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The Urban Hike: Where Were We??

Good morning you all, everywhere (but mostly in The USA - nice to see you checking in!), A friend suggested that it would be fun to let yo...

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Hike 9: Verona (Northern Italy)

"Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"
When I first saw the play, I thought this a weird question (I was 11). Obviously Juliet knew that Romeo was...Romeo, right?
But when, a couple of years later, I saw it again performed at a Shakespeare festival it hit me that there was a lot more to that question, and when I had to explain the play to my secondary school pupils, now years (it seems eons) later, Romeo and Juliet had grown to be one of my favorite Shakespeare tragedies. I made myself the promise I would visit Verona if I ever had the chance.



This is the balcony in Verona where Juliet purportedly stood during this conversation, and whether this is the actual house (as some historians claim) or whether Juliet never existed so this balcony is a clever tourist trap and fraud (as other historians equally claim, as it seems to have been added to the house in the 1930's according to Wikipedia), let me tell you that I could easily believe that the nurse was waiting in the room next to it, whilst Juliet cried "Anon, good nurse, anon!".
Mind you, so could dozens of others, milling around in the courtyard, or vying for a spot where they could touch Juliet's bronze titty.
So I aimed my camera high, in order to bypass all those overheated heads.




I ADORED Verona. In fact, I have vowed to go and live there after my retirement in 10 years time (or perhaps 15; by the time I've reached 67 and my government has by then added another 5 years to the retirement plan...growl!).
In order to take this photo I had to climb some very steep stairs, but they were worth every one of them!

We arrived in Verona after a comfortable express train ride from Firenze, and let me tell you, our first view and whiff of this city made me fall head over heel in love with it. It smelled of herbs, flowers, pines. And it was cheerfully busy but relaxed, and you could walk from the station into the city in 10 minutes along leafy streets.
We dumped our backpacks in the B&B and immediately headed into the Medeaval city centre, where this gate greeted us.



Verona is not really very large, and it has something lovely for you to see at every corner.



It boasts two Roman amphitheaters, of which this is the Arena on the Piazza Bra where the famous Operas are performed every Summer.



This is the other one, Teatro Romano, except you cannot see it, as it is hidden behing those ancient walls right in the center of this photo. 
We were unlucky: Teatro Romano was closed the entire month of May, for restoration. But we climbed the hill behind it and took a peek into it from above.



As all Tuscany cities Verona is built around a variety of piazzas. This one is the Piazza Erbe, which borders on the Piazza Dei Signori, also known locally as Piazza Dante because of its statue of the famous poet. At one time, all those buildings facing the piazza had been painted; now only some of the wall paintings remain. In order to get here, we walked along Via Mazzini, but took in Casa di Giulietta, and the closely by Casa di Romeo as well. Juliet's house is a museum, Romeo's you cannot enter as it is a private residence.

But I took a photo of a courtyard in Siena, which you will have to pretend looks like Romeo's palazzo (I did!):



The river Fiume Adige holds Verona in a motherly embrace, and we hiked both riverbank walks starting at the Ponte S. Francesco right up to the Ponte Risorgimento and it was lovely. Whilst taking in the gorgeous views we determined to walk the ramparts and hills the next day, and we did.






Verona was ruled for centuries by the same family, the della Scala family, and they resided in this castle on the river, the Castelvecchio, which houses a museum today.
The Duomo (of course Verona has one as well) is also right on the river, on the Piazza Duomo.



It has a fearsome warrior like Angel in front of it, although now I look back I must admit this could be Santa Anastasia...Sorry, I saw so many of them I get my Santas mixed up...

The next day, again with glorious weather, we started walking the ramparts starting from the same bridge again, the Ponte San Francesco (to the East of the station). Those ramparts have been built during the Austrian/Hungarian - Veneto wars, and they have been very well preserved. The park laid out on top of it is mostly green, don't expect many flower beds. We left them at the Ponte Catena and cut off by taking the Via Farina Uberti and Via dei Mille to pick up the other side of the ramparts at the corner of Viale D'Annunzio. Now we walked all the way up the hill to high above the Castel San Pietro (where the mighty Visconti family lived), where we also had the stunning view of Verona I have posted below my  paragraph about Juliet. But here is another one.



