Juliet’s Curse – Two Nights in Verona (Italy #5)

Juliet’s Curse – Two Nights in Verona (Italy #5)

8th August, Monday

Noon in a park near the station in Bologna. We’re here since half past eleven. We have hours to kill here. It’s hard to believe the next train to Verona is not until half past three. The cicadas are sawing away in the trees. The grass is burnt. A couple of the male pigeons are doing 360° turns to impress the girls. How can we have to wait this long when Verona is only fifty minutes away?



The arena is bigger than I’d expected, at least from the outside. We had dinner nearby at a hotel restaurant (Torcolo) on Via Cattaneo. The lamb rack and varied veg were nice but there wasn’t any elbow room where we were seated, outside, between the German-speaking couple to my left and the French-speaking pair to my right. We didn’t say much. All the voices were low. Who wants to draw the attention of the neighbours? An assortment of flying insects buzzed my face too. Tomorrow we can can take our time and do Verona properly.

9th August, Tuesday

Juliet’s revenge or Juliet’s curse? We didn’t go to see her bloody balcony but everything was going OK until this afternoon when I paid the bill here with my card. A young Gianna Ten-Thumbs at reception most likely pressed something she shouldn’t have and somehow locked my pin. I had to ring Dublin twice to get that opinion confirmed and then I got on to my brother to provide help for when we get to Innsbruck. She looked like she didn’t know what she was doing and the sweet one (a bit older) had to give some guidance before she was, eh, finished with me. At least I had my receipt but my worries started when I went out then to get some cash. It was all hassle after that. I should have brought more cash.

Late on Tuesday. I have a f*cked credit card and though we still have €327 we’ll be relying on Western Union come Innsbruck. We’d seen a lot this morning. There are lots of tourists here speaking German and French but not a lot of Americans or Asians. Or Brits. We crossed Ponte Pietra below the huge cypresses on the Roman theatre hill.



That was before I found a café bar with no name on Via S. Rochetto, where we had a couple of great (Pampero) rum and Cokes each – in what looked like jam jars – plus a nice lunch (carbonara for me).


Then it was time for a rest from the heat, back at the hotel, but I wasn’t feeling particularly tired and therefore fatefully went downstairs to pay up. Immediately afterwards the card wouldn’t work.

I first called Bank of Ireland after we went half-way over the red-brick Ponte Scaligero by the Castelvecchio. It was on that hump-backed bridge that I told my mother I was worried about the card and what was wrong with it. A couple of jazz musicians were hammering away noisily nearby.


Out on my own later, the first advice from the bank – to try to change the pin at an Italian ATM – proved useless, even at a Barclay’s branch, and I used up the rest of my credit ringing Dublin the second time for confirmation of the bad news. I didn’t realise I’d been gone an hour and a half but at least had got back to the hotel when my mother began texting. I couldn’t answer her otherwise. My brother will replenish my phone too.

10th August, Wednesday

I’d thought I wouldn’t complain online about this but the dismissive attitude of the charmless young woman with the glasses this morning changed my mind. Hotel Siena will get a roasting. The defensive aggression kicked off with her saying it wasn’t nice and it was a serious matter to make such an accusation. I wasn’t accusing anyone of a crime or deliberate wrongdoing. I said it was clearly a mistake but, as she wanted to talk about seriousness, my “Siamo nei guai a causa di questo” (‘We’re in trouble because of this’) was only met with another contemptuous shrug, just like the reaction to the opinion of my bank.

I told them to be careful in case it happened again but didn’t rear up because we still wanted to get the other (nice) one to call us a taxi. It was pissing rain outside. There was lightning last night, in the distance. Early this morning, heavy rain thumped some nearby roof or awning and that woke me at half past six.

Postscript: once I got back home and simply changed the pin code at my bank, the card worked as normal. There was nothing wrong with it that hadn’t happened in Verona.

