Europe 2007 - 2: Südtirol and Verona

Welcome to Italy: Verona

After the breakfast, we took off from Scuol direction Martina, via brief drive through Austria to Italy. If I would not consult the map, I would barely noticed the border crossing, because there was no passport control on neither of the Switzerland-Austria or Austria-Italy border. You will not really notice that you have left Switzerland either, unless you notice the prices on gas stations being suddenly in Euro. And you will definitely not notice you are in Italy for quite a some time as the villages will still look very German (or Austrian, if you wish), with signs in German (and often in gothic Schwabach letters). This region – south Tirol aka Sud-Tirol aka Trentino – Alto Adige – is ethnically and historically part of Austrian empire and is part of Italy for less than 100 years.

The drive through the Sud-Tirol is worth every gallon of gas. You go down for hours, meandering through the valleys with apple orchards everywhere. Never in my life I have seen so many apple trees. My wife was tried to take a picture of some them. Judging by amount of of images on the card, she must have missed at least half of them :-).

After few kilometers, the endless apple orchards start and continue until (almost) Lago di Garda and Verona, later on intermixed with grapes, peaches and plum trees.

At the gas station where we stopped for lunch break, I had my first of many coffees – the Italian way. The minuscule cup contains about 30 drops of oily liquid – coffee – that contains about as much caffein as three extra large Tim Hortons mugs. And costs about the same as three Tim Hortons … Here we also saw parking the Italian way.

We had no reservation for this night, and planned to stay in Verona, so our first concern was to find a hotel. For all other nights we had reservations and new exactly where to go. It was easier than expected: on the way from highway exit to Verona Nord, following the Google directions towards Verona Centro, we first saw the signs of the Hotel Elefante and after about 4 km the hotel itself. At the first sight, it was not very appealing, but we decided to stop and try it out. I am happy we did. The hotel’s inside was very nice and charming – located on fairly large lot, with huge garden, it has in addition to main 2 story building about 5 or 10 small bungalows around the lot. Very cosy and welcoming, with excellent breakfast buffet and peacocks in the garden.

We unloaded the luggage, got the map and directions from the receptionist (who btw spoke very good English) and drove to Verona. We parked where she recommended and walked to historical downtown. How wonderful beginning of the Italy trip. Verona is small, friendly, clean. At the centre of the city is very nice piaza with over 2000 year old Arena – an amphitheater from the Roman Empire, used to host opera performances in the summer. The repertoire is obviously Italian opera (so if you are a Wagner buff, too bad – sorry Ivan L., you will not like the programming). On the night of our visit they performed Verdi’s Nabucco.

Tickets to arena performances are very expensive – they range (for better seats) from 100 to 300 Euro. You can buy them in front of arena, and there were several people selling them. We were extremely lucky to find a gentlemen with very British accent trying to get rid of single ticket for the staircase for just 25 Euro. Should he have more, we would all be seeing Nabucco – this way, only the most devoted opera fan from our family – my wife – went to see it, while me and Silvana went for a walk through the evening Verona. We saw the Juliet’s balcony, many beautiful streets, visited few bookstores, went for some gelato and coffee and returned back to nicely illuminated arena.

From what I heard from Darina, the opera was an amazing experience. The seat she had did not have the best acoustics – which was to be expected with that price tag. She did not mind, as she saw Nabucco well over 50 times and knows the music and text by heart – but the atmosphere of the place was very powerful. Unless you really cannot stand opera, this is something worth trying during summer in Verona. The less expensive tickets needs to be booked well ahead (several months) as they go very quickly.

We have returned around midnight, tired but very happy about the lucky coincidence. So far – Verona is nicest Italian city we have seen (including all previous trips)

What a start.