Verona: Looking for Romeo under some balconies

A few weeks ago, I planned a lazy, cozy PJ weekend spent dozing and catching up on movies.  But when a couple of friends invited me to Verona, I couldn’t say no.  A new city!  Yay!  Unlike Shakespeare, I was actually going to see Verona.  Yup, he set his star crossed lovers in this quaint medieval city without ever setting foot in Italy at all.  When I announced my departure on a Girls Night Out skype chat in NY (well, they were still up, and I was about to hop into the shower), they said “Have fun looking for Romeo.”

“Where do I find him?”

“Check under some balconies.”

Sleepy yet excited, I met my friends at that train station and we headed on over for our adventure. We were greeted with torrential rain upon our arrival – bummer.  We walked to our quaint hotel, which was midway between the city center and the train station, and began exploring.  Knowing nothing at all about Verona and having not even seen a guidebook, the city was a complete surprise.  Quaint castle.  Cool bridge from that castle with views over the river and the panorama of the city.  Various lookouts filled with tourists and necking teens.  This was definitely THE makeout spot for the Vernoese – wannabe Romeos charming the pants off their girls in that old fashioned lip lock we so often forget as we grow older and  . . .anyway.

My friend kept saying, “I love my life!  Seriously, I love my life.”

This was just a simple weekend trip for us.  Yes, I love my life.  We are so lucky.  Even in the rain, we were blissfully happy, wandering, exploring, just being.

Strolling through town, it was apparent that not just the locals were inspired by Romeo.  Many couples made it a kind of romantic pilgrimage to walk hand in hand in the streets that inspired the tragic love story.  People do love this story.  It came up in my 10th grade class, and all the girls swooned about how romantic and sweet the story is, and my snarky, sarcastic Korean student said “They die.  It’s tragic.  It’s horrible.  Nobody wins.”

And I said, “Would you rather have that amazing love and then die or would you rather live a long life and never know love?”

The girls said “love and die,” the guys said “life!”  hmmm.

After the bridge, we wandered in search of good food.  We heard that the people are really nice here and that the food is splendid.  We followed an amazing scent to a local restaurant where we learned that both rumors were true.  Our waiter was nice, sweet, funny, and spoke English!  Coming from non-touristy Genoa where almost nobody speaks it, this was a welcome treat.  I ordered macronicini with pumpkin and pork.  My friend ordered tortellini filled with a mix of meats. That sounded amazing and I went to switch and the waiter shouted an alarmed, “NO!”

Startled, I said, “Huh?”

“The macaronicini is amazing.  You must have it.  It’s my favorite.”

One friend switched her order and we were absolutely not disappointed.  Apparently the tortellini was delicious too, but that pumpkin … mmmm, such hearty flavor.  In Northern Italy, near the Sud Tirol, the food shows an interesting alpine influence.  Italian cooking — so regional.  Travel a hundred miles in any direction, and you’ve hit an entirely different style of cooking.  Living in Genoa, all the restaurants (and even the shops) feature ligurian cuisine, food from the land — simple compositions that let the ingredients shine.  But I get sick of the same thing over and over, and therefore love trying new cuisine!  YUM!

It was cold and wet, so we met up with friends at a bar.  They used to work with my colleague in China and are now at an international school in Albania.  We traded teaching stories, planned a visit, enjoyed lots of vino, then strolled through town, down cobbled lanes, into an old church with a funky pendulum, past a market, and then into another bar next to the coliseum, where I had 4 more glasses of delicious vino and aperitivos.  Chatting, enjoying, and relishing the evening.  Afterwards, we were hungry for more food and ducked into what we thought was a chill restaurant.  In our fleeces, with soggy hair, we didn’t exactly fit in with the packed crowd dolled up for date night, but we enjoyed our snug table by the open fire where the chefs cooked veggies and bread.  I had a simple onion soup, thick and tasty, while gnoshing on bread.  Then back to the hotel and to bed.

The weather got even colder the next day as the rain came down even heavier, so we decided to grab an earlier train home.  But first,  we grabbed a nice heated outdoor breakfast, featuring hot chocolate that was like melted candy bar … mmm… then we figured, hey why not . . . let’s go look for “Juliet’s House.”  Of course Juliet is fictional, but they set up a balcony and a bronze statue of Juliet.  Tourists rub her right breast for good luck in love and sex.  That breast was worn shiny by all the . . . love? I touched it quickly for a photo with silent apologies to the bard for the huge disgrace that must have him turning in his grave . . . but I couldn’t help it.  When in Verona . . .

The whole area, a little cove off a side street, has turned into a shrine for love.  Couples attach locks to a grate, engraved with their names.  Locks of Love.  I wonder how many of those relationships outlasted the lock.  I wonder how often someone comes over with clippers to ditch the locks.  And in the archway leading to the whole scene, couples doodled their names, initials, and love messages to each other within hearts.  The urge to mark, whether it’s a tree, a bathroom stall, or “Juliet’s” balcony.  The urge to preserve when everything is ultimately transient.

It’s hard to think of Romeo and Juliet without thinking of this song:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fiXkvsKpdk

Here are some pictures from our trip:

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