Thanks again to Kelly, Jasmine, and Kristie for organising the #dolcevitabloggers: last month saw so many other Italian connections out there, it feels great knowing there’s a whole community of us! This month’s theme is our favourite Italian city.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, this topic would be nigh impossible. As anyone who has ever travelled here knows, Italy is brimming with incredible beauty in every quaint village, provincial town and major city. Rome and Florence would be the obvious choices, with their beauty having the arguably greatest expanse. Unfortunately, their expanse means I haven’t had the time to be as acquainted with them as I’d like. Then there’s the other smaller yet equally architecturally impressive cities that I’ve been lucky to pass a day or two in: Mantova, Padova, Bologna, Vicenza, Ferrara, Bergamo, and of course the complete uniqueness of Venice. But again, time didn’t allow me the understanding of them that makes them stand out (and I would not be able to choice Bergamo in any case, for fear of my fellow Bresciani disowning me; it is their rival city). I realised my favourite city must hold not just physical beauty, but an emotional one that creates a personal tie. And for that, there was one city that stood out above all others.
Verona was the first city I ever explored entirely alone. Being only a short train ride away from my Garda lake home, with its station just a fifteen minute walk from the centre, it was deemed secure enough for me not to get too lost (though I still had my phone GPS constantly to hand: my sense of direction is truly disastrous), and near enough that if everything went horribly wrong I could call for a lift back.
Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened. I spent an incredible day trying to take in every detailed mural in Piazza delle Erbe, still so intricate in their design even with the centuries of wear; standing on Ponte Scaligero at the Castello Vecchio, climbing its turrets to see the incredible view of the city and mountains expanding outwards from the River Adige; and of course getting lost in side streets, to be rewarded with finding tiny, unspoilt-by-tourist-chatter churches.
This was my greatest fascination with Verona: it doesn’t lock its beauty in the centre. The pinnacle is probably in Piazza Bra, yet the artistry seeps out for kilometres throughout the surrounding area, so even when you are off the overpriced tourist maps, you still feel like you’re in Verona.
Of course, most people (myself included) are attracted by the Shakespearian link, with Juliet’s balcony on any guide’s must-see list. Even with my Italian friends’ warnings, I was insistent on going…but I soon found their lack of enthusiasm entirely justified. I could see the fun in it, but it was the epitome of a tourist trap, complete with a constantly crowded gift shop whose products are even more exaggerated than those you’d find on Valentine’s day. The balcony itself is aesthetically okay, but certainly not the grandest in Verona, and you will have to settle for the rushed snap of you touching Juliet’s breast in the piazza unless you want to be exploited just for the chance to stand on the balcony for a few seconds. Sorry Shakespeare, but this certainly didn’t feel like the place of blossoming romance.
Although romance can’t be round at Juliet’s balcony, it’s present in all the other tourist guide destinations. My personal favourite is the Roman arena. The entrance fee is well worth it, if only to allow you to live out your gladiator fantasy, and if heights don’t bother you the top section gives an incredible view of Piazza Bra and the surrounding architecture. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if they are preparing for a show: as brilliant as it is that this centuries old arena is still in use, the metal frames and fences used for modern health and safety really take away from the historic atmosphere, and sometimes even block off certain sections. It’s no fun if you can’t stand in the head box and oversee the entire stone structure.
I have lost count of how many times I’ve visited this fascinating city, but where in crowded Christmas markets, with shouting summer tourists, and or on eerily empty winter weekdays, it has never failed to hold my heart. As well as being packed with art and history, the main piazzas are home to several reasonably priced restaurants offering a range of class Italian dishes. With the money left over from your meal, head through the elegant marble floored high streets, packed with gelato bars and a mix of high end and inexpensive stores, all housed in intricately designed buildings that off-set the modern lights of the shops below. There is honestly so much more I could write: I haven’t even touched on the Roman ruins, the theatre, the cathedral or the markets, because if I do we will be here for ever, and I will spoil it all for you. Just follow the crowds through the 14th century Portini della Bra that lead to the hub of this unique city, and be absorbed into the it’s historic fairytale.