Irish ATM receipt 15 August


Having thus proven there was nothing wrong with the card before or after Verona, I then received a threat of legal action from the hotel proprietor (16/08/16). How much simpler it would have been for her to be polite and sympathetic at the outset, especially as I never asked for any money back nor made threats of any kind.


Bolero in Bologna… August 2016 (Italy #4)

Bolero in Bologna… August 2016 (Italy #4)

6th August, Saturday

Getting here was free of hassle. Stepping onto the plane, which wasn’t full, I showed two stewardesses my pass and behind me my mother said

“I’m with him.”
“Lucky you,” said Barbara, the chief.
“He’s my son.”

Soon B. came down to us and said we could move forward into an empty row. The taxi to Bologna city centre was seventeen euro and I found the narrow street with the hotel (Albergo delle Drapperie) handily enough on foot. Out on my own come midnight, I wandered around photographing Bologna at night.





I also discovered the Mercato di Mezzo around the corner is open on Sundays and the nominally Irish pub on Via Zamboni won’t be showing any hurling unless it’s on Sky. There was a lot of Carabinieri out but they weren’t busy. One carload of the Polizia Municipale turned up too, shooting the breeze on Via Rizzoli.

7th August, Sunday

A late goal got Kilkenny a draw with Waterford, who hit the ball wide five times in a row before it. No goal (for us) and we still nearly beat them. Nearly. I was relying on texts from my brother. The result came late this afternoon while we happened to be sitting in a stuffy church, San Giovanni in Monte.


Hit my knee for the third or fourth time on the knee-high wooden corner of the bed frame that’s hidden by the bedspread. It’s about eight in the evening now. This morning we got a breakfast of sorts in the Mercato di Mezzo and walked down past the Due Torri while the Sunday bells were ringing.

From there we walked Via Zamboni and back before catching a brass band Bolero on Via Rizzoli. It consisted of five musicians, one of whom was a girl with an accordion. They played in a cool spot in one of Bologna’s 38 km of porticoes.

We had lunch around the corner on Via Clavature where the waitress at the Buca San Petronio was a bit of a linguist. I overheard her tell another customer she had spent extended periods in France and Germany. She complimented my Italian, as did a girl in a supermarket, completely unprovoked, after I’d only said a few words and gone “Si” when she mentioned a sacchetto, but though I’m winging it, certain things are bound to make me crash and burn.

A typical scenario involves ordering ice cream. This afternoon I was going well in the Cremeria Funivia on Piazza Cavour, ordering coni and assuming the classic bacio and zabaione were going to be straightforward dollops, that is until the sweet young blonde handed back the change and started talking about the gusti and their combinations. When she saw the look on my face – presumably that of a man who had suddenly lost his hearing – she switched to English and volunteered to make the choices for us. I explained I wasn’t certo about the gusti, even in inglese. I’d be lost after banana, mint, chocolate and vanilla.


Soldiers were guarding San Petronio today, along with the Carabinieri. That’s how Europe is now, though Bologna seems a very relaxed city. Red Bologna in sight and spirit – near the Buca di San Petronio a busker who looked like Roger Waters (& of similar age) did Working-class Hero in an Italian accent.





Tonight we dined nicely at Rosarose, again around the corner on Via Clavature. Pullets and roast potatoes and Pinot Grigio. A smattering of salad. A few green leaves. Being Bologna, it wasn’t as plain as it sounds. A nearby Israeli kid nearly hit my mother’s elbow when he yanked a chair but a waiter soon told him to get back in his own seat. The kid and one of his little brothers then blew out their table candle while the parents were paying, inside.

Later I went on my own to the Celtic Druid where one of the barmen felt like talking. He suggested that going to an Irish bar was a comfortable option but I explained it was my way of meeting locals, like him. At first he seemed to think I meant the Florentines when I said Florence was come pieno di insetti. I meant tourists, of whom he wanted more for Bologna, like a poor relation. I left there at one.

