Saturday, 26 December 2015


Returning to Verona in 2012 [photo: Sally Givertz 2012]
This to wish all of you who read this blog a Happy New Year!

In most of the monthly posts of the last two years, starting with the post The Birth of the Piave, I have been writing about one thing: the journey I made in the summer of 1998 from the source of the River Piave, all the way along the course of Italy's third largest river, to the south and Venice. 

I left Venice late in the afternoon of the 6th September.  
Map of Verona, featuring a barely noticeable advertisement for my hotel of choice
[Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato Agricoltura]

That evening I stepped from the train at Verona's Porta Nuova station, assembled my folding bike Una, and cycled down the Corso Porta Nuova until I reached a modest hotel, the Albergo Trento. 

I wheeled Una into the foyer, where the attendant told me regretfully they hadn't anywhere to store bicycles.  

Then he watched bemused as I took Una apart, folded  her up and put her in her sacco.

'Ah,' he said in Italian - which sounds exactly the same as 'ah' in English - 'a sacco is no problem - we can store that in the cupboard under the stairs!'

Then we started on the documentation formalities. 

I handed over my passport and took my folding spectacles from the little pouch fixed to the belt of my trousers, and unfolded them.

'Ah,' he said, 'your spectacles fold up, too!'

After a shower I headed down to the excellent Brek self-service restaurant in the Piazza Bra

There I ate some fine pasta washed down with a couple of glasses of the local Valpolicella. 

The region around Verona [Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato Agricoltura]
You can see (from the map above) that Valpolicella production is located to the north of Verona.

I found the image (above) of this old postcard on the Facebook website 'Italia di una volta, vecchie cartoline' but search as I may, I can't locate the original post - so would the originator, if reading this, please contact me so I might give accreditation?  During the period of the Italian monarchy many streets and squares in Italy were renamed.   During the period royalty ruled Italy, the Piazza Bra was known as the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele (Victor Emanuel in English).  After the monarchy were sent into exile (at the end of WW2) many of the old place names were restored. 

The old photo of the Portoni was taken from inside the Piazza Bra (the name 'bra' derives originally from the German word “breit”- meaning 'broad' - and refers to the broad square in front of the city gates) - the tram seen on the right would have been part of the electric (from 1906 - horse trams before that) tram network serving the old city. You can find here excellent webpages (right click on the pages to translate to English)  describing the tram services that existed up to the 1950s.  

So clearly, these old postcard images (the one above and another below supplied by Luigi Boatto) are from photos taken in the first half of the 20th century

Standing inside the Piazza Bra wearing a T-shirt that vies in colour with the the local buses(that have now replaced the trams) as the brightest in Verona  [photo: Sally Givertz 2012]

In the photo above, I'm standing inside the Piazza Bra  at the same side of the Portoni di Piazza Bra as seen in the previous image. 

The image as seen in the postcard above (supplied as always by Luigi Boatto - thank you Luigi!) was captured from the other side of the Portoni by a photographer standing in the Corso Porta Nuova.  
Looking towards the entrance to the Piazza Bra from the Corso Porta Nouva [Google maps, street view]

Sally in the Piazza delle Erbe [PAG 2012]

For comparison, here (above) is the modern view, as captured by Google's remarkable mapping system. 

The tower to the right of the archways is the Torre Pentagona, part of the original walls of the city

But, back to 1998... It was night time, and I couldn't take any photos, as the little built-in flash on my Pentax SLR wasn't powerful enough.  So I gave up all thoughts of photography and took a stroll up the Via Mazzini to the Piazza delle Erbe.  

I visited Verona again in 2012 with my wife Sally -pictured left - and took several photos in the Piazza. 

Behind Sally is the one surviving pillar of the old Roman forum.  

The Lion of St Mark atop the Roman pillar  [PAG 2012]
The Lion of St Mark atop the pillar was added much later - it is the emblem of the Venetian Republic, which came to an end in the Napoleonic era.

The image in the old postcard (below) shows a side view of the Leone di San Marco.   In the background is the Corso Sant'Anastasia.  You can see faint indications of murals on the walls of the buildings.  

When I visited the piazza on that night in 1998, they had been restored all around the walls of the square and were glowing with colour under the floodlights.

The Leone di San Marco [courtesy Luigi Boatto]

To do Verona justice would require several posts in this blog - as I did when writing the posts about Venice. Of the large cities I have visited in Italy, Verona is by far my favourite.  Venice is wonderful - but commercial, busy and and nearly always packed with tourists.  

'Passport Verona' is a booklet available from the tourist information centre in Verona.   This map is featured in the centrefold.

Verona is a place to relax and enjoy that wonderful feeling of being in Italy amongst Italians - for Italians feel that life is for enjoying, and it is an infectious feeling.

The Roman theatre (top right of the map above) is an example of an essential place to visit.  Below is an old postcard (my thanks go again to Luigi) showing the ancient stone seating, with the church of Santa Libera in the background.


There is so much to see and do in Verona... but my time in Italy in the summer of 1998 was coming to an end.

On the morning of September 7th I rose very early and paid my bill at the Albergo Trento.  

I said 'grazie' to the kind man on the reception desk who had been on duty all night and, in the hotel foyer, assembled Una for the last time before cycling to the railway station to catch an early morning train to Milan.  

I'd bought my ticket the night before to save hassle.

I had time on that last train journey to reflect on the many events that had occurred during my visit.  

This blog has been read in many different countries around the world, and the feedback I've received from readers tells me that posts about the trip to Italy in 1998 were the ones they found most interesting. 

In the buffet in Milan I bought a latte and a brioche as my breakfast before taking the shuttle bus to Milan's Linate airport.

One thing I've noticed when travelling through Europe is how much more sociable bus passengers are than those in the UK. 

This journey was such a joy as the driver seemed to know a lot of the Italians on the bus, who proceed to harangue him mercilessly - to everyone's enjoyment, especially mine - and his too, for over his shoulder he gave in return as good as he got!  

In comparison, folk in the UK sit statuesque in their seats wearing expressions that would not seem out of place in a funeral cortege.

Airports in Italy are similarly more relaxed.  
To admit Una as hold luggage at the airport in Scotland where I started out on this trip,  I had to follow a strict series of rules laid down on an information sheet. 

She had to be packed in a cardboard box  of a certain set of dimensions, which were checked carefully when I presented Una in her cardboard coffin at check-in.  

There she was weighed, as there was an upper limit on the allowed weight, also recorded on the information leaflet.

In contrast, at Linate when I showed my sacco  containing Una to the lady handling hold baggage, things moved with less formality.  

'What's in the sacco?' she asked.  
'A folding bicycle.'
An appreciative raised eyebrow.  'Hmmm.  Interresante!'

Then with a shrug of the shoulders she threw my sacco  on the conveyor belt, and Una and I were on our way home.  

I'd like to thank Giancarlo Soravia, Luigi Boatto, Padre Maurizio Brioli, Aldo De Bastiani, Franco Baldissarutti, and Enzo Zanvettor for either providing information or supplying images for the series of blog posts that cover my 1998 trip in Veneto, which concludes with this month's post.

This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 relatively short chapters - good for bedtime reading!  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide. The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc. 

If you'd like to track these blog posts, you can follow me, Peter Alexander Gray, on Facebook.

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