Saturday, 28 April 2012


Castelvecchio (from the bridge)
Verona from above
Ponte Pietro
Well - it is almost a week since I got back from Italy, but it has taken me this long to get sorted out. So installment No. 1 is Verona, where we spent Sat-Tuesday of our week away. I have to say, even on the days it rained I loved it - a really great location for a city break, with the ancient town wrapped inside a huge looping bend of the River Adige.Our hotel (the Scalzi) was a short walk from the CastelVecchio, so with the advice of the very helpful hotel staff, this is where we started out tour. It is a large medieval castle, square built, with an interesting escape route - a bridge across the river. It has characteristic fish-tail turrets, the insignia of the family who help this and other strongholds in the area. From there we walked around the river to the Ponte Pietro, the old roman bridge and then back across the city - a trip full of interest, yet all compact enough for an out of condition desk jockey with a dodgy knee (ie me in case you were wondering).
Juliet's balcony
So why did I love Verona? Firstly the atmosphere was great - laid back, but buzzing, with layers of history. Below the medieval was early medieval and then roman architecture, the piece de resistance being the Roman Arena still intact and in use today, thanks to the plentiful supply of fresh stone and marble from local quarries. The Arena is still used for cultural events including the festival of opera in June, and the sets were in build when we visited - in pouring rain. The Duomo was full of art works - like every Italian church it seems with, in this case, roman foundations displayed through cut away and glass floors. The roman amphitheatre nestles into the hill, and after a stiff climb to the top of the bluff, there is a great view of the city.

Roman remains beneath our feet
The Arena at night
Verona is also the location for my awarded "best ever tourism enterprise". Juliet's balcony - as in "Romeo's Juliet's balcony" is located here, and tourists from far and wide come to write love messages on the walls of the villa and rub the right breast of the statue of Juliet for luck (or something!). Authentic tourism?? Well yes, but not authentic history. The (very) old medieval house was bought by the commune of Verona in 1910 and the balcony was added in 1935. Yes, 1935!!!! But people come in their droves and a small army of volunteers collect the letters left here and on the web site and reply with a "letter from Juliet".

Head-sized lemons
On Monday we braved public transport for a trip to Lake Garda. Originally I planned the train to Desenzano then bus to Sirmione, but the bus station was incorporated into the train station so in the end we went direct. Sirmione is at the end of a peninsula jutting north from the south shore of the lake. Across the entrance to the old town stands a 13thC castle with mutliple defended gates, moats and sea gates, all with signature fish tail battlements. However the first sight to greet us was a stall selling the largest lemons I have ever seen - I think they were amalfi lemons. We wandered round the very tall castle, from bottom to the top of the tallest tower, getting great views of the town and the lake before walking around the headland to enjoy more views of the lakes and mountains, including snow covered mount Baldo and beyond.  Just my poor planning though- the roman ruins - Catullo's grotto were closed for the day.

Sea defences
Lake Garda


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