In fair Verona

Romeo and Juliet ever-present

Romeo and Juliet ever-present

Roman archway, Porta dei Borsari, Verona.
Verona street scene.
A Verona street scene.
The view on Penny’s walk to school.
Verona - street scenes
Mushrooms for sale("fresh, tasty porcini mushrooms from the Alto Adige region").
Juliet’s balcony.

It’s a long way away, Italy. We were late starting, so the total time, including waiting in Hong Kong, wasn’t as long as I’d been expecting, but even so, I had time for a thick novel, a long struggle with the “Times” cryptic crossword, an English film, one or two television programmes and three Italian films (two of them twice), which I watched in a vain attempt to brush up my knowledge of the language.

By the time I arrived in Milan I was not really in the mood for traipsing around the very ornate but labyrinthine railway station, getting lost, being given directions to the ticket office, not finding it and being barred from getting back on to the platform. Eventually I bit the bullet and faced the ticket machine to buy a ticket to Verona where I was going to do a two-week language course. Once I was on the train, I slept happily for most of the journey.

When I arrived, I was faced with a choice: should I start as I meant to go on, embracing all challenges and seeing what I could do independently i.e. catch a bus? Or take the easy way out, acknowledging my exhausted state, and take a taxi?

No! Buoyed by my success with the ticket machine in Milan, I decided to be bold, and set out to tackle the bus system. There’s a huge area outside the station, full of bus stops and signs and bays and platforms. Eventually I found the one I wanted, but then, just as my bus approached, I realised there was no information about tickets. I asked a woman who was waiting, and she told me (How could I be so stupid? Wasn’t it obvious?) that the place to buy bus tickets was (of course!) the tobacconist’s in the station. So I missed that bus, but caught the next, and it was surprisingly easy to reach my accommodation.

The Hospitality Club

I was staying with a family who were members of the Hospitality Club, similar to couchsurfing — you can arrange to stay for a few days, with no money involved. They were obviously very experienced and very popular — some new guests arrived the next day before I left. I wasn’t a very interesting guest, I’m afraid. I went straight to bed and slept until dinnertime, and then went to bed early. They were very helpful with my plans for the next day, making sure I had all the information about which bus to catch, when and where, where to change and when to get off again.

The school had arranged an apartment for me for the two weeks, and I arrived just as the landlady (who lived upstairs) was preparing to go to the supermarket, so I went along with her. I had imagined a little old lady dressed in black, twitching the curtains aside to see who was coming and going, and constantly ready to complain about the noise/the neighbours/the visitors and anything else she could think of. I couldn’t have been more wrong. She was young and enthusiastic, a teacher with small children, and very understanding and helpful with my attempts at Italian.

And the supermarket. What a revelation! Whole aisles full of pasta, chillers bursting with fresh mozzarella, eggplant, parmigiana sold by the slab, a huge array of bread and rolls, delicious late-summer fruit and vegetables. I tried to restrain myself, but still came away with far more than I could eat in the next day or two . . . including an interesting pasta sauce: frog and walnut. On closer inspection, it turned out to be walnut sauce, produced by a firm called Rana (“frog” in Italian), but it was delicious anyway. (Why Frog? No idea. But then, why Apple?).

The apartment was lovely. It was in a century-old building, but beautifully modernised, with everything I could possibly need, and sleeping space for six more people.

The walls were so thick that I couldn’t reach the shutters in the kitchen without climbing on to the windowsill. It was outside the central city, so I was really living among Italians rather than tourists, with the neighbourhood shops providing day-to-day necessities. It was a lovely half-hour walk to the school or I could catch a bus or hire a bike if I wanted to. There was even a neighbourhood family festival for several days at the church next door — a gourmet alternative to the sausage sizzle, with tables of families eating together, various musical groups providing entertainment and a lucky dip, with very generous prizes. I didn’t dare buy a ticket in case I ended up with a very large pumpkin, a bike or some unwieldy electrical appliance.

Actually, my “half-hour” walk was always longer than that, with impressive old houses to photograph, intriguing notices to decipher, interesting activities to watch, unusual shops to browse in and new streets to walk along.

