Katarina in Verona: Playing Tourist, without the Luggage

Now that I have settled into my cozy apartment in Verona, allow me to introduce myself. I am a sophomore majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular biology. Aside from learning about the intricacies of cells and chemical reactions, languages also fascinate me. Teach me a few words of any language and I will instantly want to learn more. Given that there is only so much time in college, I chose two languages for my minors: Italian and French. While at Università degli Studi di Verona, I have the once in a lifetime opportunity to explore all three of these subjects while delving into the local culture.

University Neighborhood

Leaving the immense doorway of my apartment and stepping onto the ancient cobblestone streets led to countless adventures as I first explored the city. The first excursion was a not-so-touristy one: a trip to a tiny grocery store nearby called iN’s. I try to avoid going there since it is more expensive than the farther stores, but it is a convenient option. The first time I crossed the azure blue-green river to the historic center of the city was when I really began to explore. Less than five minutes from my apartment and the university I was delighted to find several streets with a wide array of shops and intricate window displays. Every product imaginable could be found there, from the American Disney store to a shop that specializes in Italian espresso machines. I have never seen so many shapes and sizes of caffettere, as espresso machines are known in Italian. No matter how many times I stroll by the archeologists’ cutout in the center of one of the cobblestone pedestrian alleys, the roman ruins excavated beneath still take my breath away. The remnants of ancient civilizations serve as a reminder of the thousands of people that contributed to the rich culture and history of Verona before I arrived.

One of the most intriguing places in Verona, a medieval castle known as Castelvecchio, has now become part of my routine running route. The name literally translates from Italian to “Old Castle,” but I was amazed to find out that this beautiful feat of architecture is nearly 700 years old! Almost any time of day, tourists and locals alike can be spotted walking through its gardens or strolling up and down the majestic bridge. Thanks to my roommates showing me around the castle grounds, I was able to experience the rush of viewing the city from high above the river. On each side of the bridge, there is a narrow staircase carved into the brick walls that leads to a vast overlook. The postcard-worthy view is magical at sunset. Perhaps one day I will delve into the history of this medieval castle and learn about the original purpose of the staircase that has weathered thousands of travelers’ steps. While exploring the tourist areas of the city, I quickly learned that it is common for couples to write their names in permanent marker on bridges in Verona, given that it is the city of love. The Castelvecchio bridge is no exception to this part of the city’s culture.

Castelvecchio

Delving into a lesser known fragment of cultura veronese, locals can be found at many street corners and alleys practicing various forms of art. From painters to singers and dancers, they are everywhere. I have been mesmerized many times at the site of these people openly creating as tourists and locals stroll by. A group of Italian dancers have particularly caught my eye. Every weekend evening, they gather by an abandoned building next to the Verona arena to practice break dancing. The open hallway has a glossy tile floor and shelter from three sides, making it a perfect alcove for dancing. Group members of all ages take turns improvising in a circle to a beat that I can best describe as a fusion between rock and hip-hop. Occasionally, intrigued tourists stop to watch or take videos. There is only one girl in the otherwise diverse group, and she nimbly moves across the floor with confidence. Two weekends in a row, I have seen them grace their street corner stage with their impressive handstands and improvised steps.

Verona Arena at Night

Although I have visited most of the famed tourist spots in the city and a few of the more obscure local sites, I still have so much more to explore. On the top of my list is St. Peter’s hill, the highest viewpoint of the city. Many of my new friends have trekked to the top of the hill before and getting there is no small feat. The one-kilometer long staircase is such a workout that an elevator is available. I imagine the journey to the top is something like walking up a small ski slope, except with stone stairs. Despite the built-in workout, I know it will be fully worth the panorama of the Verona skyline.

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