Romeo? Juliet? Wherefore art thou?


In every city and village that we visited,  we noticed a nightly progression.  In Italian, it is called la passegiata. Couples and families get dressed in their finest and walk around the main streets of town and through piazzas.  It is a time to see and to be seen and to socialize. I loved this time of night.  La passegiata usually occurs before dinner, between the hours of 5 and 8.  I saw couples, both old and young, families, and generations of families, strolling leisurely through town. My favorite memory was when I saw a couple walking through the marbled streets of Verona.   They were slowly pushing whom I assumed to be their elderly mother in a wheelchair.  Everyone was decked out, and it was sweet to see them leaning in, pointing things out along the way. The matriarch of this family happily looked around and soaked everything in, surrounded by love.

Love.  That is what Verona is and reminds me of. This fair city is infamously known for the setting in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The Great Bard set a lot of his plays in Italy–The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, and Winter’s Tale, all have scenes in this great country. So it is not surprising “In fair Verona where we lay our scene…” that this came to be a destination for tourists to connect with these two star-crossed lovers. There is a crowded atrium, where people go to visit “Juliet’s house”, which is not really her house at all, because uh…it’s fiction, and is really just a tourist trap. It is on Via Cappello, which I guess is close enough to Capulet. There is a balcony, but it was added to a medieval building in 1936.  Nevertheless, it looks like the balcony that Shakespeare describes in the play. As I looked up, I could imagine how the scene could have played out hundreds of years ago, with Romeo decked out in his medieval finest, standing, right where I was, while he called up to Juliet and implored her to come down. IMG_4825 Thousands of tourists flock to this area each year. There is even a bronze statue of Juliet in the center.  Tourists rub her left breast to bring good luck.  While I did not rub her breast,  I did write a note to her and placed it in a well in the atrium. The well and surrounding walls are full of notes and locks from people all over the world, professing their undying love. The note I wrote wished for my three teenagers to someday find true and soul-fulfilling, everlasting love.

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Adding to the romance of this city is the location itself. A river runs through the city, and the setting is beautiful.


We were there on a Saturday, and saw brides and grooms, wedding parties and decked out cars.

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Via Mazzini

Verona’s main shopping  street and the street most crowded for shopping is Via Mazzini and really is paved in marble.  In contrast to the shops of Assisi, most of these shops are higher end; although, there are some affordable shops mixed in.  I loved wandering through this area, and I found some great clothes to bring back to my own brood at home.

Verona has some of the best piazzas in Italy.  The two main ones are Piazza Bra and Piazza Erbe. Piazza Bra, near the ruined amphitheater, attracts the elderly and families. IMG_4751Piazza Erbe, around the corner from the marbled Via Mazzini, attracts the younger, hipper crowd, and has a really hot nightspot, evidenced by the crowds and music that spilled outside.

Cafe by day, happening spot by night


Piazza Bra

We could not leave Italy without having seen an opera, even though it really is not my cup of tea.   We went to see what it would be like, having found affordable nosebleed seats outside in an ancient Roman arena.


We sat high up, with the rest of the heathens,  where no dress code was required. I  looked down on the floor and squinted to see people dressed up in tuxedos and long gowns.


I was glad, though, to be on the stone steps, taking it all in from a bird’s eye view,  even though my butt was sore from sitting on ancient rock for over two hours.   Afterward we went across the way to a restaurant an dined al fresco. We looked up suddenly when we heard cheering.   Walking by was the orchestra, led by the conductor, who was shouting and gesturing something in Italian. I could only make out the words  “Bravo!  Bravo!”  The orchestra  passed the tables, and as they did, with the ruins of the amphitheater behind them,  everyone would break out in cheers and  begin to clap. It was like  a mini-parade, except the participants had just gotten done playing exquisite music and were carrying glasses of wine that they raised in toast in the warm midnight air.


We stayed at Hotel Aurora, which is right above Piazza Erbe.  It is a wonderful bed and breakfast place, where you can go out to a sunny balcony overlooking the piazza for breakfast, afternoon drinks and snacks and just to relax. The staff is friendly and helpful and it felt like home. Verona is a beautiful city, and it makes for a great stop on any tour of Italy.



