I hope you’re all having fabulous holidays! For me, it’s been a much needed rest and some time to work on the Italian Job as I’ve come to think of it. I’ve had a re-hash of the blog – there are a few more pages now and I think it’s a more organised structure than I had previously so lends itself better for adding useful pages for anyone else looking to move, rather than my monologue of updates! I’d love some feedback on it – good or bad – comment below or use the poll 🙂
Thanks to those who came back on the last poll about whether Verona’s worthy of a visit! 50% said “go go go”, 33% said “worth a visit” and 16% was for “other” (they hadn’t been before – I must consider my poll answers more carefully ;-))
I’ve put together a more detailed plan of things to do before I go – basically added some timescales to “Sue’s Action Plan”. I’ve given myself a lot to do for December, considering there’s only 5 days left:
Review flat leasing contracts – get a final contract sorted for renting out the flat.
Confirm escrow arrangements for tenant’s deposits– you have to have the tenant’s deposit held outside of your own bank account. I’ve got a recommendation from a friend.
Understand tax situation, what forms I need to complete for the Inland Revenue and ramifications of telling them. National Insurance – can I and is it worth making voluntary contributions? What if I get a job in Italy, will that cover it?
Look at current exchange– I’m still not entirely sure what to do with finances. I’ll get an Italian bank account but what’s the best way of getting access to my savings and rental income? Hoping to find out!
Email language school – find out when I have to sign up by and how I can find accommodation. I’ve done this already, awaiting a response. They’ve a course starting on Monday 8th April.
Enroll on a sailing course – I want to do my Competent Crew & Day Skipper courses before I go.
Buy a “smart phone” – my i-pod has finally gone caput and I’ve taken that, as well as my regular need to phone friends and family for directions and train times, as a sign that I should probably get a smart phone. Smart phones don’t work with my fingers generally so it’s a risk! I’ve gone for the Samsung Galaxy S II – sim free and unlocked to give me a bit of freedom in Italy. I’m going to get a pay as you go kind of thing when I’m over there (and when I’m over here too I think). I know nothing of smart phones – if you have any advice, please send it through 🙂
That’s it for now – hoping to get a new page up in the next couple of days about the finance bits & pieces.
Well it’s about time to update on my trip to Verona last weekend – the girls and myself had a great time. In true, not very “blog” like fashion, I’ve rambled below so apologies – at some point I’ll work out the best way of updating on my Italian adventures that doesn’t require my blog followers to allocate an afternoon to it.
Verona airport is fairly small so it’s quick to get out. There’s a bus that leaves from just outside the airport exit (there’s a ticket machine by the bus – tickets are €6) and takes you to Porta Nouva bus/railway station in Verona. From there it’s only a 10 minute walk to the centre. To get to the centre, have the bus station so that it’s behind you – cross over the road (there’s no footpath on the other side) and turn right past the petrol station for 5 minutes or so down that road. You need to cross over a busy-ish road and go straight ahead until you get to a largish roundabout/junction past some ruins on the left hand side. Turn left up Corso Porta Nuova for another 5 minutes or so. When you get to a large amphitheatre, you’re in the centre!
We stayed at Hotel Mastino – if you follow the above route, you’ll walk past it on the way – it’s a minute from the Amphitheatre so very well positioned. And particular well positioned if you’re into fast food as it’s next to (and above) a McDonalds. The Hotel was very nice – quite plush inside, marble floors and things. There were 4 of us so we booked a family room which was very cosy/compact!
There’s a spa attached to the main hotel but it’s expensive – the cheapest treatment was €45 for a head, back and leg massage for 30 minutes. Lisa actually had one of these and can confirm that they also do glutes. I think the general feeling was that the massage was very professional, but if you don’t speak much Italian, there’s a risk it can come across as a hostage experience as you’re taken away in a mystery vehicle to what turns out to be the sister hotel, given some paper pants and left to it for a bit. However, the massage should help with any hostage-related tenseness and you should have confidence that you will be delivered back. Your family need never know.
