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Rick Steve’s Travels Verona, Italy: City of Romance

By Rick Steves bout two hours from the bustling and touristy Italian cities of Milan and Venice, you’ll find Verona – a welcome taste of pure, easygoing Italy. Made famous by Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, Verona is Italy’s fourth-most-visited city, and second in the Veneto region only to Venice in population and artistic importance. The locals – Veronese – marvel that each year, about 1,600 Japanese tour groups break their Veniceto-Milan ride for an hour-long stop in Verona, just to stand in the courtyard of the House of Juliet, where the real-life Cappello family once lived. The tiny, admittedly romantic courtyard becomes a spectacle in itself as visitors from all over the world pose on the almost believable balcony and take photos of each other rubbing Juliet’s bronze breast, which, supposedly, gives the fondler luck in love. The city is so famous for love that, every year, it receives countless letters addressed simply to “Juliet, Verona, Italy.” Volunteers respond to these mostly lovesick folk (click on www.julietclub.com) and have been especially busy since the release of the 2010 film “Letters to Juliet,” about a girl, played by Amanda Seyfried, who finds a letter while visiting the House of Juliet and travels through Italy to help reunite the author with her lost love. Beyond the romantic fiction of Verona, the town is also packed with genuine history. Because ancient Romans considered Verona an ideal resting spot before crossing the Alps, the city has a wealth of Roman ruins. The well-preserved amphitheater – the third largest in the Roman world – dates from early in the first century A.D. and still retains most of its

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original stone. Over the centuries, crowds of up to 25,000 spectators have cheered Roman gladiatorial battles, medieval executions, and modern plays – including Verona’s popular summer opera festival, which takes advantage of the arena’s famous acoustics. Corso Porta Borsari was the main drag of Roman Verona. A stroll here makes for a fun, ancient scavenger hunt. Remnants of the town’s illustrious past – chips of Roman columns, medieval reliefs, fine old facades, and fossils in marble – are scattered among modern-day fancy shop windows. Any vist to Verona will bring you to Piazza Erbe, Verona’s market square, where vendors come to slice and sell whatever’s in season. People have gathered here since Roman times, when this was a forum. The whale’s rib hanging from an archway for 500 years was a souvenir brought home from the Orient by spice traders. Today, Piazza Erbe is for the locals, who start their evening with an aperitivo here. It’s a trendy scene, as young people fill the bars to enjoy their refreshing spritz drinks, olives, and chips. After spritzing, it’s time for feasting, and Verona has its share of excellent eateries. One of my happiest memories from a recent trip was eating with a friend at Enoteca Can Grande, where we let the chef, Giuliano, bring us whatever he wanted. The carne cruda (raw beef), was, as my friend put it: “Like seeing the smile of a beautiful woman after 10 years. You never forget her.” The mortadella (Italian-style baloney) was served with black truffle. It was exquisite. Imagine calling baloney exquisite. Well, you can if you just add truffle. Then came the

best polenta with anchovies I’d ever tasted. As it turns out, anchovies and polenta are a “good marriage.” For dessert: a plate of voluptuous slices of cheese. “Even if we do not talk,” said my companion, “with these cheeses we have good conversation.” As I held the warm and happy tire of my full tummy, I thought about how Italians live life with abandon – and how passionately they enjoy their food. Besides eating, the highlight of Verona for me is taking an evening passeggiata (stroll). It’s a multigenerational affair. Like peacocks, the young and nubile spread their wings across the wide sidewalk promenade, made broad by the town’s Venetian overloads in the 17th century so the town’s beautiful people could see and be seen in all their finery. Whenever I stroll here, I find myself surrounded by little love stories – romantic snapshots fluttering in and out of my world like a butterfly. A guy on a bike pedals gracefully by, his girlfriend sitting on the handlebars embracing him. A woman tells me that her husband is her “mezza mela” – half an apple. Apparently, when soulmates find each other in Italy, it makes the apple whole. I don’t know if all of the love that wafts through the Veronan air is related to the Romeo and Juliet hype – or if it’s just the natural high that comes from living in such a joyful and connected place. Rick Steve writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and radio. You can e-mail him at rick@ricksteves.com and visit his website at www.ricksteves.com.

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