Sunday, September 9, 2012

Veni, Vidi, Vici...Venice and Verona

I love the efficiency of overnight travel. Even if the quality of sleep is hit or miss, I really like going to bed in one location and waking up in a totally different one. After our visit to Munich and Garmisch, we hopped on an overnight train bound for Venice.

Venice was purely a stop-over location for us. I had spent several days there in 2005, and while Jon had never been, he was content with our half-day visit. Rather than try to cram in as many sights as possible, we spent the morning through early afternoon strolling through the city.

It was in Venice that we got our first taste of an Italian summer. Yes, we live in Memphis now, but we had spent nearly a week in Germany and were just getting used to a more temperate climate. That party ended in Venice.

We joined throngs of other sweaty tourists as we walked over canals and through tiny side streets. Too cheap for a gondola, we rode a water bus instead and traveled to the Venetian island of Murano, known for its glasswork.

Look but don't ride

Glass shops are an excellent way to escape the heat and bum some air conditioning. When we weren't wandering in and out of shops, we walked around the island admiring the many pieces of public art.

After some lunch and our return boat ride, it was time to return to the train station. We caught a train to Verona, Italy, where I promptly began to geek out in a big way.

When Jon and a friend went to Italy in 2005, they drove through Verona en route to the Cinque Terre. As Jon was excitedly telling me about the trip, he made the mistake of asking me, "Did you know Romeo & Juliet takes place in Verona?"

Do I know Romeo & Juliet takes place in Verona? What a ridiculous question.

Of course, I know that! For pete's sake, Shakespeare made sure you do when he writes in the prologue:

"Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene..."

When Jon asked his silly question in 2005, I was in the middle of teaching this play to 9th graders. Since then, I have probably read the play an additional twelve times, plus watched numerous film and stage versions. So, yes, I was and am very aware of the connection between Romeo & Juliet and Verona.

However, unlike many (particularly young) people, I do NOT think Romeo & Juliet is a love story. I think it is a tragic story of hasty decisions, miscommunication, and the danger of hatred and revenge. Therefore, while I was interested in seeing all things R&J, I did not get caught up in the foolish romance. (That fanaticism was reserved for Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island, Canada.)

Like Venice, we had a limited time in Verona, so I made a short agenda of R&J sights, including both Juliet's balcony and tomb. For a more or less made-up story, there sure were a lot of "authentic" locations.

One thing I hadn't planned to see was the opera. As we walked past the Arena di Verona (the Roman coliseum in the center of town), we noticed lots of people streaming through the gates. We knew from our guide book that, unlike the Coliseum in Rome, this Arena was still in use for shows and special events. Upon investigation, we discovered that the opera Turandot was being performed that very night. Always keen to seize each and every opportunity, we snagged some tickets in the upper deck and headed to the opera.

We do not know opera or any of the stories. We do not speak Italian. We were not prepared for the stone bleachers to be as hot as they were. But despite all of these things, we had a lovely time, recognizing that we were participating in a very cool thing. The production was glorious with elaborate sets and costumes and the music was incredible. When the lead male sang what we later learned was one of the most famous tenor solos in opera, the audience went crazy and demanded an encore, right in the middle of the show. And when we also later learned what was happening in the storyline (thanks to Wikipedia), we were even more impressed with the experience.

What a wonderful welcome to Italy.

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