Let me begin by saying that there is more than enough to keep you busy (and ecstatic) for every day of two weeks in Venice. So the wish to take a day or two away from Venice is not a matter of trying to fill in time. Rather, Italy is full of great cities with ancient culture, and we thought that as long as we were in Venice, we should take advantage of being just a short train ride away from, for example, Verona. And there is too much to see there to fit it all into one day trip, but we did our best and had a fabulous full day in Verona.
I’ve bought train tickets in France several times now, so I know how that works, but this was my first experience doing so in Italy. For our trip to Verona, I had bought tickets ahead of time online, on the often helpful but sometimes confusing Rail Europe website, to make sure that we had a reserved seat. We had no printer at the apartment, and buying ahead of time meant that for some reason I could not print them out on the ticket machine at the station. But not to worry: I had the tickets on my phone, and the nice young lady at the information booth assured me that that would be sufficient for the train ticket taker.
Just an hour after boarding, there we were, already in Verona. We could’ve walked to Piazza Bra, one of the city’s main squares, but I thought it better to save our energy for walking around the city, so we took a short taxi ride there. It’s a nice quiet spot, with cafes and taverns around the outside of the square. And just across the street is Verona’s Roman-era Arena.
We could’ve made a day, apparently, out of seeing the inside of the Arena (waiting in line for hours to buy tickets, etc.). But we had been to the Colosseum in Rome a week earlier, so we were content to just view it from the outside. And from there, it was just a short walk to Verona’s liveliest square, the Piazza delle Erbe.
We would return to this Piazza at the end of our day to get a taxi back to the train station, but for now we were content to have a good look at the fountains and towers and the market, and keep moving.
Our next stop was the Piazza dei Signori, just next door. True to its origins – this square is where the city’s council met, and the courthouses are there – it is a quieter, perhaps even more solemn, place. We found it peaceful, and I loved the statue of Dante at its center.
From there, we continued walking north. Our next stop was at a small gem of a church, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antica. As its name implies, it is one of the oldest churches in the city – the first church on this site was built in the 7th century, and the current building dates back to the late 12th century.
What makes this church notable for most people is the fact that in the cemetery next to it are the funeral monuments to the lords of Verona, the Della Scala family. The Arche Scaligere are quite fantastic, with the individual monuments displaying the buried in full knightly regalia, riding horses and wielding swords and lances.
Our next stop might’ve been the highlight of the day. The Basilica of Sant’ Anastasia was built in the fourteenth century and is quite ornately decorated, and is filled with art on a scale with Venice’s Frari church. Unfortunately, I did not take note of the artists of most of the paintings, and there is not a lot of information on the Internet. Nevertheless, I had to share some photographs with you to show you how beautiful this church is.
The one artwork for which there was a good deal of information was “St. George and the Princess” by Pisanello. From the fifteenth century, this greatly detailed work is largely lost on the viewer due to the fact that it is placed over a chapel archway some fifty feet or more off the ground.
By the nineteenth century, the work had suffered a great deal of damage, especially its left half which is mostly lost, from the roof leaking. It was decided to remove the artwork from the wall and display it in a chapel where visitors could see it much better. However, this operation caused most of the work’s gold paint to flake off, further damaging the painting. In modern times, the painting was returned to its original location – the reason for this was not stated. Luckily, there is a video monitor positioned at eye level that shows in a constant loop a short film about modern efforts to care for and restore the painting. It was from this documentary that Therese was able to take the much clearer photo above on the right.
The historic center of Verona is surrounded on three sides by the Adige River, the second longest river in Italy. To cross the river, the best point at the northern tip of the city is the Ponte Pietra, a reconstruction of a bridge from the first century A.D. that was destroyed during World War Two.
You can’t really enter the castle nowadays. Instead, the reason for ascending to the top of the hill is to see the most incredible views of the city. The day we were there was quite overcast, foggy even. Nevertheless, it was still possible to make out the river and some of the city’s remaining Medieval character.
Smartly, a restaurant is placed near the top of the hill that shares the incredible views, Re Teodorico. The menu there was fairly simple, but had lots of tourist pleasers, like a mushroom pizza that Therese enjoyed, and the chicken salad (with mayonnaise) and charcuterie with pickled vegetables that I ordered.
After eating and relaxing for a bit, we were ready to descend by the funicular and explore a couple more sights. Our next stop was the city’s Cathedral and its complex that included a few different buildings. The first one we visited was the Baptistery, which is called, as is typical in Italy, San Giovanni in Fonte.
The baptismal font in this church is the most incredible one I have ever seen. Made in the thirteenth century, its carvings of scenes from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to his baptism, are remarkable. For example, the scene of the massacre of the innocents in the photo at above right is graphic in showing the soldiers murdering children while grieved parents are trying to protect them.
Sharing the same entrance with the baptistery are two surviving versions of the Cathedral or Duomo. The older one has been preserved as an archaeological site, displaying architectural details that go back to the Roman era. The later building is currently under extensive renovation and therefore, for example, the entire area around the altar was covered with scaffolding. Nevertheless, we were able to admire some of the side chapels and altars which include an Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Titian.
There were other places we could’ve visited in Verona – several other churches are known to be quite worth seeing, for example – but I was starting to feel tired, and the truth is that there was not too much time left before the time for our train back to Venice. My idea was that our remaining time could be well used having a gelato break and then getting a taxi back to the train station.
Our Google search had determined that the best vegan gelato in Verona could be found at L’Arte del Gelato, a stand several blocks east of the Piazza delle Erbe. We went there, and I ordered what one reviewer had described as the best vegan flavor – lemon with chocolate chunks. The flavors of intense lemon zest and dark chocolate were delicious, but the texture of the sorbet itself was not very pleasing – very hard and icy, not creamy at all. It was more like a granita than a gelato – or what we would call an Italian ice.
As we ate our frozen dessert, we inquired of a couple of different people as to where the closest taxi stand might be. In Italy, just as in France, you can’t hail a taxi – you have to go to a stand and engage one there. We were told that a stand existed in the Piazza delle Erbe. That sounded unlikely, since the square is a pedestrian-only zone, but we thought we would walk in that direction and ask again when we got close.
One of the vendors in the outdoor market was able to solve the mystery for us. On a side street alongside one of the historic buildings that faces the square, the Domus Mercatorum, there is indeed a taxi stand.
Actually, there is a set price for taxis taking you back to the train station. The driver was emphatic in explaining it to us in broken English – I guess it is expensive by most people’s judgment, and he didn’t want an argument with us when we went to pay him. We were tired so we didn’t mind paying extra to not have to walk back to the train station. This driver was a colorful character – all during our ride to the station, he kept an animated dialogue going with someone on his cell phone, reminding me of Roberto Benigni’s portrayal of an Italian cabbie in “Night on the Earth.” Thankfully, we arrived at the station in much better shape than the rider in that sequence! Our fabulous day in Verona ended with an uneventful train ride back to Venice, where we enjoyed leftovers in our lovely apartment.