Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Verona, Italy - September 2012 (Days 1 and 2)

Parents and River Adgive

The River Adgive bisects Verona seperating the old town from the new to some degree. Unlike some places we have been it seemed like the riverbanks here sported airly minimal activity. No wide promenades with cafes with outdoor tables were noticed. Nor did we see any kind of river traffic. Just meandering water.

Our flights from Boston to Verona were uneventful complete with pretty poor airline food and mind numbing monotonny of modern flight. Sure, we had movies aplenty to pick from but I must say that I found watching the action-filled Avengers rather a lackluster experience. I know it is a small screen on the back of the seat and the audio is beyond poor so I suppose allowances must be made. We zipped through customs and passport ontrol in Munich, seemed far easier than similar times in Frankfurt, and had a pretty short wait before boarding our puddle jumper prop plane for the quick trip to Verona. Everything went perfectly - no luggage was lost. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Treste, around 13:00.

It was a wonderful afternoon with a hazy blue cloudless sky and temperatures in the mid-80s. We dropped our stuff off in our rooms and immediately set out to do a bit of exploring of our surroundings. There was no reason to hang around the hotel . We quickly found our way to the Arena. This is a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheater that is in very good condition. The outer wall is all but gone but we were given to understand that the inside is in fine shpae. The place seats somewhere around 20,000 people on a combination of red metal seats that are remarkably comfortable for stadium seating and above those circling the ascending stone walls are the long marble benches that have been worn smooth over the millenia. When you sit on those seats you can't help but wonder what sorts of performances took place ages ago. Certainly gladiatorial fights took place but I expect less violent events took place too. I would have enjoyed taking in a show but while some sort of modern musical was being performed Friday night it was sold out.

We continued our exploration into numerous pedistrian streets lined with shops of all types. Many of the shops are quite high-end but at the same time you will find cafes , restaurants, gelateria, galleries, and more throughout the shopping districts. Often times you walk into small courtyards that are home to pleasing cafes or perhaps a small church or remarkable tower. While their is an old-world feel to many of these places we never really encountered the cramped streets and passageways you would find in say Seville.

One thing that surprised us was that we saw seemingly little activity along the banks of the River Adgive. This light green-tan wide and reasonably quick river winds forociously through the city. I recall in Granada that the river was lined with cafes, shops, and wide walkways. Here that did not seem to be the case. Now and then a cafe would have a few tables that would afford a river view but you never seemed to find a promonade. We would walk along a narrow sidewalk and/or street for a short ways before having to leave the water's edge. Nor did we ever see any kind of traffic on the river itself beyond a few ducks. Very strange.

Castelvecchio rooftop
A view from one of the rooftop walkways of Castelvecchio.
Our wandering would take us to Castelvecchio which was iniitally built as a military castle some 700 years ago. It remained such for the builk of its life though I imagine it had little to do for much of that time. In 1954 Carlo Scarpa was commissioned to restore the castle to its original medieval appearance and by all accounts he did a fine job. The views from the rooftop out across the river are quite nice and the frescos you can see inside the museum are interesting. It is not a particularly large castle. In fact as I type this I find myelf wondering just how many men-at-arms could be garrisoned there.

Our initial exploration was bounded by our hotel to the west, the Arena to the south, and the river to the east and north (it makes some big ox-bow curves) and we enjoyed our afternoon quite a bit. But we all felt the need for a little comfortable rest before tracking down dinner so we only spent about 2.5 hours roaming. we never found a proper sit-down lunch so settled for a slice of thick but light crusted pizza ladened with a variety of vegetables and cheeses with very little sauce. It was filling enough. In most respects I suspect we would all agree that the slice and the gelato cones we all had were actually tastier than the dinner we had later on. It wasn't a bad meal but it won't stand out much either especially given its price. Maybe it would have been a bit better if we hadn't been regaled by some strange oratation from the big stage just outside of the Arena (which was being dismantled the next morning) by a couple fellows who were doing goodness knows what. It didn't seem like a comedy act nor did it seem like a two-man play. I am not even sure it was a real conversation - it felt like rambling monolouge but then since I am not fluent in Italian what do I really know. It was bothersome.

