Caspar Institute logoitinerary   < 17 September Varenna, Italia   20 September Verona >

to Verona - 19 September 2011


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Down the mountain and eastward

Finally, a map! In Varenna at Albergo Milano, we suffered interrupted connections with the world of data, and suffered for it, but as soon as we got back on the main track, in Verona, we could connect. Comparing this voyage to previous ones, a major awareness is of how dependent we (or I) have become on my internet connection. I can't spell, I don't know, I am lost without it.

And so, as always, travel is broadening because it forces such awarenesses on us.

All roads lead to Milan, and our trip to Como was a lobe off that focal point. Starting where everything starts, Stazione Centrale, we went to Como by train, then by bus to Tremezzo. Up just behind us over the first range of mountains hangs Lake Lucerne and Switzerland, and as everywhere in Europe (where national boundaries used always to be, and are once again becoming, transparent) the local culture, including the food, the language, the way houses are clustered, blends over toward the Swiss style. On the Swiss side, of course, Swiss culture bends toward Italy.

After our Tremezzo time, we ferried over past Bellagio (not even worth a name on my map, in my esteem) to Varenna. Mixed reviews there. The best part, aside from three stellar meals: the storm, and the insight it gave us of the moods of the huge lake. (Funny story about Bellagio: there is a local rhyming saying that says Como is a man, his head in Colico, his feet in Como and Lecco ...and his testicles are in Bellagio.)

So today, we begin the trek to Verona by train from the little station in Varenna ... by way, naturally, of Milano.


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Across the lake, the valley leading to Switzerland has cleared, but our breath is taken away when we walk around the corner and are confronted by the higher Alps, painted white by the storm. 

Many visitors awaiting the train are grumbling about the storm, how it has chased them down out of the mountains prematurely. We don't feel that way at all. It is just time for us to move on. Romantic Como? We are not good judges, after 30 years of semi-permanent romaticism, we don't need narrow lanes and a big lake to feel that way. Just lucky, I guess.

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Barely time for the WC, and then onto a EuroStar City (fast train, but not superfast) onward down the Po Valley to Verona. Milan's Stazione Centrale is a huge bustling barn completely awash in hustling humanity.


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Seventeen (or maybe more) binarie (tracks) play constant hosts to trains departing every which way ...and trains are enthusiastically adopted by all but the wealthiest Italians for any travel beyond local. It is very encouraging to see. We are such fools, to have killed our trains.

Our train smoothly glides out through Milano's disorderly backyards on the minute, and within ten minutes is back in the rich agricultural Po.

Rochelle's seatmate, a sweet elderly woman with only Italian, is gracious, then dozes. The train is so smooth it feels like floating.

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Tre Marchetti

Soon, the train ride is over. Our travel guru, Rick Steves, tells us exactly how to exit the station and avoid the long boring walk downhill into Verona, and in minutes we are checked into Hotel Milano (what else?) with internet and a view of the top of the Amfiteatro out our window. But who cares about that? It was time for lunch!

On a hunch, we walk through ornate, one might even say garish, doors, and are greeted and seated by a dapper young man. We do our best with Italian, and he humors us. Before us, the liners are as ornate as the restaurant's entryway. A very imposing gentleman, the owner, stops by and greets us. This is beginning to look promising. 

The liner refers, of course to opera, Verona's most important product. Every summer, the ancient Roman arena is filled with what many consider the best opera outside La Scala in -- guess where? Milano.


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If you share food, as we do, the Italian way -- in Italian food, everything is ordered -- your food comes out "family style," all at once. 

They had me at the salad. Beautiful, as fresh as this morning, with the standards, olive oil and aceto balsamico, for dressing. Only this time the balsamico is the real deal, honeylike in consistency and redolent of twenty years of waiting to reach my palate. I am so swept away by the rest of the meal -- minestrone di fagioli ("big soup with beans") and a local pasta whose name I have forgotten in a shrimp and mushroom sauce -- that I forget to take a picture.

