How Verona Healed My Broken Heart by Molly Hunt
‘Buona notte, bella’, Alissio smiled, shyly. Picking up my empty limoncello shot glass, he opened the dishwasher. I looked at his deep, brown eyes and wished I could have got to know them better. Thanks Groupon Mini-Breaks, I blame you for my failed romance. Alissio, a drummer from Rome, working as a bartender here in Verona. How very cliché.
Newly single, every Italian man I saw was desirable. Each ‘ciao, bella’ I received made me fanaticise about our wedding, and the number of Italian children we would have. My ex was Turkish, and with him I witnessed and fell for Turkish culture and food. I was ready for a change. Just like so many women visiting Italy for the first time, I had fallen in love. The city, the food, the people. They call Verona the city of love, and I had fallen head first.
I must confess, I was visiting the city with my nan, who is age 69. Being the eccentric woman she is, we shopped, we drank, we ate. We visited Dublin together last year, and it was a weekend of Prosecco-fuelled shopping trips and 2pm cocktails. A lot had changed in the year for us, heartbreak wrecking us both. Limoncello was just as sweet, but we were more conscious of making the most of every second of the trip.
I spent the first thirteen years of my life a vegetarian, living on pizza and pasta, so travelling to Italy for the first time felt a little like returning to my mother-land. Desperate to get a taste for authentic Italian food, we sought advice from the hotel receptionist, Francesco. He recommended a little restaurant in the centre of the city called Ristorante Greppia, and we witnessed perfection. As we couldn’t decide what to have, the waiter gave us half of our top choices on one plate. Buttery pasta topped with truffle was a delicate accomplice to pumpkin and red wine risotto, washed down with a bottle of rosé. ‘You’d have never eaten that a few years ago’, my nan smirked, picking up a class of wine. The waiters were impeccable. It felt like they made it their mission to help us taste their best dishes, and I never wanted to leave. Sadly, a bottle of wine can only last so long, so before too long we headed home for limoncello with Alissio.
Being the city of love, Verona is the home of the balcony Shakespeare supposedly based Juliet’s balcony on. This means the city is the attraction of thousands of couples, celebrating anniversaries, engagements, and their love in general. Sickening, isn’t it? Not the ideal destination for a girl with a broken heart. Juliet’s balcony was awash with love locks, love notes, and even chewing gum people had pressed on the walls and written on. I refused to be left out of this
tradition just because I was now single, and bought a small pink lock with a golden heart on it. ‘Oh god’, my nan moaned, thinking I was going to write the name of my ex. ‘Moll + Nan x’ I wrote, and fastened the lock onto the wall. Though this did not ease the pain of dodging kissing couples in streets, I was glad I hadn’t missed out on a tradition of visiting the city.
Lake Garda was an experience of sorts, if not a complete failure. The lake is about 52km in length, and is surrounded by small towns. Verona is about twenty minutes from the two towns at the south of the lake, so we headed there eagerly. My nan had memories of a beautiful town called Sirmione and we became determined to find it. We travelled by train, which was a fantastic way to see the rustic Italian countryside. Wooden mills, dilapidated farmyards and picturesque cottages flew by. Our first stop was Peschiera del Garda. After a lot of walking in the direction of the town centre, I asked a restaurateur where the centre was. ‘You’re in it!’ He said. ‘You’d never know!’ My nan replied. I asked him how we could get to Sirmione, to which he pointed down a little street and said we would be there in five minutes. This answer was proved questionable when I used my Google Maps, which told us it would take us more like five hours to walk there! Had it been a hot summers day, we might not have minded. However, it was only mid-March, and we couldn’t even see across the lake for low clouds.
Nevertheless, we proceeded. We had lunch on the side of the lake and pretended the day was going to plan. After admitting we could not spend another minute in Peschiera, we retreated to the train station and got a train to Santa Maria di Lugana, the next town. This town was actually even less successful than Peschiera. Though this town had the benefit of shops, it was not quite as pretty, and the weather was getting worse. After popping into numerous shops, we finally purchased two bus tickets to Sirmione, which by this point felt like tickets to the promised land. At long last, the bus came. We were off to Sirmione.
Sirmione sits on a peninsular about three miles long, and driving up it I was expecting big things. Getting off the bus, I wrapped my stiff leather jacket further around myself and glared at the clouds. It was getting colder. ‘This way’, my nan instructed, pointing towards a large archway over a moat. The main town of Sirmione sits on its own island. We headed straight to the nearest café. The cold was unbearable. I ordered a hot chocolate and was amazed when a cup of what appeared to be literally melted chocolate was placed in front of me. The rest of the town was pretty much deserted. Gift shops were closed, as were many restaurants. It appeared Sirmione is only in full action during the main summer months. I admit, it was a little difficult not to get frustrated at this, as our whole day had been spent searching for this place.
