Pack your weekend bag, dear Reader, because we are off to Verona for a couple of days! William and I have tickets to see Carlos Santana perform at the Arena which is a perfect excuse to explore a new pocket of Italy. From our place near Naples, it will take us two trains and about five hours to get there. Though sometimes airline tickets are more cost effective than the train, most of the time I prefer to ride the rails anyway (those readers of my Trans-Siberian trip know all about that).
Some (Hopefully Only Mildly Offensive) Generalizations
Settled in with my snacks and a good book, I become distracted by the changing landscape outside. Naples, for all its spirit, is decidedly gritty. Weeds, graffiti, tall concrete apartment buildings. After an hour or so on the train, urban decay succumbs to rolling green hills, goats, and vineyards. It is here, dear Reader, that I’m going to offer some observations about the differences between Northern and Southern Italy.
Much like the US, I’d say the general consensus is that the North is rich, career-minded, and not lacking in infrastructure – it’s more “European” in general, I suppose. Conversely, the South of Italy is poorer, more provincial, and seems to lack a sense of order. When someone mentions the “deep south” of the US, it brings certain things to my mind: racism and a lack of education. I know, I’m a jerk. Even so, I’d say similar prejudices exist about Southern Italy. It’s also worth noting that Campania (the region Naples lies within) has a colorful past. For decades, arguably longer, Campania’s public and private institutions have been corrupted by the camorra (mafia). We can’t get into all of that in this particular blog, but it’s fascinating stuff and I think it’s safe to assume such nefarious dealings did not serve the local community, ya know?
My only point being: life up North is noticeably tidier.
Getting Into An Italian Groove
Upon arrival at Verona’s Stazione Porto Nuova, Billy and I take a quick bus ride to Piazza Brà, the center of the historic district. At least, we thought that’s what we did. In reality we ended up on another bus that did deliver us to Piazza Brà but only after a 45 minute tour of a neighboring suburb. Honestly, the bus was air conditioned and since Italy is in the midst of a month-long record-setting heat wave… we didn’t really care. We check into our B&B just in time to take a riposo (the Italian version of a siesta).
We walk to dinner, admiring the buildings adorned with charming balconies and warmly colored stucco. I revel in the peacefulness. With the exception of nap time, Naples is always bumping; Verona has a quiet buzz that is much less frenetic. After a delicious dinner, Billy and I take a passegiata (evening stroll) – intent on finding some gelato, of course. For this we go to Via Mazzini, Verona’s most famous pedestrian street. Lined with upscale shops and gelaterias, Via Mazzini connects Piazza Brà and Piazza delle Erbe, home to important sites like the Arena and the Torre dei Lamberti, respectively.
Wisely And Slow, They Stumble That Run Fast
Up bright and early the next morning, William and I make our way to the alleged Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House, of Shakespeare’s famed play. The walls along the courtyard entrance are covered with marker scribbles in the style of ‘So-and-So + So-and-So 4Ever.’ There are a few postcards and written letters stuck to the wall with band-aids, presumably because this is the only adhesive foot-weary travelers have on hand most of the time. Billy finds this totally off-putting and I don’t disagree. Once inside of the courtyard, a statue of Giulietta and the balcony come into view. The home was once owned by the Da Cappello family which is a derivative of the name Capuleti. I’m a bit of a skeptic but Billy, ever the romantic, thinks that maybe this could be the very place that inspired The Great Bard.
It is only midmorning and already the sun is beating down on us, the air thick with humidity. We walk sloooowwwllyyyy to Torre di Lamberti, the tallest tower in Verona. While normally happy to squeeze in some extra cardio on vacation, Billy and I forgo the stairs and take the lift to the top. We soak in the sights below, thankful for the breeze. I notice the Winged Lion statue down in the Piazza delle Erbe and am reminded of how close we are to Venice. We’ve both been there before but it would be nice to go back together… maybe next time. There I go again, always wanting just a little bit more!
The heat prevents us from venturing much further and, after a quiet lunch, we sneak in a nap before the concert. Seeing the Arena all lit up is so exciting! Anyone who has been to Italy has undoubtedly put in some serious time clambering over ruins in the hot sun and touring dusty old churches. At some point even history buffs have to admit, all of this ancient stuff gets a little… well… old. The Arena fills with eager concertgoers and swells with music, finally offering a hint of what it must have been like to attend a show there in its heyday. It’s electric.
In the morning we bid adieu to Verona and, surprisingly, there is a sense of relief when the graffiti of Naples comes into view. And that is maybe the best thing about The Italy Project and our recent marriage: though it is all new, there is a strange sense of finally coming home.