Above the Teatro Romano.



Those ramparts were so quiet you couldn't believe you were above a city teeming with tourists!

We ended the day in a great restaurant on the Piazza Erbe called Téta de Giulieta, or Juliet's tit, where I had a local speciality: Stracotto di Verona: polenta with donkey stew - 9 hours stewed, assured the charming owner. When my friend wanted to take a photo of me and my donkey, he quickly sat down next to me. The owner, not the donkey.



It was lovely food! The Spritz was nice too. Perhaps I should not have spurned to touch Giuilieta's right Téta after all...It's supposed to bring you luck in romantic love.

Right: the nitty-gritty:
We walked approx. 36 kilometers in two days in Verona. It has some steep steps, but on the whole it is great and easy to walk there.
We stayed at B&B SweetVerona, on the Via Amatore Sciesa, which is only 10 minutes walk from the city centre gate and does a great breakfast. It only has 3 rooms (with a balcony!), so book well in advance.
Another tip is  the organic restaurant "The Kitchen", on the Via Nicola Mazza 63A
which does inexpensive wonderful fresh food.
Verona has a tiny airport, only 2 gates, but many West-European airlines fly there (we flew with Transavia-KLM), which is only 10 minutes by taxi from the city centre and costs €15,00.
Although beloved by tour operators we never felt crowded by fellow tourists in Verona.
Beware that the temperatures (now a wonderful 23 degrees C in the first week of May) can be as high as 40 in high Summer!

I'll leave you with a photo I took that makes me smile: design ice cream.
Hope you've enjoyed walking alongside me on my Tuscany urban hikes, and see you soon.
The next The Hike will be about Northern-England. Arriverderci!




Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Hike 8: Siena (Northern Italy)

Where we bussed from exhaust-pall covered Firenze to old Siena in a 'Rapido' bus that, in the end, took longer than the return 'Originale', in order to walk the Palio circuit.

Frankly, I thought it a blessed relief to be able to leave Firenze behind. Around 10 a.m. we boarded a creaking sky-blue local bus which would bring us to Siena - the rapido way.
In reality it took us almost half an hour at walking pace to even get out of the city. But after that the stunning landscapes of Tuscany kept me on the edge of my seat. It is leafy green, with vineyards and romantic villages, and at this time of year dotted with poppies.In short, just like the cliché Italy I liked so much when I watched "Letters to Juliet". Cliché or not, I loved it!


The weather had taken a turn for the better as well, finally the sun showed her face. We followed the other tourists into the old part of Siena, through one of the many gates. Siena is built up a steep hill, which makes hiking her streets a tiring affair for a flat  (and slightly too fat) delta dweller. But the gorgeous vistas around every corner urged me on and on.
Another difference with Firenze turned out to be the prices - Siena (her life-long rival) is slightly easier on your tourist purse, as long as you do not want to eat at the main square of Palio fame, the Piazza del Campo. 
If you want details about the Palio (the horse race) you'll have to look them up yourself - I respect the historical value but abhor the    race itself.





Siena is filled with images (mostly statues) of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus. I looked them up, not understanding why this typically Rome symbol features so dominantly in Siena.Unfortunately I couldn't find an answer; so if you know it, be sure to let me know?
Obviously Siena has her very own duomo: the Duomo di Siena, from the 12th century. It is stunning in black, white and rose colored marble- and reminded me of a wedding cake.





This corner detail shows you how lavishly decorated it is. I always try to envisage the marble-dusty stonemasons carving these decorations. I wonder how many of them were killed by the Black Death in the 13th century (when they were still building this duomo).

We walked Siena tirelessly, I swear we walked each and every inner-city street and alley. And, cat lover that I am, I found myself a cat:



Or could it be an otter, I wonder? Anyway, I wish I could teleport it to my garden.


Right, the nitty-gritty:
We walked 19.356 steps, which comes to roughly 26 km. Siena streets are STEEP, so be warned if your knees are troubling you.
Temps. were a balmy 23 degrees, but it feels hotter in the narrow streets, so take plenty of water.
We stayed in Florence, so I cannot recommend B&Bs.
The rapid bus Firenze-Siena takes 1.45 hrs, lol, and so does the slow one.
The link to a nice little video about Siena:Siena