Home in Assisi


After Rome, we took the train up to Assisi. From the train station,  a bus takes visitors to the top of a hill where a ruined castle  stands guard over this quaint little village.  Upon entering, I realized that this is the place that I had been searching for during my entire trip.  It is the quintessential Italian town.  The streets are narrow and winding and lead to all sorts of neat surprises. Churches and bells abound, and local artisans sell their one-of-a-kind wares in well-kept shops. Best of all, Assisi is clean, graffiti free, and full of friendly people.

Assisi is home to St. Francis,  a friar who lived simply, frugally and with love for all mankind. It is by example that he taught those around him, and there is something simple, humble and loving to the town of Assisi. The Basilica Di Franscesco is beautiful, and like all the churches in Italy, it contains wonderful artwork. Like the man himself, the church named after St. Francis is simple in form and decoration. This is especially noticeable, having just seen the extravagance of St. Peter’s Basilica.


Assisi is a hilly town, so wear good walking shoes when exploring.  This town has some of the best artisan shopping around.  Items made from olive tree wood, handcrafted shoes, bath and soap items and hand embroidery can all can be found here–and at reasonable prices too.   If you’ve been saving up your money, this  is the place to drop your euros.

Assisi overlooks the Umbrian Valley, and the views are gorgeous. We stayed at Hotel Minerva a wonderful bed and breakfast place that is above a restaurant.  Our windows opened onto this view:


View from our table during wine tasting

Late one afternoon, we stopped at a bar and went wine tasting.  Our Romanian sommelier was down to earth and friendly as she enthusiastically told us about the fresh Italian cheeses, meats, and breads that were accompanying the bottles of wine we had ordered.   We sat outside in an alleyway, and watched as a mother pigeon bought food and straw to her babies in a nest high above.  It was quiet, as most of the tour buses had left for the day, and I got a real neighborly feel for the place.   Assisi is like Cinque Terre, in that it is a great place to slow down and relax and take in all the beauty that surrounds you.

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Tribal Warfare in Siena

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Medieval culture is just so cool, and it is especially so in Siena, Italy. Siena’s roots in medieval times are grounded through its architecture, food and customs.  You see, there are neighborhoods in Siena, or districts that are  represented by flags.  These flags are everywhere.  They are beautifully displayed in the cathedral, they mark the neighborhoods you are about to enter, and, of course  they are for sale through street vendors.


This tribal stuff culminates two times a year in a horse race called the Palio. Ten of these districts are chosen to compete against each in July and August.   The build-up to the race is a little crazy, the race, even crazier.  For instance, even if a rider falls off the horse,they can still win. Riders ride bare back, and they merely drop a rope that has been placed in front of the horses to signal the start of the race.  Oh, and did I mention this all takes place in the town square? For a video of this craziness click here. When horse racing is not present in Il Campo, as in the case when we were there, this piazza makes me think of Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park.   Not because of how it looks,  but because of what people do there. It is like a playground of sorts, only that it is paved with cobblestone and surrounded by towers and turrets. Il Campo is where kids chase pigeons and eat gelato, groups of teenagers pose for selfies, and couple linger and converse. The square is lined with restaurants, and we could hear eager Coumbians in yellow jerseys cheering for their team during the World Cup. Like Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, it’s a great gathering place to relax and just be.


Siena is also the city where we had, hands down, the best meal while in Italy. We were tired and hungry, and without consulting our guidebook, we left our hotel, walked around a few corners and found La Taberna di Cecco. IMG_4324We found a table outside in the alleyway, and I instantly knew this was going to be good because the menu was entirely in Italian.  Our kind waiter translated for us and recommended a few dishes. We were bought this appetizer that was out of this world.  I’m pretty sure it was crostini, and we scooped it out of a bowl and onto chunks of bread.  It  was spicy, flavorable, and so very good!   The waiter told us  it was his mother’s recipe.   While we were pouring wine out of old stone pitchers,  I looked up the street and saw flagbearers. I thought they were  practicing for the horse race which was coming up in a few weeks, so I left the table  and walked to the corner to watch. I soon realized that they were part of a beautiful and very reverent religious procession to the cathedral.  Priests, nuns, various other clergy and  finally the congregation were all making their way down the cobblestone streets. The clergy could be heard chanting over a small speaker that the procession carried. Incense was being waved through the air and Italian voices were singing as they walked along. It bought tears to my eyes.  When I got back to the table, I could hear the church bells happily clanging, signifying the procession had reached its destination.  I looked around at the ancient buildings, saw the glow from the medieval torches that lit the streets, looked around at the red geraniums in baskets and thought Damn. This place is cool.  Really, really cool.

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