Monday, September 11, 2006

Romeo and Juliette, the Italian Version. . .

In Italy, we were stationed at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza. Vicenza sits about half-way between Venice (Venezia) and Verona, a city made famous by the story of Romeo and Juliette. On the top of a sizable hill situated between Verona and Vicenza the castles of Romeo and Juliette and a chapel sit. When I first heard about the site I was excited and quite anxious to visit.

I went with a friend one beautiful afternoon in March. He had been there before and knew his way. The hill(actually a foothill to the Alps) is large and you could see it from quite a distance

I enjoyed the day a great deal and the next afternoon I excitedly told my Italian neighbor about the visit. I offended her, without intending to by telling her how amusing I found it that they had castles and it was all only a story. Trust me, to an Italian, Romeo and Juliette ARE real, Shakespeare may have told the story, but he didn’t make it up! They take it very seriously. In Verona, you can even see Juliette’s grave!

One lovely day a year or so later, my girlfriend and I had lunch and decided to take a drive. I told her about the castles and we decided to pay them a visit as she had never been. It’s easy spotting the hill and castles from the distance, but as the afternoon proved, not so easy to actually get to!

So off we set, not a care in the world. The afternoon was sunny and warm and I was with my best friend. Life couldn’t get much better. Except maybe if we could actually get to the castles.

We found the hill easily, but couldn’t find the road to go up the hill. So we stopped at a little trattoria (kind of like a small family owned cafe) to ask for directions. Of course, we couldn’t very well ask for questions and not buy anything, so we had a glass of wine. Our Italian by that time was pretty good, and we felt confident that we could get there and took off again.

15 minutes later we realized how foolish we had been. It seemed we were just circling the damn hill, but not finding the road. So we spotted another little trattoria and stopped in, buying the obligatory glass of wine. The wine was wonderful and we thought the day was getting so much grander! Surely the sun was shining directly on us, so happy were we.

Until we started out again and another 10 minutes didn’t get us any closer. It was one small hill for goodness sake, how hard could it be to find the road? We tried one little road after another, each one twisting around and usually taking us right back where we had started. At times you can look at all those lovely little roundabout roads and circle roads in Italy as charming and quaint. Not this time!

It had been over an hour since we got to the area of the hill and while we could look up and see the castles, we were not a single inch closer to being up there. It was even more frustrating because we could actually see the road snaking up the side of the hill, playing hide and seek with the grape arbors on the side of the hill.

We decided to give up the search and our annoyance led us to one last little trattoria for a final glass of wine before we headed home. Ok, we didn’t really need any more wine, but keep in mind that in Italy, the glasses in these little bars and trattorias are really very small, about the size of a small juice glass usually, so it wasn’t like we were downing a big glass of wine like you get here in the states.

This little place had some tables outside and so we grabbed our glasses and took them outside to enjoy the view of the elusive hill and castles. So close and yet it might as well have been a hundred miles away!

We sit there laughing and chatting and wondering what other afternoon pursuit we could find, and I was looking around at the appealing neighborhood we were visiting. Life in Italian neighborhoods is hard to describe. Italians are extremely industrious folk, always busy and yet the pace of life seems so much slower. Even at that time of the afternoon, reposo, the Italian equivalent of siesta, there was lots of activity going on. Most businesses (shops, gas stations, stores) close from around noon until 3:00 or so. But people were still busy, just in a less hurried way, sweeping the sidewalks in front of their houses or businesses, hanging clothes on lines on their balconies, chatting to one another. It was a wonderful place to be, taking it all in.

The trattoria sat on another of the roundabout streets, so instead of looking across a straight street, you were looking at a big circle, with homes and businesses around the perimeter. Several streets intercepted the circle in what seemed odd places, but what the heck did I know? Streets there were often small and twisty and many times looked more like drive ways than streets.

I was looking at one such drive that had some kind of flowering vine covering the iron fencing on either side of it. The flowers were varied purples and were gorgeous, creeping wildly and without restraint over the fence. That’s when I saw it—a sign that said: Romeo and Guilietta’s Castelli and had an arrow pointing up the drive that obviously wasn’t a drive at all, but a street!

And so of course we made the drive up to the top of the hill. Guilietta’s (Juliette’s) castle is very run down, with whole sections of the wall crumbling away, but that kind of made it more interesting. Romeo’s castle had part of it turned into a tavernna (bar) and had a TV antenna on top of it. Modern times obviously caught up with the Montagues. The chapel was somewhere in-between the two castles and was interesting to visit. All in all, it was an awesome day and as we sat up on top of the hill and looked down toward Vicenza, we fell just a little more in love with that wonderful city!

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