Ahhh, Italy ... JanPlan in Verona
s we stumble off the train into Vernazza, we can hear the waves rhythmically pounding the Ionian coastline mere yards away. "Do you see Via Carrottini?" I ask my roommate uncertainly. Although I finally managed to get a hostel reservation for the night, I have no idea where it is, no map of the village, and there isn't even a local in sight to ask for directions! We finally spy the nearly invisible tablet on the side of a pastel stucco house. We peer up the dark alley; Via Carrottini, contrary to what the name suggests, is not a street at all, but rather a flight of stone stairs ascending into the night. Porcelain placards mark each door, proclaiming in dark blue its address in the second of the five Cinque Terre towns. We spot number 64, Rooms Elisabetta, and continue up more stairs to a room that is designated as ours by a Post-It taped to the door. Barely glancing at our surroundings, we collapse onto bed, exhausted from a day of travel.
The next morning, the alarm goes off at 8:15. I roll over and look up at the massive window above our bed. My eyes widen. Leaping to my feet, I stare out the window in disbelief. "No. Way." The sun is rising behind a rocky outcropping, painting the craggy coast in peach and gold; the sky bears only a few clouds that retreat even as I watch. And the ocean... The ocean is a steely grey, on the cusp of becoming a fantastic aqua, the kind of shade that was responsible for the coining of the color. Just visible to the right is Monterosso, the first, northern-most of the Cinque Terre villages, where we briefly stopped the night before. We have a glorious ocean view at a tiny hostel that cost us a mere 25 euros per person per night. Perfection.
Every weekend during the Verona JanPlan was spent in similar splendor. The class schedule and workload were perfectly balanced to allow us to both familiarize ourselves with the modern Italian novel and to travel through Italy. Classes met Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and were enhanced by an optional three-class crash-course in Italian and by three short informational tours of Verona. While we were responsible for reading six novels (in English) and writing three short papers over the course of the month, the books were generally very entertaining and our professor was very willing to help students who had questions regarding any material or their papers.
Our long weekends were primarily spent traveling throughout Italy: Venice, Trieste, Bologna, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Cinque Terre, Siena, Rome and Sicily. I was even able to go to Hamburg, Germany to visit family. Travel in Italy, aside from being enabled by our class schedule and encouraged by our professor, is incredibly easy. Trains leave Verona's Porta Nuova Statione for destinations all around Lombardy and Tuscany at least every hour, and often more frequently. Could it be better? Well, train tickets are also very inexpensive and there is virtually no security (i.e. metal detectors, restrictions on liquids, passport checks) at the various train stations. While we might not have spent much time there on the weekends, our hotel, Residence all'Adige, was similarly impressive. Although the building was occasionally too cold or our neighbors a bit noisy, the rooms were large with nice bathrooms and small kitchens.
However, to any silver cloud, there is also a grey lining. Our transfer through Charles de Gaulle airport was difficult; they bused us onto the tarmac so that we could make our flight to Venice. While famous for the attention it attracted from the Bard, "fair" Verona is lacking when compared to other Italian cities. Although there are a handful of attractions, you can only visit so many churches before they start to get dull. Also, the bus system in Verona is almost impossible to understand; the list of stations displayed at each stop is not complete, nor even similar to other lists for the same line elsewhere. The buses bear only a number, not even a final destination, so you are limited to the buses you know; this means that you simply cannot explore via bus. Inside the buses, there are no signs, maps, or announcements in regards to upcoming stops. As a final affront, the buses stop at or before midnight. As a Midwesterner, please appreciate my sincerity when I say Boston's T does it better, not to mention Paris' Metro. An easy solution would be to simply not take the bus. However, Piazza Erbe, the closer, smaller of the two city centers was a solid 30 minute walk from the hotel.
Would I do it again, though? Despite the limited city and the difficult buses? In a heartbeat. There is nothing quite like bruschetta in Siena, bellinis in Venice or the sunrise in Cinque Terre.