OK… so we’ve been going a little hard on the skiing for the last week. With no more fresh snow in the short term forecast we’ve decided to do some exploring and we’re heading for Verona – the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play – Romeo and Guilietta (as they say in Italian).
Verona is not far from us – just a 2.5 hour drive SW down the valley, but as usual Gina the GPS is recommending a route that takes us over the two highest passes in the Dolomites as the fastest! She of course knows how well Graeme is dealing with all the hard mountain driving and hairpins. But now the roads are covered in snow and ice. We debated whether we should put chains on this morning. But Gra tested out the “ice & snow” traction button on Gino and we did a few shuddering emergency braking & turning manoeuvres on a snow-covered & empty Arabba carpark to see how the winter tyres and the “magic button” would function. The answer? Pretty well. Lots of traction control shuddering and weird grinding noises but otherwise all seemed to work just fine, we didn’t skid off into the nearby river. “Allora” we are looking good to make it over the high Dolomiti passes without putting on the chains. Verona here we come!
We’ve booked a couple of nights at the lovely old Accademia Hotel right in the historic heart of Verona. Forget high mountain passes….finding your way into an ancient walled Italian city – this is truly challenging Euro driving! A network of narrow one-way streets and restricted car access means that most of the historic part of the city is free of cars. We love the idea of a pedestrian only city, but it does make it a little tricky for us to find our way to our hotel. With only a few “U” turns we managed to park temporarily outside our hotel.
Checking in at reception we were given the option of parking our car for €23 a night in their private garage or they could give us a “centro pass” which will allow us to park for free anywhere in the city centre in areas marked with a “blue square”.
Of course, we immediately liked the “blue square” option, and dropped our bags before heading out into the medieval maze of streets to hunt us some “blue squares”. As we lapped our area for the fourth time, we recalled the bemused look on the concierge’s face at the hotel when we took the free parking option. We circled, circled and circled again, getting further away from our hotel, so we used Gina to get back to the hotel and we started again. I wondered if, at this stage, the concierge was placing bets with the receptionist on our likely success? Little did he know that we’ve already trained for parking manoeuvres with our Lyonnaise experts Hubert & Marie!
And just then, we found a free parking space that we could actually fit into without any “Lyon pushing”!! Perfetto! We also took a photo of Gino in his blue square for the hotel receptionist who was very concerned that we parked correctly. She had warned us that if we got it wrong, we’d have to go back and move the car. The concierge had smirked a little more at this statement! So after we’d parked the car, we thought we might let them sweat a bit on our progress and stopped for lunch at a small cafe on the way back to the hotel. The receptionist was all smiles when we showed her our parking photo ….she’d won the bet with the concierge.
We just spent the rest of the late afternoon and early evening wandering. Veronese seem to like a stroll on a Sunday. With their partners, friends and dogs, they are dressed very smartly. Full fur coats and matching hats for the more mature and the latest fashions for the younger generation. No-one is dressed like us in our clunky snow-boots and ski jackets …that’s for sure.
The city centre is closed off to cars and is filled with historic buildings from roman, middle ages and later. The city’s most defining feature is the Verona Arena. Its Italy’s 4th largest roman amphitheatre and its best preserved.
Our hotel is right in the main shopping precinct and it’s January sales time. Sunny and cold outside – there are few tourists around. We hardly heard a word of English spoken as we strolled the streets until dusk. The Veronese have taken back their city and are throwing themselves into shopping with gusto!
Into the evening we arrived at Piazza Bra where the Arena is situated. Lit up, the roman architecture looks amazing. There is also a very modern star burst sculpture coming from one side. We’re not sure what to make of it? Is it a temporary Christmas decoration or permanent art installation? It looks a little incongruous against the 1st century AD roman amphitheatre.
Also in the piazza, the locals are enjoying a skate on a temporary ice-rink set up in the piazza, while others sip their Aperol Spritz’s from the heated patios of nearby restaurants. This city has a lovely vibe and we are excited to be here. Early to bed tonight – we are keen to make an early start and explore as much as possible tomorrow.