8th August, Monday

Noon in a park near the station. We’re here since half past eleven. We have hours to kill here. It’s hard to believe the next train to Verona is not until half past three. The cicadas are sawing away in the trees. The grass is burnt. A couple of the male pigeons are doing 360° turns to impress the girls. I can’t say I’m hungover but I could sleep more. How can we have to wait this long when Verona is only fifty minutes away?


Italy #2: Tuscany June 2013

Italy #2: Tuscany June 2013

Jean Italy 2013 186

John Italy 2013 003

14th June, Friday

Viareggio. The apartment is fine. I checked out the whole passegiata after dark. I walked down to the marina. No good bars were found.

16th June, Sunday

White jeeps and beagles: they are two things I notice. This evening, after coming back from the church on the far side of the wood, my mother described the pineta as an “Alice in Wonderland” kind of place.

John Italy 2013 151

Jean Italy 2013 076

17th June, Monday

The heat was intense in Lucca. I fell for the buccellato bullshit (€18 for two grande loaves).

Jean Italy 2013 029

We stopped at a café beside the Puccini house. She’d mentioned leaving (the house) first but I wonder if working there with constant piped music in the background would lead to hatred of the maestro. A German sat down with a Middle Eastern guy and the latter’s (elder) kid (the other slept in the vehicle). I thought it was some sort of nouveau riche thing. When we said we’d flown from Cork, the German knew about Ryanair but then he said he was only the driver and the others were off a cruise ship at La Spezia. The Arab’s American wife had f*cked off – shopping – but he and his kid were kind. The boy offered some Pringles to my mother. The man said, “What about him?” He meant me.

18th June, Tuesday

I went down the stairs only to meet an elderly Italian couple who couldn’t open the door of their apartment. The man had been to Belfast in the 1970s. They gave me a bottle of their own red (Chianti) after I succeeded. My father later spilled a pan of oil on the kitchen floor but at least the steaks and onions had already been removed. I went to bed not long after ten. It’s too hot and tomorrow my mother and I will go to Pisa. I gave the second buccellato loaf to the couple downstairs and they gave me bottle of spumante for my parents’ fiftieth anniversary. Their own will come in October.

I’d been down to the Principino seafront restaurant across from the Principe di Piemonte hotel, on Paolo’s recommendation (“medio”). On the terrazza to the left of the pool in there, I spoke to a guy dressed all in black and told him the circumstances but his food suggestions weren’t helped by the fact that I wouldn’t know much about seafood, even in English. My mother had already seen the sandwich board outside with the fixed-price menu so when I got back I suggested we do that after all and if there was anything they didn’t like they could just move it onto my plate. As my father said, we’ll only be out the once.

19th June, Wednesday

Sparrow nests above my room window are noisy, most annoyingly in the morning. Plus I must do something about my bed. First day, my mother took one of my pillows for my father. I’ve put a couple of towels under the remaining one but I must try again for the sake of my neck.

John Italy 2013 001

Pisa went well, even in the fierce heat. The sun reflecting on the white marble paving outside the Duomo was blinding, especially in combination with the sweat in my eyes. Now in bed my head is radiating. We still have to bring my father back for a look.

John Italy 2013 204

21st June, Friday

At ten past four the first bird started up but at least the nest over my window is empty. I’d had a knot in my innards from one o’clock. Something I ate after not thinking enough about my order (mixed fish grill = tuna and peppers and… what?). After I’d had a little over three hours’ sleep my mother knocked on my door at 09.15. I knew she was psyched up to go to Florence so I went.

John Italy 2013 082

Unlike the ticket guy at Santa Maria Novella (church) the woman at the Medici chapels wanted “documenti” to prove my mother qualified for a concession. Then there was a security check like in the airport but it may have been worth it to see the sinister Capella dei Principi, fit for dark lords of this or that. Harry Potter? Around the corner there’s a market and the throng really started. The city was swarming, especially with Americans. I wouldn’t be gone on the barn-like entrance end to San Lorenzo or even the body of the Duomo (the Baptistery is a dirty blot) but the typical ochre elsewhere (e.g. Orsanmichele) is very beautiful. She didn’t think the day was quite as hot as the others.

