04 January 2016

In Fair Verona

Arriving in a new city is always an interesting adventure. Some cities are gorgeous from the start. The small places in Germany, Paris, Rome...these are all pretty, or else impressive, when you arrive.

Then there are the cities that drop you at a bus or train station that seems to be in the middle of Sketchville. Or those that make the city look like it's entirely industrial. Venice was one of those places. If you stop at the Mestre station, part of your brain can't combine the facts of "I'm in Venice" and "This is Venice." It's just not very pretty until you get to the actual island.

Verona's train/bus station lives in an odd place between Sketchville and It's So Pretty I'm Gonna Die. We arrived during a slow time, and most things looked kind of bland. At first I worried that Verona was going to be more like Milan than Venice. But once you go a few bus stops to the Arena, Verona is THE CUTEST.

Everything you need to see in Verona (as in, the big name sites like the duomo and Juliet's balcony/house) is in a couple of miles' radius. We had a room in a tiny B&B just two minutes from the arena--essentially a mini colosseum. It was a fantastic location, and even though we we only a few seconds from the big things, we spent a few hours walking around.

One of the things I love about Italy is the architecture. Even though most of the buildings look like they were designed by the exact same person, there's something eternally charming about iron balconies and red-tiled roofs. I have so many pictures of multicolored streets with iron balconies covered in small gardens. And the shutters! I just don't think you can beat the look of an old town center in Italy or France. When I get home I probably won't be able to separate which city each photo goes to. But I don't really care. I'll keep taking pictures of random buildings until my phone fills up.

If Venice is a magical labyrinth, Verona is the opening scene of a Disney princess movie. I suppose that makes sense, since Shakespeare put Romeo and Juliet there. Cute town = romance, right? And "quaint" doesn't quite cover it, but it gets relatively close. So, how about "quaint romantic"? As if that can't describe every city and town in Europe. Ha.

If you ever get the chance, go to Verona. Just don't spend too much time at Juliet's house...we were there on a Sunday afternoon and it was PACKED. to get inside the courtyard, we simply inserted ourselves in the crowd and let it carry us to the right place. If you pay a few euro you can go in the house and stand on the balcony, but why do that when you can stand in the bustling cortyard and watch people creepily caress a statue of Juliet? Apparently it's good luck to rub her right breast...some people do it comedically. Some do it like pedophiles.

In general, if you see a crowd of people walking toward something, follow them. We ended up at the base of a castle (well, we think it was a castle...or monastery? Something?) with a fantastic view of the entire city. The sun was setting in fog and gathering rainclouds. There are few things better than watching a sunset while surrounded by Italian couples making out. Wait...not that last part. That was just slightly awkward.

For dinner we went to what felt like an Italian Chili's; Bri was starving and our first plan ended up being a bit too expensive, so we stopped at the first place we found. I ate an entire pizza by myself. Because Italian pizza. You need no reason besides that.

The super fun part of Verona happened when we left this morning. We had a 9:40 train from Verona Porta Nuova. The bus + walking inside the station would take 13 minutes. We were walking out the door at 9:10 and the owner Carmelina--for some reason behind me--just couldn't figure out how to add three person's worth of tourist tax to our room price. We stood there for ten minutes while she tried to add random numbers. Steph offered her a calculator, which she refused for five minutes. Carmelina spoke only Italian, and she kept saying things and nodding and mentioning numbers and shaking her head, and Stephanie looked up how to say "Our train leaves at 9:40" and only then did Carmelina think to call someone named Roberto whom it took about 3 seconds to add up our total and get us on our way.

At 9:30, we ran, backpacks and all, to the taxis.
At 9:33, we got in the taxi.
At 9:39, Bri and I ran into the station while Steph essentially threw 7 euros at the taxi driver.
And at 9:40:30, Bri and I arrived on Platform 3 just in time to watch the last few cars disappear down the tracks.

Few things start the day off as well as missing a train first thing in the morning.

Thankfully, there was a train leaving at 10:02 for Turino which would also stop in Milan, where we were meant to change trains for Geneva. We had to buy new tickets for the Verona-Milano leg, but our Milano-Geneva tickets were still fine.

I'm actually impressed we've only missed that one train so far (if you don't count that one German train that was late--totally not our fault).

02 January 2016

Magic (aka Venice)

When I was in Italy in 2008, my friends and I spent most of our time with absolutely no idea where we were. We actually had--gasp--paper maps. Paper. Maps. And we used them to get around. It was surprising every time we arrived somewhere we *meant* to visit.

Smartphones changed everything about European travel. My sisters and I have used GPS daily to tell us where we are, where to go, what's nearby....until Venice.

I swear there's something in the air that confuses technology. People spend even amounts of time holding hands and starting dumbfounded at their phone screens. There's no mistaking the "Where the eff am I?" look in every language. The alleyways in Venice are like a sneaky labyrinth. You think you're headed the right direction, then you suddenly are forced to veer right and left, and you end up in a piazza behind where you started. The streets seem to move around you, like a puzzle that gains new levels depending on the steps you take.

But it's beautiful, and romantic, and kind of depressing to be here with sisters and not a significant other. It's been cloudy and since the island is pedestrian only, every sound is hushed. It makes it so easy to imagine you're alone in your own personal city.

Incidentally, we were here for New Year's Eve, and Venice put on the most spectacular fireworks show I've ever seen. Just...wow. Waterfalls of fire and light.

Concerning Busses...I Mean Coaches

Instead of "busses", I should probably say "coaches". Steph keeps correcting me on that. Yet, no matter how comfortable your coach is, it's still a big bus. It's nearly impossible to sleep on those things.

Unless you're 4'9" and weigh 3 pounds, in which case you can just curl up on two seats like a cat (I'm lookin' at you, tiny Italian teenager).

I've come to the conclusion that I'm an Amazon living in a world built for midgets. My knees are intimately acquainted with just about every seat back from Venice to London. Turning sideways doesn't create more room for long legs--it simply provides more surface area for the seat in front of you to bruise.

BUT I do have to say it's pretty fantastic to be able to get from Rome to Venice for only €19. It's a six-hour trip, but just short enough that the cheap price keeps it worth it. And when it gets you to your destination half an hour early, that's even better.