Romeo and Juliet.
Who doesn’t know or hasn’t heard of that timeless tale of star-crossed lovers in Verona, Italy whose love was not meant to be? Since Shakespeare penned their story in the 1500s, the basic plot has been replicated again and again, not only in literature but in films as well.
I read various versions of Romeo and Juliet since high school, and the effect on me was still the same: a deep sympathy for the lovers and an accompanying yearning to experience that same idealized, endless love (crap).
Objectively speaking, what’s so romantic about a 13-year-old girl falling for a 17-year-old foolish boy who keeps on falling in love with whoever catches his fancy? In fact, at the time that Romeo and Juliet met, Romeo had been depressed about his unrequited love for another girl.
And yet, for some reason, Shakespeare has managed to touch the core of readers’ emotion. Despite everything that tells us that this was a stupid tale full of needless violence and unrealistic love affairs, we’re still drawn to the tragedy like moth to flame.
And at the end of the book or the movie, we still weep with the image of Romeo and Juliet dying in each other’s arms, remembering perhaps, our own tales of woe when it comes to love.
BUT this is not a treatise on the story of Romeo and Juliet. This is about my visit to Verona, Italy, the scene of so many of Shakespeare’s plays.
I was almost at the end of my 70-day solo backpacking trip in Europe when I went to Verona. My primary reason was simple; the cheapest flight I could get from Italy to Belgium leaves from there. So, Shakespeare + historical buildings + cheapest flight (only 30 euros!) = Verona. It was certainly a no-brainer!
I only had one day, but at least I managed to see a bit of this beautiful city. One of the things that I really liked in my brief stay in Verona was the fact that my hostel was very centrally located. I booked it through Roomorama (more on this in another post), and it was walking distance to the old city center of Verona where most must-see sites are located.
After I had gotten my key from my Roomorama host and left my backpack, I immediately set off on foot to discover the sights in Verona. My first stop: Casa di Giulietta.
Juliet’s House is the destination of lovers and those who are wishing to have lovers. Located in the middle of a busy street leading to Piazza del’Erbe, you will only notice it for the fact that the walls of the alley leading to the house is full of graffiti.
If you take a second look, though, the “art” that “decorates” the wall are actually names of people who are hoping to have a love as everlasting as the tragic couple’s. Known as Juliet’s Wall, you can find hundreds of bubble gums stuck here where people used to stick their love letters (see the movie Letters to Juliet).
Beyond Juliet’s Wall is the house of the Capulets itself, although it’s said that they really never lived there. If you’re expecting something spectacular, you’ll be greatly disappointed. There’s nothing there but a small courtyard facing the famous balcony and a statue of Juliet. There are hundreds of love padlocks too.
There’s no shortage of people around the statue waiting for their turn to fondle Juliet’s right breast. It’s supposed to bring good luck (like touching the cross in Charles Bridge in Prague, or touching the donkey’s front leg in Bremen, both of which I certainly did), but keeping in mind that Shakespeare’s heroine was supposed to be only 13 years old, I managed to refrain from doing so.
If you keep walking from Juliet’s House, you will end up in Piazza del’Erbe, a historical square that was once a Roman forum. It’s the center of the old city and it’s usually full of people just walking around or sitting on the benches eating gelato.
The center of the square is taken up by numerous souvenir stalls; in the olden days, farmers came here to sell their vegetables. Note the old buildings beside the fountain (first photo); the walls are full of paintings! It must be so great to live in a country where your cultural heritage is valued and preserved.
While Verona is best known for Romeo and Juliet, it’s also culturally and historically significant. It has managed to restore a lot of ancient structures—including the third largest Roman amphitheater in Italy—that made it deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
While not as big as the Colosseum in Rome, Verona’s arena is still impressive. Built in the first century AD (yes, it is that old), it’s still well maintained and retains its original structure. When you’re there during the summer season (here’s what to pack for your Italy trip), it’s open for concerts or operas. What would it feel like to sit inside that huge amphitheater listening to great songs while imagining how it was like before when there were gladiators fighting for their lives?
There are actually so much more to see in Verona. However, it rained soon in the afternoon, and without an umbrella, I couldn’t go on walking around.
I was also anxious about my interview with CBS News Travel editor Peter Greenberg that night, so I soon went back to my bed-and-breakfast, wishing as I passed by Juliet’s House again, that I could find what she herself had found—everlasting love.
Even though I know it’s crap.
How about you? Do you believe that there is such a love as what Juliet had with her Romeo?