Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Verona: Part One

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. (Shakespeare)

11:00PM February 16

Friday morning I got up with Sean, Adam, and John to go check out this music store which Sean had been told was the best music shop in town. We'd planned to get some sheet music there: hopefully something that we could play together. It turned out to be a store that only really specialized in wind instruments and had a meager selection of sheet music. While we were waiting for Sean to pick up some things for his reeds, we talked to a trombone player who was hanging around in the shop, and we told him we were music students from New York studying in Italy. He turned out to be a member of the Tuscan National Orchestra, and he offered to get us a free ticket or two to the next concert. He was also great friends with Sean's bassoon teacher here, and Sean says he should be able to get us another two tickets from his teacher so we can all go.

After our mild success, we went back to another music store which Adam had been to a few days earlier. They had a great selection of sheet music there, so we browsed for a while, but I didn't get anything, as I soon had to head off and meet a few of the girls for our trip to Verona--one or two of them had obligations in the morning, so we planned to leave on the 12:37 train. Jaimie and I had planned the trip earlier in the week, which would take us to Venice the next day, and Kate, Yvette, Marielle, and Brittany decided to join us, but Jaimie felt the cold she'd acquired over the course of the week reach its peek that morning and decided not to come.

When we got to the train station, we still had a bit of time to kill, so we went to the McDonald's. I find it fascinating that even McDonald's is better here. They still have a bit of that McDonald's smell, but I pass one on regular basis, and they have nice furniture inside, better uniforms, and even abstract art on the walls. The menu is also different, and significantly tastier, although a bit more expensive. They were advertising a new fried spinach bite--which looked pretty good--at the train station. I opted for the curly fries though, and I have to say, it was a pretty good batch of curly fries. I don't understand why the quality of service and product has to be any less in America? Maybe because they can get away with it.

Before boarding the train, we made sure to validate our tickets. Marielle was on a school trip to Padova, not too far from Verona, and she planned to meet us there, so it was just me and the three other girls for now. We took one train to Bologna, where we had to transfer to a second which would complete the journey to Verona. This first half of the train ride was really scenic. We road through the Apennines, which are similar in height to the Appalachians, but with more peaks, and are also enhanced by the Italian structures inhabiting these hills. It was really pretty, and I got some of my best train pictures yet, as the windows were quite clean.

When we arrived in Bologna (below), we soon found that we were only allotted four minutes to transfer trains. Our next train departed on "3w," but the track "3" platform only went as far as letter "F," and no trains were to be found waiting on any of those tracks. We were stumped, as we walked through the underground passage below the trains, until I noticed the sign for the west platform, only, in Italian, west is spelled "oveste." It didn't make sense at all, but there on the "Oveste 3" platform was our "3w" train to Verona. We were about to board the train, when we remembered we ought to go back to the top of the track to validate our tickets. This whole time we were basically running, but we made it on in time. We jumped on the train, and as we walked through the first car, looking for any empty set of seats, the train departed.

Bologna Centrale Stazione

The farmland north of Bologna

Approaching the Alps

We took the first set of four seats together we could find, in the upper deck of the fifth car (yes, it was a double decker, train.) Those seat were in the back of the car though, and our window was small and dingy, so as soon as another set in front of us opened up, we switched to get the view. This half of our voyage was extremely different from the first: it was entirely flat and farmland. It didn't seem that exciting until we began to approach the Alps. I hadn't realized that Verona was near enough to the mountains for them to be a presence, but still a half-hour away we began to see them. It's been a long time since I've been to any significant mountains, and this was quite the refresher. They were truly magnificent. The only problem was that our train had a technical malfunction, and we sat for an hour, only twenty minutes outside of Verona. It was frustrating, but we did have the mountains there to accompany us. Eventually we did get moving slowly and made it, but that was another hour we didn't get to spend wandering the streets no longer inhabited by the fictional Montagues and Capulets.

We were going to wait for Marielle at the train station, as it seemed her train would be arriving only a half-hour after ours, but she soon called to let us know she was on a later train. At this point, we decided to venture into the town center. Our first great views in the city came outside the old fortress, Calstelvecchio, and the adjoining Ponte Scaligero (top). The sun was just starting to go down, and the mountains in the background were majestic. During our walk, Kate and Brittany realized that the bags they brought were a bit heavy to be lugging around, so they caught a bus with Yvette out to our bed & breakfast on the outskirts. I decided to stay in town and wander on my own while waiting for Marielle. I went back to walk across the Ponte Scaligero for the end of the sunset and took some wonderful pictures, at which point I got a not so wonderful phone call from Marielle. She had gotten off at the wrong Verona train station.

