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Verona

A few impressionable hairs.

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My impression of Verona is that it's homey city, the few parts of it I've visited, and brimming with history.

It was walkable, with plenty of options for food, drinks, or groceries. In between live the base roots of old Verona, peeking out from old, broken facades, from roped off or reconstructed structures, or splayed out as frescos up near the roof of unassuming residential buildings. I liked it a lot, because there was always something to see. Naturally, I went to the old town (Citta Antica), but we stayed across the river in Veronetta, and set a foot or two into Borgo Trento.

We did see all the recommended sites the internet provided, since this is travel nowadays; and we did battle the crush of tourists and school children who were being navigated to see those same places. But here is what stuck with me.

Ponte Pietra

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Ponte Pietra (west side)
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From the Ponte Pietra
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Ponte Pietra (east side)

The Ponte Pietra (a pedestrian bridge) was the first bridge we crossed by foot when we arrived. The others followed as we meandered through Verona, but we always returned to crossing here in one way or another, as it was on the way to our temporary home. It's a red and white mish-mash of a puzzle, standing sturdily against the rushing Adige. On our first evening, we sat at the Terazza Bar al Ponte for a couple of Spritz Camparis, Caffes, and later some food - refreshingly welcome after the drive down to Italy - where the Ponte Pietra was visible in all its imperfections. Its story is written all over its body.

From our seats at the Bar, we could see its five arches through which the current of the Adige rushed through, frothing a little among the deep blue. Its left-most arch (that nearest to the old town) was white brick, whereas the next two arches were inlaid with red brick. The last two arches that lead to the other side of the river are made of enormous white slabs of stone. I stared at these differences, wondering when on earth it was built. I have since read a variety of different histories about it, with veils it only further in mystery.

The best understanding I could decipher is that it is today the oldest or only bridge in Verona of Roman descent, having been built by them around the first century B.C. It may have begun its life as a wooden bridge before being upgraded to stone. Since then it had been reconstructed in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., and used to flank another bridge that no longer exists today (but had fit the Romans' line up of streets from one side of the Adige to the other, from one important landmark to another). The bridge fell into disrepair many times over the next thousand years, even reputedly being demolished entirely in the 13th-16th centuries due to human means or the Adige flooding. In 1945 it was blown due to receding German troops and was again reconstructed by materials that had been recollected (I assume out of the Adige).

The oldest part of it is the part with the large, slabs of stone, and I can't for the life of me figure out when that is, due to the vague and conflicting descriptions on virtually every site I've tried to read about it on. I believe it might be as old as the 13th century, followed by the 14th-16th for the white brick on the opposing side, and finally a more modern upgrade of red brick in the middle, but it is an opinion mostly based on common sense. Either way, it is a blatant display of mixed eras that hundreds of people cross each day, likely with more focus on the more prominent of Verona landmarks.

Verona Vecchia

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Remnants of Verona Vecchia

Verona Vecchia caught my interest too, which translates as Old Verona. With so much history and so many foreign words, I had thought it was a name, but I think it might be a loose description for what Verona used to be. We walk all over these Veronese streets to see its old, historical buildings, and statues, and arena, while all the while old Verona lies some meters beneath the worn out soles of passing shoes. Beneath a variety of establishments lie the remains of a building foundation, of streets, the sewage system, a temple.

I had come to learn this by accident a couple of days upon coming to Verona. Instantly I was interested, but I learned quickly that any tours that might take one to these lucky Veronese basements (I hate tours, but I would do it for this) would need to be planned and booked in advance. Permission needs to be requested of the establishments who keep in their bellies roped off pieces of this stony history, even if these places are technically viewable by the public. I don't know why there is a Verona beneath a Verona, and don't know how it came to be that today's streets lie above the old. But there was one part of old Verona I could see, and it appears on the map as Verona Vecchia.

As with reading about Ponte Pietra, the small site swims in mystery, at least to the English-speaker who walks in with no knowledge of anything. The site lies in the middle of a very normal street and had come up at me without warning, whether or not we were following the navigation. A metal fence ropes off the area, allowing you to look down below. What you see is the circular footprint of brickwork that had once been the basement of a gate tower, a portion of its inner courtyard, and a part of what had once belonged to a gate wall.

These are remnants of Porta Leoni, a gate that had once been used as a customs gate for those entering the city during one period of time (if I am correct), and protected this side of the city. There is also a story that a tunnel used to lead directly from Porta Leoni to the Arena, which I've still to dive into to confirm. This gate was built between 1st century B.C. and A.D. and the only other standing part of it left is around the corner, splayed against a building wall. Its sister gate that used to stand on the opposite side of old town with Porta Leoni still stands today as Porta Borsari. It sees a river of heads flowing beneath its two arches every day, but may have been built over an older gate that today no longer exists. I wonder, though, if there too aren't remains of its predecessor beneath its sturdy feet.

