By Don and Linda Freedman

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Como | Firenze | Roma | Napoli
Reggio Emilia | Venezia | Verona | Magenta


The Venice train station, Santa Lucia, was very busy due to the bad weather. Thank goodness we had our trusty rail passes or we would never have made our train to Verona with the length of the lines at the ticket windows.

The rain followed us to Verona so instead of walking up Corso Porta Nuova as we have in the past we jumped in a taxi. Our hotel, Giulietta e Romeo, was ideally located just north of Piazza Bra behind the Arena at #3 Vicolo Tre Marchetti. It's a friendly narrow street in the heart of the city with very good eating choices steps away from the hotel. The staff was expecting us and greeted us warmly. First thing Linda spotted was the computer in the inviting living room. Other public areas included a pleasant bar, breakfast room and a small meeting room. Our nice size quiet room had twin beds together, a desk and chair and an armoire, all in cherry wood. The bathroom was good size, with all the comforts. There are 30 rooms, all of which have been refurbished and soundproofed. All have individually controlled A/C, satellite TV, mini bar/frig and there is a garage available. The owners and staff were personable and helpful. In every respect Giulietta e Romeo is an excellent value 3 star hotel.

After getting settled we dashed out for a snack and coffee to Bar al Vicolo, a few steps from the hotel at Vicolo Tre Marchetti 19A. We shared pasta and salad and some delightful conversation with the owner and his son. They love their city. Dad suggested an itinerary and places to eat and Matteo helped with any language difficulties. It is such a joy to meet nice people.

We had asked about gelato and they recommended Gelateria Savoia, via Roma 1b (Piazza Bra). They have been dishing out gelato and novelty gelato creations since l939. In 1939 they introduced Semifreddo, made of the finest cream and Ligurian almonds sandwiched between Amaretto biscuits. In 1941 came the Pinguino, vanilla ice cream on a stick coated with chocolate (hence the name Pinguino - penguin). It's now made in 9 flavors. Savoia are great marketers. We settled for straight gelato in cones. The texture and flavor were excellent, but we found it too sweet.
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It had been many years since we had been to Verona. We always adored the beauty and warmth of this flourishing ancient city. In the 1st century B.C. Verona was a colony of the Roman Empire. In 49 B.C. the city became an integral part of the empire. The Adige River bends its way through the entire city. In the historical city center, the incredible monuments, piazzas and buildings of ancient Roman times have been meticulously maintained. That which is new has been carefully designed and constructed with respect to preservation of the old.

Verona Roman ArenaPiazza Bra is the largest square and is the gateway to the old city. The magnificent Roman Arena (it has the same effect on us as the Coliseum in Rome) dominates the space. It holds 22,000 people who come to hear the performances of world famous opera every summer. There is an area of pavement called "Liston" which is made of Valpolicella red marble which is a traditional walking place for locals. There is a string of cafes, bars and restaurants along the north end of the square with lots of outdoor seating that becomes very precious space for lounging and people watching. Two wonderful Palazzos sit at the south end. The Barbieri, which is now the Town Hall and the Gran Guardia, built for military use.

Today youngsters were celebrating Carnevale by spraying white foam on each other and anyone else that happened to be in range. This would continue the next day which tested our coordination and, eventually, our patience.

The rain became quite heavy so we retreated to the hotel to enjoy coffee in the living room, use the computer, and do some reading before dinner. The folks at the hotel told us that Pizzeria Trattoria Arena, next door at Vicolo Tre Marchetti 1, tel. 045-590503, had very good pizza and pasta. We were in the mood for pizza and since the rain was calling the shots, next door sounded good. And was it ever good! We were greeted by the sweet smell of baked dough and the sweet lady who owns the restaurant, which has been in business since l968. We liked the brightly lit and sparkling clean environment - a happy pizza place. The lady told us that the pizza was available either with a thin crust or double dough, like Neopolitan style. No contest, bring on Napoli. Linda's was topped with spinaci, ricotta, mozzarella and pomodoro and mine with salami piccante, mozzarella and pomodoro. Both were outstanding and priced very reasonably. The house red wine was very good. A house offered Limoncello was a perfect nightcap. View toward Piazza delle Erbe in Verona
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After enjoying the generous breakfast buffet, well tended by the staff, we hurried out to take advantage of the weather - cool, cloudy but no rain. The old city is very compact and, having been laid out in the traditional Roman grid pattern, is easy to navigate. Via Mazzini runs north from Piazza Bra and is the main shopping street in the old city. The colorful buildings, shops and boutiques create a very pretty promenade. We took a right just before the end of the street onto Via Cappello to #23. Legend has it that this is the house of Juliet. We passed thru the archway into the courtyard and got our romantic fix under the balcony of Shakespeare's famous heroine. At the north end of Mazzini is the exciting and captivating Piazza delle Erbe, the old Roman Forum. This square and the Arena are reason enough to come to Verona. This busy, thriving market place surrounded by the soft warm colors of the beautiful ancient palazzos, towers and archways is a never to be forgotten scene. The Madonna, Verona's fountain, stands tall in the center of the busy market stalls and pretty cafes overlooking the happy faces of all of us appreciating the moment.
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Gothic Scaligeri Graves at St. Maria Antica Church in VeronaWhen the Scaligeri family ruled the city, Piazza dei Signori was built next to Piazza delle Erbe as home to the family palace, the Palace of Commune, and the House of Justice. Nearby, the impressive Gothic Scaligeri Graves (Arche Scaligere) are on the grounds of the St. Maria Antica Church.

