One Gentleman (And Three Women) of Verona

balcony2by Nancy Bestor

When we booked an apartment for a week’s stay in Verona this past summer I knew little about the city, other than it being home to one of the world’s best preserved Roman amphitheaters, which still hosts a world-renown summer opera series. I had no idea that Verona’s most popular claim to fame brings thousands of Japanese tourists each year for an hour long stop (according to my man Rick Steves), on their way from Milan to Venice.  What is the attraction, you ask? The House of Juliet. The fictional home—complete with balcony—where Romeo gazed upward at his lover Juliette, and spoke the fictional words “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?”

kissThe House of Juliet, to repeat myself here, is the fictional home of Juliet, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of tourists (and I put myself into this category) from gathering every day in the courtyard to look up at the balcony and snap picture after picture. We passed by the courtyard and house several times during our week in Verona, and each time it was packed with tourists. We toured the upstairs museum in the House of Juliet, which you cannot enter unless you pay the museum fee. It’s not worth it, unless, as in our case, it is included in your Verona Card.  The highlights in the House of Juliet museum include standing on the balcony and kissing your husband in front of hundreds of tourists looking up at you and embarrassing your teenage children in the process, AND reading some of the real letters written to Juliet, seeking advice in the department of love.

statueAnother favorite activity in Verona was strolling through the high end shopping streets of the city. The pedestrian-only lanes are highly entertaining for people watching as well as window-shopping at pricey stores. Most every night we’d buy a gelato and stroll the avenues, listening to street musicians and gawking at the high prices, including one store that charged for clothes and shoes by their weight.

For gelato, Venchi, on via Mazzini near Piazza Bra deserves a special mention. In a country full of this fabulously delightful treat, Venchi stands out and is definitely worth a detour to sample its deliciousness.

Several churches are also worth a visit, including the Church of Sant’ Anastasia, and its massive pipe organ. Lucky for us, the organ was being played during our visit, adding just the right touch of dramatic atmosphere.

meatOur big meal out was at Trattoria Al Pompiere, our apartment owner’s favorite restaurant. Pompiere is also highly rated by both Rick Steves and Trip Advisor. The best part of the meal was the gourmet meat and cheese antipasti plate, with outstanding cuts of a variety of prosciutto, salami, pancetta and more. After ordering, our waiter sent over the charcutier, and we were faced with the daunting task of discussing our order with him and choosing from an array of meats each specifically prepared and aged and all available for our consumption. Pompiere was excellent and full of Italians, always a good sign in my book.

Notes on Verona:

  • We rented an apartment through The one bedroom, although small, was centrally located, and a good price (875 euros). It was great to stay in a neighborhood, shop daily for groceries, and cook all breakfasts and some lunches and dinners. It also featured a washing machine, which was perfect for the middle week of our three-week trip.
  • We bought Verona Cards for 20 euros each for the two adults, and discounted for our teenage girls. The Verona Card includes admission to most churches and museums in town, a great savings for our weeklong stay.
  • In the courtyard of the House of Juliet, there is a bronze statue of the fair maiden. Legend has it that if you fondle her bronze breast you will be lucky in love. Since I am already luckier than I could have imagined, I passed on the opportunity.

A Night at the Opera in Verona

by Bob & Nancy Bestor

We spent a week in Verona this past summer, and of the many sites and events on our must-do list, I was most looking forward to seeing the opera Aida at the outdoor Roman arena. The amphitheatre, built in AD 30, seats more than 15,000 people.

We had tickets for the cheap seats (about $28 euros each), packed in shoulder to shoulder with others right on the stone benches of the amphitheatre. The arena was full, with well-to-do opera aficionados on the red-carpeted floor of the amphitheatre, dressed to the nines, and the riff raff, sitting in shorts and other casual clothes, filling the benches all the way to the top around the arena. After being herded into the low price section like cattle, we settled in to our not so comfortable “seats” to await the start of the 9:15 evening show. At the last minute, Sarah and I had to bail out on the show, but Bob and Emily remained. This is their story. ~ Nancy

Let’s just say that my musical tastes lean a little less…..cultured. With virtually no prior opera experience we had done our homework and knew two important things: Aida dies in the end and the opera is four acts long.

But even our untrained ears, from the very first notes, knew that this was a special performance. First off remember that the venue is an outdoor two-thousand-year-old stadium that seats 15,000. Yet the opera was performed without the aid of a modern sound system. No microphones, no speakers, no megaphones, no pre-recorded music, etc. And yet there we sat, well into the cheap seats dozens of rows up, and both the orchestra and the singers came through clear as a bell.
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