Part 1 – Malcesine

The Easter holidays brought with them the vague smells of spring and our wanderlust made us join all true Bavarians (which, much as we try, we will never be), leaving the country for the weekend, direction South. The closest semi-warm destination, reachable from Munich by car within reasonable amount of time, is Italy, and this is exactly where our hungry souls and bodies, starved for sunshine, and craving tasty food and wine, were headed. We were not in the least ashamed of such lowly inclinations, just the opposite – were eager to indulge in all three objects of our desire for the whole weekend. But all in its turn…

With an addition of just one extra day, the four official banking holidays conveniently give you a whole week’s worth of vacations, allowing you to plan around other good citizens of Munich, trying to get out of the city all at the same time in their South-bound flight. The traffic situation is exacerbated by the huge numbers of naturalized Italians, for whom spending Easter at home turns into an annual sacred pilgrimage. This year most of them decided to leave Munich on Thursday night, blocking all exits in a traffic gridlock. We decided to be smart and leave early on Friday morning, and to our own surprise the trick worked. Not even heavy hangovers got on our way!  The night before we decided to celebrate the end of the working week with food, and for some reason got a bit carried away by the drink. The Italian wine was, in fact, a fitting beginning to the forthcoming trip, but by the time we made it home on unsteady feet, packing was out of the question.

Sunrise somewhere over Bavaria on the way to Italy

Woken up by the alarm at the un-Godly hour of 6 in the morning, we threw several random items of clothing into the car boot, and set off on our Easter mini-break. All the way to Austria the highway was empty and clear, and the only memorable encounter was an ambulance with a trailer we caught up with close to the border. The trailer was an open-top cart (luckily empty), the combination of which with an ambulance looked vaguely disturbing. We exchanged uneasy glances, and sped up, leaving the ambulance behind.

Two and a half hours into the trip, our stomachs and bladders called for a pit stop, and we turned into the parking lot of “McDonalds with a view” – a linguistic and visual oxymoron by the side of the road just a couple of minutes into Austria. Somebody’s creative imagination decided to “improve” the spot on top of a picturesque cliff with an Alpine stream and a breathtaking mountain view by topping it up with a fast-food oasis or Golden Arches. Tempted by the view, we decided that scrambled eggs were hard to spoil, and risked a trial breakfast. Turned out, that scrambled eggs can not only be spoiled, but completely molecularly annihilated – the greyish mass that we received in a cardboard box after queuing (!!!) for quarter of an hour, defied all identification… Bravo, McDonalds!… Come to think of that – the fault was all ours: starting a culinary trip with breakfast that comes in a cardboard box was not too logical. But then, again – don’t look for logic where you did not put it. Reason has never been our forte… The breakfast pit stop became yet another confirmation of the culinary and nutritional value of fast-food that can only be described in strictly X-rated terms and expressions… The unpleasant ghosts of scrambled eggs haunted us all the way to the Italian border, and even risked sipping through a couple of miles inland. We did not allow them to torment us further, and killed all memories of the bastards once and for all with the beautiful ham and cheese panninis, paired with aromatic Italian cappuccinos with a morning view of Lake Garda.

Good morning, Italy!
Closing in on the Garda Lake

Italy brightened up the day almost immediately after our crossing the border – not only with fantastic food and coffee, but with sunshine, flowers, and vineyards on both sides of the road. It’s amazing what a difference crossing just one tiny mountain range can make!… Our plan was simple and open-ended – reach a town of Malcesine on the Eastern side of Lake Garda, and then see. We had five days, four wheels, and the bottomless riches of the Internet – a modern equivalent of absolute freedom!

Having reached our destination, we left the car at the parking lot downtown, and introduced ourselves at the Tourist Information Office nearby. A cheerful young girl behind the counter quickly found us a budget accommodation for the night in the form of the Albergo Dolomiti hotel within a five minutes’ walk radius. Her enthusiasm in speaking English readily brought back nostalgic memories of my student years, when I spent a couple of weeks backing up a friend in a similar Tourist Information Office in the city of St. Petersburg, with dubious success posing as her on the phone during random phone checks by the boss.

