Verona, Italy

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When I worked at Starbucks, we sold Caffe Verona for Valentine’s Day, and it was the first brewed coffee I ever liked.  Back then I don’t think I realized Verona was a real city, or that Shakespeare chose Verona as the backdrop for Romeo and Juliette.  Now, even 20 years after loving and leaving Starbucks, I keep finding more reasons to admire Howard Schultz.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, he certainly understood why Italy was worth flattering!

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Today we opened the world of Shakespeare for Jake and Eli with a visit to Romeo and Juliette’s house.

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Verona was perfect.  It’s a lovely city, small enough to see in a few days, with pleasant squares and cafes, and an opera festival in the summer.  Our apartment at Verona Centre Apartments was huge and light, with two bedrooms and a beautiful kitchen, and we decided it’s the best apartment we’ve ever rented.  I could buy this place and live there forever!  Especially since around the corner we found sfogliatella again, and ordered espresso standing up at the bar.

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Coffee bars in Italy are mature beyond the years of Starbucks.  They are staffed by true professionals, not teenagers and college kids, and it’s amazing how much of the early Starbucks stores were so close to this original Italian model, even down to the pastries we used to sell.  They actually have “panino dolce” here in Italy, and those powdered strawberry croissants.  It’s nice to know that if my job in the Foreign Service ever ends, there is somewhere else I can love working just as much.

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The only glitch in Verona was that when we called to check in to our apartment, the manager didn’t speak any English, only Russian and Italian.  I guess we did a good enough job with the Russian because we used a parking pass and didn’t get any parking tickets!  The manager had worked for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and lived in Italy now, because the war makes living in Ukraine hard.  We bonded over our Embassy jobs and felt pretty good about ourselves after the Russian bit, so time to celebrate!  Hmm, wine or Aperol Spritz…

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That night I ate a horse steak for dinner upon the recommendation of the chef.  Eli, it wasn’t that bad!  We ate zebra, remember, and a zebra is a horse?

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In the hotel room, Jake and Eli were eager for some kindle time.  Even Italy has a hard time competing with Hay Day and Bus Simulator.  So Mike and I got a chance to wander unfettered around the neighborhood a little bit.

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Verona isn’t as impressive as Venice, of course, and it was still a little rainy and cold with the lingering chill of winter.  But for historical sights, Italian cuisine, and a trip away from the beaten path, we were charmed.

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One morning while everyone else was sleeping, I hiked up to see the castle.  From there, the city of Verona settles into its bend of the river and you can see all the way to the city gate.

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You can also see the beautiful bridges designed in red brick, with ramparts in a sort of reverse tulip pattern.

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There were tulips in the shops, too.  Europe at this time of year is full of tulips!

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It was a weekday morning so people were going about their morning commute, stopping for an espresso or a croissant along the way.  I learned that a plain croissant is translated to “empty.”   The menu board actually said that!  So I collected a few samples of “empty” and “crema,” and a few filled with prosciutto, but sadly this morning there was no sighting of the sfogliatella.  I wonder what it would take to get Starbucks to start selling these….

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The biggest attraction in Verona is the amphitheatre, right in the center of town and older than the Coliseum in Rome.  The boys weren’t so into the Opera part but were fascinated with the idea of gladiator fights.  I hope this means they’re learning something!

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In summer the amphitheatre is busy every night with operas, plays, and concerts.   It was the wrong season to buy tickets, but we saw the workers laying the floor and getting the stage ready.  I guess we’ll just have to come back.  Jake decided to mark the occasion by running the perimeter of the whole thing.  Go, Jake!!

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Ten years ago, if you’d told me this little baby would be running around an amphitheatre in Italy, I would not have believed it.

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We thought this picture of Mike walking downtown was pretty funny.  No wonder I can always find Mike in a crowd.  I never realized Italians are so short.  Or that Jake and Eli are getting so tall!

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Still my little boys though.  Even though at this age they drink a liter of milk every day, eat whole pizzas at dinner, and make bags of croissants disappear no matter how many I bring home, they still don’t understand lingerie stores.  Jake thought Victoria’s Secret was a gelato shop, and after Eli saw the fashion show playing in the window, said “Why are all those mannequins wearing the same thing?  And why is that girl walking around wearing a silver heart and acting like a butterfly?  They’re just trying to sell clothes.”  Very smart, Eli.  That’s called “marketing.”

Maybe they should try wrapping the lingerie in a Bus Simulator video game.

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Jake and Eli are way more interested in doing a Coin Smash than they are in girls wearing lingerie.

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Or helping Daddy choose a new, personalized iPhone case.

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Or this glowy thing we bought for a Euro, that shoots up into the sky.

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For now, they’re still mine and they still hold my hand, and that’s pretty much all I need to love my family vacation.

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I need this guy, too.

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