On the Sunday of our Italian weekend, we took a day trip to the city of Verona, the City of Love. I’ve been enchanted with Verona first after reading Romeo and Juliet and then (I’ll admit) after seeing the movie Letters to Juliet. There’s something so fantastic, almost mythical about the city that it just drew me in.
I think we all agreed that we felt closer to nature; Venice was like a breath of fresh air after the closeness of Venice and before that, of Paris. In both cities you’re hard pressed to find roaming expanses of greenery and foliage, whereas in Verona it was abundant. And despite being on the water in Venice, there was a stark difference compared to the clearness, the freshness, the gentleness of the air in Verona.
We went to the “Old Castle,” Castelvecchio, which offered quite a nice view over the river. Next door was the Chiesa di San Martino in Aquaro, which was originally the name of the castle. We saw the Roman ruins in the old part of the city, the Centro Storico. The amphitheater was built in the 1st century (wow!) in Piazza Bra. It’s still in use today for opera and other large-scale performances!
We ventured on to our main destination : la Casa di Giulietta – immortalized in the imagination of readers for centuries after Shakespeare’s heroine won their hearts. And more recently, glamorized by Hollywood in the film Letters to Juliet. Yes, I’m a little cynical after having gone, and I still love the film – BUT I’ve come to realize and accept that it’s just that – a film. Fiction, even if it is inspired by real life.
Of course they cleared the courtyard of the throngs of tourists, of course it was a peace of stillness, contemplation, romance. So yes, in my naïvité, I guess I thought, or hoped, that it would be like in the movie. In fact, it was so crowded we didn’t even get up to the statue or to the wall, and even worse, the balcony was under construction so it was closed off ! Ha ha ha it was actually quite funny, and I’m not bitter at all .. I think it was good for me to be brought back to earth and realize that some things are just better in the movies. I and my two friends did actually each write a letter to Giulietta (while the other kindly reminded us we were writing to a fictional 13-year old). But it was light-hearted, a little bit magical, anyway. Who knows if I’ll get an answer, but that’s part of the fun!
There are actual secretaries of Juliet, you know. After I watched the movie the first time when I was 12, (and I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen it – so often that I can quote it!) I decided I wanted to become a Secretary of Juliet when I grew up. I visited their website to confirm they actually do exist, and it’s always been in the back of my mind. Maybe when I’m old, I’ll retire to Verona and volunteer as a secretary.
My friend Emma, who also is enamored by the film, shared my enthusiasm for the secretaries, and together we set off to try to find their office. We had the name of the street, the number of the building, but when we arrived, there was no sign. Hardly any number. Nothing .. !!! .. We asked a lady in the restaurant next door if she knew anything about the Secretaries of Juliet, and she answered somewhat exasperated that yes, they were there, but must be closed on Sundays. Either that, or closed to the public.
I walked away a bit despondent, but then found some dairy-free gelato, so I was happy again. Plus, the best was yet to come.
Surely the highlight of the day were the Giardini Giusti, famous yet tucked-away gardens designed in the 16th century and belonging to the Giusti family. We practically had the space to ourselves! Immense trees, statues, gargoyles, grottos, fountains .. so much at which to marvel. And we came just as the sun was setting, so we took in a terrific view of the city. The gardens continue upwards; as we made our way up, the sun sank lower and lower so that by the time we arrived at the summit the sky was a warm caramel swirl.
After the gardens we saw the Tomb of Juliet, but truthfully were rather unimpressed. It was just a tomb in the middle of a room underneath a museum, and it just felt so fake. I suppose it was a nice homage to the character of Juliet, but something was off.
Eager not to end the day on a low note, we enjoyed the best meal of our trip thus far at a small restaurant that served homemade pasta ! I was reminded of my Nonna’s pasta that she makes with spinach .. someday you’ll have to teach me, yes? ❤
With hearts and bellies full, we returned to Venice for one more day ..