John Italy 2013 090

Jean Italy 2013 139

Jean Italy 2013 141

22nd June, Saturday

Torre del Lago: one stop down the line to Pisa and then we walked a km straight to the lake. The hills beyond the lake have been gouged for stone. The Puccini villa was closed to the public for the late afternoon and we could hear a recital of Madame Butterfly going on inside (piano and soprano).

John Italy 2013 146

Jean Italy 2013 170

I still felt the odd twinge, like my right kidney got a punch. What was it?

23rd June, Sunday

Just after five o’clock today I was out on the balcony, on my own in the apartment, when I felt my chair move and then saw the clothes rack hopping in front of me. I didn’t realize what it was but mentioned it to my father when he came back. He said he’d experienced something similar a couple of days ago, while lying in bed, but thought he might have been dreaming. It turns out there was a 5.2 tremor on Friday, with its epicentre near Carrara, but my mother and I hadn’t felt it because we’d been on the train (12.33pm). (Today’s aftershock may have been 4.7.) He said that in his one the wardrobe had made a racket for a few seconds.

24th June, Monday

Florence: the bus tour didn’t take an hour. It tore around a shortened route (minus Santa Croce) faster than that but at least it was over before the deluge.

John Italy 2013 173

My father asked for chips and the rain started during a quarter-pounder meal in the McDonalds beside SMN, where my mother produced a baby Bacardi and put it into the Coke. Then she revealed my father had expressed a wish to see the Duomo. They donned macs my mother had brought with her and I got the umbrella, which was f*cked, so she bought two more (one good) on the street but the piazza was a pond under thunder and lightning and the authorities had shut the door. By the time we made it back to the station the elements had eased off.

I wasn’t going to chance not validating the tickets again but I still couldn’t find a machine on the platform. I asked two inspectors talking at the far end and one of them waved me away with an instruction that included “schermo” and “binario” but where was the schermo on the binario? That was what I wanted to know. It turned out to be at the entrance to the platform. I’d missed it in the crowd. The same guy showed up on the train (Germanic eyes and a short beard). His first move was to eject an African hawker (“Scende da quà”) before he came to us. After punching the tickets he gave a sinister smile as he politely said “Grazie” but then my mother told me to ask him if there was a toilet because she was feeling a bit sick.

25th June, Tuesday

In Carrara: at the station I made the mistake of not asking a bus driver the story (there were no taxis). We tried to walk to the old town but I flagged down a bus two thirds of the way. I think he had no tickets left (“Finiti biglietti”). Apart from one guy looking at a map, we might have been the only tourists. Getting back went a bit smoother, once we found a bus stop and a bus finally came. The area reminded my mother of America: wide roads, palm trees and mountains in the background.

Jean Italy 2013 258

John Italy 2013 191

Jean Italy 2013 271

26th June, Wednesday

At the Campo in Pisa my father turned his baseball cap back to front and held the tower up with his stick. “Eighty-two-year-old rapper saves world heritage monument” will be the Facebook caption. A British choir was putting on a show in the Duomo. Later he got a few leaning mugs for his friends. Back at the station he wanted more chips. He’d noticed the McDonalds.

27th June, Thursday

In the evening through the wood I went down to Via Leonardo da Vinci to photograph the colours of the oleander trees for my mother.

John Italy 2013 228

28th June, Friday

I’d woken before half six, an hour earlier than planned, but we were still busy for a couple of hours. Elena came with her husband who quickly reminded her to give back the €100 deposit. They took one set of keys and told us to pull the door out after us. Our taxi driver to Pisa looked like Jeff Lynne with a shaved head. The boarding gates were the scene of a throng and somebody (Ryanair staff) twisted the sign around at the last minute, reversing the poles of the priority and ordinary ‘queues’. Our flight was full.

