Category Archives: Verona

Intro to Verona

Fair Verona

The Roman Arena in Verona.

The Roman Arena in Verona.

Ponte Pietra, the oldest bridge in Verona. It was destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1945, but rebuilt stone by stone, mostly using the original materials.

Ponte Pietra, the oldest bridge in Verona. It was destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1945, but rebuilt stone by stone, mostly using the original materials.

“Fair Verona” as Shakespeare describes it in Romeo and Juliet is one of Europe’s most attractive cities. Like many places in Italy, it has several different faces. Taking in an opera in the Roman Arena is a great cultural experience, and Verona also has numerous beautiful churches. As the setting for one of Shakepeare’s greatest plays, a visit to Verona also provides encouragement to get to know Romeo and Juliet, or to revisit it if you know it already.

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Going to an opera in the Arena was the highlight of my visit, but Verona is also a beautiful place just to walk around, as well as visiting the obvious tourist attractions. One of my favourite walks is down Lungadige, the road which runs parallel to the river, on the far side from the tourist centre. My first evening was beautiful, with bright sunshine, and a fresh breeze blowing from the river. The Adige is fast-flowing, and rushes under the bridges. My grandparents lived in Verona for a year some time in the early 1960s, and their flat was somewhere around here. My parents went to visit, soon after they were married, driving all the way from England in their little blue mini. So it was good to connect with family history, and see that my grandparents had based themselves in one of the most beautiful locations in the city. While walking down this side of the river, you can also take in the Roman theatre, and the Giardino Gusti.

There are numerous attractive churches in Verona, and I went to most of them. I would single out  Sant’ Anastasia as one of the most beautiful, and I also rather liked the under-chapel in San Fermo Maggiore, which had a rather pleasant arrangement of greenery arranged around the crucifix, symbolising life. This was the church where I lit candles for parents and grandparents, as it was probably the nearest church to my grandparents’ flat.

The Sant' Anastasia Church.

The Sant’ Anastasia Church.

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An opera in the Verona Arena

In the Arena for Aida

In the Arena for Aida

Every year, Verona holds an opera festival in the Roman arena. In 2013, when I went, the festival was celebrating its centenary. The operas all start around 21.00 or 21.15, so they take place after dark, creating a wonderful, romantic atmosphere.

Before the opera

Before the opera

I went to Aida, conducted by Omer Meir Welber, with Hui He as Aida and Fabio Sartori as Radames. This was a good choice, as this opera, with its grand choruses, is particularly suited to the sort of large scale productions which can be done in the Verona Arena. The director certainly took full advantage of the location. The cast must have involved about 200, mainly comprising soldiers and priests of the temple. The soldiers all appeared with torches in Act 1 scene 1- you can’t do that in an indoor theatre! Scene 2 began with a brilliantly choreographed entrance by the priests of the temple all from different entrances to the Arena and all came in carrying lamps. At the start, I wondered why the seats behind the stage weren’t being used. Once the performance started, I realised. Torches were mounted on the top steps of the Arena, and in Act 3, which takes place at night, by the banks of the Nile, an artificial moon was raised- then the real moon came out, so there were two!

Aida in the Arena.

Aida in the Arena.

Overall, this is a superb experience for anyone who enjoys opera, and it needn’t cost a fortune.

Verona Opera Practicalities

The opera season runs from June to September, and tickets can be bought online via www.arena.it . Continue reading

Romeo and Juliet in Verona

"Juliet's balcony" at the Casa di Giulietta. The house was built in 1835, but that doesn't stop the tourists coming.

“Juliet’s balcony” at the Casa di Giulietta. The house was built in 1835, but that doesn’t stop the tourists coming.

“There is no world without Verona walls!”

Verona is, of course, the setting for one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Romeo and Juliet. I studied it at school for O level (the exam you took when you were 16) so know it quite well. It is an astounding, universal play. A great love story, naturally, but besides this it’s also about human conflict, the clash between the generations and much more. No wonder it has been produced in any number of modern settings ranging from Northern Ireland to the Middle East. There is a “Romeo and Juliet” bridge in Sarajevo, where a couple were killed in 1993 trying to flee the besieged city so they could be together. (He was Serb, she was Muslim). I don’t know how many times I’ve watched news reports of the Middle East situation or various conflicts around the world and been reminded of Mercutio’s dying words: “A plague on both your houses. They’ve made mincemeat of me.”

