Monday, August 15, 2011

Verona, Italy and Lago di Garda

Another two hours east of Torino is Verona, but west of Verona is Lago di Garda, the largest lake in Italy. Getting there in August takes patience, as the tiny roads were jammed with RVs, scooters, pedestrians, bicycles and cars. But we made it to Bardolino, on the southeast shore. The south end of the lake has beaches, while the west bank is all steep slopes, and although the east shore has interspersed beaches, the banks are mostly steep as well, due to Monte Baldo and the mountains to the east.

We ate our picnic lunch on a bench with a view over the lake, wishing for a breeze but staying sticky. I read later that the Dolomites to the north shelter the lake from any north winds, and although this provides a very mild climate, the south end of the lake was hot! After a little encounter with a restaurant owner barking at us in German (as we entered the internal portion of a restaurant that appeared to be a welcoming café but was in fact closed, a loud “wo gehen sie?” at a couple with a baby), we drove farther north to Malcesine searching for the cable car that would take us to the summit of Mount Baldo. We found it, but were warned that the view was cloudy (the sales desk selling the tickets provides a live video feed from the summit to aid your purchase decision), and opted to only go up only halfway. The view was impressive, but on our drive up the curving road that hugged the shore of the lake we had many beautiful views. We reached the town of Torbole, on the very north tip of the lake, then turned east through the mountains to reach the highway and Verona. The traffic in the opposite direction was backed-up at least two hours entering Torbole; we were glad to be heading on the outbound lane!

The view from Mount Baldi
A center of art, Verona is best known by tourists for the Shakesperean legacy of Romeo and Juliet. Based on the Verona of 1302 which was consumed by political conflict, the tragic couple belonged to rival families: Romeo to the Montechi (Montagues) and Juliet to the Capuleti (Capulets). The Verona we saw had this romantic aspect, but was also the most tourist-filled city on our trip so far, with everyone from Roman legionnaires to Zena, the Warrior Princess actively seeking to pose for pictures in return for a euro or two.

The gates leading into Piazza Bra
We started in Piazza Bra and the Arena in the city center, then wandered side streets to Casa Giulietta, where one can enter the courtyard to see the famous balcony (from which the storied Juliet spoke ‘O Romeo, Romeo…’) for free, but can ascend the stairs and stand on said balcony for a fee. It was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded, and so we headed on to Piazza Herbe, which was also crowded with its tourist market and cafes. (tip: take a right turn out of Juliet’s courtyard and enter the gelato place on the right; cones-to-go for - 1.50 euros each.) The Piazza dei Sigmori was less crowded, and we caught our breaths and admired the Venetian-Renaissance buildings surrounding the square before continuing to the river.

"O Romeo, Romeo! whereforth art thou Romeo?"
It is possible to cross the bridge on the north side of the peninsula and climb the stairs of the Teatro Romano to the terraces, which offer great views of Verona. However, although some of the stairs are stroller friendly, Roberts had quite a carry up the rest. With Lauris growing, the stroller is increasingly a better city-tour choice, even with the stroller-carrying stair-climbs that would be much easier with a baby backpack.

One tired mom and toddler after the climb to the terraces
With stops for snacks and coffee we eventually ended up at Castelvecchio and Ponte Scaligero, a castle complete with stone bridge over the Adige. The art museum is on one side, but we opted to cross the bridge and enjoy the views. Roberts was the first to notice a family furtively looking around with GPS in hand, and after watching them circle for at least twenty minutes I couldn't resist thinking of the times that I had been geocaching in similar circumstances. After they finally left, we made the find for ourselves, then backtracked to a restaurant we had seen on our walk in. After a last look at the ampitheatre in the fading daylight (which was now filling up for an opera), it was back to the hotel and a good night's sleep for this Romeo, Juliet and Lauris.

A delicious dinner
PS. Today in France is a public holiday, feast day of Assumption of Mary. Wishing everyone bon fête!

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