Italia! and Verona

Sunday19th April 2015, Peschiera, Lake Garda
We’ve moved on from our pleasant campsite in Iseo with its weirdly eccentric electric taps that would only work when you really didn’t want them to – such as just after you’d gone and poured in a bowl of hot water from elsewhere to fill the sink. Then they’d promptly flood you with cold water! Quite impossible to clean your teeth as they’d not been programmed to recognise a toothbrush, and they stubbornly refused to work when Ian attempted to shave!

Why does Italy love expensive gadgets that never work properly? Our first campsite in Iseo had toilet seats that flipped up when you stood up and sprayed your posterior with a mist of disinfectant – no fun on a nocturnal visit when you are still 9/10ths asleep! The next campsite meant waving your hands above your head to prevent the light going out every couple of seconds!

On our way here we stopped for fuel. Nobody was around so we tried to use our card. Nothing happened! The pump refused to deliver. Eventually they unlocked the office to say their computers were caput so would we please go away. By this time there were some six other angry customers clutching hoses and petrol caps. A voluble exchange took place. It all sounded rather musical to our ears. One driver patted my arm and cried in despair “Italia!”

This evening we arrived to catch the train back to Peschiera to find the doors locked shut. Gallant Italians forced open one of the doors and we all clambered on board. The train then waited 20 minutes past departure time but made up most of the time on the very first leg of the journey by going like a bat from hell! The lady opposite me sighed apologetically as we hurtled through the countryside and muttered “Italia!”

Arriving back here in Peschiera we got off at the door previously forced open, only to discover the other doors were still locked and many of the passengers couldn’t get off! There was banging from within and shouting from those of us on the platform but the engine driver was in a hurry and couldn’t hang around to let passengers out, so off he went, taking them all with him! Next stop Milan, 90 minutes down the line!! “Italia!”

Eskimos, we’ve heard, have many different words for snow – something that deeply affects their lives. Italy has almost as many for things not being allowed, something that deeply affects their lives. Everything, it seems, is forbidden unless it specifically says it’s not. >Vietato, divieto, prohibido, no toccari and even dissuasore mobile (this to stop cars going down the street) are but a few in a long list of common Italian words and phrases I’ve discovered for this. This site actually employs special rubbish police (I kid you not!) who will go down the list with you when you try to empty your bag of used jars, tins, plastic bags, coffee grounds and wine bottles, checking that you are not smuggling through something that is vietato! They’ve even got nappies and sanitary towels on their list! They count, strangely, as dry rubbish! I won’t mention what passes as wet rubbish!Why can’t common sense prevail as it does throughout the rest of Europe? We find it rather amusing but also irritating. This evening Ian went to drop our used Bardolini wine bottle in the skip labelled glass, only to find it locked and a notice telling him it was prohibido to leave it beside the container. He trotted out of the main entrance to the campsite thinking there might be another container outside the gate. Not finding one he returned, to be immediately arrested by the rubbish police for trying to smuggle his waste bottle into the campsite bins! He explained, as best he could in Italian, what had happened and they demanded to see the special blue armband been issued with when we arrived! We are not pickles or jams to be labelled for the duration of our stay and would feel silly outside the camp wearing a bright blue armband so they were both left in Modestine. Finally they asked for his pitch number. How can we remember the number of every pitch we use? They eventually had to let him go. He returned to me, semi-traumatised and still clutching his empty wine bottle! “Italia!”

Meanwhile I’ve discovered that it’s “vietato” to hand wash underwear in the sink, put anything wet in a paper bag, park on my pitch facing inwards, write below the line printed on the postcard I paid for and, worst sin of all, it is “severamente prohibido” to wash my fish in the sink!

I enjoyed that rant! Now to catch up on our latest activities. We had a hot, slow and difficult journey to reach here. Anything that doesn’t follow arterial routes is awkward and it took most of yesterday to travel some sixty five miles through countless small towns and villages, each with their regulation humps and 30 km zones. Road surfaces really are a mess here. Lake Garda is supposed to be the most beautiful of the lakes. I don’t think it’s a patch on Lake Iseo. It’s very commercialised and it’s impossible to see the lake from most of the hotels and campsites – including this one. We chose this particular place because it is near the railway station and we wanted to get to Verona and Mantua by public transport, so we are not too bothered but others seem to come here for the atmosphere!

We have yet to explore the lake and the town. Yesterday we walked into the old centre, built inside a huge fort, but as we arrived a sudden wind sprang up, scattering postcards from outside shops, blowing down framed pictures for sale on the street and smashing a ceramic bust that was on display! The sky turned a deep lead grey and rain began to splatter. Deciding we’d best get under cover before the storm broke we found a free museum of fishing history on Lake Garda. We were visitors 2 and 3 for the day! Actually it was very enjoyable, set up by local fishermen who couldn’t bear to throw away their broken 1950s vintage outboard motors or their old eel catching spears.

When we came out it had turned rather cold, wet and windy and we scurried back to the shelter of Modestine where we cooked a hot supper and settled to watch a dvd rather than blogging - it being vietato to attempt to use the internet unless we first handed over ten euros and signed the official secrets act.

This morning we were up and away before the rubbish police had time to realise we’d ignored their vietato notice prohibiting us from disposing of our recyclables without authority and we’d emptied a couple of washed yogurt pots into the correct container before they’d even arrived for the Sunday morning shift! We were at the station in good time for the 9.40am train to Verona. We had to miss it though as the ticket office took so long to serve the three people ahead of us in the queue. We eventually left thirty minutes later on the 10am train that left ten minutes late. “Italia!”

