Our first stop after flying into Milan was a short train ride to Verona. After getting off the train, we hauled our 25 pound backpacks (which while feeling heavier with each step we were thankful for packing light!) through the outskirts of Verona, entering the Piazza Bra and seeing the “mini Colosseum” Arena for the first time. Winding through the streets , we made our way to our hotel, which was a series of apartments owned that were rented out, so no front desk. We were excited to wash up and drop the bags after a long day of traveling!
As instructed, we rang the bell with no response… several times and for several minutes- the sign on the door said to check in, call the number listed. I only had correspondence via email regarding check in, I thought this process was going to be less of an issue since there was no mention of needed a phone. Almost 4PM, we found a pay phone but we were unable to operate it- losing several euro in the process. With no other choice, we lugged our bags back to the main strip of stores in Verona as I remembered seeing a TIM store (TIM=SIM card in US) to get cell phone service to call our hotel host. Fortunately, 30 euro got us 200 minutes and some gigs of data so not a bad deal at all! Thank goodness our most recent phone purchase was unlocked to enable us to use an international data card. Once we were connected, we dialed our host and she answered to meet us at the front door. Our host was so nice and the room was very comfortable. Bumpy start to our trip but all resolved and it was time to start exploring!
Dinner: Tapa Sotto
Behind our hotel were endless stores and we could not resist dessert at our first gelato sighting! Italian gelato… nothing compares! Gelato also gave us our first chance to try our Italian (took a 10 week class through local county college) as we stumbled through ordering our gelato (it was pretty bad Italian on our part!). We walked through Piazza Erbe, which was beautiful as we got our first glance, and got a glimpse of all the Romeo and Juliette “stuff”, including the statue of Juliette.
While our first choice for dinner was booked, we found Tapa Sotto, tapas styled menu that had a modern decor and specialized in meat and cheese plates with plenty of wine options. Luckily our Italian classes served us much better here! We ordered a cheese plate, bread, prosciutto crudo and plenty of vino (Valpolicella- native grape to Verona, and Merlot)- everything was delicious and just what we needed to finish our first day.
As it began to rain, we got our rain jackets and made our way to the Arena where we had tickets to see the performance of Nabucco. While the rain began to subside as we made our way to the stone seats, our bottoms stayed wet and quite sore as time went on! Regulars of the Arena brought pads for the stone seats to cushion their behind (you could also pay a fee to rent one). While we struggled to follow the story line and what was being said, the music was lovely and it as even cooler to sit in the Arena with such history- like sitting in the Colosseum in Rome and watching a performance there. One awesome thing was at the beginning of each Act, people in the audience would like a candle and it made the entire Arena glow- it was amazing to see. Something we will never forget- instead of selling popcorn, cotton candy, etc at a baseball game, it was beer and wine! “Cola, birra, vino!” was the shouted mantra of the men selling refreshments for the show. Exhausted, we made it through two Acts before leaving for a much needed deep sleep. I would certianly recommend seeing a show here if you are in Verona.
Today was our sightseeing day in Verona, though we accidentally slept until 10AM! Feeling behind, we rushed out of the hotel to make up for the loss of time. Our first stop was the Porta Borsari archway that once served as the toll to enter Verona and grabbed a quick breakfast under it at Caffe Rialto. Down the street were the Scaliger Tombs and we spent time going through this area as well. It is crazy the amount of history just in a few mile radius! We then crossed the Adige River to Castel San Pietro which was quite a climb but the panoramic view of Verona was breathtaking. I would highly recommend this walk as the view is well worth the climb. Our next few stops were all churches- the Duomo, where we watched the final 15 minutes of the mass, then the Cathedral, then St Anastasia- all equally impressive and beautiful.
We found an aperitivo lunch at Osteria Torre Del Gardello where we had wine and small plates, that mostly consisted of different types of bruschetta. The food by the bar was buffet styled so you could try anything or as much as you want for a small fee with your wine- a concept (aperitivo) we could totally get behind. A very economical and delicious lunch option! Since we were unable to get into Antica Bottega del Vino for dinner the previous night, we stopped by to make reservations. We grabbed a 9PM reservations for this evening and we noticed they also had a lunch aperitivo. Unable to resist, more wine and small plates were coming our way. With small plates, we each ordered a different variation of Valpolicella (there are five variations total)- Kevin got the Amarone (made using the ripasso wine making process of drying the grapes out for a more intense flavor during fermentation) and I got the Recioto (made with dry (passito) grapes for a dessert styled wine). One thing we quickly noticed and had to get used to was not paying ahead of the food- that you order and relax and then pay when you are done, even when getting coffee (cafe). In Italy, it is common practice in any facility serving you.
As we walked through Piazza Bra, there was an antique car show going on. We walked through the cars, admiring their pristine condition and found a bench to relax on- enjoying the Piazza and the weather as well as finding our daily gelato fix (ordering went much smoother- already improving!). Happy with our progress despite a late awakening, we went back to nap and freshen up before our evening.
Dinner: Antica Bottega del Vino
This was Kevin’s choice dinner spot for Verona so we were anxious to get there for our reservation at 9PM. Once we were seated and surrounded by rows and rows of wine bottles, Kevin was given an enormous wine book- I have never seen something so large as a menu! The wine glasses also matched- it was like drinking wine out of a fish bowl!
The wine bottle we ordered was Valpolicella Supreme to go with our meal. The wine was excellent, for the record! As an appetizer, we split the duck foie gras over brioche and applesauce. As entrees, I got the risotto di amorone since this region was known of the risotto and Kevin ordered the horse with mushrooms and potatoes. My risotto was creamy and flavorful and the horse was tender, resembling a cut of beef. We opted for a cheese plate as our dessert which provided us some of the most pungent and strong cheese to date. Overall a fantastic meal with friendly staff willing to help you through your meal.
As we left Verona, we adored this small town with preserved history. We definitely understood the appeal and the charm of Verona- you can feel it as you walk through the streets. The wine here was fantastic (Kevin loves Valpolicella) and wish we had made time to visit a vineyard or two in the countryside. Overall, we heard a lot of Italian and were surprised to not hear much English at all- perhaps this was a travel destination for Italians (we can see why!). This certainly helped jump start our Italian! We hopped on the train and made our way to our next destination, Modena.
For the full Italy itinerary, click here!