An Australian friend once said, when faced with our indecision about where to head next from Ljubljana, “F*** it, go to Verona”. It’s taken a couple of years but with Pete’s words still ringing in our ears, we headed west along the ghastly A4 autostrada.
Dear God, Italian drivers. Spending any time behind a steering wheel in Italy will make you seriously question your commitment to remaining in the country. We’ve driven Bertha across a lot of Italy, north, south, east and west coasts and have both also driven hire cars. Italian drivers collectively perform erratic, unpredictable manoeuvres usually at high speed and without warning. Added to this it seems socially acceptable to suddenly lose control of your vehicle because of being distracted by using a mobile phone, reading a newspaper or applying hand cream. Driving can be truly appalling.
With shaken nerves we arrived at an aire in a quiet residential suburb just outside of the city walls. It was late afternoon and the clear golden light sent us hastily into the historic centre to see the sights.
Verona is exquisite. Every piazza, every street, every corner, fountain and fresco is a feast for the eyes. Even without the pink marble stone Roman Coliseum it would be ravishing but with the famous home of opera dominating the palazzo-lined Piazza Bra, which we entered through the gigantic stone Porta Nuova, it is simply mesmerising.
We were happy just to follow the crowds of people moving around the centre and squeezing along the narrow boulevards. At pretty Piazza delle Erbe the daily market was still bustling with tour groups buying souvenirs and street food under the cream cotton canopies. We admired the heavily frescoed palace of the fratricidal Scaligeri family, Verona’s famously murderous rulers of the middle ages.
Other famous ‘residents’ of course include Romeo and Juliet and we joined the selfie-takers underneath the balcony at ‘casa di Guilietta’. In a sceptically brilliant marketing move, Verona also claims to house Guilietta’s ‘tomb’ but we couldn’t suspend our disbelief that far, so left the Japanese teenagers queueing, and covering the passage way walls with graffiti declarations of undying love.
Verona clearly has remained a very wealth city. Continual investment has meant that all of its beautiful historic buildings are perfectly maintained whether their current use is their originally intended one, or not.
Above the expensive window displays of the fashion houses along Via G Mazzini, Venetian style palazzos face each other with exquisite stone carvings around shuttered windows and balconies. In the ‘back streets’ cavernous taverns, bars and delicatessens invite you to step inside former merchants’ houses or under huge stone archways into marble floored and fountained courtyards.
Staying overnight at the aire meant we were able to return again to the centre early the next morning, along with the city’s workers and before the tour buses arrived in Piazza Bra. It was interesting to see the civic workers mopping down the marble flagstones of central squares and streets.
Stall holders were setting up the daily market and restaurants were taking delivery of fresh fish and vegetables from industrious white van drivers. We enjoyed coffee and people watching as the morning warmed up and sharply suited Italian office workers tripped by in brown leather shoes (the men) and impossibly high heels (the women, a couple of men) whilst chattering self- importantly on mobile phones.
We meandered across the river by Ponte Pietra to see the amphitheatre and hillside villas of Verona’s well-to-do, both of ancient and modern times. The waters of the Adige were low but white- foamed and rushing, and the city’s defensive setting in a long curve of the river and within a bowl of forested hills was easy to appreciate. With a slice of fresh baked pizza in hand it was time to savour some favourite views for the last time and leave this enchanting place, and not without regret.
Like so many other cities on this trip (discounting Belgrade) our short stay was not long enough to fully appreciate it, and the list of ‘must return to’ seems to grow ever longer!