Food worth experiencing

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Breakfast: Caffe & Brioche | Lunch: Pizza in Pala | Aperitivi: Spritz Campari (& Caffe for weary traveler) | Dinner: Spaghetti Carbonara (home-made with actual Italian recipe and ingredients)

The food is a third of the reason we exist to travel at all. We have already sampled cuisine popular around Brescia, much of it polenta-based, which I saw here, as well, so have chosen to sample what we felt like this time around. Not to mention that being nearly fourty years of age with a stomach that revolts if packed with a full meal (followed by the rest of my body), having an Italian full course meal is for me like a world wonder. I wonder whether they really manage to get through all those courses! Our feasting schedule is on a different rhythm, so we stayed with it by popping in and out and sampling things.

Breakfast was humble, which perhaps balances out the possibility of a dinner fit for a king. A Caffe to start, which here means espresso, and in this case a brioche (a croissant with an apricot, cream, or pistachio filling, say). They have sweet, small breakfasts here. In Brescia we used to pop into a Bar and watch busy Brescians order and drink their Caffes at the counter whilst eating up a sweet pastry of choice, before hurrying off to work. We didn't see that here in Verona this time, but we visited a variety of Bars.

A Bar is a wonderful thing. It isn't the alcohol-infused drink-fest that you're afraid to take your child into. They vary and have a variety of purposes. I wish more of these existed elsewhere because they make so much sense to me. It's a place to go for breakfast, for a coffee during the day, for a snack, and drinks in the evening. Depending on the Bar they can serve more food or less, but all are a sort of one-stop shop, and they're everywhere. The first evening we observed the Ponte Pietra, we were sitting at a Bar on the Adige, having Camparis, Caffes, antipasti (in this case nuts and chips, but those too vary and come with alcoholic drinks after around 4pm), and Gnocchi.

We popped in to a random one for breakfast on this day and had a quiet start to the day. It was a wide space, essentially a restaurant, and had table service. To our side was a large window looking into a pretty and wide courtyard for more seating, although it was almost all empty at this time of day.

Lunch two (since we employed a couple of these during the day as we traveled) was a pop into another Bar, this one vastly different. It was very small, had enough space for four, very used wooden tables, and had another room we didn't see. Here they served Pizza in Pala, which is why we popped in.

Pizza in Pala, which can be found if one searched for Pizza al Taglio, in Verona (or Pizza al Forno, if in Brescia, I learned), is an elongated pizza of which you get a rectangular slice. It's excellent for when one wants to sample a variety of pizzas and has only one stomach and would like to keep the shape and health of their intestines. We ordered several different slices and shared them all to a drink of beer on tap. It's a casual thing to eat with no particular need to dress up (I say this as a Canadian).

The dough is incredibly soft and delicious. The toppings are simple but go together so well. The dough did not taste yeasty, which I learned meant that it had sat for days before being put into use and that a lot of love had gone into it. I particularly enjoyed those slices with any of their cheeses on top. Some are soft blobs of white wonderfulness that will melt in your mouth and fit so well to the simple dish. Having a pizza of any kind in Italy will destroy pizzas for you in every other part of the world. One never goes back after that.

Aperitivi were excellent before dinner. They start up in the afternoon and are essentially drinks with whatever is offered that is small to snack. It can be anything from nuts and chips, to small bite-sized snacks, to slices of pizza. In Verona we had only a few of these, but we have ridden the Aperitivi train before, where we hopped from one Bar to the other and had a drink and a snack at each. It's a good way to relax, though, particularly if one just arrives after a long drive, ride, or flight and your stomach isn't ready for a full meal.

One of the best of things, though, is to stroll through an Italian market or grocery store. It's one of the best ways to see a piece of those normal inhabitants of the place you're visiting because you see what and how they eat. Granted, everything will be sold here, but there are always differences - and there are always things to try. This time, we bought ourselves some salami, prosciutto, and mortadella, as well as some cheeses of choices and vegetables, so we could put together a savoury breakfast or snack for ourselves (we all have our rhythms, however much we like to explore), and to collect ingredients for a carbonara.

