On Romeo’s Trail: Mantua and Verona

A little bit back, a friend from my program and I went on a blitz day trip to Mantua and Verona. From Bologna, we transferred at the Modena train station to get to Mantua. When we were done at our first stop, we went directly to Verona and from there back to Bologna after exploring. We jammed two great, little Italian cities into our day (and managed to be in three of Italy’s regions in one day), so here are a couple thoughts.

IMG_6620Mantua (Italian: Mantova): One of my Italian professors at Bowdoin recommended time and again that I make the visit to this little city in Lombardy. Italy’s smaller cities can be some of its best if you really enjoy the country as they’re cheaper, have fewer tourists, and are usually more authentic and beautiful. Mantua met these criteria. We spent out morning exploring the street market at the Piazza delle Erbe (maybe where Romeo famously bought poison at the end of Shakespeare’s play), which was packed with people buying clothes and food. We also popped into some of the city’s churches. Now, brief side note, you can really lose stamina when it comes to visiting churches in Italy, Spain, or other Catholic countries of Europe. After a while, they all blend together, they all have a Michelangelo, a Caravaggio, or some sculpture or painting by some artist. While it sounds ridiculous and pretentious, it is a completely real phenomenon, so you generally have to pace yourself when touring Europe. That said, I hadn’t been traveling around Italy as much at the point when we went to Mantua, so visiting its churches was a real treat. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which I visited at the moment, so I’ll have to go back and look those up. They’re packed with great art, are open, airy spaces, and are generally free.

We didn’t much else in particular here: the city is located on a lake which is pretty to walk along, we popped in somewhere for a piadina lunch, and also tried a sbrisolona cake, a Mantuan specialty which my professor recommended.

IMG_6678Verona: Our second stop of the day was to a city which is truly magical. Granted, we arrived late in the afternoon when the sun was getting low in the sky so everything was lit up perfectly, but, at any rate, Verona has a lot of charm to it. For many, it’s an attraction because of the fictitious house of Juliet, but the city has much more to it than that.

IMG_6624We studied Verona in my Comparative History of European Cities course at UniBo, so it was interesting to see what we learned in person. The city is a good example of Roman organization with its two main streets the cardine and the decumano which meet at the forum. It’s located on a sort of elbow on the Adige River which, along with the Roman walls, protected the city. Still in the city today is it’s amphitheater, the third biggest in Italy. Visitors can climb all around the ancient Roman’s stomping ground, and there are great views from the top.

IMG_6642While in Verona, we stopped at Juliet’s House, a horrific tourist destination mobbed by people groping a statue of Shakespeare’s Juliet to have better luck with love. Visitors stick love notes to the walls with gum, and in the gift shop they sell magnets of Juliet’s breasts. Given how ridiculous it is, we couldn’t help but laugh when we visited as there’s so much attention given to this fake house, but it was still surprisingly fun for a ten minute stop.

Before catching the train back to Bologna we hung out in Verona’s Piazza delle Erbe, grabbed some roasted chestnuts, walked around the market there, and listened to a saxophonist playing Christmas music next to the square’s tree. It was really festive and the perfect way to finish a long, visiting-intensive day.

 

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