Checking into the hotel went smoothly, although we were a bit worried by the number of guests on crutches – the only other people in the otherwise completely deserted lobby were two grown-up individuals, each one with a leg in a cast. Within the next half-hour we found out that the individuals belonged to a British wedding party that came to Malcesine to celebrate the happy occasion. We seemed to be the only two odd people out – all other hotel guests were there for the wedding. Upon closer inspection our sympathy for the two guys on crutches increased – the female part of the group could hardly evoke any sentiments, but pity… If anybody is still toying with an idea that obesity is a purely American problem – they sure have not encountered the English! The size of the ladies in the wedding party did not stop them from squeezing themselves into dresses at least a couple sizes too small, making them look like a weird family of Michelin men. Black dresses were worn over white underwear, and vice versa, with mis-matched bra straps sticking out of evening gowns only underlining the bizzare inappropriateness of outfits. The bride looked decent, we had to give her that, but the maid of honor sure was a sight to remember!… She had long shapely legs, growing from under her ears, paired up with an ass of a decent-size elephant, and was wearing a short ivory-colored mini-dress, that was failing miserably with the task of covering the most advanced parts of her anatomy, but was successfully demonstrating her (obviously black) underwear. This was paired with 9-inch heels she could not walk in, and a mini-hat topped with a bunch of huge ostrich feathers. We missed the chance of catching her beauty on a photograph, but the sight of her lingered on in our memories uninvited for way longer than we cared… Mini-hats were obviously the latest wedding fashion craze, as all women in the party sprouted them on their heads.

This was, regretfully, not the last we heard of the wedding girls, though… Having thoroughly enjoyed a hearty Italian dinner with plenty of wine, we turned in for the night, hoping for a long and uninterrupted sleep. Only to be woken up at around 2 in the morning, by what sounded like a herd of elephants, running along the hotel corridor right outside of our door. The elephants accompanied their night runs with drunk hyena-like laughs in female voices, and insistent knocking on neighboring doors. From behind those, tired and scared male voices replied that they were busy, and anyways already asleep. Remembering the looks of the ladies, you could not really blame the gentlemen… Rejection was obviously nothing new to the girls, and they quickly quieted down, so the rest of the night was spent in peace. In the morning, we threw our stuff in the boot of the car, and moved on South.

Part 2 – The Balconies of Verona

The morning of the next day greeted us with heavy rain, dark skies and winter-like temperatures. The weather forecast for nearby Verona, however, was hinting at sunshine. This raised our sinking spirits, for even bundled up in all the warm clothes we could get our hands on, we already started coughing and sneezing at the first signs of rain. Having checked out of the hotel (none of the guests from the wedding party were anywhere to be seen), we were ready to follow the sun.

Leaving Malcesine with its elephants behind, we moved on towards the new destination. Our plan was simple and prosaic: find accommodation for the night, check out the balcony of Juliette and do some sightseeing without being soaked by rain, drink some good Italian wine, and eat some good Italian food. Looking back at the day in Verona, all objectives were achieved!

The trip from Garda to Verona did not take long – less than an hour. For a change I sat behind the wheel, and confused over the discrepancies between GPS instructions and the realities of landscape, sweated like a dog in Chinatown all the way to the city. By the time we parked the car in the center of Verona, I was way too stressed to be friendly. To our mutual credit, we managed not to crash the car or kill each other, trying to decipher the route in the maze of one-way streets, blocked roads, and general chaos of Italian traffic. By way of calming down and restoring diplomatic relationships, we set on a sightseeing expedition and went to explore the surroundings.

Piazza Bra, Verona – the market being set up

The surroundings looked cheerful – the sun was shining, and the buildings around town sprouted a variety of balconies of all shapes and sizes. The little side-street we took off the parking lot, led us to the main square of Verona, where the market rows of stalls, full of cheeses, salamis and wine, were just being set up.

Speaking of balconies – don’t know whether it was the fame of THE balcony, that projected itself onto the other buildings in the city, or Verona historically focused on this particular architectural aspect, but the concentration of balconies on each square inch of the city surface was impressive. You could see all sorts – from barely visible tiny structures with wrought iron railings covered with vines, to huge balustraded stone monstrosities, growing on the sides of buildings and threatening to tip them over with their weight. Even towers had balconies!

The market became a worthy starting point of our day walk through Verona. It mesmerized with an abundance of colors and gastronomic delicacies, as well as simply tasty, high quality and beautiful-looking food. The bread stall alone was to die for! And I don’t even like bread!… The loafs on display were huge, aromatic, and were piled up in gigantic dough balconies over two tiny girls, slicing these freshly-baked treasures for customers crowded at the front.