I haven't had carbonara in years. My partner, who has an avid love of Italian food, loves to cook. He very particularly studies the dish before cooking it - much like a scientist studies his subject and prepares his lab before setting it in motion. I think I heard that people make carbonara with cream (I didn't know that until yesterday, because I never did it that way before), but however I or anyone else made it, we did so with the following ingredients:

- Guanciale (cured pork cheek)
- egg yolks
- Pecorino Romano DOP (a crumbly cheese like Parmezan, to grate)
- pepper (lots)
- salt (very little)
- Spaghetti
- Spaghetti water

The Guanciale is sliced and put into a pan to cook. The egg yolks and grated Pecorino are mixed together in a bowl, to which some Spaghetti water (from Spaghetti cooking) can be added, or, I think, a bit of the liquid/grease from the Guanciale pan to get a more fluid consistency. When the Guanciale is done, the finished Spaghetti is added to it, and tossed and mixed. Finally, the egg-Pecorino mixture is slowly poured into the mix whilst stirring. Some salt, lots of pepper. It should be creamy in the end, and will be a rich meal.

It's been a while since we've done it, so it didn't turn out as creamy as it should have, but it was still amazing. I'd like to recreate it but am not sure if we can even acquire Guanciale in the town where we live in Germany, nor Pecorino. We can substitute it all, of course, but it's really nice to be able to use the actual ingredients when you're right there. Although I'm not sure where carbonara originates, so it was a random dish we felt like making and nothing particularly Veronese, I think.

We go back home tomorrow. But we have one more place to visit, and it will be tonight, at a restaurant in Veronetta called Osteria ai Osei.

I picked it after a number of reviewers mentioned a dish called Lesso e Peara (Boiled meat and Peara sauce). I particularly want to try the Peara sauce because it is specific to Verona. It's made of bread crumbs, beef marrow, beef stock, and pepper (as I understand), and is it's own party, even if it comes as a side to a meat. The story I heard behind it was that it was produced for a king, but I also heard that it was produced with what common people had at the time (though they hadn't a lot of pepper apparently, so I'm not really certain). Either way, it's particular to this city.

Another dish I am interested in that they serve and is recognized as a Veronese dish, is Pastissada de Caval, which is essentially a horse stew (served with polenta). I think this dish might have originated from the after-effects of a bloody battle, where too many horses were left dead out on the battle field and had begun to smell, during King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths' invasion of Italy. It's suggested it is a very old recipe (back to 400 A.D. - if this is the true story of it), which makes me curious to try it.

Food is history, and how some of the more unique dishes for our time still live and push on, year after year, makes me curious to know why. It is a big reason why I like to travel. The times change with our palates, so that what had once been a meal of convenience or common sense is not quite the same anymore. But still these dishes are served even today. Another piece of history not so freely advertised, telling a story.

A few last impressions

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More on Insta.

Posted by Treensbert 12:08 Archived in Italy Tagged verona Comments (1)

Hier bin ich Mensch. Hier darf ich's sein.

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Clickety. (If you're blind like me.)

Goethe's famous lines from Faust were the first to cross my mind when I made it up the low hill.

It had taken us five days to go for a walk through the fields behind our new home. We had landed at the Munich airport almost a week prior and had spent the worst of jetlagged days half-asleep and dealing with paperwork, applications, and appointments with everyone from city hall to banks. During all this, we drove all over trying to pick furniture and locate normal household things - a vacuum cleaner, garbage bins, cleaning detergent.

We had nothing with us but several bags when we landed, since we had just fully-engaged in an international move from Canada to Germany. It. Was. Chaos. I could see the fields through my kitchen window, but hadn't even gotten close to finding the pedestrian-bike path towards them until what felt like a month later.

Since global warming had started revving its engines, the valley where I now live in Bavaria has been wracked with random, hot, sudden rains and weather during the summers. It was humid when we landed on August 2nd, an intense difference from the cool sea air Vancouver offered. On the day we finally set out towards the fields, there was a strong wind, forcing the grass to bow in its monstrous path.

Wide, gaping green fields spread out as we started down the path, which was dark, grey, and wet from a recent rainfall. It shone in this new post-rain light in a desolate way. The sky was murky, and the clouds a curly-dark mass just beginning to disperse to let some light through. A stout line of shaggy deciduous trees to the left of our path sat across a field of sentinels to the right - tall corn stalks growing tightly against one another, like tired commuters in a cramped bus after a long work day.

In the distance below, a smattering of white, brown, and red specks drew up a cluster of homes amidst the green. A scattered collection of cows grazed quietly in their vicinity, not too far from a creek that cut the fields beautifully as we walked. The cloudy day made it seem cold, silver, and polished. Almost deadly. We took a trodden earthy path further up into the fields at an incline. The wind here blew with free will, battling down the overcast sky.

Here, I got my first view of the valley I would be living in with its now blue sky. My shoes were already muddy and my hair had been blown out of its tie.

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Clickety. (Ditto to above.)


Posted by Treensbert 15:27 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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