Amphitheatre, otherwise known as “The Arena” in Piazza Bra: It’s a fabulous building – very grand. Lovely smooth rose coloured marble on the inside, crumbly on the outside (armadillo!). It costs €6 to get in. They still have concerts and operas here in the summer. I can imagine that being quite a spectacle. It’s quite crumbly in places but on the whole, very well preserved. You can go right to the top and get a good view of Piazza Bra. If you’re going when it’s icy, then be prepared to break a limb or two.
Piazza Bra (it does have a number of lingerie shops just off it up Vicola Tre Marchetti and Via Mazzini but er, otherwise there’s no connection): It’s packed with sweet stalls that open early and close late selling every sweet imaginable. Crepes with nutella are quite the rage here but they also had Fritellas – a sort of bubbly thicker crepe. Alas, because they make it with some kind of rose water it tastes disappointingly like old lady. Carla liked them.
Piazza Erbe: Has a little market in the middle selling clothes and fruit (and in particular, a mysterious orange fruit / vegetable I really wish I’d bought called Cacchi – or Cachio perhaps in the singular). I think there’s a tower here that you can pay to go up for a good view point but we didn’t, we found a free “view point” (keep reading for that).
Il Duomo: The cathedral was only €2.50 to get in. There’s lots of fresco’s inside – very impressive.
Castelvecchio: We didn’t explore in here but the city art museum is inside. We walked through it and across Ponte Scaligero (Ponte is bridge) which is a footbridge across Fiume Adige (Fiume is river) to the northern part of the city. It’s quite a nice building and if we had more time, it might have been good to take a look inside.
Castel San Pietro: This isn’t much of a castle from what I could see but it does have a fabulous viewpoint. It’s just across from Ponte Pietra on the Northern side of the river. I think this might have been my favourite place in Verona – there are spectacular views of the city and the river up here and it’s quiet and relaxing. Go up as far as you can up the steps close to the bridge, they’re a bit hidden away.
Casa di Guiletta (Juliet’s house – of Romeo & Juliet fame): It’s a bit of a mystery this house – Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was made up so this is not Juliet’s house. It has been randomly selected. The balcony was put in a few decades ago. However, if you want to be crushed by the crowds in a chewing gum encrusted alleyway, then this is your place.
Casa di Romeo – is simply nowhere to be seen. It exists. It’s on the map. But the writing was so big on the map and the roads are so small I think it could have been anywhere within a 100 metre radius and there’s only a small plaque to mark it. I think it’s the Italian real life equivalent of “where’s Wally?” ; “Where’s Romeo?”. Indeed.
Pam Supermarket (on Via Adigetto I think, very close to Piazza Bra): I’ve added this to “sites” because a) I think it might be the only supermarket in Verona and under the auspices of rarity, I think it qualifies as a site for that reason alone and b) I do like a good foreign supermarket. Ours are so mundane in comparison with not nearly as much variety in teeth-rotting sweets and cakes.
Restaurants & Cafes
Firstly, a word of warning on food in Verona: One can never have too much horse/donkey meat here. There are not a lot of places that don’t serve it so if you’re not at one with eating donkeys, then go to the pizzerias.
Loacker Moccaria off Cso. S. Anastasia: On the first morning we found this little cafe for lunch and had some toasties/Paninis and a drink. Not that impressed with the paninis but this was our first experience of the Italian hot chocolate. Unfortunately, indirectly through staring at the hot chocolate of the girl next to us. It’s so thick – you could almost stand your spoon up in it. The general consensus from the group over the couple of days is that the teas were nice too (though I didn’t have any). Having said that, I’m not sure they DO tea in Italy, not the way the English do at least. They generally bring out a little pot of hot milk to put in your tea. Perhaps that’s what makes the tea nice. You get a little biscuit thing with your drinks too – Fondante Dark-Noir. Delicious. By the way, “latte” in Italian is “milk” so if you want an actual latte, ask for “cafe latte” otherwise you’ll just get milk.