We have to say that today has been worth all the effort involved in getting us here. It’s been a comfortable day for walking around with a slight breeze to keep us comfortable. The train left us at the main Verona station just outside the city walls. These have been breached for traffic now but the gateway has been retained. It was an easy, sunny walk down into the town where a huge Sunday market was taking place in the Piazza Bra and around the base of the Roman amphitheatre.

Piazza Bra and amphitheatre, Verona

Cheese stall at the Sunday market, Verona

This was a produce market about everything that Italy does best. That’s not just pizze and panini. There were hundreds of stalls selling olive oil, sundried tomatoes and garlic in olive oil, olives, tapenard, all kinds of different breads, sweets and biscuits, beers, wines, hams, cheeses and roast meats. It looked as if almost as much was given away as samples as was sold. Certainly nobody looked as if they were going hungry for lack of samples. The fair spread right around the park beneath the trees. To one side we watched a display of line dancing – Italian style, before eventually buying a large roll stuffed with fresh roasted pork which we took to a park bench to share. It was ample but Ian’s sharp eye had seen a Hungarian stall selling kürtöskalács. These we have eaten several times in Hungary and the sight brought back happy memories of our travels in Transylvania with Peter and Kati. When we asked in Hungarian for a vanilla one the two young men looked astonished and then they both began chatting to us as if we were their long lost family! We had to gently explain, as best we could, that we were English and they’d all but exhausted our entire Hungarian vocabulary. It was a lovely experience though and the hot spiral pastry tube of sugar-coated kürtöskalács was quite as delicious as we remembered.

Selling kürtöskalács in Verona

The fair was a bonus. Now though we wanted to see this very pleasant city of Verona. This was our second visit. We were first in Verona in 2007 but there was much we’d missed so today has been a sort of mopping-up operation. It was a Sunday but if anything the streets were even busier than they would be on a weekday. We were swept along the pedestrianised streets of the town centre, past the smart fashion shops filled with the best of Italian clothing designs. Eventually the flow became a crush and we were swept into the courtyard of the house of Juliette, a member of the Capulet family. It was here, according to Shakespeare, that she had her secret meetings from her balcony with young Romeo, a member of the Montague family and sworn enemies of the Capulets. Their love story is known throughout the world. It has been depicted and re-enacted in hundreds of different ways. “West Side Story” is a modern American version. “Romeo and Juliette – the musical” is currently showing in Verona. There is even a Chinese version and China has presented Verona with a marble statue depicting the lovers, oriental style.

Romeo and Juliette. A gift to the town from China, Verona

Verona has done very well from Shakespeare with two of his plays based on Verona. It seems a pity therefore, that the only tribute the city has paid him is to name a street of modern flats on the outskirts after him. Scant homage for making the city known to the entire world!

We have to say the courtyard in front of the house of the Capulets has a complete carnival atmosphere with people dressed up as frogs and fairies mixing with the crowd. Visitors were crammed in tight together – we found it rather claustrophobic. The wall at the entrance is coated thickly with messages written in lipstick, crayon, indeed anything. They ask Juliette for her intervention in their love lives and it’s all rather a circus! The house itself is lovely but ruined by the atmosphere of the courtyard.

Courtyard to the house of Juliette, Verona

The writing’s on the wall, Verona

We escaped as soon as we could squeeze out and continued through the lovely main square, the Piazza delle Erbe. This is lined with cafes and restaurants. It is built on the remains of a Roman forum. At the far end is the winged lion of St. Marc.

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Next we visited the lovely church of Sant’ Anastasia, where mass was taking place. The walls are beautifully painted and decorated inside.

Entrance to Sant’ Anastasia, Verona

Interior of Sant’ Anastasia, Verona

Making our way to the Duomo, we chanced on the Baptist church. The service could be heard right down the street and sounded such fun we slipped inside. Nobody was sitting in the pews listening respectfully to the clergyman as we’d seen in Sant’ Anatasia. Here, the congregation including women and children, were all up the front singing, dancing and waving their arms. They were all of black African descent and they were enjoying their religion in a very different manner to their fellow Christians in the cathedral round the corner! They took it as a matter of course to be watched, with a certain degree of envy, by curious white fellow Christians at the back of their church.

Duomo, Verona

After visiting the Duomo we took a rest and a much needed coffee at the Cathedral tearoom before continuing across the old bridge – the Ponte Pietra, to investigate the remains of the Roman theatre on the far bank of the river Adige.

Roman theatre on the far bank of the Adige river, Verona

Bridge across the Adige river, Verona

Ian then climbed up to the Castel San Pietro for some wider views over the city. I climbed half way up but, discovering a park with a view of the church where we lit a candle in memory of our friend Dorothy who died in this city, I stopped off for a few moments quiet contemplation.

View over the city from across the river, Verona

View onto the bridge from across the river, Verona

Houses along the riverbank, Verona

Remains of the Roman theatre, Verona

When Ian rejoined me we retraced our steps to discover the “arks” of the Scaliger family each placed in his tomb high above the streets of the city.

One of the arks of the Scaliger family, Verona

We crossed the Piazza dei Signori with a statue of Dante at its centre and made our way to the 14th century brick built Castelvecchio, and the Ponte Scaligero spanning the Adige river and also in brick. Both are stunning.

Piazza dei Signori with its statue of Dante, Verona

Castelvecchio, Verona

Roman triumphal arch near the Castelvecchio, Verona

Old bridge leading across the river from the Castelvecchio, Verona

Finally we walked along old walls to the tomb of Juliette before making our way to the station to begin the fiasco described at the start of today’s blog.

Location of Juliette’s tomb, Verona

Juliette’s tomb, Verona

Related links: Verona and Vicenza