I started this article while I was still in Verona but got sidetracked leaving for Venice and then the Greek Islands. Verona (and the Veneto) has a different ambiance (for lack of a better word) than other towns and cities I’ve visited in Italy and not at all what I expected.
After reading the section on Verona multiple times in a DK Eyewitness guidebook of the Veneto, I was super excited to see it but not everything was as described. In retrospect one less day here and one more in Venice might have been a better itinerary.
I’m going to write this post sequentially, day by day, while the experiences are fresh in my mind. I try to use my travel journal as much as possible, although sometimes my first impressions change on reflection.
My sister and I traveled by train to Verona on Saturday October 7th. We left from Firenze where I’d been taking an Italian language class (which definitely did not help me in Verona) taking the high speed train through Bologna and on to Verona. We took a cab to the apartment for about 11 euros.
We stayed in an apartment (la Casa Rossa) that was convenient to the centro and the train station, although it took me much longer than usual to orient myself and for the first two days, I took us the wrong direction every time we left the apartment. This was my 3rd experience with an apartment in Italy and compared to the others, it was well furnished especially the kitchen. We had a nice balcony and could sit in the ground floor garden whenever we wanted. We also found it helpful that the owner lived in the apartment above us. We absolutely froze the first two days until we had the nerve to ask the owner about heat and she turned it on for us.
Saturday, after unpacking, we decided to walk along the river (the Adige) and after several wrong turns I got us on the promenade. The views along the river were lovely and we could see what turned out to be the Teatro Romano and Archaeological Museum on a hill across the river.
We tried to find an enoteca recommended by the apartment owner but couldn’t find it then or two other times we looked. So we wandered in to a little Osteria where I managed to order two glasses of wine but when I tried to order a plate of meat and cheese the waitress looked at me like I had two heads. (That was my first clue that the Veronese unlike Italians in Tuscany or other regions don’t jump in to help when you try to speak Italian and seem to like to fluster English speaking tourists. That said I flustered a couple of Veronese by understanding them when they rattled off prices.) Even so she did bring us a huge plate of meats and cheeses with a basket of crusty bread. It had been a long time since our cappuccini and brioche so we dug in, then had two more glasses of wine, all for 29 euros. (This little place was about one street off the river, close to the Duomo.)
It was late afternoon by then and I managed to get us on the street to Castelvecchio. We needed to go there first since we had bought Verona cards online and the instructions said to exchange our paper ‘receipts’ for cards at Castelvecchio.
The castle itself and its setting along the river are impressive but I was underwhelmed by the interior for several reasons. (1) I was sure that we had purchased a 48 hour Verona card but the man at the ticket office insisted it was only for 24 hours, which meant that we only had 24 hours from using the card at Castelvecchio to see all the other sights. (2) Based on my travel guide and the Verona tourist web site I thought the museum had modern art but it was room after room of dark medieval paintings, mainly Madonna col bambino. My sister likes that type of art but I don’t really care for it. (3) After walking through the ground level, we went up stairs into another area of the museum, where a man came up to us speaking rapid fire Italian. I could figure out that he wanted tickets so I pulled out my Verona card and he angrily demanded tickets. I was completely baffled until my sister finally realized out that what she thought were receipts for our cards were our tickets. (4) After wandering through more rooms, we went outside to the battlements where there are beautiful views of the river. When we came back through the outside door, a woman came rushing up to us practically yelling ‘uscite’ over and over, forcing us to go back outside, down some steps and through a hallway to the exit.
I’ve been in many museums in several countries and never been treated like that. Still it was worth it for the views, if nothing else.
We covered a lot of ground on day two, Sunday October 8th, in order to maximize our Verona Cards so I’ll talk about the sites in the order we visited them.
We started with the arena largely because it was close to our apartment. According to my guide book the arena ‘is the third largest in the world’ and having just seen the Roman colosseum in September 2016 I was expecting to be wowed. While the exterior is striking, in my opinion, the interior is ruined by the scaffolding, lights and metal seats used for summer opera. All we could see were workers tearing down the set for a Beauty and the Beast ice show. Still we got some interesting pictures, particularly of the exterior.
