Valentines day is almost here and roses will disappear quickly from the florist shop to bring a smile and tender kiss from a loved one. While celebrated worldwide, few really know how the day began, so I will let you in on the secret that I learnt from Giuseppe – my local Umbrian guide.
Saint Valentine was born in Terni, Umbria in the 3rd Century. As the Roman army was about to come through the town he quickly married off the young men of the city knowing that the Romans would have forcibly taken them as soldiers. His way of protecting them, as Romans only took single men into their armies. So we could say the boom in marriages is why Valentine’s day is considered so romantic. And let me talk more about“Amore” as I spent the weekend in Verona, home to the most famous love story in history – Romeo and Juliet. It is such a beautiful, stylish city, and cannot but invoke romantic thoughts. I can hear Juliet’s plea from her balcony “Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”, a plea to have him change his family name since he belonged to her family’s enemy. Not as mistakenly is understand, a query as to where he is! But whatever one remembers of the famous story it is kept very much alive here in the centre of Verona, tempting thousands of visitors to stroke Juliet’s breast as they stand below the famous balcony or visit the museum. It keeps the volunteers of Juliet’s Club busy responding to the thousands of letters that arrive each year addressed to Juliet.
As I stroll the city I am surprised at the amount of ladies still flashing furs and can only hope they are fake, or from grandma’s époque! While I have been many times to the city I still find it alluring and happily re-tread old ground to see for the umpteenth time Juliet’s balcony, trying hard to block out the graffiti and hordes of scribbled love notes pasted to the entrance gallery.
The tacky chewing gum used and Juliet’s left breast rubbed shiny do lower the tone inside the 13thC courtyard.
A chocolate aroma wafts from the Venchi shop nearby and in this cold I am seriously tempted to a hot chocolate, while admiring the rest of the delicacies on offer – chocolate crepes, toffee apples, and chocolate coated strawberries…Yum!
That leads me to Piazza Erbe where locals are out having an aperitif before lunch, like lizards seeking the sunshine, even looking bronzed but maybe that’s just my sunglasses or the reflection from the Spritz they are sipping.
I wander past the home of Romeo, often ignored, and not open to visitors anyway.
Then on to where the tomb of Juliet is housed and the atmosphere is decidedly different and more in keeping with such a romantic story. Curiously even China has got in on the act by donating a rather lovely statue of two lovers – Liang and Zhu, depicting their legendary love story, the Romeo and Juliet of the Orient.
Back to the centre of town I have to admire the famous Arena from the 1st C AD, home to the Summer Opera season and many other dance and concert performances. It’s glorious, and its pink and white limestone blocks so striking. In fact most of the main streets are paved in the same elegant coloured limestone, worn smooth from the thousands of tourists attracted to the city each year.
There is still so much more to see and tell of Verona, but I will save that to another post.
So who will be your Valentine this year? Or more importantly who will be mine?!
Happy Valentines Day!