"Juliet's balcony" from above.

“Juliet’s balcony” from above.

"Juliet's balcony"

“Juliet’s balcony”

If you don’t have a chance to see a production on stage before you go to Verona, it’s worth watching Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent 1968 film of the play, with its haunting music by Nino Roca (who also wrote the score for the Godfather). Watch the fight scene in the market place at the beginning, and notice the woman with the baby screaming and trying to get out of the way. That could be Syria in 2014. Zeffirelli uses the advantages of cinema to great effect. So we see Friar Lawrence’s messenger, an old monk on a donkey, plodding along on his way to Mantova to tell Romeo that Juliet isn’t really dead. Romeo has already heard the news of the supposed death of Juliet and is rushing back to Verona on his horse. We see him storm past the messenger without realising. My mother taught English literature and showed this film to her students, some of whom used to shout “stop!” at this point. It’s that dramatic. Continue reading

Verona church opening hours

The church of San Fermo Maggiore

The church of San Fermo Maggiore

Here are the opening hours of some of Verona’s churches for tourist visits, to the best of my knowledge- but do check as they can be altered!

Duomo: Mon- Sat 10-17.30, Sun 13.30-17.30.

Sant’Anastasia: Mon-Sat 9-18, Sun 13-18.

San Zeno: Mon-Sat 8.30-18, Sun 12.30-18.

San Giorgio in Braida: Mon-Sat 7.30-11 and 17-19, Sun closed.

Santa Maria in Organo: Mon-Sat 8-12, Sun unsure, probably 14-18.

San Fermo di Maggiore : Mar-Oct- Probably 10-17 Mon-Sat and 13-17 Sun. Nov-Feb, probably Tue-Sat 10-13 and 13.30-16, Sun 13-17, closed Mon. My Rough Guide said it closed at 18 in the summer, but actually it closed at 17 the day I was there. Luckily I’d arrived just after 16.

Verona Card

The Sant' Anastasia Church, which you can visit free with the Verona Card. Its interior is beautiful.

The Sant’ Anastasia Church, which you can visit free with the Verona Card. Its interior is beautiful.

I think this is definitely worth it. The 24 hour card is 15 euros and the 72 hour option is 20 euros. For this, you get free entry into almost all the main attractions, including the Arena, Casa di Giulietta, the Duomo and most of the other churches. From 2014, it also seems to cover public transport again, which it didn’t in 2013. I worked out that I would have paid  at least double without the card for the places I visited. For up to date information see: http://www.turismoverona.eu/nqcontent.cfm?a_id=40040 .

Verona Accommodation

The Due Torri Hotel, where Inspector Morse stayed in Death of the Self

The Due Torri Hotel, where Inspector Morse stayed in Death of the Self

Accommodation during the opera season can be very pricey, particularly in the centre. I spent quite a lot of time researching this, to find reasonably priced accommodation, with en suite, within walking distance of the opera. There were various options further out, but I didn’t fancy trying my luck finding a taxi at 1 a.m. after the entire Arena emptied out. I stayed at Hotel Porta San Zeno which cost me 50 euros/night. This was a good choice overall. I was rather expecting it to be very basic for that price during the opera season. In the event, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the rooms, which were a reasonable size, clean and with a good bathroom. The breakfast was fine, and even though some reviewers on Booking.com had complained of having to pay extra for a second coffee, I had one both mornings and wasn’t charged anything. The hotel is not central- it took me about half an hour to walk back after the opera. But the area is safe- I didn’t feel at all threatened even at that time- and the main thing is that it is walkable. The hotel is also near the San Zena church, where I began my sightseeing tour (though it’s a bit more than the 100 metres they claim on Booking.com- more like a 5 min walk). The only real drawback is that it is on a main road, which didn’t disturb me, as I’m a heavy sleeper, but which might be an issue for some.

Other options- Centre

Hotel Torcolo looked rather nice, but was fully booked when I did my research even a few months before. It looks as though it gets booked solid during the opera season.

For a blowout/honeymoon/ wedding anniversary – the Due Torri is a 5 star, and it’s where Inspector Morse stays in Death of the Self (although in the story he’s in Vicenza). When I checked availability, a single would have been 450 euros per night!