I never knew much about Verona until I watched Letters to Juliet. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s the cheesy (in a cute way) story of a young American girl who finds a hidden love note in the wall by Juliet’s balcony in Verona. She writes back to the original author and encourages an Italian adventure in search of true love. It’s cute, it’s girly, and I totally fell in love with Verona when I watched it.
Although I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that visiting Verona would ensure my own fairy tale romance, I was eager to explore the city made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. So when my plans took me to Venice for a few days, a city I’d previously explored, I figured I would take a day trip to discover Verona, Italy’s city of love, for myself.
I left Venice around 10:30 am. The great thing about Italian trains is that you have a choice; the more expensive high speed trains if you are in a hurry, or the slower and much cheaper ones if you don’t mind taking your time. I was in no rush at all, so I selected the two hour option at 7.80 euro rather than the one hour option for nearly 40 euro.
I arrived in Verona shortly after noon, and after about a twenty minute walk I found myself in the walls of old town, facing the famous Arena and cafes of Piazza Bra. It was a warm sunny day midweek so the cafes were bursting with tourists and locals alike. Seemingly endless groups of school children appeared everywhere I looked, giggling and chatting in rapid fire Italian, and in some cases Spanish or French. I found it too busy for me to hang around for very long, so I ducked down the nearest alley way seeking some quiet to explore the city on my own.
I wandered down cobble stone streets enjoying my new-found peace and quiet. The buildings were beautiful, and almost every balcony was covered in bright flowers. Locals mingled in front of storefronts and café’s chatting away about the weather, latest news, or local gossip. A couple of them glanced my way and smiled as they watched me take endless photographs- an obvious tourist in their beautiful city. But they didn’t seem to mind and a few even wished me ‘Buongiorno’ as I passed by. I had only been in the city for about an hour, but I was already taken in by its old world Italian charm.
Soon I found myself in another busy square filled with market stalls. A glance at my map showed me I was in Piazza Delle Erbe. Filled with cafes, shops, and even a market; the Piazza was also close to Juliet’s Balcony which was on my ‘to-see’ list for the day so I figured I may as well wander through. I skipped past stalls of fresh fruit, local handicrafts, and colourful knit scarves planning on taking a closer look on the way out, as I made my way towards the bustling entryway that I assumed was Juliet’s House.
Like Piazza Bra, Juliet’s house was also jam packed of tourists and school groups. Young people groped the breasts of Juliet’s statue for good luck, while others scrawled their names on the wall. It was a far busier scene than the one from the movie, but I wasn’t surprised and after taking a few photos of my own I left in search of lunch.
I headed back to the square glancing at café menus as I passed by. It was hot so I didn’t want a big meal, but I was hungry and needed something. I stopped at one when I saw bruschetta on the menu. Thinking it was exactly what I wanted I grabbed a seat under the umbrella, ordered in my stilted Italian and enjoyed the view while waiting for my lunch to arrive.
Now I don’t know about you, but in my world bruschetta is bread with a tomato/herb/olive oil mixture and cheese on top; simple but delicious. What I got, well it can best be described as a hunk of stinky melted cheese stuffed with mystery meat on a bed of god-knows-what reddish brown wilted vegetables and a couple of bread rolls on the side. It definitely was not what I expected and it wasn’t very good either, but I paid for it so I was going to eat it.
Big mistake. I hadn’t even left the restaurant before my stomach started churning. Thinking that maybe walking would help, I paid my bill and left, but was barely able to pay attention as I wandered through the market stalls, my mind too intent on my gurgling stomach. Twenty minutes later I knew I was done and needed to leave. I shoved my map and list of things I wanted to see away in my bag and headed for the train station.
I walked as quickly as I could, trying not to upset my stomach any more but I knew I was in a world of trouble. Salvation came when I spotted the golden arches of a McDonald’s sign where I made a bee line for the first toilet stall and emptied my stomach of everything I had consumed. It was an awful experience; I hate throwing up at the best of times much less in the public washroom of a foreign city.
Convinced my stomach was empty I slowly crept out of my stall and made my way to the sink where I attempted to rinse my mouth out. Feeling somewhat better I slunk out of the McDonalds and continued towards the train station.
I wasn’t there five minutes before I was frantically shoving money into the turnstile to get into the washroom there, where I went through the same awful experience as I did at McDonalds. I tried to be as quiet as possible but by the time I came out to rinse my mouth I knew everyone had heard me. I caught a couple sympathetic glances directed my way as I stared at my ghostly pale reflection in the mirror. I needed to get back to my B&B in Venice, and I needed to get there now.
Wasting no time I rammed my credit card in the ticket machine selecting the fastest (and of course most expensive) train to Venice. The tiny prices of the local tickets seemed to laugh at me as I OK’d my purchase of 37 euro. I didn’t care. Grabbing my ticket I headed slowly up the stairs to the platform, taking it as easily as possible in an effort to keep my stomach calm. Once boarded, I settled in against the window and shut my eyes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep but it was better than living the agony of watching time tick by on the clock.
I’m thankful to say I made it back to Venice with no other problems. However, there was no doubt that I was done for the day. Back at my B&B I grabbed my key from the front desk and headed to my room where I stayed in bed until the next morning. Thankfully everything was out of my system by then, so by the time it came for me to leave for my flight I was healthy enough, although incredibly exhausted. It was an awful experience, but It definitely could have been much worse. No doubt that I learned my lesson the hard way; if it doesn’t taste right, don’t eat it!