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growing addictions to street art and espresso (Verona e Bologna)

Asking a friendly faced police man the way to our accommodation in Verona might have been a fatal error. As it is, we have survived. We do have our suspicions however about our little B&B with it’s sit-down-only-bath, why-smile-when-you-can-glare cleaning lady, and tracksuit-bottomed, full-bearded hosts. Questioning why we’d paid in cash on arrival yet also been charged on Emma’s credit card did not go down well. We did get the money back in the end, it was only through sheer bloody minded persistence of the sort that makes you feel like you are the ones being rude and unreasonable. Fifty days for a credit card refund. Is that not universal? (Erm. No).

Verona is a pretty little place, small enough to walk around three times in one evening and keep happening upon the same marble lined streets. The buildings are built in blocks of pinkish stone which lend a warm hue to the morning and evening light. The Arena still stages Operas which unfortunately our budget was never going to stretch to, but we did admire it from afar whilst discussing randomly the merits (or not) of various tattoos. We took the obligatory stroll down down Via Mazzini to Juliet’s balcony which I wanted to see again. I’ve still got a photo somewhere of me and my three sisters when we came to visit as teenagers, and it’s a photo I quite liked as my hair looked quite good for once (which as a teenager was an unfortunate rarity for me).

I also groped Juliet’s right breast for good measure in the hope that doing so will “bring better luck next time”. Emma didn’t partake. We concluded that this could be because she is less of a romantic than me but really I think that she could be onto something: I mean, you’d have to be a bit of a melon-for-brains to say to a tragically bereft star-crossed lover when she rocks up at the pearly gates:

“Oh no, you thought the love of your life was dead. So you killed yourself. But he’s not. But – just so you know – now he will kill himself, because you did. Stupid. Oh well, better luck next time! Hang on, there won’t be a next time, because you’re dead. Still, not to worry. Do you fancy surrendering your right breast to tourists so they can grope you for the rest of time, to make up for it?”

Poor Juliet. She might only exist in the collective consciousness thanks to quirk of Shakespeare’s imagination but it’s not exactly the best reason in the world to have come into existence. And imagine trying to explain to all the other statues why one side of your torso is brighter bronze than all the rest of you:

“Oh yes, that’s all the right breast groping. Comes with the territory.”

Coffee is becoming a definite addiction and we had several of them in Verona. Even in the designer lined streets, a short sharp shot of the black stuff only costs you one euro if you stand and drink it at the bar. We’ve got ourselves into a routine now. We duck into the first coffee-bar we see in the morning. I offer up a smile to try and help along my broken Italian for “due espresso”. We crinkle in half a packet of brown sugar, stir whilst admiring the caramel swirl of froth lining the top and then knock back the little white handled cup in two or three gulps. Always hits the spot. It’s now happening about three times a day. Emma hadn’t really drunk coffee like this before she came away. But now she’s considering making the queue-tastic coffee-shop-around-the-corner-from-her-work, a new haunt of a morning. My work here is done.

On our first night in Verona we ate at Osteria Sottoriva, set next to Sant’Anastacia. You can picture this little vault-roofed side-walk of a place never having changed since the beginning of time. We’re still not entirely convinced that what we ate wasn’t horse meat, but it tasted good. Hopefully it was veal. But it was a stew, and usually veal comes in slices, and horse meat stew seems to be a speciality of Verona, where it comes served with polenta. Which this was. Is is okay if you didn’t realise?

Yesterday, whilst I was snoozing, Emma decided on a day trip to Sirmione for us. It’s surrounded by water on all sides at the south end of Lake Garda so we hopped onto the No 26 blue urban bus with a return ticket for 4 euros 50 each and watched vineyards, likely of Valpolicello, stream past. Kids had finished early for the day so we had a bus-full, all sporting their Converse and turned up skinny jeans (probably a fashion born out of short legged neccessity so I decided to follow suit with my own). Emma and I both have a pair of the very same, in grey. Perhaps this is why everyone keep assuming we are students (we’ve even been hi-fived a few times by ‘fellow’ students).

There’s a square-set castle (Castello Scaligero, named after Verona’s ruling family who built it) there, and we and our youthful footwear got in for half price (“Si, under 25”). Naughty but satisfying when everything generally is overcharged to non-residents like ourselves. There’s an still, green inlet at the front of the fortress, forming a car-park of sorts for the sea.

Definitely a swimming pool for 14th century parties I concluded. Of course. We then consume a double scoop of ice-cream as big as our head. Well I did. Emma was defeated by too much vanilla. Oh and I was helped out by a bold, ice-cream eating duck. Who didn’t even seem surprised that it was cold. They’re all connoisseurs these Italians.

