Vivacious Verona

The legendary Antica Bottega del Vini on one of Verona’s narrow streets. David’s favorite spot.

The legendary Antica Bottega del Vini on one of Verona’s narrow streets. David’s favorite spot.

JACKIE: We want to Talk about Verona, which radiates romance (Ah, Romeo) and adventure (Two Gentleman From.…)! I’m wistfully thinking of my first adventure. The Italian Doctors (for a minor infection and breaking my foot watching a bicycle race)! David, mi sole mio, continues his solo Italian journey.

DAVID: My rail trip from Venice was slightly more complex than my other rail journeys. This time my suitcase had to go from the hotel onto a Vaporetta to the rail station. Happily, a porter was on hand to load me on the waterbus for a small fee.

At the Venice station, a rail employee put me (and luggage) on board and off we went, smooth as silk, fast and so much easier than a car or a flight. FYI: Raileurope.com is the place to get your Eurail Pass.

Verona is one of my very favorite stops in Italy. Over the years I have visited half a dozen times and never tire of its delights. Its center is small, compact, lively, and easily walkable. Only problem: a dearth of decent hotels. But – miracolo! This time I discovered the solution; the Accademia. Perfectly located like a hub with spokes reaching out to all the sights, monuments, piazzas, restaurants. And super welcoming, comfortable, well-equipped, splendidly staffed. It is a 4-Star hotel yearning to be 5; so I’ll give it the fifth star. My deluxe double (poor me; only single) was sparkling clean, with a king bed, plenty of closet and drawer space, and a flat screen TV with BBC, Bloomberg, etc. The bath had a rain shower. My favorite, which is happily becoming as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi (the Accademia’s is free). And another freebie: Sara Pellegrino, the hotel’s General Manager, pointed out a small bar setup in the really attractive reading room. It includes sparkling or red wine, juices, cookies, and chips; open 1 to 5 and it’s free to the guests. And, I imagine, their guests. Great place to relax, read the London Times, and imbibe.

JACKIE: Did you imbibe San Pelligrino? Is Sara related? I would hope so. Hope you tore yourself away long enough to revisit our favorite sights.

DAVID: Worry not, my sweet Juliet (her house complete with balcony is here in Verona. Also Romeo’s … the spirit of the star-crossed lovers lives on.) I walked a short distance, down the super-luxury via Mazzini with its big name shops, cafes, and people, to the Arena built in the first century AD and now an Amphitheatre where magnificent operas (and Rock Stars) thrill audiences of 20,000. Then into Piazza Bra lined with palaces, restaurants, and shops.

Tomorrow I would visit Piazza Erbe and wander through the colorful fruit and vegetable market and nearby Piazza Dei Signori, elegant and aristocratic with its commanding statue of Dante who lived and wrote in Verona.

JACKIE: I’m sure you covered it all, including the Castelvecchio and the bridge where we gazed at the River Adige. Now, what about our favorite subject – food?

DAVID: Yep; the way to a fella’s heart. Hands down, the Antica Bottega del Vini is Verona’s best restaurant. Not just because of the food (which is awfully good), but mostly because of the atmosphere which generous General Manager Steffano Sganzeria properly describes as a place where old friends meet and new friends are made. It is Italy’s equivalent of Britain’s best pubs, America’s neighborhood bars. It is warm, inviting, easy to visit, almost impossible to leave. All dark wood accented with furniture to match, doors with bottle glass panels, and wine bottles on shelves everywhere! Some so rare my heart skips a beat. The bottles are real; the liquid inside not – just for show; but what a show! At the slightly raucous bar, the wine is the real thing. Choose from a long list on the blackboard, or (as I did) have energetic and all-knowing sommelier Mirko Favalli choose for you. Guided expertly by Mirko, I sampled seven of the best starting with a wonderful Franciacorta brut Faccolli and ending with a regal Soffocone di Vinciglata.

The seven accompanied my meal – three tastings of duck foie gras terrine, polenta with mushrooms and local cheese, and aubergine parmigiana. Each delicious. Somehow I made room for baked suckling pig (crispy skin and succulent fat and melting meat) with golden roasted potatoes. Dessert: dark vanilla gelato studded with raisins. If I were rich as this ice cream, I could run for president. Mirko produced a final wine, La Sorpresa ’06 (liquid honeyed gold!) Perfetto, Steffano; you have made the Bottega a home away, a special place to drink and eat and feel at one with all your lucky neighbors.

JACKIE: Don’t forget the enoteca Hippopotamus with burgers, and paper crowns for the kids! And, we’ll Travel….

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