to the other places we planned to visit. After checking out the House of Juliet, we moved to the Piazza dei Signori, Lord’s Square, to find the statue of Dante and climb the Lamberti Tower for some great views of the city. After Dante was expelled from Florence for his criticism of the Pope, he moved to Verona as guests of the Scaligeri family who also opposed the Pope. Rick Steves told us that we would have to pay €6 to ride the elevator up the tower, but we managed to avoid even the €1 charge when the ticket taker took pity on us for starting in the wrong place. The views were worth the climb even had we chosen that route.

We passed the magnificent Gothic tombs of the Scaligeri family on our way to the Church of Sant’Anastasia.

This beautiful church was built from the late 13th century through the 15th century. European churches often took centuries to build and this one is no exception. In fact, the façade was never finished. Inside is another story. The beautifully painted interior highlights the other artwork.

From there we walked to the Duomo which started in the 12th century and took several hundred years to finish. While the walls were not as elaborately painted as Sant’Anastasia, it has its own great artworks and we were able to also visit the ruins of an even older church next door, the 10th century Church of St. Elena which has been turned into a modern-day chapel with fourth century mosaic floors.

By this time we were tired of walking so crossed the river to catch the bus back to the train station. We had to transfer at Castlevecchio. We had purchased a city pass that included this site, so we decided to spend a few minutes there. An hour later, we left having seen a great collection of art as we followed the ‘itinerary’ around the castle built by the Scaligeri family between 1343 and 1356. Most of it was religious art, but as the Renaissance continued, the art became more secular and bawdy. We also had a good view of the Ponte Scaligero, which was destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but rebuilt after the war with original bricks dredged out of the river.

Our return to Venice was made more interesting when the train we ran to catch was cancelled. We were on the train when the conductor came by and told us to get off. No one knew what was happening. I don’t think the conductor even knew at first. The train just sat there for about 30 minutes before leaving to be replaced by another. I think they cancelled the one we were on because even the next scheduled train that we did take was less than half full.

Then as we approached Venice we were approached by a Chinese lady who is on a whirlwind tour of Italy. She wanted to know when to get off the train. After some conversation, we were able to tell her that she was getting off at the last stop just as we were. My hope was that then we could find someone at the station to help her get to her hotel.  All she had was the name, address, and Google directions. When we arrived, I went looking for help but at 9:30 there is none available so I told her that we would help her get to her destination. Her plan had been to walk to the hotel – probably at least two miles over way too many bridges with a huge suitcase. As an expert on getting around Venice now after our five days here, I knew there was a better way. So we helped her buy her pass for the Vaporetto (Venice’s canal boat service) and get on the same one we were using. Her stop was only two stops beyond ours so we could be certain she knew where to get off with some certainty that she could follow her iPhone’s Google map directions from there to the hotel. Venice is not an easy place to get around in if you are using a paper map because streets are not well marked. However, we have used Google maps on our iPhones and found that to be very good.  I’m sure they got to their hotel without problem and then back to the train station the next day by 6:00 pm for their train to Milan. I did say it was a whirlwind tour. 

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