An Introduction to Verona

 Travel poster from the 1930s

Travel poster from the 1930s

My idea of a perfect trip to Italy involves time spent in my home base of Lucca along with a visit to a place that is entirely new to me. On my latest trip, that place was Verona.

Verona, in the Veneto region of northern Italy, is less well known to visitors (at least to American visitors) than nearby Venice. The two cities have distinctly different characters and it's fun to experience both of them when visiting the Veneto region. Verona may not have Venice's famous canals, but it has a charm all its own and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the historic old town is nestled into a bend of the Adige River, with some of the old city lying just across the river.

Historically, Verona was a Roman settlement. It has a long history of rule by various invaders (Visigoths, Longobards, Venetians, as well as by France and Austria), all of whom influenced Verona's art, architecture, and culture. Parts of the city were destroyed over time - by floods, earthquakes, conquering armies and, most recently, World War II bombs. Fortunately, many reconstructions  maintained much of the structure and character of the old city.  It is still possible to see everything from Roman ruins to Medieval and Renaissance structures. But Verona is not just a living history museum; it is a thriving city combining history, tradition, and modern life (including some high-end shopping).

With just three days in Verona I barely scratched the surface, but I did find much to love about this historic, thriving city.

Some highlights:

 The fountain in Piazza Bra with the Roman arena in the background

The fountain in Piazza Bra with the Roman arena in the background

Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe are  beautiful spaces, full of activity and history. Piazza Bra is remarkable for the beautiful arches that mark its entrance and the well-preserved Roman Arena (amphitheater), which dominates the piazza. The piazza is lined with cafes and includes a green space that provides a perfect oasis of calm in the busy square.

Piazza Erbe is the place to feel the city's Medieval vibe. It is a thriving marketplace and the busy hub of the old city. Here you will find beautiful old buildings, the tall Torre Lamberto, and the ornate Palazzo Maffei.

While these piazze are the two main squares, there are many smaller ones that are also lovely. In fact, I think the piazze of Verona deserve a future post of their very own!

 Busy Piazza Erbe

Busy Piazza Erbe

 The city of Verona, viewed from an opening in the Ponte Scaligero. 

The city of Verona, viewed from an opening in the Ponte Scaligero. 

The River Adige flows through the heart of the city. Its bridges (ponti), including the Ponte Pietra and the Ponte Scaligero, have interesting histories, great beauty, and provide wonderful views of the city. The river also defines the city boundaries and helps make Verona a very walkable city. 

Verona is full of arches. Some are grand portas (doorways) through old city gates, others are small and mark entry into a piazza or a small vicolo (lane). Strung from them often are stunning light fixtures or cascading plants, which give the city a graceful air. 

There were more interesting churches than I could see in a short visit. The two I visited - the Chiesa del Duomo and the Cathedral of San Zeno - were architectural masterpieces filled with fascinating art and history.  . 

 Cathedral of San Zeno, Verona

Cathedral of San Zeno, Verona

I can't talk about Verona without mentioning the fabulous dining. There is great variety in the dishes found here, and lots of seafood. My friends and I had several fabulous meals, including grilled shrimp, delicate pumpkin-filled ravioli, and a fabulous guanciale di manzo (beef cheek). The local white wines were similar to those of Bologna (slightly fizzy Chardonnay and Trebbiano) and there were full-bodied reds too (Amarone and Valpolicella). And of course there is great gelato to be enjoyed! 

 Fine dining at Ristorante Torcolo, Verona. 

Fine dining at Ristorante Torcolo, Verona. 

That's just a snapshot of my quick visit to Verona - there is so much more to see and experience that I can't wait to return!   -Post by JB

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year! Felice Capodanno!

 The Duomo, Florence

The Duomo, Florence

The start of a new year is always a time of reflection – of looking back to the past year and ahead to the year just beginning. It’s also a time to catch your breath after the hubbub of the busy holiday season and to appreciate the lengthening daylight hours as we head toward spring.

This year, we at Two Parts Italy are doing our post-holiday rest and reflection at home in New Mexico. This is quite a change from last January when we launched this blog live from Italy as we celebrated the new year in Lucca. What an exciting way that was to start a new project and a new year!

In the past year we’ve written 75 or so posts, about Italian regions and cities, markets, foods, language, culture, music, travel and, of course, Lucca – one of our favorite places. And what adventures we had in 2017 – studying Italian in Italy, traveling to new places (Verona! Bologna! Pistoia!) and rediscovering others (Florence!).

