After our public transport success in Milan, we are not concerned about getting from Verona Porta Nuova train station to the centre of town. We’ll get the bus – numbers and bus stop noted. Except the ticket machines seem to be in some sort of foreign language. And not Italian. None of the destinations are familiar. A bus comes and goes and we’re still looking confusedly at the ticket machine. Another bus comes. We’ve been reliably informed (by Google) that you can purchase tickets on board for an additional fee – we’ll pay any amount to see more of Verona than its train and bus stations.
We lug our suitcases up the steps of a particularly busy bus, and the grumpy driver grunts and indicates an on-board ticket machine. Except this isn’t working either. A couple in front of us are frantically pressing buttons and patting the machine on its head, trying to coax out the appropriate ticket. We inform the driver, who grunts and points to some sort of ticket purchasing telephone line to call. We are already halfway to our destination, my phone is somewhere at the bottom of my handbag and my Italian is limited to ordering a bottle of wine and a panino, not arguing with the Italian transport operators. So we do what every decent, honest, responsible citizen does. We make a run for it as soon as we reach Piazza Bra. Not easy to make a run for it on a packed bus, when you have to manoeuvre two full-sized suitcases to the middle exit door, but eventually we are off the bus, suitcases in tow, waving to our grumpy driver friend
(If anyone from the Verona transport system is reading this, please note that we tried to pay. We WANTED to pay. But no-one would let us pay. We over-tipped everyone in Verona from then on to make up for our free (but slightly stressful) bus ride.)
Luckily, we don’t have very far to go to our hotel. Out of all the hotels on this trip, the Hotel Bologna is the most perfectly located, almost directly on the beautiful Piazza Bra and a hop, skip and a salto from the Arena. In fact, if there had been a performance on, we would have probably been able to hear it from our hotel room. No free drinks or free slippers, but we do have a very green bathroom with an eerie green glow from the shower. I expect once more to wake up fearing an alien abduction.
It’s another one night stand with Verona, so unpacking is the bare minimum, but we do a quick freshen up and head out. It’s time for me to sample my first Aperol Spritz at a little outdoor café on Via Roma. Hmm, I could acquire quite a taste for this orange-coloured aperitif… I have a feeling this will not be my final Aperol Spritz on this trip… Mr Fletche and I share a plate of cold cuts for lunch and we’re ready to explore Verona further.
We head down Via Roma towards Castelvecchio, and cross its fortified bridge over the River Adige. We follow the riverbank for a while before crossing over and walking the tree-lined street of Lungadige Panvino, glancing up and snapping pictures of the beautiful balconies and window boxes. The mid-afternoon sun is beating down, and two days hectic travel is starting to take its toll so we stop for a gelato at Gelateria Pampanin – our first of the holiday – and decide to make our way back to the hotel for the now obligatory afternoon snooze.
Refreshed and with brand new plasters pre-empting injuries from yet another new pair of shoes we head back out into the early evening sunshine. We make our way up via Mazzini with it’s designer stores nestling next to chain stores and local fashion outlets to Piazza delle Erbe with its market stalls selling a mixture of souvenirs and fresh produce. Some of the frescoes on the surrounding buildings are stunning, and you get the feeling that this is the beating heart of Verona.
Talking of beating hearts, it would be remiss of me not to mention Romeo and Juliet. Strangely enough, there are very few mentions of Shakespeare’s other two plays set in Verona (The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentleman of Verona – one may be surprised to learn that Shakespeare never even set foot in Verona). But yes, this is where two fictional star-crossed lovers, met, fell in love, pissed off their families and died “tragically”. Yet, people trek far and wide to pay pilgrimage, stand under a balcony, post letters to their loved one on a wall and rub Juliet’s breast for “luck” (a statue I may add. Of a 13 year old girl. A fictional, 13 year old girl). But hey, I could never be accused of being an old romantic. And we did sort of buy into the frenzy by purchasing a Romeo and Juliet fridge magnet…
We escape the zoo of “casa di Giulietta” and head back towards Piazza Bra and opt for dinner at Olivo on the square. The misters are very welcome on this ridiculously warm evening! Octopus salad for me, pizza for Mr Fletche. After all of these years being a card-carrying member of the “I HATE PIZZA” club I have to confess that this pizza was good. This isn’t Pizza Hut or Domino’s. This is pizza, the Italian way, and it’s more than good. I’m not ready to join the “I LOVE PIZZA” club just yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that more melted cheese, tomato and dough combos will pass my lips before this holiday is through.
We take a post-dinner walk, retracing our steps along the riverside. We eventually find ourselves at Lui e Lei Gelateria, where they are offering 3,00e Aperol Spritz… it would be rude not to sample their wares at such at a bargain price! Fuelled by our new favourite drink, we amble back to Piazza Bra. We debate having another spritz somewhere but eschew the alcohol for a granita and people-watching in the square. We could do this for hours. But tomorrow, like Romeo, we will be banished from these city walls – “There is no world without Verona walls, But purgatory, torture, hell itself.” And Venice.
Our sleep has thankfully not been interrupted by the green bathroom glow, and we partake of our breakfast in the restaurant attached to the hotel. Our train to Venice is not until 1pm, giving us another morning in Verona, so we plan our final couple of hours in this fair city. A quick Google tells us that Torre dei Lamberti is open at 8:30am, so we decide to take an early morning walk to Piazza della Erbe and take in the views over the Verona rooftops. Except it is not open at 8:30. Signs on the ticket office tell us that today, it is opening at 10am. We curse Google and its inaccurate information; we also curse the smug ticket office staff lurking behind the glass doors, laughing at us tourists huddled outside, awaiting the first sign of opening. And they do not open until the very stroke of 10am. Luckily this means we are among the very first in there. With days of walking and climbing towers ahead of us ahead we opt for the elevator which takes us two thirds of the way, leaving a final 120 steps to the bell tower. The 360 degree views from the top are indeed fantastic, with the classic red rooftops spreading around us in every direction. We make the sensible decision though to descend before the bells ring on the half-hour, fearing for our aural faculties.
We return to the hotel to check out; they kindly lock away our luggage whilst we go for a final walk, a final gelato (in Verona anyway) and a final opportunity for people-watching in Piazza Bra. All too soon we are retrieving our suitcases, and eager to avoid a repeat of the bus-stress of the incoming journey, we leave in style in a taxi-cab. 13,00e = lack of hassle! We pick up panini at the station for lunch, and head off on our next adventure…