Thursday, October 29, 2009

Where We Lay Our Scene

“There is no world without Verona walls.” And being one who likes world, I felt that I'd have to go explore that for myself. And I assure you that within those city walls, there is a world. A world unlike any you would have expected.

Verona is an honest to god Italian town. It's not the Florence, Venice, or Rome crowded with tourists (sure there are a few, but they keep to their prescribed paddock mostly.) And it is full of surprises. Let me tell you of this town, shall I? Verona is built within the bend of a river. On three sides the water protected it throughout history, and a city wall blocked off the other. The toll booth that was used to allow and prevent access to the city still stands in its original state. And before it stands a Roman stadium. The third largest Roman stadium. In terms of size there is the Colosseum, then some other one, and then the one in Verona. Could you picture two star-crossed lovers meeting there to take is a show? Or some sort of extravagant event?

And unlike the Colosseum, this stadium still get regular use. There's an opera festival held there every year. Once you hit Verona, you'll notice something – or maybe you won't, but you'll feel it tugging at you, there just below the surface, and suddenly it will strike you. The sidewalks, that which your feet have been clapping against for the last little while, are not made of anything as pedestrian as poured cement, concrete, or asphalt. No, for this is Verona, and the sidewalks – some roads even – are made of marble. Looking for the serpentine fossils that impregnate some of the tiles can be a fun way to pass the time during a midday wander. Almost like watching for shooting stars overhead – but more prehistoric.

As you wander the streets you'll eventually make your way to the big open air market. You'll know it immediately by the large statue of a lion overhead. I'm told this lion was placed there hundreds of years ago to let the people know that they were a conquered city. More than that though, is a mystery. In the middle of the market a stone canopy stands, which once held the official scale for the weighing of all goods sold here. Today it make for a place to sit, and watch others buying sparkling masks, chestnuts, and an assortment of tasty treats.

From the market there are two obvious destinations, but we'll take the one less touristy for now. Over one of the streets hangs a giant whale bone, brought back many generations ago, and suspended. Story has it that it was placed there to remind the citizens that there was a whole wide world waiting to be explored. Maybe Shakespeare had it wrong, and there was in fact more outside the ancient walls.

You'll find yourself face to face with Dante in the next opening. Well, a statue of him, anyway. In any other city this would be a well known area, that people would flock to for their picture of he who was exiled here. But no – those tourists have gone the other route. We'll get there eventually. First we need to continue our walk down to the river. There is a church along the way, and it's apparently quite beautiful. And if you haven't seen enough churches yet, then by all means go inside, poke around, look at the little hunchbacks.

The water, as is often the case with this life giving element, was beautiful. Reflecting the yellow leaves, turned by the arrival of Autumn made for a most picturesque view, as the hills grew higher in the distance, with every closing step. From the bridge, a view of the waterway makes for a perfect place for two so very in love to pause and share in each others embrace. But what might their warring families think?

And it is for that reason – for those two – that Verona is so well known, that Dante is so ignored, and why the tourists are all condensed into one small area.



Back to the market, the other road leads to the street where the hat makers once lived. The Capulets – if you will. And it is here that some say Juliet once lived. Looking up at the balcony overhead one might almost start to believe this, most likely constructed, fantasy.

Juliet's balcony extends from a building covered in climbing ivy, as beautiful as you could have imagined. And to get to it, one need pass only through an archway, covered in the scrawls of lovers come to leave their mark behind. Notes, and names, and hearts paint these walls on route to the fictional young girl's house. And they are not left only by teenagers. Bring an extra market, for a couple in their fifties, young daughter being dragged behind them, may ask to borrow one so they too can leave their mark.

And then there is the statue of the young lady herself. People clutch her breast in order to find true love. Or so the story goes. Nevertheless, stay there for more than a few minutes, and you will see the statue of the thirteen year old girl inappropriately touched all number of times. And if you happen to be there as a tour passes by, well then – won't you be in for a treat.

For one euro you can listen to an audio guide of the house's history. For one euro both connected phones are allowed access to the message. Once more, lovers connect here.

Yes, it's touristy Рyes, it's cliché Рyes, it's lovely.

And after three hours exploring the town, and taking in the sights, you can leave – having seen the local life, the small markets, the large markets, and everything in between.

From Venice, Verona is a mere one and a half, or two hours by train (depending on what line you take.) And at only six euro ten each way, it's quite an affordable escape. Even cheaper if you, like myself, happen to arrive at the train station on a day that the ticket machines are down. Just hop on and buy a ticket from the man who checks your ticket – you may be told. However, when no one comes to check said ticket during the hour and a half journey, off you hop – having travelled free of charge.

Back in Venice, I was allowed the delight of wandering through the darkened streets back to my hostel. This was something I'd wanted to do for some time, strangely never having gotten around to it. The number of times, and ways, I got lost are best not discussed. But, after all, it's Venice! And after all, that's just part of the charm.

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