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Verona, Italy

❤️

As I leave Salzburg on an very comfy ÖBB train at 11am, I’m ready for a 6 hour long journey. I am young and innocent and naive.

When I left you yesterday, I was stranded right outside of the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof station. We were brought back to the main station after three quarters of an hour, with no explanation. Another half hour later, we were finally given some news: our locomotive had an issue and needed to be changed.

So we waited.

We left Salzburg 90 minutes after the official time of departure. Of course, my dream of getting the immediate transfer in Innsbruck was shattered. But not all was bad: I learned a bunch of swear words in Italian from the older man sitting in front of me, who insulted the train company, their staffs, and their mothers under his breath for a full hour. A free language lesson!

Also, the toilet was fun.

A giant toilet on a train. The walls are covered in pictures of the snowy Alps.

Four hours after boarding our train, we arrive in Innsbruck (that’s less than 200 kilometers, if you were wondering). I love Innsbruck and don’t really mind spending more time there than planned. Innsbruck is everything I love about Grenoble, with added Austrian architecture. Also, the nerd in me loves the train station (because from the quays, you can see the Olympic ski jump).

I walk around for a bit, looking for something to eat, and end up at a vegan fast-food place called Cigköften. It’s a Turkish chain and makes absolutely glorious vegan wraps. I hope they’ll make their way to Grenoble soon (they seem to have a few franchises in France already, the closest one being in Lyon). The employee is really sweet and we talk for a bit.

I realize that while Berlin and Munich are terrible cities for speaking German (Berlin because they assume you’re an English speaker anyway, Munich because they will use any occasion to shit on you), practicing elsewhere, like in Innsbruck, is just fine. Maybe I should come spend a few weeks here, or in another mid-sized German or Austrian city, to improve my language skills. My accent is horrendously French, a problem I don’t really have in any other language I speak, and makes me really uncomfortable to the point that I have avoided speaking German more than once just out of self-consciousness. But here, I decide to ignore the accent and focus on what I’m saying. It works wonders and we have a nice conversation.

Finally, I am on the train to Verona. We pass by the border and then to all these places where the signs are in Italian and German. The train stops at Bolzano (also known as Bozen) and I look around. Honestly? I don’t think I would have really enjoyed a day in Bolzano. It looks like a town with not much going on, in a pretty setting that probably can’t be accessed by public transportation. No regrets here.

Trento looks better, though, with a castle Colosseum? on a hill and a slightly more active city center (from what we see from the station, that is). I tell myself Verona will probably be nice too, and not to regret anything.

Eight hours after leaving Salzburg, I finally get to Verona. The train station is outside of the city center. When I get out of the station, what I see is a huge bus parking that’s mostly empty… and a church, for some reason. No houses, no buildings.

I have to walk on the side of a busy road (the sidewalk is large, which is good) under the rain for a little while, until I run into a giant red brick door, or castle, or something.

That’s going to be the Verona experience.

I cross a bridge and suddenly I’m in a regular Northern Italy old town with its paved streets and its orange-tinted walls (not nearly as much as in Bologna, of course) and its churches and ruins. It feels just like home again.

A brick tower and arch above a busy street.

On my way to the hotel, I do not meet any French speakers. (I’m not counting the guy who mutters « merde merde merde » next to me, because for all I know he just likes to swear in foreign languages, and because I have a narrative to push here.) I also call (on the phone!!) a fancy restaurant in Milan to book a table for when my partner joins me there. I’m so excited – but right now, I’m mostly proud that the call went very well, all in Italian, and that I’m back to a world I know and love.

I realize as I get to the hotel that I got a really, really great last minute deal. Last minute hotel searches are usually hit or miss – either you overpay for a tiny room or you end up in a hotel with frescoes on the ceiling and a valet who insists on carrying your backpack and pushes the elevator buttons for you. This time, I got the latter.

It looks like the painted walls and ceiling of a historical palace, but it's actually the painted walls and ceiling of a random hotel, including little flying cherubs.
A normal hotel lobby.

While I booked a « single room with single bed », the single room in question has a dressing the size of my bathroom at home and I’ve had more than one apartment smaller than the main bedroom. My favourite find, though, is not luxurious, just Italian: all Italian bathrooms have bidets, and I’m happiest with a clean butt.

It’s nearly 8pm, but not nighttime yet, and I will be leaving in the early afternoon tomorrow. I decide to walk around.

Verona is gorgeous. Honestly, for a city that I’m visiting exclusively because it’s on my way, I’m truly glad I didn’t miss it. There’s a big castle and tiny cobbled streets and I feel at home here.

A very narrow street with yellowish buidings on each side.

I look for somewhere to have dinner. My Internet connection is down (I don’t know what’s with Verona, but my 4G will be spotty at best for the entire stay), so I have to go fully old-style and find a random restaurant called Enocibus (45.43941° N, 10.99046° E). I end up in a completely empty place with yellow painted walls in the Southern Europe style, where an old couple is having dinner upstairs. They hand me the menu, a small sheet of paper with a bunch of listings but no categories or description. I’m so confused I just ask the man what I should get, and he points me to the primo of the day, « taglierini alla bottarga di mugillo ». Whatever that is.

