Monday, 21 July 2014

The Italian Job: Verona

The drive to Verona was quicker than we had anticipated, and indeed, we would have got to our assignated hotel too early for check in and so we made the decision to head straight into town and have lunch and maybe get a few sights tucked under our belts. It was a little hairy entering Verona.  The Italian road system is at times incomprehensible to the Brit.  Junctions spring up unexpectedly, signs disappear, and nothing is ever more complicated than trying to go in a straight line.  But we made it into the centre, and to Parking Citadella, a funky underground car park with numbered spaces, above which there was a red or a green light indicating that it was available, and with tracks from Grease and Dirty Dancing bellowing out of the speakers.

On emerging above ground and walking into the centre, the old Roman Ampitheatre dominated the surroundings.  Still a working theatre, with Operas daily from June- August, there were elaborate pieces of set sitting outside, huge gold lions and big Corinthian pillars.  A fully dressed Roman soldier and his lady resplendent in heavy gold brocade arrived for their shift and stood at the entrance joking with the many tourists thronging the streets.  It was hot, throughout our stay the temperature has never gone below 33 degrees, and we decided to have lunch in one of the restaurants nearby before the sight seeing began.
Roman ampitheatre

The Teatro Romana was cool inside, and multi layered, with a number of no access points – possibly because of the opera, probably because bits of it were being restored.  But there was no doubt that it was an amazing sight, rising from the cool stone underpasses into the searing heat of the day and one could imagine many things happening in the arena.  The boys and G managed to scramble up to the very top, with Middle Son attempting to sit in every row on the way down again, whilst I contented myself with just taking it all in.
market stall

Next stop was Piazza della Erbe with its bustling market stalls surrounded by beautiful, colourful, higgledy piggledy housing with gravity defying balconies laden with foliage and blooms. Then the Duomo, in which the ceilings soared majestically above us laden with paintings and intricate carvings, and from one of the chapels we saw a bride, groom and the wedding party emerging from the marriage ceremony.

Definitely not Juliet...
Chewing gum wall
And then Casa de Giulietta – the house identified as being the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene. Now we all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, but I was struck by how their tragic romance still affected people today.  The walls into the Casa were scribbled with millions of love messages, inside the courtyard there were hundreds of little padlocks attached to an iron trellis with names on, and I was amused to see that there was one wall on which the budget conscious had stuck their used bits of chewing gum, and on which they had inscribed the initials of their loved ones.  That’s romance for you.  The actual balcony was a bit of a let down, there were only so many tourists you could watch shouting Romeo Romeo Wherefore art Thou Romeo? in various formats and dialects, and so we decided against getting the shot!

Verona, definitely a city that G and I would like to visit again, perhaps one day when we can appreciate the opera, the elegance and relax with a glass of wine and just watch the people walk by.

It was time to set off to our hotel, as we strode on the friendly Romans were melting in the heat and drinking from plastic bottles of water. Parking Citadella cheerfully sent us off with a blast of Abba, and we quickly found the route to Villafrancha, about 20 minutes outside the city.  I, of course, had booked the hotel, and so had an inkling of what it might be like, but I had not told the boys for fear of disappointment.  Driving through vineyards and fruit trees laden with citrus, kiwis, and tomato plants, our first view of Ca’ Maddalena was a huge elephant with its trunk upraised, and the sound of splashing.

‘A pool!!!’ shrieked the boys in delight.  A party was in full swing with an enormous charcoal barbeque upon which there were mountains of smoky rectangles of golden polenta, big steaks, ribs, chicken wings, and sausages.  A genial chef, ear pierced with a symbol of Africa, ushered us through to reception where an efficient lady took us up to our rooms. It would seem that there were 11 rooms in total, and it was fully booked throughout the summer with tourists and parties for the locals.  She explained that her family had lived in Malindi (the coastal area of Kenya) for 20 years, and once they had moved back, they decided to make the old family home into a B&B.  It had been a success ever since.
Elephant gate keepers

hotel reception area
Now I was brought up in Kenya, and immediately recognized all the furniture, the d├ęcor, the dolls, the masks, the carvings and the absolute attention to detail was outstanding.  I had had no idea that in the middle of the Italian vineyards would be an African Safari Lodge, complete with duka (outside shop) selling bikinis, kikois (sarongs), kaftans and straw beach bags.  Or that there would be enormous painted wooden animals roaming the relaxation area. The kids made for the pool, G made for the beach bar, and came back with two beers and a smiling young barman called Daniele, who was an Italian living in Germany, and a family member who was helping out for 6 weeks.  Aged 17, he was an instant hit with us and the boys, and made every effort to join us in between running errands, sorting out the bar, serving the food and dealing with a local birthday party that had booked into the pool area.  Having the advantage of 6 languages under his belt, it was clear that he was, for the family, indispensable during the busy season.
our bed with mosquito nets

relaxing by the pool with a beer
Although it was a B&B, within no time at all a table was laid up for us for a BBQ dinner, and one for a group of 9 comprising 3 generations of Italians from Australia, with girls similar ages to our boys. The chef piled our plates high with meat, and Daniele flitted between us, and joined our table for a glass of wine and a slice of melon, and within no time at all in this melting pot of a watering hole, all of the kids were back in the pool, and at around 10 pm Daniele joined them.

The Australians were on the latter end of their journey, and were soon to be flying home, and regaled us with their adventures.  It seemed that we were all travelling to Venice the next day, but they had arrived from Innsbruck and had not had a chance to see Verona. Their plan was to get up early and get into the city the next day. We told them of the beautiful sights we had seen.
And then the kids came back, dripping towels on the concrete floor.  They begged to stay on the next morning, have an extra play with the boys in the pool before they left. Their granddad threw his arms up in the air hopelessly.  I felt a bit sorry for him – 4 young girls with beseeching eyes – no chance…

And so it was that the next morning even Middle Son was up and alert, and faced with a sumptuous breakfast of freshly cooked pumpkin seed bread, juicy watermelon, golden apricots, homemade cakes made by Danieles grandmother and fortified with bittersweet full strength Italian espresso, we let the all kids have a splash and a natter, as we packed up our bags. Sometimes in travelling, plans change, and the Aussies gave in to the younger generation with a smile.

We were all sad to leave this little oasis, Little Man was teary and hugged Daniele tight.  In the meantime another party was starting up, and we left to the smell of a barbeque, and music. 
Little Man's message in the guest book

The elephant waved us off as we settled into the car on the way to Venice. It had been enormous fun, and brought back so many childhood memories for me. 

Kwaheri (Goodbye) Ca’ Maddalena and the African animals of Verona.