Jean Italy 2013 333

John Italy 2013 035

Italy #1: Tuscany and Umbria 2014

Italy #1: Tuscany and Umbria 2014


4th August, Monday

Departure was delayed for over an hour but we landed in Pisa at ten to five. Getting to the station and on a train to Empoli was easy, as was changing trains, but the second was a hot one (no air-conditioning). The line we took into Siena was shrouded in trees. Around nine we dined successfully, with a nice house white (a bare bottle), in a wide nook with wall statuary nearby (Ristorante Vitti). Then we went down to the Campo, after stopping off at the Loggia Mercanzia. The book mentioned a scallop shape but the one photo of the Campo gives no idea of the hollow that’s in it or the size of it.



5th August, Tuesday

Going into buildings is of less interest to me than the exteriors. By 12.30 we got finished with that. The Madonna and Child part of the Maestà in the Duccio room of the Museo dell’Opera is like a class photo, with all the heads, and it was a good job we abandoned waiting for the Panorama del Facciatone. A French child (girl) emerged in tears, scared of heights, as I deduced from checking the book. As for lunch, I chose Osteria Cice for the aroma out of it and again we weren’t disappointed with food (main & dessert) or wine.




Siena is an extraordinary place, roof over roof, all the reddish brown (i.e. sienna) bricks like medieval Lego, maybe. Tonight I mistakenly looked for a third good place to eat and dragged my mother around for nearly half an hour – there were still some banking suits out and about – before we went back to Ristorante Vitti. I was down at (if not quite in) Saint Catherine’s hangout at six when she sent a text (“Come back”) from San Domenico. There was thunder and a darkening sky with at least one distant flash. The rain didn’t last long, back at the hotel.


6th August, Wednesday

We had to wait two hours for a train but getting to Orvieto took a little less than that. Up we went on the funicular and I took the luggage as we marched up Via Cavour in the heat. The Valentino is a nice hotel. We got air-conditioned rooms with a view, though not over the edge.


In Italy you could spend your life with a crick in your neck, looking up at church ceilings and other lofty positions. In the Duomo in Orvieto my mother spotted The Preaching of the Anti-Christ (“I thought it was Our Lord at first”) before I came across it in the Rough Guide, which has a lot more numbers in the key than in the actual diagram (I filled some in). In the background the original men in black seem to be rampaging around the temple.



After that I brought her down to the vertiginous wall near San Giovenale but went back there on my own later to make a video that captured the drop. On one of the narrow, stony, shady lanes a guy passed whistling Baker Street very melodically. His day was done.


7th August, Thursday

Round Lake Trasimene, we got to Perugia by three. Johnny in Knoxville. The lift is needed to get up to reception (third floor off a narrow, sloping, side street). After another shower I slept for an hour and then we went out to eat and walk about a bit. The old city is high up, as we realised from various angles.


We had a good meal with a bottle of Grechetto at Merlin’s in Via Fani beside the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where we were the first to sit down, and then sat on the warm steps of the Duomo (where we weren’t). I think Spoleto’s been scratched but we’ll probably go to Assisi tomorrow.


8th August, Friday

Assisi: it was hot on that holy hill (I didn’t try to take Rocca Maggiore) and we had a long wait for our lunch in La Lanterna (too much breezy air-conditioning there, for my mother). I’d sleep now only for the nearby angle grinder. Maybe the f*cker has stopped. Yes, he can. Roberto the Builder. It was probably for the worst this evening that my mother thought she had locked herself into her bathroom while I was getting her a spare shower cap from mine (and in my room delayed a little to figure out where we might go). She just didn’t put enough effort into turning the door knob and instead resorted to banging on the door “with a can” for a while. She said ten minutes but it was probably two or three. Today she wandered off inside the St. Francis Basilica too. St. Clare’s was quieter.