On the Sunday evening before the course I went to bed very early, and of course woke up at quarter past one in the morning — not the best condition in which to face an entry test to place me in a class at the school. The building which housed the school (Lingua IT) was old and in the central city, with the inevitable motorcycles and tourists passing all the time. The school itself was not very big, so everyone got to know everyone else.

Lively language classes

The classes, which were always lively and interesting, only had about eight people in them, so there was plenty of individual attention if you had problems. From my point of view, the best thing was that there were no other native English speakers in my class, so Italian was the natural language of communication. The classes were in the mornings, and there were various activities in the afternoons (I went on two guided walks, where I discovered places I would never otherwise have known about) and the weekend; or you could just wander and explore by yourself.

It’s impossible to get away from Romeo and Juliet in Verona. You can go to Juliet’s house, visit her tomb and see Romeo’s house; or simply eat or stay or shop at any of the establishments using their names. Postcards are emblazoned with them, the city’s publicity features them, and I think there are constant productions of the play.

Apart from that, Verona is beautiful. It has grown chaotically over the centuries, with new buildings tucked in between old ones, and new floors balanced precariously on top of existing constructions, and little alleyways leading you down intriguing pathways, doing their best to upset the grand Roman grid street plan.

They eventually lead you to the old Roman streets, the ancient bridges and, of course, the ever-present churches. And everywhere, balconies overlooking the streets, usually overflowing with greenery, and shutters and ornate doorways hiding the peaceful courtyards inside. There are intriguing signs of Roman remains happily incorporated into medieval buildings or modern streets, and there is a huge Roman arena which is used for theatrical and operatic performances (mainly in winter).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person enjoying it. It seemed as though half of Europe was taking advantage of the late-summer sun and the many gelato shops and the courtesy shown by the drivers and scooter-riders, who would patiently wait for wandering tourists to clear their way ahead.

Tourists

At all hours, in all parts of the old city, every day of the week, at every notable building, in every bar and restaurant, in every square and street, licking their gelatos, clicking their cameras, reading their phones, trying not to lose their companions, talking in a wide variety of languages and getting in the way whenever I wanted to take a photo, there they were.

Another impediment to photographs was the dedication to recycling shown by the local authorities. Every street corner seemed to have an assortment of about six enormous different-coloured bins, carefully labelled with the type of material that could be put there.

To be continued.

It’s a long way away, Italy. We were late starting, so the total time, including waiting in Hong Kong, wasn’t as long as I’d been expecting, but even so, I had time for a thick novel, a long struggle with the “Times” cryptic crossword, an English film, one or two television programmes and three Italian films (two of them twice), which I watched in a vain attempt to brush up my knowledge of the language.

By the time I arrived in Milan I was not really in the mood for traipsing around the very ornate but labyrinthine railway station, getting lost, being given directions to the ticket office, not finding it and being barred from getting back on to the platform. Eventually I bit the bullet and faced the ticket machine to buy a ticket to Verona where I was going to do a two-week language course. Once I was on the train, I slept happily for most of the journey.

When I arrived, I was faced with a choice: should I start as I meant to go on, embracing all challenges and seeing what I could do independently i.e. catch a bus? Or take the easy way out, acknowledging my exhausted state, and take a taxi?

No! Buoyed by my success with the ticket machine in Milan, I decided to be bold, and set out to tackle the bus system. There’s a huge area outside the station, full of bus stops and signs and bays and platforms. Eventually I found the one I wanted, but then, just as my bus approached, I realised there was no information about tickets. I asked a woman who was waiting, and she told me (How could I be so stupid? Wasn’t it obvious?) that the place to buy bus tickets was (of course!) the tobacconist’s in the station. So I missed that bus, but caught the next, and it was surprisingly easy to reach my accommodation.

The Hospitality Club

I was staying with a family who were members of the Hospitality Club, similar to couchsurfing — you can arrange to stay for a few days, with no money involved. They were obviously very experienced and very popular — some new guests arrived the next day before I left. I wasn’t a very interesting guest, I’m afraid. I went straight to bed and slept until dinnertime, and then went to bed early. They were very helpful with my plans for the next day, making sure I had all the information about which bus to catch, when and where, where to change and when to get off again.