The arena is located in Piazza Bra and I expected to be wowed by it too based on the guide books and online information from the Verona Tourist web site which says ‘A testimony to the city’s vitality and the setting for numerous events taking place in Bra or Arena has been made more scenic by the new cast iron structures, supporting the colored tents designed by master Franco Zeffrelli and designed by architect Gualtiero Rizzi.’ What? To me it looked like a way station where hordes of tourists meet people off their meds.
From there we took a pedestrian street (via Mazzini?) that was one high end fashion store after another and so clogged with tourists, mainly Asian, that we could barely move trying to get to via Cappello to see Casa di Giulietta. My guidebook pooh poohs the Casa saying there’s no evidence it was actually Giulietta’s house and we weren’t expecting much more than a tourist trap which appeared to be the case given the hordes of people in the courtyard trying to touch the boob on the Giulietta statue—and as an aside, I think the city should make people pay to get into the courtyard.
Once inside though, we found the house lovely and walked to the very top floor and back down. There aren’t a lot of furnishings in the house but I especially liked the fact that on each floor there is a stand with a page from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and a photo from one of the many movies. And the frescoes and decor in the rooms are charming.
From Casa di Giulietta we wandered through Piazza Erbe (more on it later), past the Duomo where we got some spectacular shots of the spires against the blue sky, (see photo below) then crossed Ponte Pietra to the Teatro Romano and the Museo Archeologico which at the end of the day we decided was our favorite place.
There’s not a lot to be seen of the Teatro, just the semi-circular seating built in the first century. From what I’ve read it’s now used for concerts. From the Teatro we climbed up to Santo Stefano which was once Verona’s cathedral then on up several more levels to the museum. The original museum was begun in 1923 in the rooms of the ex monastery of St. Jerome. (My guide book says there’s a lift to the museum but we didn’t find it until we had completed the last level of the museum. And a docent or staff member made sure we knew that if we took the lift down, we wouldn’t be able to get back in.)
I thought the Museo was one of the most stunning archaeological museums I had ever seen. The modern display cases show the artifacts in their best light and provide interesting information. We were amazed not only at the presentation and preservation of the artifacts but the range and depth of every type of statuary. The outside grounds are beautiful and offer views of the city and the Adige River.
From the Teatro and Museo we walked to the Giardini Giusti. According to the map and information sheet, the land was purchased in the 14th century by the Giusti family for a wool dying factory. The factory was replaced in the 15th century with the palazzo and gardens that still exist.
The lower ‘Italianate’ gardens are divided into 9 square sections formed by box hedges within which there are statues of Roman gods, fountains, cypresses and flowering plants.
We walked through the palazzo which reminds me of a miniature Pitti Palace and then walked along the edge of the gardens to the wooded area to what seemed to be the eastern side, climbing to the grotto. From there we strolled up and down the paths between the ‘squares.’
Even though the gardens seemed much smaller than what they appear online, it was a lovely break.
Afterwards we walked back across the river and had a long lunch of pizza and wine at ‘Cuppa Café’ sitting outside along the river.
Our last stop of the day was the Romanesque Duomo. I thought the exterior was far more striking than the interior with the exception of the baptismal font which was very interesting.
After the baptistery, we walked through the cathedral itself. There was a lot of scaffolding and somehow I missed a Titian in one of the chapels.
We decided to get vino and dolci at the supermarket and managed to walk back to the apartment without getting lost. We sat in the garden with our wine having a few laughs talking about our day and what we liked.
Monday October 9. 2017
We spent the morning doing laundry as well as trying to decide whether to buy train tickets (for Padua and Venice) online or at the station. We finally decided to buy them online after finding a web site for an ‘internet café’ across the river where we thought we could print off the tickets.
I bagged going through the church and after getting bus tickets, I walked up the Corso for about a half mile, returning to the church about 20 minutes later. I waited another 10 minutes then went in and drug Sue out.
We walked up and down the street where the ‘internet café’ was supposed to be but never found it. Luckily the apartment owner was home when we got back and after explaining our predicament, she agreed to print off our tickets.
