Verona – The City of Marble

OVERVIEW

I’m not sure if Verona is actually called the city of marble by anyone else, but I can’t think of it any other way. Everywhere you look there is marble – marble columns and monuments, marble facades, marble streets, statues, sidewalks, even public benches! The most common is red (local) or white marble, but it’s also quite interesting that parts of it are obviously softer than others and have worn away with rain over the years leaving a textured and pitted surface, which actually makes for safer pavements!

We left Zurich in the morning and headed off on our longest train ride yet, dropping down through the Swiss-Italian Alps to the plains of Northern Italy. This was probably the most scenically magic part of the trip so far, seeing the world-famed snow capped mountains in the distance, with the sun sparkling off frosty village roofs and alpine lakes. Due to the timing of the journey, it was also our first experience of eating ‘train food’, which we expected to be much like airplane food, but were pleased to discover was somewhat better! In first class we were lucky enough to have the food brought to us (thought it was still an extra charge. I enjoyed this ‘Swiss Alpine’ herbal tisane, which looked like it had lavender in it but was much milder. Although I couldn’t identify all the herbs in it, it did have a soft and velvety mouth feel somewhat like Chamomile.

Our arrival in Verona was a bit of a hike from the station, but we were rewarded by the most incredible apartment, spacious and nicely renovated, with beautiful traditional Italian furniture in seriously solid carved wood. It also had a lovely bathroom with a bath, which after several days walking around 15km a day was a welcome sight indeed!

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After settling in, our walk on the first night included viewing the old Roman area (a predecessor of the famous Colosseum!) from the outside (we checked out the inside on Day 2), the main streets lit up with Christmas lights and having our first Italian dinner. What I liked was that this place did offer a tasting entree with a few different things on it (rather than having a whole plate of Bruschetta, for example) including a local hard cheese called Monte Veronese which I really enjoyed. It’s firm but not crumbly, with a flavour reminding me somewhat of both Asiago and Parmesan. I also had the beef lasagna, which was nothing special to look at, but pleasantly homey. Interestingly it appears that the local specialty is various styles of horse, which I somewhat regret not trying.

ATTRACTIONS (Part 1!)

On Day 2, we attempted to follow the itinerary set out by Visit a City . I really have found this to be an invaluable resource so far for building a pretty good plan of attack quickly, but it does have some quirks (for example odd opening hours for monuments that are out in public, like an arch you can just walk past at any time of day). Firstly crossing Ponte Scaligero, the bridge at Castlevecchio (Old Castle), where I had fun climbing up on the ramparts (ok, partly making myself a little nervous as well as I’m TERRIBLE with heights) as well as peering through the windows and arrow slits and thinking about what it would have been like to defend the bridge against attackers in the river below. Interestingly though, this bridge wasn’t to defend the town from attackers – it originates INSIDE Castevecchio and as best we could understand, was a means of escape for the ruling family in case the town turned against them!!

After that we followed the tourist trail to the house of Juliet – who, by the way, never existed. There were 3 things that I found interesting about this visit (I was also glad it was off-season, as I couldn’t imagine how crowded this would be in peak!). Firstly, that the famous Juliet balcony is not just tiny, but actually a recycled marble sarcophagus (waste not want not!). Secondly, that the house itself is incredibly beautiful (another place where I wished there was a floor plan showing the original use of the rooms as well as the off-limits areas, but I did love one room with a multi-vaulted curved ceiling covered in stars). Thirdly, that the whole idea of this being Juliet’s house is a complete marketing scam generated by the government to give the tourists something to gravitate to. Following Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet, visitors came looking for the balcony – the city is FULL of balconies, by the way; I took a picture of one house with much more attractive ones in my opinion – so they simply bought a house off a family with the closest name to Capulet – the Del Capella’s, and turned it into a museum.

Oh, aside from hundreds of charming balcony, the city of Verona is also home to hundreds of charming old doors. I like doors.

FOOD

We had our first Italian pizzas of the trip at Ai Lamberti, right in Piazza Della Erbe, the main square. What a delight it was to enjoy the light, fluffy-yet-crispy crust and impossibly thin bases – although they do seem to soak up a lot of sauce, so may not be for everyone. The dough also seems to be less salty than Australian pizzas. Mine was the Romeo which came out delightfully kitsch in a heart shape which neither added nor detracted from the flavour. It was beautifully aromatic with generous servings of fresh truffles… mm.

Having visited a modern art museum in Germany (and found it not to be our ‘thing) we had a joke about the leftovers of dads pizza. Are they scraps, or modern art? The leftovers represent the wastage we generate when we feel rejected and apart from society. It is a live installation that deteriorates over time, as does the viewer. The bread, a long standing symbol of commensality, represents the soul; the earthy zucchini, the body; and the tangle of onion, the layered bulb, represents the mind. All three must be nourished or will shrivel and rot, just like organic waste does.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The interesting thing is, by this point I’ve been eating copious bread for over a week and yet I don’t feel sick or bloated at all! In comparison, I rarely eat it at home because while I love bread, I don’t love how bread makes me feel . It really highlighted for me the difference in getting quality bread – the quality of wheat as well as the way it’s made. Even though I avoid the regular ‘supermarket bread’ and try to choose sourdoughs and ryes wherever possible, I still feel that somehow the European bread is… more agreeable.

ARCHITECTURE

A long, long walk later and we finally approached the hill topped by Castel San Pietro (which wasn’t open). The hill is home to the ruins of the old Roman theatre, an interesting archaeological museum, and an old abbey which was just built on top of the ruins of the theatre. Having been into the arena earlier in the day, it was interesting to see the way the structural architecture of the theatre predated the arena, just as the Verona arena predates the Colosseum. You could clearly see the development of the supporting arches and the way that idea was expanded into the significantly larger arena, even though it still relied to some degree on the grade of the slope behind it. The museum has a remarkable collection of Roman and Greek marble statues, which apparently the local nobility had started to collect during the Renaissance. This was also the first museum which introduced us (dramatically) to the apparently common tactic of multi-level museums which start the exhibition trail at the top and have you work your way down, which several other European museums we’ve been to since have also followed.

The hill overall is amazing to look at from the base, with an intermingling of old walls, ruins, buildings and trees, and provides an equally impressive view from the summit, which for some reason I don’t appear to have a photo of, although I’m sure I took some!

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We ended the day with Castlevecchio, which hadn’t been open earlier. It’s a very interesting building with some weirdly shaped rooms, that has been partially reconstructed in the original style and partly converted into an art gallery. Brace yourself to view countless versions of the Madonna and child. As previously mentioned, the bridge actually runs THROUGH the castle, which is broken into several components, built and expanded on over the years as most castles are, and includes a lovely hanging garden which could easily be missed. There are also some very interesting modern elements like this unique staircase (off-limits) which did not have a construction date noted.

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