Katarina in Verona: All You Need is a Hint of Spontaneity

February 19, 2020

I woke up to the typical Saturday morning rush of diesel engines periodically coasting by one floor below my urban apartment. A faint beam of sunlight streamed through my translucent curtain. Keeping with my new routine, I made a simple breakfast of cereal, stracciatella yogurt, and a cappuccino. My day was overall free except for plans to prendere un caffe with my friend Silver from Italian class.

My phone chimed at around noon with a message. Silver and his cousin had spontaneously decided to visit the famed ancient Roman arena of Verona to take pictures. Perhaps the old version of me would have preferred at least an hour’s notice to plan, but this was not an opportunity to pass up. I had never been inside the Arena di Verona, and I was sure it would have more majestic views than the bustling university coffee shop we had originally planned to visit. Thirty minutes later, the three of us met up downtown at the enormous black iron gates to the arena. Tourists milled about posing with selfie sticks and eagerly shifting angles to capture all 365 degrees of Piazza Bra’s beauty.

I had no way of estimating the immensity of the 2,000-year-old limestone arena until I took my first steps into the dirt ring where gladiators once fought for their lives. I stopped immediately in awe, pivoting in place to admire the view from the center of the ancient stage. It’s hard to imagine that the 30,000 stone seats above me used to accommodate 30,000 people. My friends chuckled at my reaction and asked, “Is this your first time inside the arena?” The answer was probably quite obvious because of my wide-eyed gaze and enormous smile.

Arena di Verona

The next hour was spent alternating who was in front or behind our various cameras. We scaled the steps at least 60 feet up to the top row of the arena. We certainly made a wise decision to visit on a relatively chilly February day. Climbing stairs with a foot-tall gap between each step is really a workout. The ancient Romans must have been incredibly fit. From the top we circled the perimeter taking pictures every time the breathtaking views of the bustling city below changed. Then we descended to the eerie, echoing dungeons where the Roman prisoners once dwelled.

When it was about time to conclude our adventures through the maze of underground hallways, we made yet another spontaneous decision to visit the overlook at Ponte Pietra. I quickly agreed to the trek across town to see the number one place on my Verona bucket list. The walk through the cobblestone streets was beautiful and served as a much-needed break from stairs. Reaching the overlook at Piazzale Castel San Pietro involves climbing about one kilometer of stone steps. Finding our way was easy once we spotted the narrow pedestrian street that transformed into a seemingly never-ending staircase. I was impressed to see residents walking up in unison with us, on their way home to their hillside apartments. About halfway to the top, I was sure that I had found my dream house. It was a pastel peach abode with a barrel tile roof and walls that seamlessly met the stone of the hill.

Dream Hillside House

Everyone was silent when we reached the top, both out of awe at the view and because of the workout we just had. Once again, I was pivoting in place, wide-eyed at the panorama that stretched for miles. Even with the slight afternoon haze obscuring some of the sprawling city, I knew instantly that I was standing at the peak of one of the most beautiful places I had ever witnessed. The effort to get to the top seemed like a minuscule price to pay for the landscape that we towered over. Below us, the swift current of the Adige river snaked through the labyrinth of streets and rooftops. I thanked my friends for showing me this wonderful place and sat down with them to take it all in. We took turns with the cameras once again and began our descent from the hilltop. Even long after I was back in my cozy apartment, the moments spent high above the city that day felt surreal.

Piazzale Castel San Pietro View


Katarina in Verona: Playing Tourist, without the Luggage

February 10, 2020

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.


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.

Katarina in Verona: Benvenuta al Nord

January 29, 2020

9:45 a.m. EST – Dulles International Airport

            Today is the big day. The one when I leave my rural hamlet of Middleburg and all of its touristy farm-town glory. I arose at 6 a.m. to make sure that my two immense blue suitcases were zipped up and ready to go. Before sunrise, my mom and I pulled out of the neighborhood, together in our gold Ford truck for the last time until August. We exchanged heartfelt goodbyes at the East Security Gate of Dulles Airport and there was no turning back. It was time for my journey halfway across the world. Now, waiting for my brief flight to New York, dubbed the shuttle, I look over logistics for my arrival in Verona one more time as 2000s alternative rock plays faintly on the overhead speakers. My recent camera roll on my phone has become a detailed index of boarding passes, train line information, and bus route numbers.

2:45 p.m. EST – John F. Kennedy International Airport

            The 45-minute flight from Washington, D.C. was seamless aside from the turbulent winds that made the small aircraft tremble during take-off and landing. New York was just about the biggest contrast possible to the countryside where I began my morning. A singular terminal (there are eight), must have been about a mile long, complete with its own miniature shopping mall. Everything was there, from perfumeries lined with the latest Ralph-Lauren fragrances to three Shake Shacks. After about a half hour of walking and perusing the stores, I reached my gate at the end of the terminal. With almost three hours before boarding, I decided to write and relax while I watched other planes majestically enter and exit the cloudy sky.

Plane Wing

7:55 a.m. CEST (Central European Standard Time) Milan Malpensa International Airport

            The plane edged closer and closer to the immense runway surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was a short and smooth seven-hour flight from New York, but I was eager to get going. Sleep had come to no avail, as is usually the case when I am restrained by the perfect posture of a minuscule airplane seat. I wish I hadn’t done the math of how long the journey would be: nearly 24 hours. After a long line at passport control, it was time to get on the Milano Centrale train. To say the airport was in the outskirts of the city would be a stretch. It was nearly in another province. An hour later, the train stopped in the depths of Milano’s underground, and I had to switch to my final train. The screenshots from Google Maps that I had taken way back in Virginia were my savior to plan this four-hour extravaganza of trains and buses.

Skyline with Mountains

12:00 p.m. CEST Verona, Italy

            Keys to my apartment finally in hand, I scanned my student card at the immense burgundy doors that marked the entrance to the student residences. I knew there was potential to have anywhere from zero to 6 flat mates, so I knocked lightly on my first-floor apartment out of curiosity. All of my baggage and I were greeted by a tall girl with short blond hair and a cooking spatula in hand. I was ushered in through the door with a friendly welcome and pointed in the direction of my room. My arms were absolutely numb from hauling my suitcases for at least a mile on the cobblestone streets. In addition to my suitcases I had been given my linens for the apartment at check-in. When I emerged from stockpiling my things neatly in a corner of my room, I emerged to find three more girls waiting to greet me from the kitchen. To be honest, their names flew by in my blur of exhaustion, but they all seemed very pleasant. We had a brief conversation and then another girl came into the kitchen, introducing herself as Maria and the last of the five people in the apartment at the moment.

Verona Bridge

            A brief nap in the soft glow of afternoon sunlight brought me back to functionality. I quickly became familiar with where my flat mates were from, what they were studying, and how long they had been in this majestic city. Two are from Poland and three are from Spain. Everyone had been here since the first semester and was eager to explain to me the ins and outs of daily life here. I was quickly inundated with all the information I could need for my first few days here: including a Post-it Note of hand-drawn directions to various grocery stores and a comprehensive tutorial on how to use the induction stove. It seemed things were off to a great start in the beautiful city of Verona.

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