Cafe Al’duomo – Via Duomo: Having been consumed with hot chocolate envy at the last cafe, we had hot chocolate here with cream (“panna”, not the squirty bottle kind but the genuine article) and cakes. The hot chocolate was everything we’d hoped and dreamed for (though not for Lucy – I think for her, there is such a thing as too much chocolate). The cakes were lovely and there was a nice young man who spoke Italian to me – woohoo! Admittedly I understood only every 10th word (he was describing the cakes and well, it turns out my lexical knowledge of cake ingredients in Italian requires work) but still, success!
Ristorante Pizzeria in Piazza Dei Signori (Piazza of the people): Is a very good value place to eat. It’s always a bit more comforting going to a restaurant where the Italians themselves go to eat and there were lots of them here. There are 3 floors – if you go to the top – you might get a window seat overlooking the piazza and at Christmas time, the Christmas Market is there. We had a lovely meal watching the snow fall down over the stalls. For 4 pizzas, a litre of Valpolicella wine (Veronese wine) and a bottle of water it came to €61. The wine, well, don’t get me wrong, it was very nice (my wine descriptions are poor I’m afraid – the most I can do is “winey”, “grapey” and “red”) but, it was curiously and unexpectedly a little fizzy. Nice, but if you’re not expecting fizzy red wine, then er, a tad off-putting. I suspect this isn’t the case with all Valpolicella (though a swift look around the other tables at the restaurant confirmed a fizzyish top to their carafes as well).
Cafe Ebrius on Via Ponte Pietra: This was a cute little bar/cafe. The guy behind the bar spoke excellent English (annoying ;-)) and was very friendly. He served a couple of guys there some very interesting whiskey drink with whipped cream on top of it. Alas, the cafe’s/bars don’t really open late in Italy and they were going to be closed at the point where we might have actually wanted to drink whiskey with whipped cream.
Expensive place in Piazza Erbe: Don’t go here. Admittedly you’d find it easier to follow these instructions if I gave you the name but I’m afraid I didn’t make a note of it. There’s a friendly enticing woman outside but don’t be allured in; it’s a trap. The cheapest thing is soup at €9.50 and the food isn’t great.
Bosari, C.SO Cavour: This was a lovely restaurant. However, we selected it based on its tasty looking, donkeyless menu. It turns out this was the lunch menu. The dinner menu was not as tasty looking and could well have been donkeyfull if we’d looked closely. In fact, for a vegetarian like myself, they seemed only to have some kind of olive potato starter. However, the waiter said they’d make some pasta for me and Lucy (claiming fraudulently she was a vegetarian too – meat eaters – do they have ANY morals? ) which was good of them – points to them for that. Those points were subsequently knocked back off as he kept replying to my Italian in English. I added some again because they gave us a little starter as an extra which was nice of them. And then took them away because it was fish eggs… It’s fair to say, we have mixed feelings of the Bosari restaurant.
For anyone visiting Italy and wondering what the mysterious ”Coperto” is, it’s cover charge. They don’t often charge it for drinks/cake but they do with food.
The Italians will never, under any circumstances, hand you your change. Ever. I think this is the sole reason for queues in Italy. You hold out your hand for the change, and then they drop it onto a flat surface right next to your still waiting hand so that you have to push your change to an edge somewhere. Perhaps there’s a niche in the market for change collecting magnets in Italy.
Verona does have a slight sewage smell in parts. I wonder whether it gets worse in the summer? It wasn’t overwhelming, just in some places.
There are no “pubs”! It’s odd – people clearly want to have a sociable drink– the mulled wine stalls at the Christmas market were by far the busiest.
