Last year, Verona was a sleepy little grey town with the ultimate romantic history. This year, Verona was awake – and ready to party.
Wearing the colors of Carnevale, Verona shed her modesty and quiet for an astonishing – and delightful – flamboyant edge. Venice was where I thought I’d catch my first glimpse of festivities, which made Verona’s celebrations all the more unexpected.
We arrived red-eyed and heavy with sleeplessness. I, for one, was going on 30 hours sans Zz’s and felt a nap was in order – that, or a heady glass of red wine and some rich gnocchi. The latter would have to suffice. Last year, we’d lunched at a cafe hidden down a zigzagging alleyway on Vicolo Samaritana called Ristorante Greppia. With everything from gnocchi to donkey to fried cow brains on the menu, the restaurant was appealing to all taste buds – especially mine.
And the red wine is flowing. We opted for a bottle of regional red called Bardolino, which warmed me up to the chilly temperatures outside. I know you’re supposed to vary your choice of restaurant when you return to a place, but there’s something special about the arched ceilings and warm interior of this little place tucked away like a satisfying secret down a potentially shifty alleyway.
Our next stop was Piazza Bra, home to Verona’s Arena and a wide street lined with pricey cafes. To reach it, we’d navigated crowded Via Mazzini, a long street packed with designer shops. Pushing through slow-moving crowds of pedestrians is no easy feat under normal circumstances, but add 24 rather wealthy teenagers gawking at mannequins in store windows and you have an almost Sisyphean ordeal.
I hadn’t been especially fond of Piazza Bra last year, but this year, it was barely recognizable. Teens plastered in flour staggered about, bent with laughter and aiming cans of silly string at one another. A boy dashed across my path, flinging a fistful of flour into his friend’s face. From somewhere down the road came the thumping of a bass and the sound of firecrackers. All around us was confetti – in the air, lodged between cobblestones, in hair. We weaved through throngs of complicatedly costumed marauders – crash test dummies, Hazmat suits, princesses, and pigs – before collapsing into plastic chairs with steamy mugs of cappuccino. Under the arched Bra Gate, a float with a bulbous head was making its way down the parade route, an MC hollering in Italian over the soothing notes of Kesha’s “Timber.” Last year, the entertainment provided by little Verona involved Alex expertly identifying species of dogs passing by.
This was far superior.
I think part of it has to do with Verona being such an unassuming little town in Italy’s north, solemn and star-crossed. To suddenly see its ocher roofscape sprinkled with confetti was especially thrilling. It’s like Sandy at the end of Grease when she ditches her chaste ponytail and poodle skirt for some hairspray and leather leggings.
Verona, you sassy minx.
We led the kids to Piazza del Erbe where we somehow connected with the parade route as a colossal bull stormed through, steam blowing out its nose. The floats were certainly high-tech – and technicolor. In Piazza Signori, we inquired about the heart cannons, which was difficult to do without knowing the Italian words for “heart” and “cannon.”
“When will the cannon shoot the hearts?” did not elicit a useful reply. Instead, the vendor responded by handing me a very useful packet detailing all of the events for Verona In Love that weekend. I managed to discover that students can write letters to strangers signed as Juliet or, if they find themselves by the Dante statue in Piazza Erbe at 4:45 on Valentine’s Day, they can witness a flashmob where couples will spontaneously engage in snogging.
With Carnevale enlivening the streets and happy couples kissing beneath cannon blasts of shimmering hearts, Verona In Love was really making a splash this year. I couldn’t wait to see it on Valentine’s Day.