Thanks to my friend Amy’s navigation skills, we drove the 3 hours from Turin to Verona without getting lost on confusing unmarked highways and spaghetti-shaped interchange ramps. We checked into the Residence Viale Venezia on the outskirts of town. This dormitory-style apartment was a welcome break for us, since we each got our own private bedroom, and we had booked it for four days. It turned out to be a little on the run-down side, with shower water that turned ice cold at random times due to a mysterious water heater, which we only learned how to reset on the last day. The neighborhood was a little bit sketchy, with homeless people sleeping on the streets.

Verona, Italy

Once settled in, we opted to skip the 2 hour walk around the city in scorching hot weather, but we did hike straight to the center of town to see the ancient Verona Arena, which was built during the 1st century A.D. by the Roman Empire and is still used today for opera performances. This arena looks like the Coliseum in Rome, and although not quite as big, it is better preserved, with a section of the outer wall still standing, and many of the inner gates in use for opera attendees.

Verona Arena

We spontaneously hopped aboard a tourist tram to see the rest of historic Verona. The tram had a loudspeaker recorded loop in three languages, including English. However, it was impossible to hear the recording over the noise of static and four shrieking children seated behind us. I can only guess at what the tram showed us. One site, for sure, was the “balcony of Juliet,” draped with vines, which was supposedly an inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

We had a lovely dinner in the square around the arena, with lots of open-air restaurants and a tourist tram stop. Well-dressed opera-goers strolled through the square, and I noticed some local residents climb sloped rooftops to watch the performance in the arena, or sit on steps to listen. We could hear the opera and the applause inside. Since we walked completely around the arena, we noticed heaps of theatrical props piled outside, including gigantic sphinxes and pharaoh heads larger than cars. And on the way to and from our little excursion, we saw the ancient San Fermo church, and also what looked like a Roman gate.

Every day of our trip has been hot weather, so we end up as bundles of sweat. I needed to do my laundry at the apartment, and Brian warned us that European washers are slow. When I started my laundry around 10 PM, I was disappointed to see “3 h” light up. I assumed that meant 3 hours. When I checked the laundry around midnight, it said “6 h” and it was still going. Very disheartened, I fell asleep and hoped my clothes wouldn’t be wrinkled messes in the morning.  But fortunately, it turned out all right, and I hung my clothes around the apartment to dry. Later on, I heard from Brian and Amy that the wash takes about 3 hours.

A Day Trip to Venice from Verona

During our second day in Verona, Amy stayed in the apartment to recover from lack of sleep. I talked Brian into a day trip to Venice (it didn’t take much persuasion) by train. A quick internet search showed that trains travel regularly from Verona to San Lucia Station on the Grand Canal of Venice, and the trip is as little as 9 Euros per person, and less than two hours. So off we went.

We ate lunch in the Verona Porta Nuova train station, then caught a slow train that arrived in Venice at 3 pm. From there, we had no itinerary, so we crossed a scenic bridge over the Grand Canal and began to explore. Every street looked beautiful and strange. We passed lots of tourists hauling their wheeled suitcases, searching the maze of streets for their hotels. There didn’t seem to be any cars in that part of Venice, but boats serve the same purpose, with large “water buses” and “water taxis,” as well as private motorboats, kayaks, and gondolas with men in striped shirts poling them. The waterways are as busy as city streets.

I wanted a boat tour of the city. We passed some waiting gondolas, but we kept moving when the pole men told the us the price, figuring we could find a less expensive ride elsewhere. We crossed bridge after bridge, and went down crooked and curving streets, and soon got lost, but we figured we’d see the towering domes of big buildings along the Grand Canal and find our way back. Instead, we found other main waterways, with ancient and grand-looking buildings along them. I saw lots of water taxis passing by, so I stood on a dock and called out to one. Sure enough, he was happy to take passengers on a tour and end up back near San Lucia Station. We had the rather large taxi boat to ourselves! And these water taxis are in very good condition, with shiny polished wood. Our driver spoke good English and pointed out sites along the way. We went through some narrow canals where people live, and onto open water which is full of water buses, and so much boat traffic, it’s amazing no one crashed into each other. We passed a Gothic-looking hospital with water ambulances docked outside, and also the island which is used as a cemetery for the city.

Venice Grand Canal

Venice Grand Canal

Once our ride was over, we headed into a marketplace, where I bought some masquerade masks and other items for prices that are probably 1/5th what I’d find in Texas. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant along the Grand Canal, with spikes to scare away seagulls, and a canopy that retracted as soon as the sun went down. Then the lamps all lit up, and it was even more beautiful, with the colors of sunset lingering in the sky.

On the way back to the train station, Brian and I both bought watercolor paintings of Venician scenes from a street vendor; the artist and his daughter. I’ve noticed that the prices for artwork in Italy are seriously lower than what I’ve seen in the States. Food prices are on par, and gasoline is three times as expensive, but good artwork is so affordable, I’m sort of in shock about it.

We took the high speed “Frecciarossa” train back to Verona. Although this train looks aerodynamic, we thought it was not a whole a lot faster than the slow train. It had fewer stops, and we got back around 9 or 9:30 during a sudden thunderstorm. Our plan was to take the bus back to our apartment, but the weather was so gross and the signs were so confusing, we hopped aboard the only bus with the right route number. It turned out to be going in the wrong direction. Six other passengers made the same mistake, so we all had to wait for the bus to get to the end of its route and then loop back in the other direction; maybe 45 minutes extra.

What overseas vacation would be complete without a few mishaps? Keep reading and I’ll get to those….