Anyway, we’re not going anywhere tomorrow and tonight we found a decent restaurant called Da Peppone on the far side of the Duomo. Spaghetti carbonara (& more Grechetto) did me fine and a pork chop (& chips) was something she would eat off the menu but I couldn’t really relax, looking at her and wondering was she half-dead or what. She came back to life after we sat on some steps on Corso Vannucci (she had an ice cream cone) and we got talking to a French couple from Lyon, with two young daughters. She told me to offer to take a picture of all four and then the mother (Catherine) asked were we English. A pigeon went on to shit on the bare shoulder of one of the girls. The father (Thierry) and I later exchanged email addresses and by the time we separated it was almost ten and I had to rush back to get our keys before they closed the door and made it un po’ awkward to get in. It took a few minutes to find my mother again outside but when I got her upstairs she was only bothered by not being able to get another bottle of water at reception. But she had enough.

9th August, Saturday

Rest day: Roberto is banging today, towards 5pm. By noon or so we had Perugia done. An open window on the weird Via Ritorta had a woman calling a guy a “fascista” but, if ever a street gave a feeling of being down a well, that was it. Later I had to go back and video it.



A note on the blonde at reception today (whom I’d already briefly seen at our first breakfast, in a black dress, smiling when I passed her the milk for other guests): she’s someone to put most in the ha’penny place but also probably a demon if crossed. I don’t think she liked me when I accidentally pulled my mother’s finger when reaching for the other key, earlier, to hand it in with mine. Anyway, who cares, she’s a receptionist with Italian pop buzzing on the radio somewhere behind the counter. My mother is relieved at not having to go anywhere today. “A whirlwind out of this world” was a description I saw in a text to M., sent yesterday. Tomorrow we’ll stop in Florence for half the day.


At half seven, I discovered my mother had been at her room door so much (faulty knob) that the (elder, peroxide, I think) blonde rang from reception to see was she all right. At the desk I explained to the babe that it wasn’t my fault as I’d told her to text if there was any problem. After the evening meal we were sitting on the warm cathedral steps again. From Giardini Carducci, Assisi looks closer in the dark than it did in the light, looking east. By ten my mother quietly wanted to retire.

10th August, Sunday

Fiddlers Cross [a short film, co-scripted] won first prize for Best Screenplay in Rhode Island. My mother and I had boarded a train to Pisa in Santa Maria Novella in Florence when D. rang briefly with the news. I’d just been giving out about a young f*cker in shades and a baseball cap who had taken up three seats with three cases (“Uomo gentile! Tre valigie sui tre posti!”). His two buddies removed theirs but we got seated behind him upon a cooling suggestion from at least three Italian women nearby. Later I enjoyed seeing him bang his head off the overhead rack, blinded by his cap and shades. I don’t think he was even Italian, just some twat from Portugal or Brazil. My head and torso were melting after the hot Florentine afternoon; like an anthill it was, apart from the relaxing couple of Bacardi & Cokes (a fiver each) at an Irish pub called The Fiddler’s Elbow on Piazza SMN. I wasn’t the only person showing some exasperation in Florence today. A tall American father was pulling his little son along past the Duomo and the kid was singing something (repetitive, I guess) and the American dad said, “For Christ’s sake will you knock it off!”



The hotel here in Pisa is more like a hostel and we had to cross the river to find a place to eat; somewhere that looked better than it tasted, at least where my plate was concerned. I was just demoralised, having to walk that far and for some sh*t (prawns) too but what was I thinking? My mother was a bit happier with her (tough) steak choice (with homemade… crisps!) after I’d wondered would she ever find something on the menu. We’re tired of Italy now and this time Pisa looks or feels more like CW’s verdict (“a dump”). She even slipped off a step near the hotel on the way back but thanks be to Jesus neither she nor her camera broke anything. Even if I sleep a few hours, this last leg always seemed like it would be a chore.

11th August, Monday

Up very early to get out of the kip, we were still stuck with a plane an hour late so again we were spared the Ryanair fanfare on landing in Cork, where the pilot must have fancied he was doing it on an aircraft carrier.