Opera lovers will know the annual summer festival in the arena of Verona and may have been there at least once. It is not unusual to visit this northern Italian town in summer, but my travel companion and I were there at the beginning of the advent season. Sounds strange, but I strongly recommend it.
Arriving with the early trains give one the opportunity to see a city wakening up. Sights, places and streets, that are overcrowded two or three hours later, have their own charm in their abandonment in the light of the rising sun, which even captivates late sleepers like me. However, that is not the main reason to go to Verona in winter. The Fondazione Verona per l’Arena organizes an annual Nativity exhibition in the arena. Due to constructing work, the 35th exhibition had to move to the Palazzo della Gran Guardia but was still marvellous. More than 400 nativity scenes from all over the world were shown. The focus were of course Italian cribs with their richness of detail. It was a sublime exhibition, which justifies going to Verona in the off-opera-season.
Nevertheless one can visit the arena, yet cheaper than in summer. During the cooler season, the entrance is only 1,00 Euro on the first Sunday of each month. The climb is wearisome, the view spectacular. All the other sights are open, too. A lot of people follow the tracks of the most famous lovers in the world, whereat they don’t care that they are wilfully duped. Many tourist flock in the backyard of a house to see the most famous balcony – the one on which Romeo should have behold his Juliet. Had Romeo really stood here, he would have had to wait a very long time. It was in the 1930ies when a former sarcophagus was put on the back wall of a house that is today promoted to tourist as the house of the Capulet family. (I guess it does not matter anyway that there is never ever mentioned a balcony in Shakespeare’s play.) "Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t." – quoting another Shakespearean hero. Lord Byron, Heinrich Heine or Charles Dickens already told from their visit of Juliet’s tomb. We passed it by chance and were astonished to find a wedding party there. I am either not enough romantically or morbidly mined to find this a nice wedding location. Fortunately, Verona, with its many old churches or the Castelvecchio, including its art collection, offers historically more challenging sites.
What would an Advent trip be without a Christmas market? Verona has serval, which do not differ much from everyday markets. But diabetics should avoid the market on the Piazza Bra. One huge candy stall next to the other: metres-long liquorice ropes, tons of meringues, countless varieties of roasted nuts, baskets of almond pastes, giant candy canes, even a chocolate kebab and many fried biscuits with an industrially made hazelnut cream that seems to have replaced pasta and pizza as Italian national dish. I did not buy anything, because if you want delicious sweeties in Verona you visit the cosy Pasticceria Flego.
Visiting Verona is always worth the effort, especially during the Advent season. Admittedly, it is a bit crowded and the markets do not just spread Christmas spirit, but the awesome nativity scene exhibition and a stop at Flego provide some relaxation during the hectic pre-Christmas period.