As luck would have it, today was the day when gnocchi (symbolizing the last chance to feast before Lent) is traditionally served. We were on the lookout for such a restaurant and as we were dodging speeding cars on the narrow via Duomo we lurched into the doorway of Antica Osteria Duomo at #7. The sign on the window was in Italian but we understood Gnocchi- 6€. We walked into the delightful old neighborhood Osteria with a small bar and a few tables in front and a small dining room with family tables in the rear. The bar was filled with locals enjoying their wine and camaraderie. The owner told us they were fully booked for lunch starting at 13:00. It was now 12:05 and if we could be done by 13:00 we had a seat. No problem. There were 2 young Japanese women at our table with whom we had a delightful chat until they had to dash off to meet their tour group. The portions of the melt in your mouth gnocchi were very substantial. The sauces were incredibly good. Gorgonzola for Linda and donkey ragu (donkey and horsemeat are very popular in Verona) for me. The house red was light and fruity and went well with the rich sauces. Two young men arrived before we had to leave and told us this was the place for the best food at the best prices. We left convinced.

Carnevale was picking up steam. Those boisterous teenagers were everywhere. The bands were blaring and leading the way for the decorated floats and costumed revelers. Vendors were selling cans of that obnoxious foam spray as fast as the kids emptied them. Store fronts and streets were covered in white globs and streaks. It was party time.
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Synagogue in VeronaBetween via Mazzini and via Corso Ponta Borsari we found the Synagogue at via Portici 3. Its clean design is impactful yet easily blends into the neighborhood. Unfortunately it was not open for a visit at this time.

Continuing along via Corso Ponta Borsari we came to the Porta Borsari, which together with the Porta dei Leoni, on the eastern side, were the two main entrances to the old city. Borsari becomes Corso Cavour, home to Castelvecchio (old castle) an impressive building, which was built by the Scaligeri family toward the end of their rule when they began to question the loyalty of the citizens.

While patrolling the streets and alleys during the day, we had peeked into an interesting Enoteca-Osteria and were greeted by the owner and her family who were taking a break between meals. It looked very inviting and smelled wonderful. We had now returned for dinner. Al Carro Armato is on Vicolo Gatto 2/a, tel. 045-8030175. The establishment is named after the "war Machine" designed by Leonardo da Vinci, a model of which is on display. The building is an ancient charmer. Upon entering, there is an old bar and a counter of goodies to enjoy with a glass of wine. The dining room ceiling is extremely high with two tiers of shuttered windows. The old wooden tables, benches and chairs are right at home on the terrazzo floors. Mom does not speak English but that does not stop her from trying. She is a doll and we had fun deciding our menu. The daughter who works with her in the dining room also does not speak English but the one in the cucina does, and when we needed some help Mom went to get her.

we enjoyed the ancient atmosphere while slowly sipping crisp, delicious Prosecco. After the first tastes of our primi, we were already planning a return visit. Linda had pasticcio di lasagna (layers of noodles, béchamel and meat sauce) while I immersed myself in my zuppa di ceci e porcini (barley and mushroom soup). The women recommended a Valpolicella Ca' Flui that was marvelous. Linda had her favorite tagliata di manzo con radicchio e grana which she proclaimed to be top notch in every aspect. Mom told me that I would love the baccala alla vicentina (a sauce of onion, milk, olive oil, and anchovy) con polenta; she was correct. The tiramisu was exquisite. They were kind enough to offer a recioto (dessert wine) and cantucci to really finish us off. The recioto is made from the same grape as Valpolicella Classico Superior with a different process that makes it a bit sweeter. All of this and very fair prices make the Al Carro Armato a superior choice.

It was raining in the morning as we dashed to Corso Porta Nuova and caught bus #12 to the train station, where we would get the 11:42 to Milano on route to our final destination, Magenta.
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