Verona at Last
This is where the adventure starts. (Verona, Veneto) I leave the comfort of my friends’ guesthouse (in Lucca, Tuscany) a little bit hazy from the night before (can I blame it on the sulfites?) and board the first of 3 trains to Verona. 5 hours goes by very quickly and I’m comfortable enough to nap occasionally. Upon arrival in Verona, I follow Rick Steves’ directions to get a bus ticket and within 2 minutes, the bus arrives and takes me through downtown to the apartment where I am renting a room through an incredible site called www.EasyStanza.it I can’t disguise being a tourist at this point because I keep smiling at the beautiful architecture here. That, and the “stupid American” grande suitcase that makes it looks like I’ve smuggled a few friends into the country. I must learn to travel lighter, though my excuse this time is a bottle of wine and litre of my friends’ olive oil in the suitcase for my new host.
He arrives on his scooter just as I reach the front door, and by the time we have entered the apartment we have used no fewer than 4 keys. Though we have never met, we have exchanged messages on Facebook after the initial contract to rent through the room rental service. My apprehension soon dissipated once I found I could understand and communicate with my new host, and I started unpacking. After a short nap, I am offered an espresso and a tour through the city via the scooter. I think this is the perfect Italian experience, so I accept and off we go, zooming through the little streets and alleyways with Piero, my host, pointing out the beautiful churches, the arena and the walkway along the Adige River.
We stopped at his friends’ bar, where in the morning one would go for an espresso, and enjoy an aperitif creation of Aperol, sparkling white wine and an orange slice. I enjoy these light, bitter and sweet concoctions, especially with some hot bites of pizza, which magically appeared on our table. For a first-night treat, my host cooked pasta with tuna and capers, which we enjoyed with a delicious wine from Verona, a 2006 Pasqua Villa Borghetti Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore. The color is dark ruby, but not inky, with soft aromas of raspberry and dried herb. The first taste makes me say “Italy” because to me this is typical Italian wine. The fruit is subtle, with dried cherries and then a hint of bitterness in the finish. With medium body and excellent balance of acid and flavor, it was hard not to take a sip with each bite of food. I like that.
After dinner I spent about two minutes on the Internet, and then was ready to crash, and instantly noticed how grateful I was to be in someone’s quiet, safe home rather than in a stale hotel room. I slept like a worn-out tourist.
Today is the first of April, and the Italians also see it as a day for jokes and call it “pesce d’Aprile,” Happy April Fish Day! I opened my balcony door and looked out on the other apartments and the hillside beyond where the ancient wall that once completely surrounded Verona stands. A little to the right, I can see the peaks of snow-covered mountains. I leave the house and head straight to a little dry cleaner to beg them to iron my shirt for the expo tomorrow. My little clover is working and the lady does me a favor, Grazie! Then, on foot I set out for the center of town to do a walking tour as prescribed by my favorite no-nonsense travel guide, Rick Steves. The sun starts to come out finally and I visit two churches, the largest in town, Sant’ Anastasia, and the town’s cathedral, or Duomo, both with beautifully decorated interiors, redwood-sized columns and famous frescoes.
Despite Steve’s typical frugality when it comes to eating, the recommended lunch spot was incredibly expensive…but delicious. I enjoyed pumpkin ravioli (one of my favorites), and slow-cooked veal bites with polenta. No wine to report at lunch (I need a break!) but the list was impressive. This trattoria was tranquil, a worthwhile indulgence after maneuvering through the crowds of Italian and American students queuing up for Juliet’s house. This is, of course, the home or at least setting for Romeo and Juliet. Apparently, any and all letters addressed to Juliet’s house in Verona will be answered. It might be worth a try if you find yourself looking for romance advice, but Caveat Emptor, and consider the source!
Tomorrow, VinItaly commences, with 4,000 wineries and vendors all divided by region. I have appointments with several wineries; so stay tuned for tasting notes. I intend to be there with pressed shirt (assuming the lady at the dry cleaner’s wasn’t April fooling me!) and white teeth, and a secret stash of gluten-free crackers to keep my stomach full.
I will spare you a photo of my purple teeth tomorrow, but suffice to say that I’m searching the cupboards for some baking soda – this could be brutal on the smile.