The school had arranged an apartment for me for the two weeks, and I arrived just as the landlady (who lived upstairs) was preparing to go to the supermarket, so I went along with her. I had imagined a little old lady dressed in black, twitching the curtains aside to see who was coming and going, and constantly ready to complain about the noise/the neighbours/the visitors and anything else she could think of. I couldn’t have been more wrong. She was young and enthusiastic, a teacher with small children, and very understanding and helpful with my attempts at Italian.

And the supermarket. What a revelation! Whole aisles full of pasta, chillers bursting with fresh mozzarella, eggplant, parmigiana sold by the slab, a huge array of bread and rolls, delicious late-summer fruit and vegetables. I tried to restrain myself, but still came away with far more than I could eat in the next day or two . . . including an interesting pasta sauce: frog and walnut. On closer inspection, it turned out to be walnut sauce, produced by a firm called Rana (“frog” in Italian), but it was delicious anyway. (Why Frog? No idea. But then, why Apple?).

The apartment was lovely. It was in a century-old building, but beautifully modernised, with everything I could possibly need, and sleeping space for six more people.

The walls were so thick that I couldn’t reach the shutters in the kitchen without climbing on to the windowsill. It was outside the central city, so I was really living among Italians rather than tourists, with the neighbourhood shops providing day-to-day necessities. It was a lovely half-hour walk to the school or I could catch a bus or hire a bike if I wanted to. There was even a neighbourhood family festival for several days at the church next door — a gourmet alternative to the sausage sizzle, with tables of families eating together, various musical groups providing entertainment and a lucky dip, with very generous prizes. I didn’t dare buy a ticket in case I ended up with a very large pumpkin, a bike or some unwieldy electrical appliance.

Actually, my “half-hour” walk was always longer than that, with impressive old houses to photograph, intriguing notices to decipher, interesting activities to watch, unusual shops to browse in and new streets to walk along.

On the Sunday evening before the course I went to bed very early, and of course woke up at quarter past one in the morning — not the best condition in which to face an entry test to place me in a class at the school. The building which housed the school (Lingua IT) was old and in the central city, with the inevitable motorcycles and tourists passing all the time. The school itself was not very big, so everyone got to know everyone else.

Lively language classes

The classes, which were always lively and interesting, only had about eight people in them, so there was plenty of individual attention if you had problems. From my point of view, the best thing was that there were no other native English speakers in my class, so Italian was the natural language of communication. The classes were in the mornings, and there were various activities in the afternoons (I went on two guided walks, where I discovered places I would never otherwise have known about) and the weekend; or you could just wander and explore by yourself.

It’s impossible to get away from Romeo and Juliet in Verona. You can go to Juliet’s house, visit her tomb and see Romeo’s house; or simply eat or stay or shop at any of the establishments using their names. Postcards are emblazoned with them, the city’s publicity features them, and I think there are constant productions of the play.

Apart from that, Verona is beautiful. It has grown chaotically over the centuries, with new buildings tucked in between old ones, and new floors balanced precariously on top of existing constructions, and little alleyways leading you down intriguing pathways, doing their best to upset the grand Roman grid street plan.

They eventually lead you to the old Roman streets, the ancient bridges and, of course, the ever-present churches. And everywhere, balconies overlooking the streets, usually overflowing with greenery, and shutters and ornate doorways hiding the peaceful courtyards inside. There are intriguing signs of Roman remains happily incorporated into medieval buildings or modern streets, and there is a huge Roman arena which is used for theatrical and operatic performances (mainly in winter).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person enjoying it. It seemed as though half of Europe was taking advantage of the late-summer sun and the many gelato shops and the courtesy shown by the drivers and scooter-riders, who would patiently wait for wandering tourists to clear their way ahead.

Tourists

At all hours, in all parts of the old city, every day of the week, at every notable building, in every bar and restaurant, in every square and street, licking their gelatos, clicking their cameras, reading their phones, trying not to lose their companions, talking in a wide variety of languages and getting in the way whenever I wanted to take a photo, there they were.

Another impediment to photographs was the dedication to recycling shown by the local authorities. Every street corner seemed to have an assortment of about six enormous different-coloured bins, carefully labelled with the type of material that could be put there.

To be continued.

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Steve - 5 months ago
Giovanni Rana: pasta and related products manufacturer, made in Verona.

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