It tastes a) very good and b) very fishy. I love it. The radio is playing Italian love songs, a wall is covered in wine bottles, a counter shows charcuterie and cheeses of all kinds.

My secondo is carne sala (I believe – I forgot to make her repeat), which looks a lot like carpaccio but is actually cooked beef from what I understand. It’s served with a simple green salad and it’s excellent and light.

When the couple asks me if I want dessert, given how good their first two suggestions were, I ask for another recommendation. I decline the first one, Tiramisù, because I don’t like coffee, so they bring me « salame di cioccolato » – which, as the name suggests, looks a lot like salami, except is chocolate and biscuit.

These people are truly kind and sweet. The food is extraordinary. The ambience is quiet and soft. I love everything about this place.

As I walk back to the hotel, wandering in the dark city, I think to myself that I should take (way) more Italian vacations. Especially now that I’ve moved close to the border, going to Torino is only three hours away by bus. Italy feels like home, and I could do a week of remote work with my mornings and evenings free. Hmm… I’ll need to consider that.

My hotel room is wonderful and I sleep very well.

Stats

  • Train: 6h52 for 3 330km total
  • Steps: 7 673 /word

Half-day in Verona

Now that I’ve walked around a bit, I am very sad that I’m not spending a full day in Verona. The city is beautiful and if yesterday’s meal is to be believed, the food is incredible.

At breakfast, I have a nice conversation about jazz with the maid. I can’t really find her to send her recommendations anymore, but if you have some, post them int he comments, I’d love to listen to more jazz, especially if the artists are still active!

I start walking towards the big castle I glimpsed yesterday.

Yep, it’s big.

Next to it is an arc de triomphe. I’ll let you guess who got it built.

Then, there are several gorgeous bridges.

A red and white brick bridge.

These bridges go over a river. You know what that means, right?

A cobblestone street and heavily adorned bridge, with a bronze statue at the beginning of the bridge.

Yes, there’s a castle on a hill. The hill is far away, so I’ll be able to rest my knee, which is great! But wait… what’s this? As I take a turn to follow the river, another hill appears…

Time to climb.

Stone stairs, with a stone wall on one side and orange and red buildings on the other.

My 4G is broken again, which gives me a beautiful moment of solace. I have my offline maps, and my offline dictionary, if I get in trouble, but that’s about it. I wish I had some level of self-discipline, because being forced not to stare at my screen is great.

A gorgeous view of a brick and orange walls city as seen from a castle on a hill, with the river close to the castle.

I pass the antique theater, or Teatro Romano. It looks cool, but is mostly hidden by various fences, walls and bushes, which is a shame.

I then take the old bridge back to the main chunk of the old city. Everything is so beautiful! Unfortunately, the people who designed Verona failed to take into account the needs of twenty-first century photographers. Given the terrible taste of all the postcards I find, it seems that postcard photographers agree.

Adorned statues and roofs in the city, badly cropped and taken from a weird angle.
Between the gates and fences and the narrow streets, that’s the best I can do.

Juliet’s house (from Romeo and Juliet, as Shakespeare lived in Verona at one point and was inspired to write several of his plays based on real places here) is a big attraction of Verona, that I don’t care much about. Yes, there’s a balcony. I’ve seen a few photos on postcards and thought « okay, sure ». When I see the size of the queue to enter the courtyard of Juliet’s house, I give up without any regrets.

I walk in small streets, finding the jewish ghetto and a bunch of indie clothing shops of all kinds that make me really happy to see. They make me want to get a new, non-Decathlon, wardrobe, until I remember I’m going back to Grenoble soon and never have any reason to wear non-Decathlon clothes.

A shopping street with taller stone and orange-walled buildings.

So it’s noon, and I make my way back to Piazza Bra, in the old town. It looks like every single child in Verona is on a class trip to the old town today and the plaza is crowded. A discussion with the hotel receptionist will bring everything to light: on April 25, the Italians celebrate Liberation day, the day in 1943 when the people turned against Mussolini and the Americans considered Italy free. It’s on a Thursday, so Italians are bridging their time off to the weekend, like we do in France: we’re about to have a very busy few days. Roma and Milano may or may not be nightmarish, we’ll see!

Another meal, another gem. This time, I go to the more touristic and well-known Osteria Casa Vino close to the city center. The waitresses are very helpful and nice, and the meal is absolutely divine. I start with courgette flowers filled with ricotta, then tagliatelle with asparagus. I skip the secondo and move straight to dessert, a delicious chocolate cake. The entire time, not only am I having the best meal of my trip (with some very serious competition from yesterday’s dinner), but I also have a brilliant conversation with the polyglot German couple next to me. Their French is flawless, we all speak English, the lady also speaks some Italian, we mix the four languages until our conversation makes sense. They’re super sweet. I’m having a wonderful stay. They offer to take a photo of me, so here’s a photo for those of you who have missed my face (what can I say, I don’t selfie much).

Me, smiling at a restaurant table with an empty mug of tea and a menu in italian on the wall behind me.

I’m a bit heartbroken to have to leave the city so soon, even though I’ve seen all I wanted to see (Verona is quite small). But Rome awaits me, and this train should be on time!

My next update will be on April 27 as I leave for Milan, and I haven’t decided yet whether there will be a Milan update, so this next one might be the last one (outside of the recap that I’ll write sometime in May).

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