After we finish and are sitting happily aglow, our waiter offers us a plate of exquisite little pastries. "From the chef," he says, in perfect English, "with his thanks."

 

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We later discover that we have stumbled unintentionally into the high church of Veronese cuisine, and experienced "food produced to the highest standards anywhere in Italy." We nevertheless digest gratefully, and wonder again at the plenty we keep getting served here.

When Verona awakes from its early afternoon nap, we walk out again to see why this city takes its balconies so seriously. Here's one in the Piazza della signoria ("...of the Lords" ) that blends architecture from seven centuries seamlessly.

The lion, denotes that this was once the realm of Venice. Before Milan was much more than an upstart, Venice dominated commerce from the far east almost to Milan's and Florence's city gates. This meant that the rich agricultural valley of the Po, plus all the riches for which Venetians traded, built everything here that dates from 1300 onward.

It's all about Romeo and Juliet now, of course. The fictional "birthplace of Rome" and "The Home of Juliet" are what people crowd to this city from around the world to experience. In a touching way, it is very romantic. Couples with babies come when they are finally well-established enough to solemnize their love here. Young courting couples come. Affection oozes like sap. It is unlike anything we have ever seen.


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Poor Juliet's right breats is rubbed shiny from all the paws that have touched it in hopes for longevity of relationship. One ays ten euros for the moment on the balcony above while a friend or other visitor is dragooned into snapping your picture. The walls of the portico are covered with layer upon layer of loving graffiti. The air vibrates with romance.

Outside, the street and nearby Piazze del Erbe is taken up with vendors selling trinkets, embroidered aprons, made in China memorabilia. Sorry to be so unromatic, and it is touching ...but it completely misses the point of Verona, and it is entirely made up. Shakespeare's story, borrowed, if I recall correctly, from an Italian folk tale, is imagined, and might have easily happened in any number of northern Italian cities ...or not.

Not far away, a statue of Dante Alighieri, the architect of the modern Italian language, and Italy's most gifted wordsmith of the last millennium, stands mostly unattended. A man who, it is said, never smiled, stands immortalized in bronze looking toward "Juliet's House" in perpetual wonderment that the crowds do not flock to him and rub his toes shiny in well-deserved homage.

You just can't beat a good love story.

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We wandered outside the tourist sector into the neighborhoods, stood on the banks of the mighty Adige river, enraged by the recent rainfall, found a neighborhood gelateria being mobbed by the neighborhood children and their mothers, and otherwise threaded the back alleys of Verona. A nice place.

A guidebook recommended a place "where locals eat" and when the time came we headed over and, after some more threading the alleyways, found it. Italian cities of this age are abundantly supplied with alleys barely a car's width, and in some of them, improbably constant streams of cars speed by. And others are completely pedestrian. Sharp angles between and along these vias make it likely that you'll stick your nose out just when a vehicle blasts by, so negotiating the back streets is a sport for the cautious and swift.

The ristorante was a delight, busy with a young crowd, with all-in-black waiters zinging amongst the close-placed tables. We had a wonderful pizza -- margherita, the national pizza, plus ham cotto (cooked),  a great salad, and birra alla spina -- beer on tap. The meal was spoiled by a large Italian family with completely untended children. They had arrayed themselves with father most insulated, mother and female friend (hmmm? to whom the father mostly spoke), then several chairs for others who never arrived, and then the riotous children. "Judge not," I kept telling myself, but it couldn't have been plainer that none of the adults wanted anything to do with the children. And it seemed the children resented the hell out of it, and intended to act out until someone did pay attention. Finally the restaurant staff took away two tables (for the never-appearing other guests) and forced the family to a table too small for the parents to ignore their children. Didn't completely work. Meanwhile, 'round about, other tables of Italians looked disapproving, shrugged, and kept eating their pizzas. Us too.

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