Walking over the Ponte Scaligero

View to the west from the bridge

Looking back on the Castelvecchio from Ponte Scaligero

I quickly raced back to a local shop to ask where this "Stazione Vescovo" was. I was quite proud of myself, as I had two conversations completely in Italian with local shopkeepers--the first one didn't have much of a clue--who gave me directions I again understood. The station was off of the map I had, four kilometers outside of the city. I called Marielle back, and told her to find one of two bus lines which went from Vescovo to the Castelvecchio. I would wait for her there. She ended up finding someone who spoke English that helped her board the bus, and in the meantime, I tried to see some of the other sights nearby.

By this point, I got a call from Yvette saying that the bus ride was confusing, and it took a good bit to reach the B&B, so they decided to stay out there and eat dinner. We would meet up again when we checked in. I walked around outside the main city center, Piazza Bra', home to the famous amphitheater of Verona, two blocks from the Castelvecchio. The "Arena" looked a lot like the pictures I've seen of the Colosseum, just not quite as tall, and it is indeed a relic from the Roman era, dating back to A.D. 31. My longtime interest in the Ancient Romans was definitely a factor in my coming to Italy, so it was incredible to now see some of their buildings in person, which to this point have eluded me. At the center of the piazza was a small park, and the outer ring included a large Fascist-looking government building, a museum, and a long line of restaurants that made great arch about the piazza. I hadn't heard back from Marielle again by this point, so I continued walking onwards to "Juliet's" house and balcony, the brilliant Piazza dei Signori, and eventually the northern edge of the Fiume Adige, which wraps itself in a big crescent around the city center.

Piazza Bra'

The Arena di Verona

Juliet's balcony. On the bottom left is her statue, as promised by Montague at the end of the play as he and Capulet restore peace to Verona:

O brother Montague, give me thy hand:
This is my daughter's jointure, for no more
Can I demand.

But I can give thee more:
For I will raise her statue in pure gold;
That while Verona by that name is known,
There shall no figure at such rate be set
As that of true and faithful Juliet. (Shakespeare)

Piazza dei Signori

I was getting worried about what was happening with Marielle, so I called her, and found out that she had missed her stop, only recognizing that it was the Castelvecchio after the bus had already departed from the stop. The next drop-off was at a hospital some twenty minutes outside town (by foot), so I walked out there and met her. It was quite dark at this point, Marielle is a really small girl, and she had been really uncomfortable on her own in this foreign city. It was such a relief when I got there, and fortunately it all worked out with everybody safe. We walked back into town and
had dinner at one of the restaurants on the grand Piazza Bra', where we split a pizza and salad. Although the pizza was a bit disappointing, the salad I ordered was one of the best I've ever had. It consisted of large slices of roasted peppers and eggplant draped over a small bed of greens, and swirled with a relatively bland, but texturally pleasing dressing which really brought the whole dish together.

We then tried to catch the bus out to the bed and breakfast, but the public transportation was stopped by this time (just after 9:00), so we had to take a cab out to the hotel. In my haste to get out of the city, I ended up trying to wave down a white car that had just let someone off in the town center and looked just like the other local cabs, but, in fact, was not, as I found out when the driver gave me a funny expression, wondering why I would like a ride in his car. We then did find a cab at the taxi stand a few feet away, and arrived at the hotel some ten to fifteen minutes later.

The hotel was really nice, and they had free internet access, which is better than I can say about my apartment back in Florence. The stay also promised a hot shower in the morning, which has not been a reliable commodity at my apartment of late either. It was great to reunite the whole group, and we each rehashed our own mishaps of the day.

Verona Porta Nuova train station at sunset while initially waiting for Marielle

Walking into town from the train station on Stradone Porta Pallo

These columns reminded me of the unfinished slaves by Michelangelo at the Academia Galleria in Florence, holding up the building as the slaves would have done in Pope Julius II's tomb.

My first view of Castelvecchio from the end of Stradone Porta Pallo

The Arco dei Gavi

Ponte Scaligero

A fabulous old Fiat

The clock overlooking Piazza Bra'

Ed. note: It has been brought to my attention that Esselunga is, in fact, not a part of the Berlusconi empire, as I was previously told by my politics teacher. It is, and always has been, owned by Bernardo Caprotti and his family.

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