After all that we left the apartment again and walked to Piazza Erbe, checking out our bus stop on the way. In the piazza we bought the signora a new kitchen towel and bought ourselves scarves that turned out to be made in China. Lol.
We, then, went to Signorvino, an enoteca which has several stores throughout Italy including one in Firenze, where I’d eaten dinner with my language class. We had some prosecco along with little sandwiches then a red wine that Sue liked so much that she bought two more bottles.
(Post trip note: The only disappointment on this trip was that we didn’t have a car and couldn’t get out in the countryside to visit vineyards. I contacted the vineyard that produces the wine Sue bought and they said I could buy their wine from an outlet in the U.S. but I never figured out how.)
We backtracked to a store where we’d seen fresh pasta, buying pasta, sauce and sweets for dinner.
Padua (Tuesday October 10, 2017)
In planning our Veneto trip, Padua seemed like a good day trip from Verona; slightly more than an hour by train with a number of interesting sights from the Scrovegni Chapel to the Duomo with several lovely piazzas in between, along with Caffe Pedrocchi.
After sketching out a possible itinerary, it occurred to me that I should check to see if the Chapel and centro were within walking distance of the train station. In the process of finding out how to get to the centro, I ran across a Trip Advisor forum saying that you had to get a reservation for the Scrovegni at least a day in advance using their website.
So on Monday after getting our train tickets (8 euros one way), I got on their website. OMG!! What a nightmare! After choosing a time, I tried to make a reservation but found that I had to set up an account with a user name and password first. But when I tried to log in, the site wouldn’t accept the user name and password that I had just set up. After 15 tries, I gave up and decided to wing it.
My biggest mistake in organizing the day trip was not getting earlier train tickets but I was nervous about taking the city bus to the station. That turned out to be easy peasy though and I regret not giving us more time.
As we crossed the bridge on Corso di Popolo, we saw a lovely garden or park on our left and the tower of the chapel just behind it.
I assumed incorrectly that the entrance to the chapel ticket office would be through the gardens and we ended up circling all the way around through Piazza Eremitani before we found the entrance. On the plus side we did spot a restaurant (Pizzeria agli Eremitani http://www.eremitani.info/ ) where we had lunch.
Once we found the entrance we got in line for tickets. A staff member assumed we wanted reservations and tried to make us go to a tourist office. I finally got her to understand that we wanted tickets for that day and she left us alone. Then the man selling tickets assumed we wanted the first available time and printed off tickets for 1:40pm before I could tell him we wanted 3:00pm tickets. So he hand wrote the time on the tickets which came back to bite us.
From there we continued through Piazza Garibaldi to the centro, looking for Caffe Pedrocchi. We found a via Pedrocchi but walked past the Caffe in part because of scaffolding around the building and partly because I was expecting something completely different. Sue spotted a tourist office and we went in to get a map finding that the Caffe was right behind us.
We walked around the block again, going in through a more formal area and then into the Caffe itself. We each had a yummy cappuccino and brioche and used their wifi to try to re-send our train tickets to the apartment owner (successfully as it turned out later.) Sue also took the opportunity to send e-mails and check Facebook.
From there we wandered through some of the side streets to Piazza Erbe which has a mercato of fruit, vegetable and flower stands and then to the Duomo. The Duomo itself is free but we bought tickets for the battistero.
We walked through the Duomo and a crypt below the church, both of which are very interesting because the former has some modern sculpture next to the traditional religious art and the latter has some lovely stained glass.
The frescoes by Giusto in the battistero, in my opinion, rival those in the Scrovegni Chapel and were more than worth the 6.50 euro ticket. You can’t take photos but you can see the frescoes at https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/giusto/padua/index.html. Also the docent was extremely informative and pleasant unlike some of the other staff in both Verona and Padua.
From there we walked back to Piazza Eremitani and had a quick but delicious lunch of a shared calzone and wine at the pizzeria mentioned above.
We arrived back at the ticket office around 2:50pm and initially some officious woman tried to give us grief because of the hand written notation on our ticket. Eventually we got past the dragon and walked through an interesting sculpture garden to the entry area.
