Sunday, June 21, 2009

Verona and Mantova, Italy

I hadn’t visited Italy in 13 years (except for a brief stop in Cinque Terre a few years ago) and was excited to revisit the tourist sites , sample the food and live la dolce vita. My first stop was in Verona, a city in the north central part.

I had envisioned Verona to be part of the crowded, chaotic Italy I had in mind. I was pleasantly surprised by the relative calmness of this city. Verona is the scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Juliet’s house, site of the famous balcony scene was of course swarmed with tourists. I did not come to Verona to see Juliet’s house; rather, I came to wander the streets of this charming, historic city. The architecture was the typical pastel-colored buildings (yellow, red, orange with green shutters and brown roofs). Most of the churches and palazzos (palaces) were from the Renaissance era, made with brown bricks. These edifices also frequently contain courtyards.

Verona also has two Roman era structures, an arena and an amphitheatre, both of which house performances during the summer. One particular highlight was crossing the bridge to the other side of the river, climbing up to the Castel San Pietro and admiring the views of Verona from above.
Mantova, on the other hand, is a UNESCO world heritage town surrounded by three small lakes. It too, has plenty of Renaissance era churches and palaces that make for a pleasant stroll around town.

Now, for the ultimate highlight--what did I eat? My mission was to eat my way around Italy in order to gain knowledge as to what constitutes Italian food (I am often confused at its authenticity when I eat Italian food in the U.S.). The first item I savored was tiramisu gelato, which literally translates to ice cream but is creamier than American ice cream.

Then I went for an apertivo (pre-dinner drink). Unlike Spain, where one often has to buy tapas in addition to the drink, in Italy, some places have free buffets if one buys a drink. The buffet I ate had finger sandwiches (with salami and prosciutto), finger pieces of pizza, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, potatoes, puff pastries, cantelope, and strawberries.
To top off my great visit, I also ate a pizza Napolitana. Pizza in Italy is always thin-crusted, which is the style that I prefer. Unlike the U.S. pizzas, the one I ate did not have as much cheese on it.

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