On the journey back, the bus driver knocked his bus’ caterpillar antennae shaped wing mirror clear out of its socket and tutted at the bridge for getting in the way. Honestly, the cheek: “out of my way!” (this is a call which should probably precede the progress of all Italians, wherever they might be heading).

We end up spending our last evening in Pizza del Erbe, where I finally got my Carbonara. It’s the perfect place to sit under an eatery’s umbrella’s and be entirely politically incorrect by commenting on which of the more handsome males of the species we’d go for. Or not, as the case may be. Italian men are well groomed. But this is not always a good thing. We’re not such fans, as it turns out, of the bright pink satin effect blazers, slick-gelled hair or loafers with no socks.

Eventually we slip across to join the chatter next door, supping on bright orange Aperol with ice in order to fit in (men would not be seen dead drinking this in the UK, but I like that they just don’t care about the camp orangeness of it here). Today we are a little disappointed that we still didn’t rise to the challenge of finding out what the bright red and orange lights are, on permanent flash in the tower at the far corner of the square. Museum? Art installation? Lap dancing club? Now we will never know.

The evening ended up going on far longer than we expected it to and we ended up returning to the B&B at about 4am (luckily no curfew from our not so friendly ‘hosts’). We accepted an invite from a group celebrating their friends graduation to the “only night club worth going to in Verona”. Weirdly you don’t pay for your drinks when you order them at the bar. They stamp tiny holes into a wallet sized card which you then surrender and pay for as you exit. Dangerous for you. Probably very profitable for them. Especially if you loose your card. Which I managed not to do. I’m still quite impressed with myself over this. We had a sobering moment as we sauntered home arm in arm, when Emma noticed that we were being followed by a man in a hood. We darted back on ourselves, broke into a little run, found the key, and made it back in once piece. Only to wake up to the hell that is Emma’s old style telephone phone-alarm-clock two hours later.

Today has been a bit of a write off. Which is a bit of a shame as it’s our only day in Bologna and it’s an artists haven. I love it. It’s full of bicycles, covered walk ways and castle sized doors which people disappear into as the ancient vaulted apartments swallow them up.

We met goate’d Kiwi writer Andy when we rocked up to an Il Nosadillo bereft of any welcoming committee other than him. What a sweetie. He’s been to Portugal and is now travelling around Italy and then onto Croatia and Bosnia, whilst noting down encounters with interesting people like the woman who talks to herself an laughs like a child. They’re all going into ‘My Travelling Circus and other short stories’. He generously showed us around the places he’d discovered in his six days here, taking in his prize find of a vintage style shoe shop and sitting and eating with us a the famed Pasta Fresca Naldi, where they cook you freshly kneeded pasta as you wait. Just as he departed, leaving us his key, in stage-left flourished a Chilean actor. Cant remember his name. But I do think we were meant to be more impressed than we were.

The street art we keep happening across on the other hand, has an instantly jaw-dropping effect and just sums up why Bologna is so special: unexpected and unpredictable, eclectic and traditional: entirely deceptively spectacular. All rolled up into one delicious sensual feast.

Interesting people are everywhere here. We sat in a cafe earlier and just people watched. There’s a constant hub of voices on Via Del Pratello as students spill out onto the pavement from the clusters of bars on it’s fringe. As you turn away around the next corner, the hum drops away into the night. Here seems very different to anywhere else we’ve been so far.  Somehow, the people seem more rooted. We encountered the famous Saturday ‘Fare le vasche’ on Via Indipendenza earlier. Back and forth they go. Chatting. Pouting. Cat-walking their tiny little or mahoosive designer dogs. There’s no in-betweens. It cuts down right through the people who live here. Student or civilian. And never the twain will meet. They even live on opposite sides of the city.

We sat on the smooth marble floor when we got back and bit into huge green buttery olives bought at La Vecchia Malga. Parma ham to die for folded into our greedy mouths as we agreed that finding ourselves slightly lost down Via Pescherie Vecchie behind the impressive Piazza Maggiore had been a very happy accident. Possible the best meal yet? Perfect white-green grapes and piu gusto crisps of red pepper and lime completed the impromptu snack like some sort of geniusly haphazard tasting menu.

Now I really should wake up my beautiful red headed friend so we can go out for apperitivo. It’s after half 10 and this amazing vaulted (originally medieval? possibly convent?) building that we’re staying in has been invaded by dozens of booming feet and excited it’s-the-weekend jeuvenille voices.

I tell you what, Sleeping Beauty ain’t got nothing on Em.

A piu tardi!

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