12 May 2017 – Prague to Verona
We flew from Prague to Verona, in Italy, on Czech Airlines. It is a short flight of around an hour and a half on a small turbo prop aircraft, comfortable enough and cheap enough to make the much longer trip on either a bus or train out of the question. The highlight of the trip was the flight over the Alps, when the cloud cleared for a section and we got a clear view of the magnificent scenery below. With the plane flying at a relatively low 20,000ft, we were effectively only 10,00ft above the mountains and ski fields and small towns were easily seen.
From Verona Airport we caught an airport shuttle for only 6€ that dropped us off at the Porta Nuovo Train Station, which was in itself only a 300m walk to the Piccolo Hotel. We stayed here on our last visit in 2012 and it proved comfortable enough at a budget price. We were far too early for check in, however, and left our baggage before heading into the city centre.
As we followed the roads, everything was familiar because we had given the city a pretty good going over on the last visit. In hindsight, we could have just got on a train and headed north to Bolzano because we didn’t have much left to see in Verona but the chance to re-visit the beautiful Piazza Bra and the magnificent ancient Roman Arena was too tempting. Part of of our mission was to top up our Italian Vodaphone cards. We had figured that it could be easily done at either the airport or the train station but surprisingly, there was no sign of any such facility. The station had a Wind outlet but nothing else.
Finding a Vodaphone outlet proved to be a major challenge which resulted in us walking a total of 7.5kms in a day. Unlike Australia, where mobile phone outlets are everywhere, in Italy they are hidden places that must be hunted down. Of course one can always Google it, unless of course you are trying to recharge. You can always log onto a free public network but then Google says it is not secure enough and won’t respond.
Along the way, we enjoyed the visual splendour of the lovely Piazza Bra, a huge open square that is dominated by the enormous Roman amphitheatre that is still in use today. To the right of the arena is a large public building built in neo-classical style and on this occasion it was the site of a massed schools choir event. Hundreds of students in school uniform sang their little hearts to the delight of a large amassed crowd.
With prices hitting ridiculous levels around the Piazza Bra we took to the back streets to find an affordable lunch. After rejecting many menus as too expensive or too fancy, we finally found a cute little lunch bar with a good range of paninis on sale and some cold beer on offer. The proprietor was a very jolly chap who welcomed us in and described the ingredients of each available pannini in great detail. It was fairly obvious that his English did not extend much further than the ingredient names but he was keen to try and when he found out we were Australian we became very much flavour of the month. He managed to convey in a mix of English and Italian (which we can sort of follow) that he had a sister in Australia and some friends who had given him a memento. From his wallet he produced his most prized possession, a gold kangaroo pin. We had a great time with the added bonus of tasty food and cold beer.
After much walking we finally located the Vodaphone outlet and stood in a queue for another half hour before we managed to get some more data and call credits. It should not be that hard.
We settled in for a relaxing afternoon at the Hotel Piccolo and to watch the rain settle in. We had already made the commitment to stay in for dinner, with the hotel offering a decent pizza restaurant. A pre-dinner beer at the bar seemed a good idea but we waited around in vain for someone to appear. A number of vending machines containing snacks graced the lobby and it seems the hotel has moved to a “serve yourself” mode of operation. There was a fridge containing beer so we helped ourselves and Christine went behind the bar to source a couple of glasses. More people arrived and we indicated the best way to go. By this time we had discovered that the hotel did not open its restaurant but the menu on offer referred to one at an affiliated hotel and a shuttle bus would run. This was hardly an ideal thing but we took the option anyway and got bussed off to a pleasant place with good food at reasonable prices. However, it was staff by one cook and two wait staff who literally ran through the area in order to keep up service. What is wrong with paying staff for goodness sake?
13 May Verona to Bolzano
The next morning we slept in late, had breakfast, which mercifully was not out of a vending machine, and hoisted our packs on our backs to march back to the rail station. The train to Balzano follows a beautiful mountain pass featuring picturesque small villages and numerous castles on the rocky cliffs. The only significant city along the journey was Trento, where the train seemed to fill with young University age students. We must be getting a certain amount of travel burnout because the scenery would normally have been a highlight of the trip but by now the sight of towering mountains, crumbling forts and castles and the occasional Roman ruin is just par for the course. What a sad state of affairs.
The train arrived on time in Bolzano or Bozen as it is also called. This part of Italy is the South Tyrol region and is mainly German speaking, having been ceded to Italy from Austria after World War I and everything and everywhere has two names. Rob and Yvette were there again to greet us and we threw the luggage into the Peugeot with French number plates and off we all went, headed for life in the mountains in Nova Levante (or Welschoffen as the majority German speaking population prefer).