‘It was much busier last time I was here!’ My nan sighed. I was disappointed for her. I felt this part of the trip was a journey back in time for her, back to when she was not a carer for her own husband and mother. What she had found was not what she remembered. ‘Your great-grandma and I ate in that café,’ she said, pointing to a small cottage with boarded up windows. The affects of time seemed to have hit her family and Sirmione simultaneously.
Frozen and moody, we returned to the hotel and took a shot of lemoncello each. Tonight would be better, we told ourselves as we plastered matching lipstick to our lemony lips. I googled restaurants and chose the one with the highest rating. Ristorante il Canacolo. A wave to Alissio and we were off.
The moment we walked through the door of Ristorante il Cancel we knew we were in for a treat, a very expensive treat. A glass of Prosecco was thrust into our hands before we even sat down, let alone asked for one. Walking to our table gave us a sense of what we had to come. A chef in whites with a stereotypical, curly, white moustache stood in the centre of the restaurant thinly slicing an array of antipasti. An older waiter in a tux wheeled a tray of deluxe desserts under our noses.
We were shown to our table and the next five minutes was spent trying to keep up with the waiter reading out the menu for us. It was difficult to concentrate as a large table of Italians was seated next to us. They appeared not to have ordered from the basic menu, but instead were being constantly supplied with aperitifs of cold meats and bread as they guzzled endless amounts of wine. In Italy, food and culture go hand in hand, and we witnessed the heart of it. The table was set for twelve people, however when we arrived there were only five seated. Throughout our meal we watched more arrive. What surprised me was that the seated people were already eating, whereas in England we would wait for the whole table to arrive before even ordering.
Eventually, I ordered a pine-nut and artichoke pasta, and my nan a T-bone steak. Despite this meal being almost double the price of the one we had the night before, we were a little disappointed. The waiters prioritised the large table of Italians, and didn’t seem to care as much about the two British tourists.
A totally different experience to the night before, where we had felt every waiter in the restaurant was there to serve our every whim.
Rest assured, the service did not stop us from drinking. I am a sweet rosé drinker, and am slowly trying to wean myself onto more sophisticated whites and reds. However, I asked the waiter for the sweetest wine they had, and was shocked (and admittedly, thrilled) when he returned with a healthy glass of dessert wine! I love dessert wine. It conjures up the happiest memories of my fourteen- year-old self and my best friend sneaking into my nans wine store between courses and downing a few mouthfuls of the stuff before returning, giggling, to the table. And now here I was, at twenty, in Italy getting drunk with the woman I used to hide my alcohol intake from!
Walking back from the restaurant was divine. We stumbled tipsily down the main high-street of Verona, giggling and ogling at the brightly lit store fronts of Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. My wine-stained mind delighted in the stars above, my nan talked of wanting a cigarette. ‘We need an Italian dictionary!’ I declared. ‘And a packet of fags!’ my nan called after me, as I strutted powerfully into the news agent. I walked into the thick air of the shop, met by the odour of sweat and coffee. ‘Un dictionnaire, s’il vous plaît’ was met by confused head shaking by the Italians behind the counter. I ran out in hysterics, ‘they don’t speak French!’
Heavy heads did not stop us enjoying our final day, especially as the sun had finally come out! Sitting in the middle of a bustling square, we sipped Aperol Spritz, feeling melancholy the trip was at an end. ‘Oh, I think I am just going to have to love you because you are so beautiful!’ Exclaimed a waiter, and I felt I could get used to this place. The trip had been beneficial to us both. For me, I realised that despite no longer having a boyfriend to travel with, there was a whole world of experiences to be had. In this way, Verona healed my broken heart. For my nan, she learnt to let go of the past and enjoy the now.
Our last stop was the Verona Arena, or amphitheatre. A view over the whole of the city was worth climbing the steps for. The views were delicious, and it was here I made up my mind that Italy was perfect. Disorganised streets were hidden by higgledy-piggledy rooftops of different tones of orange. Old Italian ladies hung their washing from their balconies. I wished to know what their greatest troubles in life were, and what made them happiest in this beautiful city. How could you find a problem in the world when you looked out your bedroom window at where blue sky meeting the boundless, snow-capped alps?