Being in Italy can feel claustrophobic at points. It’s not just because the country is long, thin and narrow with streets to match. The cities rarely feel like busy metropoli, buildings rarely reach a height over
ten five stories and the regional loyalties makes even the most cosmopolitan areas feel provincial. Of course, these are all reasons to love Italy, but they are also reasons that Italy can be so difficult for foreigners.
The best way to get myself out of this rut is to travel. Italy is probably one of the most monument/historically dense countries in the world. You start making a list of the places you want to vist and, two hours later, you only just come up for air while scratching your head and commenting that it might be a bit of a stretch to go to all of these places during your time left in Italy. That is, essentially, the traveller’s dilemma.
Last weekend I crossed Verona and Vicenza off my to-see list. Verona because, well, it’s Verona. The city with a roman arena and home to Romeo and Juliet. I chose to see Vicenza after reading Bill Bryon’s comments on the city in At Home. I decided that the two cities were close enough to be seen in one weekend. It was a good choice.
Vicenza was Friday afternoon to Saturday morning; the ideal amount of time in which to see the city if you’re there during the winter when the villas are closed. There’s not much to see in Vicenza, but it’s a cute city. I stayed at the seemingly only hotel in the city, Albergo Due Mori, and was able to walk across the city in roughly fifteen minutes. The sights are interesting, but underwhelming. Teatro Olimpico was cool to look at, but only for about five minutes. The museums were okay, but ridiculously small and over priced. The city was cute and pretty enough to capture my initial attention, but not striking enough to keep me captivated.
Verona was gorgeous, more beautiful than I expected. I got hopelessly lost leaving the train station, a fantastic omen for any city into which you are newly-arrived, I would argue. After finally finding my hotel and getting settled into the most beautiful room I’ve stayed in thus far in Italy, I got ready to go and find some lunch. I searched my guidebook for a good osteria at which to enjoy traditional cuisine and quickly found one that looked nearby on the map.
And, just as soon as I figured out where I was, I got lost again. Fortunately, after spending thirty minutes walking around the streets of Verona getting hungrier and hungrier, I had a good understanding of how the city was organized and I’d arrived at my destination. The bonus, besides working up a hearty appetite, was that I didn’t get lost for the rest of my time in Verona.
Walking into the osteria I was greeted with a loud, jumbling mass of hungry and wine-thirsty Italians. I was tempted to run away and find a more familiar environment, but the music filtering through the room were songs they play at Strala and I decided to stay. I’m glad I did, not for the food which was mediocre, but for the experience. There was no menu, the waiter rattled off the daily offerings from memory. I ordered white wine. I sat at a high bar and read without worry.
The rest of the afternoon was spent running around going to museums and historical sights. I went to Juliet’s house, the Roman Theatre, the Torre di Lamberti (and nearly had a panic attack at the top) and the Church of Sant’Anastasia. It was amazing. I pushed my annoyance out of the way as snow began to fall as I was walking around roman ruins because, really, how many people can say that they’ve walked around roman ruins in the snow. My hair might have been ruined, but I had a once in a lifetime experience.
Sunday began in one of the few acceptable ways: a brioche and a cappuccino at a large, relaxed cafe. I managed to sit for a while and write letters, trying to forget the horrible weather outside. I spent the rest of the day running around, trying to get the most out of my Verona card as I possibly could (a 15 euro single ticket that lets you get in for “free” into most museums and churches in the city). I saw the Arena di Verona, and nearly had a panic attack when I found myself at the top of the complex and looked down. It is much, much higher than it seems. I saw Juliet’s tomb, hysterical, and Castelvecchio. I am, finally, starting to get sick of all the Madonna col bambino paintings. Let’s keep them in the churches, where you expect to find them.
Lunch was at another osteria, Osteria Sottoriva; a very authentic experience. Once again, I was moderately petrified when I walked into the shoe-box sized restaurant, but the hand-written menu assured me that quality would be there. And it was. My crespelle con radicchio rosso e ricotta were fantastic. My white wine was nice as was the little chocolate coffee mousse cup I was given for dessert. It’s always worth eating at the places in which you stick out like a sore thumb. You’ll get the best food, or at least have an amusing story to tell.
The afternoon was spent in churches, which wasn’t as bad as it might sound. The Duomo was breathtaking as was San Fermo di Maggiore, though neither was quite as astonishing as Sant’Anastasia.
Verona and Vicenza was a full weekend with more stories and jaw dropping moments than I could possibly list in a single post. If you need place to go to in Italy, I couldn’t recommend Verona higher. Vicenza is great, but not as breathtaking and laughter inducing as Verona was. Travel far!
Do you enjoy taking long weekend trips? What’s your favorite mini-break destination?