The final stop on our Italian River Cruise (apart from Venice again) was beautiful Verona, famous as the setting for some of Shakespeare’s plays, including of course Romeo and Juliet. Our bus journey from the ship took us through the lovely Soave region with its vineyards on the distant hills. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona was one of my favourite destinations and one I would love to revisit for a few days.
Although some of its Roman monuments had been well preserved, an earthquake in 1117 destroyed many of them which led to a surge of Romanesque buildings, and a walk through the town revealed its elegance and history. Our transport deposited us beside the River Adige with its stunning views towards the hills and to the side, a partial view of the ancient Roman theatre dating from 1AD. After walking across the Roman Bridge, we spent the next couple of hours strolling through Verona with our lovely local guide.
Many of the streets are narrow and cobbled and every so often I wanted to stop and admire the architecture but it was a fairly long walk to the main square. Once again, Dante was recognised with a statue near the house where he lived for some years. The large fruit and herb square was a hive of busyness with market stalls up and down its length. Even if I’d wanted to explore it, we had to keep up with the guide, although we had free time later on.
After strolling through the elegant main shopping street (no touristy shops here), we arrived at one of the highlights of the tour, Juliet’s house, Casa d Giulietta. A whole romantic industry has evolved around this building and famous couple but the locals were quite slow to capitalise on it, which is rather sweet. The Capulet building is authentic, with their coat-of-arms above the inner archway of the courtyard. As to the balcony itself… our guide explained that the building had no balcony at one time but because so many tourists expected it from Shakespeare’s play, one was added in the 20th century.
It is through the courtyard, towards the back of the house, where we also found the statue of Juliet. By late morning in the middle of June, crowded is an understatement! So many groups of tourists, all trying to reach the statue and photographing the balcony - with an occasional female even leaning from it. It is said that you should touch Juliet’s right breast for luck. I contented myself with managing to sneak a quick photo in between the crowds! Next to the house is Juliet’s Club where they make souvenirs and answer the many letters posted on the wall through the archway. If you want to know more about it, the lovely romantic film, Letters to Juliet, is well worth watching.
On the Via Arche Scaligere, there is an authentic 12th century house that seems to have belonged to Romeo’s family but we didn’t get the chance to see it and some of the rooms are incorporated into a nearby restaurant. We wandered on through the heat until we reached the impressive Roman amphitheatre, one of the highlights of my visit as it is one of the oldest in in Italy and home to the famous Verona opera. Once through the gates, we were able to sit on the stone steps and enjoy the ambience while watching the open-air stage being set for that evening’s production. Going by the parts of Egyptian-style set we saw, it must have been Verdi’s Aida!
I would love to go back to Verona for a few days and attend the evening opera in the open air. Our guide explained that it doesn’t start until around 9pm so the torch light makes it a special experience. There are chairs all round for those who don’t want to sit on the ancient stone steps. Lunch that day was during our free time so we wandered down to the market square and had pizza in one of the outdoor cafés so we could watch the world go by. Unfortunately, it was one of the hottest, most humid days of our trip so we were all very happy to relax in the air-conditioned coach on the return journey to the ship. I’ve already told my husband that I'd like to combine a holiday to Verona with Lake Garda, so watch this space!