It’s been a little while since I last posted, and a lot has been happening. It has been a very busy week(ish), and I have a lot to tell you about!
We started our next leg of our trip by boarding a plane to Milan. We didn’t plan to stay long, so we booked one night in a hostel and a bus to Verona the next morning. While we weren’t there more than a night, Milan was quite the experience… Let me set the scene:
First, we get off the plane, get on the Metro, and end up on the street by a rotary with what felt like a million roads all going different directions, and instructions from the hostel that said once we got off the metro all we needed to do was walk five minutes down the road. That’s all well and good but when you’ve got ten roads to choose from in the dark, panic starts to set in. Luckily, a woman passing by on a bike noticed our frantic faces and said, “youth hostel? that way.”
We headed down the road, again being told by a passerby which way the hostel was (we’re easy to pick out I guess), and finally found it. The hostel was in a big building that looked like it had, at one time, been some sort of school with bright colors and cold metal railings. We knew right away we were in for a treat. We were handed our sheets, given keys, and found our way to our room. A shared room with six beds, one power outlet, and no lock on the door. The door didn’t shut at all, infact, and we had to keep our bags in lockers out in the hallway. “One night.” We kept reminding ourselves.
We were starving when we arrived, and since it was about 11:30pm we didn’t have many options. The doorman pointed us in the direction of a pizza and kebab shop down the road. When we got there, we were immediately greeted by the stares and catcalls of the ten or so men sitting outside the shop. I learned very quickly that confidence would be key here. We strolled in, ordered a pizza, and tried to convince the Turkish store owner that we weren’t german (even though he continued to speak little German phrases to us anyway). After getting our pizza and asking for it to-go, the Turkish man waved us over and said, “Get me three cups.” Ashley handed him three little dixie cups from the other side of the counter and he poured us each a double shot of scotch. “Cheers!” He yelled. Welcome to Italy.
The following day we boarded a bus to Verona, and were pleasantly surprised by how cheap transportation is here. In Ireland and England, it was one of our main expenses, but in Italy you can go from city to city for 5 Euro or less. I had suggested a stop in Verona because I had been there once before, on a theatre trip in high school, and remembered loving it. The bus ride was about two hours, and we booked a hostel right outside the center of the city.
The hostel door was hidden, with a tiny sign that said “Sleepeasy Hostel” on it, which we later heard was to detract people from begging outside it or trying to break in. The room was bright orange, with six beds, two doors opening onto tiny balconies, and a pretty terrifying bathroom. Dark tile, a questionable shower, a broken toilet seat, you get it. We live in luxury.
Leaving the hostel, we met a Finnish guy named Joseph who took us around the city and brought us to all his favorite spots. Gelato, Castlevecchio, a bridge, and a little outdoor restaurant that had liters of wine for only ten Euro.
We of course had to stop at the Capulet House where it is rumored that Juliet, or at least the inspiration for the story line, from Romeo and Juliet lived. The tribute to her and her balcony are fun to visit, if you can get through the hoards of people to see them. You can even pay to go up through the house to stand on the balcony. It’s romantic to walk through the entry tunnel where thousands of lovers write their names or initials signifying their eternal love (until they repaint over the walls each winter).
Dinner was the highlight of Verona for sure. We stumbled across Trattoria Cuore Antico while wandering away from the bustling Piazza delle Erbe, looking for something quieter and less touristy. We quickly decided that if the menu has pictures or the words “american food” on it, it is not the place for us. Cuore Antico was nestled between two beautiful old buildings, with umbrellas overhead and the comfiest mismatched furniture to sit in. We were welcomed immediately by a man who seemed to be the owner, ordered prosciutto and melon to start, spinach ravioli and spaghetti carbonara to share, and of course a bottle of the house white wine.
