Viva Italia Part 2

After a magnificent breakfast on the terrace in the sun at Palazzo Aminta Hotel where I amazingly bumped into a friend from my golf club in Toronto, we hit the road for Verona. A decision was made, as it was sunny and warm to drive along the lake-Lago Maggiore as far as the road would take us and enjoy the view of the mountains and sea. Lots of chatter about our dinner, Charles’ hand that I injured, and the wedding vehicle parked in the driveway of the hotel.

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Wedding car outside hotel Palazzo Aminta near Lago Maggiore

There is nothing to say about the autoroute except that the drivers are well behaved and pull over to the right lane. No hangers about in the left lane that we find in Ontario so things move pretty quickly and before long we arrived at a small touristic town called Sirmione, packed with people. Had a non-interesting lunch of pizza, and then we all waited for what seemed like hours for the one toilet. We wandered aimlessly through the town and looked at the sea, and then met back at the car.

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Sirmione – quiet scene away from the crowds

Stewart was driving and our GPS took us to the town of Verona and to our hotel Palazzo Victoria without incident. This charming hotel in the center of town was both old and new as it was built on ruins, but modernized its public spaces with lots of light and contemporary almost jazzy furniture. Our rooms were fashionable, efficient, not large, but absolutely comfortable, with a rather unusual bathtub and shower combination, a door in the middle of the tub which kept the shower separate sort of. Classical music greeted us on the Bose player and all was well. We tried the lobby bar and had some wonderful large olives, with taralli, a traditional Italian cracker much like a round breadstick or very tiny bagel, and washed it down very well with a crisp prosecco.

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Ruins under Palazzo Victoria near parking garage

We headed off for our afternoon nap, still catching up with the time change, and then met for dinner quite late as our reservation at a well know eatery wasn’t until 9:00. We arrived at Antica Bottega del Vino on time, but were kept waiting while the 7:00pm diners were disgorged from the restaurant. The restaurant was packed with what looked liked regulars, everyone hanging around a bar laden with many bottles of wine. The atmosphere and attitude was very rush rush, but we got our table and settled with menus. Just as we were trying to make our selection a rather obnoxious waiter informed us that we had better get our order in because they were busy. Really. I knew what I wanted as did Charles, but Barb was hesitant and ordered an unpleasant choice of fried fish complete with many bones. My vitello tonnato was incredible as was my rabbit. Charles loved his carpaccio and calamari, which wasn’t available at first, then magically was. Barb could not extricate her escargots from their shells and was thoroughly frustrated. In retrospect it was the only dinner we had on our entire trip that was less than satisfactory, despite the appealing atmosphere. It was only a short walk from the hotel and a cognac back in the bar with some espresso renewed our spirits.

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Bottles of vino in Antica Bottega del Vino restaurant

The next morning, Friday, we met in the breakfast room, which was kind of funky. A great espresso bar, a terrace, delicious poached eggs and we were ready to meet our tour guide, Sylvia  for a full day tour of Verona. Naturally, this was a walking tour. I say naturally, because you would be crazy to use your car in Verona, and it was happily parked in the hotel garage that turned out to be part of old ruins.

Breakfast Terrace at hotel and guide Sylvia

We went through the town gates while Sylvia told us about the history of Verona. The night before when we walked to dinner we noticed fully armed guards in combat suits and today there they were again in front of Verona’s only synagogue. It was locked, but Sylvia thought she could convince the porter to open it for us. And she did. What a jewel. Not only the beautiful interior, but the rabbi/cantor came to greet us and brought a shofar or ram’s horn with him and proceeded to play for us as the Jewish New Year was only a few weeks away. It was a touching moment.  He also gave me two Sabbath candles in a little box for Friday night’s Sabbath lighting of the candles at sundown. Later in the bar we lit them and I said a prayer and Charles, my Christian husband, said the prayer over the wine in Hebrew. Doing this ritual in the bar was definitely unusual, but I am sure we will remember it always. The synagogue was built in 1864 and opened in 1929. There is a memorial plaque by the front door for all the Jews from Verona who were victims of the holocaust. The altar is styled from the 16th c. It is best to read the following link, which talks in depth about the Jewish history in Italy and Verona.

