Friday, March 13, 2015

Verona: Probably Paradise

When people think of paradise, or put photos of it as their desktop background on their work computers, or as inspirational images on their walls, it usually looks like this: white sand, blue water, blue sky, palm trees; thatched-roof hut optional (on stilts, also optional). When I see those images, I don't think 'paradise.' I think, 'totally, that would be sweet for a week... 10 days, tops.' After the 10 day tropical island cut-off, I start to think about isolation, sand lice, hurricanes, spotty Wi-Fi, and what happens if you need to see a doctor?

A view over Verona from the Santuario Maddona di Lourdes
For me, paradise looks more like this: a warm urban environment, big enough to have lots of things happening but small enough to get out of easily into nature; fashion, style, food, music, cocktails and wines; people on bikes, being happy, having fun; people meeting up in parks and public spaces, talking, laughing; people walking dogs and riding scooters in fun colours. It turns out that for me, paradise looks a lot like Verona.

Romeo and Juliet, yes. Their houses are there - did you know they were basically neighbours? Shakespeare doesn't say much about this, but Leo and Claire made me think that there was at least a train track separating them. There's basically one medieval alley-way between their houses. (Some people, clearly, also think that they were real humans, and not just characters in a play.)

Roman ruins, yes. There are ruins and Roman colosseums all over Italy, but it never stops being amazing to me to gaze upon structures built 2000 years ago and still standing. I hope that I never get nonchalant about such things. Do we build anything today that could last that long? Certainly not our glass towers. Verona has been occupied for millennia, and the Roman city walls, the colosseum, and a number of other amazing super-old things remain for our digital-photo-taking pleasure.

Dante, yes. Dante Alighieri lived in Verona and began his work on the Divine Comedy there. There's a square dedicated to him, near Romeo's house, and a magnificent statue. He talks about the Montagues and Capulets in the Divine Comedy and about their feud, which is part of why some people think that Romeo and Juliet were real.

The view down Corso Sant'Anastasia
However, these things, as wonderful as they are, do not make Verona a paradise. What makes the city feel that way is the people, the sun, the verve - the living and breathing parts. My first trip to Italy - to Tuscany and Veneto - happened before I started to write this blog, and so my reflections on those places were only aired to friends and family who read my emails (talking about travel is always hard, isn't it?). The overwhelming sense I got then and on this most recent trip is one of calm enjoyment of life. Italians really know what living is about.
A nun climbs the hill to the Santuario

Verona is aesthetically gorgeous, sunny and warm. It is currently 'winter' and people (bless their hearts) were wearing light down parkas and even some toques, but it was 17 degrees Celsius, so let's not joke. I was wandering about with a light sweater on and was obliged to remove it on some of the sunny climbs to various spots overlooking the city. Verona sits at the foot of the Alps and just east of clear blue Lake Garda. It's equidistant between Milan and Venice. The Adriatic sea is close by. The city seems to always be draped in a soft white mist, which may be air pollution, or may be due to the cooler mountain air meeting the warmer air from the plains and the sea.

The bottega del vino
The super-stylish residents of Verona walked and rode their bicycles through the streets, with nary a hair out of place. The bikes were mostly sturdy, festooned with baskets and panniers, with tires wide enough to manage the old cobbles without getting stuck or popping. Gentlemen in jaunty hats, Nuns in their habits, women wearing heels and smart jackets - all popped their purchases into their panniers and coasted away, stopping to greet people, to see friends on foot or to have a glass of wine in the piazza (not the sisters, though). As a cyclist, it's hard for me to describe the intense feeling of joy, wonder, and hope that seeing people like this inspires in me. "We could be like this!" I think to myself, "Toronto could be like this! We could do this!" I think some politicians should go spend time in Italy (and other countries with lots of cycling) to see how it's done.

I met my friend, Elaine, who had been in Italy on a work-related trip, in Verona - our idea was to spend a few days exploring the city together before she travelled home to California. But she was really sick the whole time, and that was really a bummer. Fortunately, we were staying in a gorgeous apartment I found on HomeAway, which was right in the centre of all the beautiful and fun things. Elaine decided she should marry the apartment, and I wish them all happiness! With the incredible location, which we didn't fully appreciate when booking, it was easy for me to go out for walks around the city and come back with food or fizzy water and to see how she was doing. We made it out the first night to a wonderful old wine bar - Antica Bottega del Vino - which was highly recommended and I recommend in turn, and shared Champagne, cheese, and some Veronese specialties. Unfortunatley, that was the longest that Elaine spent outdoors until the day we were leaving. A doctor came to the house (so, this is what happens if you need a doctor in Paradise) and said that Elaine was OK to fly, with the aid of four different kinds of bronchitis-related potions.

There is so much more that we could have done and seen, especially for poor Elaine, who hardly got to see the city at all, that Verona definitely warrants another trip. I think I'll add it to my list of places to live in for a while - I don't think I could ever get tired of this paradise.

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