Friday would be our one full day in Verona and we got it started not long after the staff of Hotel Trieste began serving breakfast. The dining room of this hotel is nicely laid out with a handful of white linen draped small tables spread out in a modest sized room. A couple of larger table sport the breakfast items which include an assortment of breadds, meats, cereal, fruits, juice, and coffee and other hot drinks. If you want an esspreso style drink you can get that. If you would like eggs with your meal that is available too. Everything was fresh and in good supply. Compared with some of the other breakfasts at other hotels we have stayed to say nothing of some of the huge buffets that had quantity but not always quality Trieste lays out a wonderful meal. We left for our day of walking well sated.

Verona Arena
It is hard to get a real sense for the size of the Arena. It can hold 20,000 people. While i expect the view is likely beter from the red metal seats I think the experience sitting high on one of the marble benches would be better. You would certainly have a better sense of what the Romans may have felt like watching events two thousand years ago.
I've already talked about the Arena and this morning we really explored it more completely. I found myself trying to imagine walking through the corridors of stone with their 60-70 foot ceilings a couple thousand years ago. I expect if they were lit at all it was with some form of torch light though their is no sign of where torches would have been placed today. I also found myself wondering what the halls must be like where gladiators, Christians, beasts, and I expect occassional actors were like. What was a dressing room 2,000 years ago like? You don't get to walk into areas (if they exist) behind the stage. It is entirely possible that the accoustics in this great amphitheater are not all that special; maybe nothing better than what you could expect at any sports stadium of today but surely they must be at least a cut above nothing so people in the bleacher seats (those marble benches) could hear what was going on. I wish I knew.

Streets of Verona
One thing that caught our attention wadnering through the streets was the use of variously colored bricks in building fascades like this.
We left the Arena to go explore in greater detail what we had sampled the day before. Right away we found something new. Verona, like most cities, has places where people set up to do street performances. We never found musicians plying their trade waiting for people to toss money into a guitar case. Instead we found many people doing various types of mime; the human statue seems particularly popular. But what really took our breath away was one fellow sitting on a corner near the Arena all dolled up in pink, sitting inside what was clearly meant to be a pink stroller. He was making sounds you woulld expect to hear from an infant. Wailing, crying, cooing. I don't think he could possiblly have been using his own voice to create those sounds but they sure sounded like the real thing. The emotional import was definitely present. He waved his hands about imploring the crowd to toss coins into a container and he responded with infantile glee when that was done. He also would tend to , and we aren't sure how, sneak a pinch in if a lady stood next to him to play momma to his baby. A slightly lecherous baby I suppose but it never failed to raise a laugh from the onlookers. What a remarkable gig. We saw another man doing something similar later in the day but his act didn't hold a candle to the baby-in-pink.

Lambert I Tower
A climb up the 368 steps of Torre Lamberti is worth it if you want to get a view of the city from on high. The level directly below the peak of the tower is really the place to soak in the view as it is not obstructed. The topmost platform, perhaps 50 or so steps higher , has windows with quite a bit of screening and bars that get in the way of seeing anything. If you aren't willing to climb all the steps you can ride an elevator (takes about 45 seconds; at least that was how long the descent was) up and avoid about 250 steps.

We continued wandering around eventually finding ourselves ready for lunch and finding a nice place to eat with a lovely courtyard seating. The salads and pasta dishes we had were quite good and the atmosphere was prefect. Sure we were the only ones present for most of our meal but we suspect that was only because we setled in for lunch at least an hour before most people seem to eat. Certainly eateries seemed to be much busier closer to 14:00 than 12:30.

One thing we all enjoyed seeing was the ways building fascades changed. This was particularly obvious with several of the churches like St. Anastasia and the Duomo and Zino buildings. The brick work is wonderful. Patterns are created using light and shadow as well as different levels of relief in the structure of the walls themselves. It turns an otherwise dull stone building into something with zest and life and perhaps even a bit of whimsy. Toss in crenonations on medieval walls and you have numerous doses of interesting achitecture to capture ones eye. All of this can be found in an area that is very walker friendly.

We spent several hours strolling about, dipping into a gallery here , a store there, wandering a small grassy park over there (the far side of the river). All in all the time went by quickly and we found the day easily slipping into afternoon before we worked our way back to the hotel for a respite before dinner. Dinner was definitely much better our second night. We found a place in a piazza by Torre Lamberti. Our meal was worth the wait. Walking back afterwards it was clear that the city had become much more active. Perhaps a fair bit of that can be attributed to the masses heading into the Arena but I have no doubt that Verona must have a decent nightlife even though we never really took part in it.

You can see all the Verona photos here (9 photos).


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