Verona synagogue

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Riki and the Rabbi

Located almost next door to the synagogue is The Church of St. Anastasia. The Basilica extends over three large aisles and is supported by twelve pillars in red Veronese marble. Now I will tell you about one of my spiritual traditions. I love Catholic churches, always have, even though I am Jewish. I try to light a candle in front of a Madonna in as many churches as I can. I do this in memory of my daughter, Carrie, and feel a very strong connection with this symbolic gesture. It comforts me especially as she looked like a Madonna with her red hair and alabaster skin. It is a moment of calm during my journeys.

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Church of Saint Anastasia

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Madonna with pink rose just for me

We continued on our touring, walking miles it seems and learning masses about Verona. We went, of course, to the arena, which is mostly used for operas, but after August used for pop concerts. Although I know its history, with all the lights and stages it looks very commercial and it is. I prefer the Coliseum in Rome. We walked up the pedestrian closed streets and found the famous Juliet’s balcony and also found hundreds of tourists taking their pictures there. Shakespeare created the story. It is not part of history, but many young and old lovers go to this famous spot and leave mementos, or graffiti of their names in hearts hoping this will make their relationships last. Shakespeare should get some sort of compensation for this. Alas too late.

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Gladiator arguing with cops about loitering in front of the arena

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Love notes at Juliet’s place- hmm

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Beginning of shops on walking mall

We enjoyed an espresso with Sylvia and then parted ways around one o’clock and searched out a place for lunch because we hadn’t eaten for a few hours. We found a delightful spot outdoors as the weather was continuing to be stellar and ate a lasagna of the day with porcini and chanterelles mushrooms that were in season, more prosecco for me and wine for everyone else. Delicious.

Okay Google take me to a good restaurant near here…

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Ancient ruins on the street or just under

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Beautiful Verona

After lunch we split up to walk more as I had seen a small boutique of interesting blouses and shirts earlier in the day and wanted to try my luck at shopping, and Stewart wanted to keep Barbara away from the shops because her suitcase was already bulging. We also needed to walk more after the lunch for obvious reasons. Charles picked out an inexpensive men’s tuxedo shirt that looked great on me, so we made our first purchase.

Nap time and then drinks before dinner at a wonderful resto called Il Cenacolo with an open fire and lots of choices for meats and other goodies. Its time to mention that I used to be quite proficient in Italian, and before our trip found my old grammar books and dictionary and studied them. I had also sung numerous operas in Italian so had quite a vocabulary. I enjoy using other languages and perhaps can be a bit insufferable about it, but all in good fun, well almost. In this restaurant I chose to have the “all in Italian” menu, while everyone else chose English. I was sure that I understood one of the dishes and ordered it confidently. The waiter very patiently asked me if I really wanted 250 grams of cheese done rare as my main course. Hmm. I knew the word for cheese and this wasn’t it, but rather a type of cheese. I thought it was some sort of steak. Everyone had a big laugh including me and we got it sorted. The food was extraordinary. Barb ordered an appetizer that went on forever, and we all ended up sharing. I had fois gras and chateaubriand with Charles, and sea bass for Stewart and Barb. More wine, cognac for me, espresso and I think we walked back to the hotel and know we slumbered satiated. Il Cenacolo means the last supper and the plates had a picture of Da Vinci’s famous painting. All very well, but this definitely would not be our last supper, although we ate as if it would.

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The Last Supper plate at Il Cenacolo

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Sea bass on Barbara’s plate

The next morning we were off to Florence and more adventures. As I write this we are preparing to go to Quebec to visit our grand daughters for the weekend. I can hardly wait.

More about Italia very soon when I return, and if you like my blog please tell your friends so that they can enjoy it as well.

Ciao !

Riki

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