We also traveled to (and wrote about) places in the U.S., and we've offered up recipes and general travel tips. We have enjoyed every minute of the adventures and the writing. All of the past year’s posts, organized by topic, can be found by clicking on the “Index” tab at the top of the page. We hope our older posts might provide you some distraction during the long days of January and February and inspire you to plan some travel. Here are a few of our favorite photos from our 2017 blog posts:

Looking ahead, we will start this year with a post about the beautiful city of Verona, a place we visited last fall. We also have new travel adventures planned - in 2018 Judy will travel to Hawaii, Italy, and Croatia. Joanne embarks on her first ocean cruise in February, which will take her to Barcelona, the French Riviera, and Tuscany. After that, she plans to spend almost half the year (spring and fall) in Lucca with a hope to see some of you there!

 Lucca Italian School

Lucca Italian School

Looking even further ahead to spring of 2019 – we hope you will join us on a Two Parts Italy travel experience. We will be taking a small group to Lucca for a week of language study and adventures in and around Lucca. Five mornings will be spent in small group classes at our favorite Italian language school. Afternoons will center around getting to know Lucca through cooking, wine, music, and culture, as well as exploring this marvelous medieval city. We'll leave some time for shopping too! If you've dreamed of studying Italian in Italy, or just want an introduction to the Italian language in the midst of a great trip, please join us! Individualized classes can accommodate all levels of Italian language learners, from beginning to fluent. Look for details and pricing for the 2019 trip this spring.

We want to thank all of you, our readers, for your support and encouragement throughout this year and for traveling with us through the blog. We appreciate your feedback, your reactions, and especially hearing that we’ve inspired you to travel to Italy. We also appreciate that so many of you have “liked” us on the Two Parts Italy Facebook page and that you share our Facebook posts! Best of all – we loved meeting so many of you in Italy this year, talking about your love of Italy, sharing a glass of wine, a caffe, or a meal, and comparing adventures. Italian travelers are the most interesting people! Here's to a 2018 full of good health, good friends and good travel!

Merry Christmas to All

We here at Two Parts Italy want to wish all of our readers a wonderful holiday season!

This Christmas, Joanne and I both are staying in New Mexico, which has a holiday spirit all its own. Here is a bit of what Christmas here looks like:

 Luminarias, which are called farolitos in northern New Mexico, adorn an adobe building in New Mexico. These simple paper bags are filled with sand and also contain a votive candle, providing a magical glow on Christmas Eve. 

Luminarias, which are called farolitos in northern New Mexico, adorn an adobe building in New Mexico. These simple paper bags are filled with sand and also contain a votive candle, providing a magical glow on Christmas Eve. 

 Here's a closer look at luminarias - these light a walkway.

Here's a closer look at luminarias - these light a walkway.

 A Western style Christmas tree at the Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Mini cowboy hats, lariats and handkerchiefs decorate the tree. The lodge is owned by Ted Turner Expeditions.

A Western style Christmas tree at the Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Mini cowboy hats, lariats and handkerchiefs decorate the tree. The lodge is owned by Ted Turner Expeditions.

 A nativity scene, made by a local Native American artist, is a traditional Christmas decoration in New Mexico. 

A nativity scene, made by a local Native American artist, is a traditional Christmas decoration in New Mexico. 

Merry Christmas! Buon Natale!  

           -post by JG

 

Holiday Travel

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The holiday season – especially the weeks just before Christmas and through the New Year - is one of the most joyful times of year for me.  There is nothing better than spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my family. I love it all – the decorations, the cookies, the music, the chaos of kids opening gifts. There is nowhere else I want to be on Christmas Eve (unless perhaps I can take the whole family to Italy with me).

But I also love to travel during the holiday season, to experience the many ways that Christmas and the New Year are celebrated in other places. European Christmas markets enchanted me several years ago on a Christmas Market cruise. The markets along the Rhine River in Germany and in Strasbourg, France, are enchanting, a real storybook Christmas. The market booths were colorful and filled with gifts, decorations, and handcrafted toys. There were also gingerbread, eggnog, mulled wine, and, my favorite, kartoffelpuffers - potato pancakes, cooked outdoors and served with sour cream and applesauce. For me, the scent of those cooking will always be synonymous with a German Christmas market.

 Cologne, Germany, Christmas market

Cologne, Germany, Christmas market

I also loved celebrating the New Year and Epiphany in Italy. At Christmas, Lucca and Florence are filled with lights and fanciful window displays. Each church has a presepe di Natale  (Christmas Nativity scene), some small and some, such as the outdoor one near the Duomo in Florence, with life-size figures. In Lucca, I watched the arrival of the wise men on horseback and listened to a reading of the Christmas story on the night of Epiphany. These solemn celebrations were countered with the exuberant arrival of Old Befana. (To read more about Epiphany in Italy click here  https://www.twopartsitaly.com/blog/2017/1/5/three-wise-men-and-a-witch-epiphany-in-italy)

 Christmas decor at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, Asheville, North Carolina

Christmas decor at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, Asheville, North Carolina

Holiday travel in the United States is wonderful too. One of my favorite trips took me to Asheville, North Carolina, a in December. At the holidays, a host of special activities make Asheville a perfect destination. The Christmas atmosphere begins in the lobby of the Grand Bohemian Hotel (a definite splurge) decked out from top to bottom with lights and greenery. The Grand Bohemian is in Biltmore Village, just a few minutes by car from downtown Asheville. This area has a quaint village feel, top-notch dining, unique shops, and a festive holiday vibe complete with carolers.