The aromatic bread loafs

The scents, odors and colors of the spice stalls next door could compete with any Turkish bazaar, and huge piles of dried tomatoes were threatening to drive you crazy with their juicy aromas.

The spice stall

Cheese stalls were looming with huge round cheeses, free samples of which were being pushed at all passers-by by the stall owners. Above the cheeses hung rows and rows of salamis of all sorts, prices, and origins. Those were also being offered for free tasting to everybody. All in all, one could easily have a hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the market for free, by simply sampling the foods on offer.


After about an hour spent at the market, we finally noticed a huge ancient Colosseum (aka The Arena) which also happens to be one of Verona‘s main sights, dominating the North-Eastern side of the square.  Nostra culpa, we were carried away and distracted by the cheeses, and almost managed to overlook this gigantic historical and architectural masterpiece. Speak about a pink elephant in a room!… The Colosseum/Arena was quite impressive with an aura of centuries-old ancient stability and grandeur. In warm times of the year it also houses open-air operas, the fame of which made it even to Munich (I vaguely remembered big posters on the streets, advertising the happenings). Considering our generally positive impressions of Verona, I am sure we will be back, and might even risk the opera one day!…

Arena di Verona

After a lot of walking around we did find the balcony of Juliette, although not without hassle. The hassle was all self-imposed, for we chose not the easiest way of locating the sight. Instead of following the herds of tourists, crowding the city’s streets both in organized groups, led by guides with colorful umbrellas, and in a chaotic “lonely ranger” mode, we did our utmost to avoid them. As a result we almost missed Verona‘s main sight. The absence of a map (which we also refused to buy, following some half-formed pagan prejudices) did not help one little bit. Despite all this, the balcony was localized, visited, and photographed. The impressions and feelings it evoked can best be described as “mixed”. The balcony itself was quite OK – the size of a regular bath tub stuck to the side of the building, big enough to contain two grown-up adults in a vertical position. The fact that Juliette used it alone, and Romeo was confined to the sidewalk underneath it, made it even more spacious.

THE balcony of Verona – Juliette’s balcony over the tiny courtyard filled with tourists

The house of Juliette’s Dad (and the balcony on the side of it) is situated in a tiny little courtyard, not bigger than 150 square feet (~50 square meters). On busy days a couple hundred tourists squeeze into it in abnormal concentrations, positioning themselves on each other’s heads. The most determined ones make it to the balcony per se, taking selfies with iPhones and iPads in various kissing positions.

A couple taking a selfie with a phone on Juliette’s balcony. Get a camera! And a room…

Here’s another anthropological curiosity: if you made it to the other side of the world, found the proverbial balcony and after queuing for hours managed to squeeze into it, isn’t it tacky to commit the moment to memory with a shitty-quality picture made by a device not intended for photography?… Why not get a proper camera? Another point to the question about searching for logic where you did not put it…

The Tourist Information Office of Verona, represented by two giggly girls, put us up for the night in a very central Albergo Trento hotel, within walking distance of The Arena, that has obviously seen better days. The owner of the establishment, presiding behind the reception, looked like an excommunicated son of royalty – of advanced age, with respectable grayish sideburns, dressed in a periwinkle blue club jacket, and electric-yellow jeans, matching his Canary-yellow loafers. Full of dignity, he handed us the keys, and wished us a lovely afternoon. His Rubenesque wife, sprouting a fresh perm, about ten layers of skillfully applied makeup, a couture dress, and a mink cape (in late April!) arrived at the hotel when we were just checking in. She dramatically stopped the sports car right at the front door with brakes screeching, and while the junior hotel staff were parking her bright red vehicle out, she threw her mink over the bar in the corner of the lobby and busied herself with an espresso machine, blinding the guests with a smile and a décolleté of an opera diva. Can’t get more Italian than that!…

The interior of Osteria Le Veccete

In search of late lunch aka early dinner, we stumbled upon a brilliant place, called “Osteria Le Veccete“. The place attracted us primarily by gigantic wine bottles, decorating its entrance. The interior of predominantly wine motives supported the idea that we came to the right place. Fantastic food became a bonus to the genius wine selection. We were so thrilled with the place, that returned there in the evening to repeat the wine part of the afternoon program. We would have repeated the culinary one as well, but did not have any free space for that…

Stumbling back to the hotel way past midnight, through the still buzzing downtown of Verona, decorated with tempting lights of late bars and restaurants, we were happily looking forward to further adventures.