In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...
Having woken up at a ridiculous hour to catch my early morning flight from Gatwick (including a somewhat flustered attempt to squish my handbag into an already stuffed carry-on to comply with easy-jet's super strict 1 piece of carry on per person rule, grr.) - I arrived in Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet, a little bleary-eyed and in dire need of some pasta and gelato, pronto!
After checking into my sweet hotel (which was oddly called Hotel Bologna, the name of the next city on the itinerary of this whirlwind trip) I wandered over to the city centre, a beautiful square blocked off from traffic, with a park and beautifully restored buildings surrounding an enormous Roman Arena. To be so close to the thick of it all was so great, particularly as Verona's biggest party of the year was due to start in a few hours - Carnevale di Verona a.k.a the longest parade I have ever seen...
Refueled by tummy-warming Lasagne from a local cafe, I grabbed a cono of pistacchio e crema gelato from the wonderful Gelateria Savoia - who incidentally have been churning out what quite possibly was the best gelato I have ever had (i'm happy to be proven wrong) since 1939. If they've been in business that long, they must be doing a whole lot right! Gelato in hand, I perched myself along the main street, joining the crowds as they excitedly awaited the arrival of the Carnival parade.
The parade itself had a much more rustic, community feel when compared to the extravagance of the Carnavale du Nice. It was lovely to see young and old from the little regional towns nearby proudly walk by in the procession, dressed in costume, dancing, singing or merely fondly tossing caramelle lollies to the children in the crowd and confetti to the rest of us.
Taking pride of place in the procession was Papa del Gnoco - Gnocchi's Dad, who was a grandfatherly looking man much like Santa, bearing a giant fork with a giant gnocchi as his sceptre. Yes, it sounds incredibly weird and random, but it harks back to the first Carnival in 1531, where a wealthy nobleman donated a large sum of money to pay for flour for the poor people to make gnocchi. Odd but true!
I stayed to watch the parade for an hour or so and then decided to venture on to see more of the sights of the town, but it seemed that wherever I went, the parade seemed to follow! I bumped into the procession again at the Piazza del Erbe (where I tucked into another gelato at Pretto - purely for research purposes of course)
Made my way to Juliet's Balcony - where I just so happened to arrive as a couple dressed as Romeo & Juliet appeared from the balcony (they very kindly kissed and waved for the tourists.)
In an attempt to escape the parade crowds I ducked into the back alleyways, getting very lost but not minding at all as I bumped into the Piazza dei Signori, Duomo di Verona and the Ponte Pietra along the way.
I continued wandering and lo and behold bumped into the carnival procession again along the road towards Castelvecchio. At this point it must've been at least 3 or 4 hours from when it started, and I was truly amazed at the stamina of the participants - they pretty much worked their way through the entire area of the old town!
My energy on the other-hand was fastly fading, so ducking through the parade and crowds and scooting around the groups of teenagers having flour fights in the streets (I think it's another weird carnival tradition!)
I headed back to the main square to feast on some of that famous gnocchi! To be honest I had never been the biggest fan of gnocchi prior to coming to Verona, but having it freshly made from a market stall by local Nonnas , with a simple tomato sauce and loads of parmesan, I was converted!
The parade procession was STILL going strong as I polished off the gnocchi, by now the sun setting and the floats replaced with giant illuminated ones and the music pumped up even more.
I watched for a little while longer, but eventually as the night grew dark I ventured back to the hotel, but not before grabbing a teensy little gelato sandwich from Venchi for a last little evening treat.
Three gelatos in one day, keeps the doctor away? I wish!
What's your favorite gelato (or ice cream) flavour?
(I'm rather partial to Pistachio)