Going to Verona on a last minute weekend excursion a week before my flight back to LA was probably the best thing I’ve done in a while. Living in a foreign city like London makes me feel like I don’t ever really need to leave, since everything is still relatively new and exciting to me. But the idea that I could take a cheap three-hour flight to Verona, then hop on a one-hour train to Venice, didn’t really occur to me until a few weeks before I had to go back to California.

Prior to leaving for Italy, at my favorite Italian deli in Islington, which also happens to be my favorite eatery in all of London, Merv and I said to the waiter that we were afraid that the food in Italy wouldn’t taste as good as the food in the deli. To which the waiter guy, who has this angelic looking face and awesome Italian way of speaking responded calmly, “Every place in Italy has good food.” That definitely made me feel less anxious about our trip.

Arche Scaligere

The ironic thing is that in all my adult years as a traveller, our first meal after stepping off the plane is the first time I remember totally walking into and eating at a tourist trap. I totally felt duped. It’s too traumatic to even recall here the events that led up to eating in this tourist trap; let’s just say that the experience was such that for the rest of the trip I dreaded walking into restaurants for fear that I’d have a repeat experience. But like most things in life, it was an isolated event and thankfully, we ate really well for the remainder of our time in Italia.

I don’t want to dwell too much about the food since it was all good and Italian-tasting but I just wanted to remember the places I visited in Verona. The Arche Scaligere, above, was a Gothic tomb of the Scaligere family that ruled Verona from the 13th-14th century. Just behind it is a square that has a statue of Dante, who lived in exile in Verona. Only a few metros away is Romeo’s family home (the Montecchi house) which confuses me since Romeo was a fictional character. Not far from his house is the Juliet balcony, which is definitely fake and built in the 1930s to attract tourists, who to this day, still gather and take loads of photos. Most of the tourists were Italian, by the way.

The best thing I visited in Verona was this Italian Renaissance garden not far from the Roman amphitheater.

Giardino Giusti

I think there’s beauty in every tended garden, because no matter how cultivated they are, how can nature not be beautiful? So you have the green bits and the really pretty flowers but then you have this — statues that are shielding their faces from the sunlight, labyrinths and tamed shrubs and Cypress trees that look like they’ve been trimmed but just grow that way. Okay who knows, maybe they have been trimmed, but I had just seen a 16th century painting that had Cypress trees in the background and I refuse to believe that they  had the resources to trim all of them back then, in the countryside.

And even though I ended up getting bug-bitten everywhere, including a bite on the forehead that swelled into the size of a golf ball, it was worth lying on the bench and just dozing in the shade.

Venice looked even more surreal than the Venetian in Vegas. We all know that the Venetian is a fake city made to look real but Venice is a real city that is made to look like a movie set. It’s hyper-real and this view from the Campanile makes Venice look like a toy city.

While we were at St. Mark’s we saw a Chinese lady slip in the water right by where the water taxis pick people up. She was completely soaked and there were so many tourists around that no one really noticed but that probably didn’t make it any less humiliating for her. On Friday I was at the Norton Simon Museum looking at a painting by some guy who painted the exact same spot two hundred years ago. Nothing had changed, except that there were probably a million more people and a lot of water taxis. But it made my day, that I was looking into this painting and I saw both the past and the present (technically they were both from the past, but you know what I mean) and I had to laugh out loud (or LOL as one does these days). I mean this painting just had loads of peasants in it; imagine telling them that two hundred years later their town would be full of bourgeois tourists.

I have to say that I had the best risotto spinach ball at a small little bakery. I ate it right before I had my now-most favorite meal — spaghetti alle vongole. Just thinking about it is literally making my mouth water, and it’s 12:30 am and I’m usually not hungry at this hour. The waiter also spoke Italian, English and French fluently.

And Venice is surrounded by water as you know, but here’s a photo that’s not of a canal. We took a water bus at one point and I was freaked out that we hadn’t validated our bus ticket. Merv said I was silly to stress over it. But seriously, once you get caught not having a bus ticket, you will never not validate your ticket again. (At least if you’ve ever been caught on the MUNI. The penalty fee is ridiculous.) But I was happy to sneak onto the complimentary Hilton shuttle bus, since I felt like I was sticking it to the man (and Paris Hilton), whereas now I feel like I’m being a bad citizen if I don’t pay for public transportation.

One thing about the coffee. It truly is amazing how quotidian it is, but in the sense that it’s good everywhere and it’s just the way things are. It was shocking how everyone was able to pull a great cappuccino, from the dude in this boring, run-down cafe to the bus boy at the hotel. It’s astounding when people in London and LA make coffee into this high end craft. I wish everyone just had good standards about basic things like coffee instead of making it a precious work of art.