 The Biltmore house, as seen from a horse-drawn carriage on the estate grounds.

The Biltmore house, as seen from a horse-drawn carriage on the estate grounds.

Asheville is also home to the Biltmore estate, the largest privately owned house in America. And what a house it is - 200+ rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 (count them) fireplaces. There are exquisite rooms, a vintage kitchen, glass-roofed winter garden, and even an indoor pool in the basement. Imagine living here!

The estate grounds are expansive with open fields, gardens, a conservatory, stables, and river views. Visitors can hike, watch a blacksmith at work, or take a horse-drawn wagon ride to see the outer portions of the property. There is also great shopping in the gift shops and good dining opportunities.

 One of many beautifully decorated rooms at Biltmore House.

One of many beautifully decorated rooms at Biltmore House.

The Biltmore is fabulous in any season, but it really shines at Christmas. Each room is elaborately decorated and filled with greenery, there are countless Christmas trees, elaborate floral arrangements, and mantels overflowing with Christmas spirit.

The special evening candlelight tour includes a guide sharing much of the home's history, roaring fireplaces, flickering candles, and choir performances in the winter garden.  Reservations are required for these special evenings.

Asheville is also host to the National Gingerbread House Competition, held at the Omni Grove Park Inn. This year is the 25th annual competition with the houses on display through January 4. The inn, a massive stone building set in the hills on the edge of town, is fascinating to see. And the gingerbread creations – wow! They range from simple children’s creations to architectural and artistic masterpieces in gingerbread. Gingerbread and Christmas go hand in hand and this was a perfect holiday activity. It was fun listening to the oohs and aahs of the visitors, each one picking out their favorite creation. Below are a few of my favorites.

This year I will spend the holiday season at home in New Mexico, I'll enjoy my hometown celebration and time with my family, but you can bet that I'll be remembering past holiday travel and daydreaming of future holiday adventures. I hope you enjoy the holiday season too - whether at home or away.                                                                              -post by JB

Keeping Italy Close During the Holidays

Every December, I feel a renewed connection to Italy and other places I’ve visited. The reason for this is that whenever I travel, I try to pick up a Christmas ornament or decoration to bring home with me. This tradition puts a big smile on my face as I decorate my house for the season. I love rediscovering ornaments, hanging some on the tree and placing other decorations on the mantel or on a shelf and thinking of where I found each small treasure.

 If you have ever been to Florence, Italy, you know the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the city. This beautiful ornament was purchased at the museum dedicated to Dante in Florence.

If you have ever been to Florence, Italy, you know the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the city. This beautiful ornament was purchased at the museum dedicated to Dante in Florence.

For a traveler like me, committed to packing light when I travel, tucking a small ornament in my suitcase for the trip home is easy. Even the glass ornaments I have brought back to the States, carried in my suitcase and cradled in clothing for protection, have arrived safely.

 This hand-blown glass angel is from Bellagio on lovely Lake Como in northern Italy.

This hand-blown glass angel is from Bellagio on lovely Lake Como in northern Italy.

Another reason for my ornament-collecting tradition is that I have been a fan of minimalism since well before it became trendy. I don’t like a lot of clutter, so I tend to confine mementos from my trips to photos and holiday decorations that are displayed only once a year. For me, that makes my souvenirs a bit more special. They don’t fade into the background of daily life. Instead, for the month I have my Christmas tree up, I look at them and fondly recall the beautiful places I’ve seen and the wonderful people I’ve traveled with and met along the way.

The red star above is a cloisonné ornament I got in China; the gold leaf is from Durango, Colo.;  the silver stocking is from London. For some reason, it reminds me of Princess Di. On the far right is a hand-blown glass hot-air balloon ornament from, where else?, the hot-air balloon capital of the world!

 This delicate paper ornament with musical markings is from Lucca, a present from the co-author of this blog. It's new to my tree this year!

This delicate paper ornament with musical markings is from Lucca, a present from the co-author of this blog. It's new to my tree this year!

I've collected so many travel ornaments that I don’t display all of them each year. I pick them up even in my home state, when I visit a place I haven’t been to in a while or when I journey to a landmark event, such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The ornaments I've collected are displayed alongside another irreplaceable holiday memento: a handcrafted reindeer made by my father, who died three years ago. From him, I inherited my love for language(s) and writing, and from my mother (who died a year after my dad), I inherited my love for traveling. Those are gifts I carry with me wherever my travels take me.

Happy holidays and may 2018 include people and places you love!   -post by JG

 My father crafted this Rudolph.

My father crafted this Rudolph.