After we were admitted, we watched a video about the origins of the chapel; how Scrovegni paid for the chapel to try to keep his father out of hell for committing usury. Then we got our allotted 15 minutes in the chapel
And it is spectacular with frescoes of the life of Christ as well as judgement day and Giotto praying for his father’s forgiveness.
We had planned to wander through the various museums in the complex until we needed to go to the train station. What a cluster! First we were thrown up against the wall by a guy who acted like we didn’t have tickets when you can’t get in without purchasing a combined ticket for the chapel and the museums. Then he insisted we had to go in the Pinocateca first. Once in the Pinocateca, every time we tried to go one way, a staff person jumped out at us, yelling in Italian or French, that we had to go the other direction.
It was totally bizarre and by the time we escaped the maze there wasn’t time to go through the other museums although we walked through the courtyard where there were some interesting archaeological artifacts.
So we went back to the gardens for a while, taking pictures then walked to the station where we had to kill time for 35 minutes before our train back to Verona. The return trip went smoothly and we got our bus tickets in the Verona station, then got back to our stop fairly quickly.
While Sue showered, I trudged up to Signora Butti’s apartment for the 50th time to see if she received our latest attempt to send the train tickets. Miraculously she had and while I was in the shower, her husband brought them down and fixed the wifi.
Thinking we looked pretty good, we wandered down to the trattoria at the end of the street, Trattoria al Bersagliere, where the owner made us eat in the bar although at least 20-30 people came in after us and were seated in the restaurant. We were treated like garbage—poor service, slightly above mediocre food plus I’m pretty sure we were charged for a salad I didn’t order. The next day I wrote a scorching Trip Advisor review and added it to my ‘Where not to eat’ post.
Wednesday October 11, 2017
We spent the morning organizing our suitcases, then went out to ‘fanny about’ between 11:30 and noon, stopping first at a bancomat to get Sue some euros then to Castelvecchio where we took pictures of the Arco dei Gavi. The Arco was moved from Corso Cavour to its location next to Castelvecchio after being damaged by French troops in the 1800’s. We walked along Corso Cavour to Piazza Erbe where Sue bought a cute table runner and we took more pictures of the piazza.
As you can see from the photos, Piazza Erbe, has numerous kiosks of both local and not so local products and like most piazzas is surrounded by restaurants and cafes.
On our way to the piazza we bought post cards and stopped at a tobacco shop for stamps. When the guy said they were 2.50 euros apiece I thought he was jerking us around. So I talked Sue into walking to the post office on the other side of Piazza Bra. As we walked to the post office I saw a restaurant about a block off the piazza and after checking the menu, I walked up to the entrance to see about a reservation. The waiter (manager?) was almost effusive, putting his arms around us and saying he’d save two table for us. After the previous night’s debacle, we were hooked.
We chugged to the post office where the clerk confirmed the price of stamps to the U.S. but then said they didn’t have any. Go figure.
So it was back to Signorvino’s for wine and a sandwich, a stop for gelato and back to the apartment. I worked on reviews for a while, started this article, sent another e-mail to the Venice hotel, took a shower and left a note for the signora about a taxi for the morning.
As we walked to Ristorante Rubiano we stopped to watch some street performers in Piazza Bra near the arena. When we got to the restaurant, we agreed to sit outside since they had heat lamps plus those plastic ‘curtains’ to keep out the cold. We dithered about the ‘set menu’ or ordering a la carte. I would have preferred the set menu but Sue seemed to want the latter. I ordered mixture of fish and vegetable tempura, some of which was good, others not so much. Sue had a tomato pasta with lobster that was quite tasty.
When we ordered dessert, a chocolate ‘salami’ with custard, I tried to order a vin santo. The waiter said that vin santo wasn’t available in the Veneto so I ordered a limoncello for both of us. I had noticed that everyone was smoking but Sue forgot her cigarettes so I asked the waiter if there was a tobacco shop nearby. When he brought dessert, he brought two cigarettes along with a free local dessert wine.
It was a very pleasant and fun 2 ½ hours but it set me back $90. Yikes!!
We left the next morning for Venice. One of the pluses of our apartment stay was that the owner called a cab for us to the train station.