Dogs. Well, let me tell you… I had heard that Italians didn’t do pets, that my cunning money making kennels/cattery plan would fall flat because of it. Oh my word – dogs are everywhere in Verona. They’re allowed in shops, they stay in hotel rooms (with people… it’s not THAT extravagant). I’ve never seen so many pampered pooches. They don’t do medium sized dogs either – in Verona, your dog must either be the size of a large rat, or a small horse. And not your general mongrel either – it must be pedigree. And it must be adorned in only the most fashionable of garments. So, I’m definitely still considering the kennel ideal though I’m thinking now to rebrand it as a Hooch Hotel.
On Sunday, women wear fur. Fur coats, fur collars, fur hats. Fur is the thing to do on a Sunday. I think it’s a religious “Sunday best” thing. And what better way to showing your appreciation to God than by wearing the skin of his creations? 🙂 And there are so many people in Verona on a Sunday, or at least, the Sunday we were there. We were walking around easily enough on Friday and Saturday and then on Sunday, it was like trying to wade through an overpopulated mink farm.
So in summary, Verona’s great. It’s not as grand as Rome, and not as romantic as Venice, but it’s got a charm of it’s own – there’s lots to see and do and well worth a visit!
Come stai? This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and not so much doing really but here’s a quick summary…
Verona: I’m going to Verona next weekend with some friends. I can’t wait! I flew into Verona earlier in the year and got the coach straight out to start a cruise in Venice, so it’ll be nice to see it at a slightly slower pace. I’ve done a bit of research on things to see and do, or rather, I have printed out some information from Wikipedia, so not “done” as such quite yet.
Italian: My Italian (language…) is coming along nicely – it’s nice to have a holiday in mind to focus the mind a bit. Last week my Italian teacher was trying to explain “prepositions”. Let me tell you about Italian prepositions (for info, our prepositions are things like, “with”, “in”, “a” etc.) – there is little to no logic involved. There are some rules but there are so many exceptions that it’s hardly worth bothering with. I think one must simply “rote” learn them. Anyway, I’m used to a few by now so I didn’t do too badly. A new guy at work speaks Italian. It’s nice when you come across someone else to talk to in a language you’re learning, it makes it feel less like you’re a kid learning a secret code.
Boyfriend: I’ll just sneak this one in here. My boyfriend (also known as Lee / Fabrizio in the blog) and I split up two months ago. The Italian plan remains but tweaked so I don’t end up an old spinster with many cats living in the middle of nowhere. It’s all about being an old spinster with many cats living near a town now…
Camerino vs Camerano: Remember that language school I was talking about last time? Centro Cultur (I would just like to point out that the missing e is deliberate – from my perspective at least)? Well, I was mildly confused when I looked up the area – the town was solidly in the middle of Le Marche. The write up said that it was a 10 minute walk from the coast. I didn’t think too hard about it but on reflection – if the town was where I thought it was, one would have to walk I think 100 miles an hour. That town would be CamerIno. CamerAno is, well, 10 minutes from the Coast. Note to self: look at a map next time. Still, I’m pleased with new actual location!!!
Airports: CamerAno is a pain to get to for anyone that doesn’t live in North London. You have to go on Ryanair <involuntary shudder> from London Stanstead. Or you can go from Heathrow on Alitalia (Alitalia goes from London City Airport too) or Lufthansa but I think they might be more money. Though to be honest, I suspect once you’ve added “going up in the air” tax, “taking up a whole seat” tax, “using the airport terminal” tax etc. the 1p Ryanair flight might actually come to several hundred anyway. So, in summary, for anyone wishing to visit me, I recommend you drive down (with some of my stuff).
Stuff: Oh my there’s a lot. Who knew?! I’m preparing an inventory of things that will stay here when I leave and a separate list of things to come with me and things to get rid of. I’ve also created a “don’t know what to do with this stuff” list which is longer than the others put together.
That about sums up my recent activity on the Italian front. Tune in in a couple of weeks for an epic on Verona.