The starter was perfect. Crisp, clean, salty and sweet all rolled into one. The proscuitto was cut thinly, and the cantaloupe was perfectly ripe so it came right off the rind. Next, we shared our two pasta dishes, both of which were unbelievable. The spinach ravioli tasted like butter and sage and salty parmesean, and the pasta was delicate and fluffy. There is nothing worse than a ravioli with dry edges or one that is too soft and breaks apart, and this was the perfect in between. The carbonara was possibly the best thing I have eaten to date. I had never had it before, and clearly I am a crazy person because it is unreal. The spaghetti was the perfect al dente, and the sauce was rich and salty but not overbearing. I have to be honest, the concept of pasta with a sauce of bacon and eggs sounds like the idea of someone who has smoked a little too much, but I want some of whatever they’re smoking because it is GENIUS.
We happily finished our plates, ordered tiramisu, and had a hilarious time trying to understand the owner while he tried to understand us. I had mentioned to Ashley and our new Finnish friend that I would love to see an Italian kitchen, and before I knew it, Joseph was handing me over to the owner who brought me back to where the magic all happens. As I walked in a was wrapped in a chef’s apron, a hat was thrown on my head, and a pan of potatoes was put in my hand. I think they all thought it was as funny as I did because at one point the chef tried to hand me some sort of raw organ meat to see my reaction. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.
We went to bed exhausted, full, and excited to get up and explore some more the next day. I fell asleep almost immediately, dreaming of pistachio gelato and bacony pasta until I heard something rustling near my bed and was jolted awake.
“Sorry! Sorry!” One of our roommates said to me when she noticed I was awake. She was mopping the floor all around where Ashley and I were sleeping, and that’s when I realized the water spilling out from the bathroom and onto the dorm room floor. Her shower that had began when I went to bed around 11 had just ended right before my dreams were abruptly halted, around 12:30am. Water had been pouring out from under the bathroom door while the rest of us slept. Thankfully she cleaned it up just in time to receive a phone call that would last until 4am.
Feeling less than refreshed the next morning, we got up, excited that the sun was shining and we could wear sandals!! We decided to explore the shopping areas of the city center. One thing I love about the Italian cities I have seen is the incorporation of the modern world into the ancient structures. There’s something so funny about weaving in and out of designer stores on cobblestone streets that date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Just in case our bags weren’t heavy enough, we bought a couple new items of clothing (Italian women are so stylish, I was feeling a little inadequate).
We had lunch at another cute outdoor space called Oblo Street Food. It’s acceptable to eat a burger in Italy if it’s what they specialize in, right? Well, we did and it was a great choice. First, we shared a caprese salad that was made with burrata cheese, so they had us right from the beginning. If you’ve never have burrata, you need to stop what you’re doing and get to the nearest cheese shop. It is like the best fresh mozzarella ever, but when you break it open, the still-soft middle comes oozing out. Seriously, try it. After the caprese we shared a delicious burger with bacon jam and smoked ricotta cheese on it. Also delicious. The burger came with a side of the crunchiest fries ever that were sprinkled with coarse ground salt and fresh herbs. The bomb. Did I mention they served the fries with a garlicky, herbed mayo??
With our second and final day of Verona life coming to an end, we watched a performance of medieval dancing, saw the sunset over the river, and got another round of gelato. Gelato update: you have to try the fun flavors when you see them- I’m talking melon, pear, we even saw celery flavor (celery is like flavored water to me so I didn’t try it, but if you’re a celery lover by all means!). But as much fun as getting wacky is, the dark chocolate is always a winner and pistachio never fails. I’m sort of becoming an expert but more research is in order before I can make my final verdict.
Verona is a fantastic city, filled with beautiful people and even more beautiful food. The streets are bustling with motorcycles, people walking their dogs, and tourists spinning around with selfie sticks like they’re in the Sound of Music. Break off the path and you’ll find the most beautiful buildings with balconies covered in vines, paint being allowed to chip off the walls with time as it should. There aren’t many places that can say this, but Verona really does look just like the pictures.
Verona Fun Fact: Verona has it’s own arena like the Coliseum, built in the first century before the famous Coliseum was built in Rome. Rome is just a bunch of copycats I guess.
Stay tuned for my write up of Venice- Did we find great food? Did we get horribly lost? Did we steal a gondola and end up in Italian jail? You’ll have to wait and see!