Travelling during the Christmas holidays can be a well-deserved opportunity to recover from a hectic first term, as well as discover a new part of the world. Being away from home and its festive traditions can be hard, especially for those who love Christmas as much as I do, but I took my travels in Verona as a chance to experience a different culture.
I spent a weekend in Verona at the beginning of December. The initial attraction was the German-style Christmas markets there, which are held in collaboration with the annual Nuremberg markets. Having just completed my first semester studying abroad in Siena, I had the chance to explore Italy further and so decided to visit these festive delights.
Transport links in Italy are reliable and wide ranging, especially in central and northern Italy. Flixbus runs cheap coaches connecting Italy’s towns and cities, so I took a direct coach from Siena to Verona. The journey was roughly four hours and provided an unexpected bonus scenic tour across Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto. The area is also served by Verona International Airport, which flies from London for as little as £20 one way.
Even getting lost is a pleasure given the tangle of medieval streets and buildings which make up the historic centre
When I arrived, I walked from the periphery to the centre in around 20 minutes. Verona is a very walkable city in this sense, so I saved money on transport once I got there. The old town nestles in the crook of the Adige river as it wends its way over the Po plain. The river makes the city easily navigable, but even getting lost is a pleasure given the tangle of medieval streets and buildings which make up the historic centre.
I spent my first afternoon strolling around Piazza Bra admiring the impressive Roman arena from the outside. Here I came across a Giacometti exhibition in Palazzo della Gran Guardia and decided to take a look. I had seen sketches of his sculptures and enjoyed the chance to see them in person because I could truly appreciate the scale and stature of pieces such as Walking Man I.
Next, I made my way to the The Hostello, a medium-sized hostel across the Adige, about 20 minutes’ walk from the old town. I chose a female dorm for 25€/night and had access to a shared bathroom, kitchen and dining area, as well as a complimentary breakfast. There were not many hostels to choose from in Verona, although there are plenty of hotels and Airbnbs, ranging in price to suit different budgets.
The stalls ranged from typical German street food like bratwurst, potatoes and waffles to more traditional Italian offerings like sweet pastries and thick ‘cioccolata calda’
In the evening, I ventured back out to the Christmas Markets. I had been looking forward to them the most and they did not disappoint. The markets were arranged across two connecting piazze just off Piazza delle Erbe. The stalls ranged from typical German street food like bratwurst, potatoes and waffles to more traditional Italian offerings like sweet pastries and thick ‘cioccolata calda’. There were stalls selling hand-made decorations, homeware, jewellery and soaps, so I spent a couple of hours soaking up the festive atmosphere and sampling all the foods on offer.
The next day I had breakfast with some other solo-travellers and made plans with one of them to go sightseeing together. I had never travelled alone before this trip, so it was eye-opening to hear about other people’s experiences and exchange travel tips and stories. To anyone worried about travelling alone, know that there is a community out there waiting to welcome you.
I spent my second day with my new friend from the hostel. We started off by going to a hill-top viewpoint at the Giardino Giusti. From there we could see the whole city below us as well as the surrounding countryside. The curve of the Adige hugged the terracotta-tile-topped city and the mists rising from the river made for an atmospheric winterscape to admire.
My first experience of solo-travel brought me new Christmas traditions from the markets, friends with whom I am still in touch, and a renewed sense of self-confidence
From there we walked down to the city, pausing a moment to look at the Roman amphitheatre set into the hill-side garden. Such ancient ruins litter Italy but their frequency makes them no less remarkable. We did our own walking tour of the city centre, starting with the Duomo di Verona, where there are beautifully preserved freschi decorating all the walls and ceilings.
We then went to the Arena to take in the imposing Roman architecture, followed by a look around Castelvecchio. This military fortress was built by the ruling Scaliger family in the middle ages and still stands a powerful structure in the otherwise dreamy and romantic Verona. Castelvecchio was my favourite place I visited and I highly recommend its gallery, housing Veronese and Italian artworks, and the views from its ramparts. It was the first Sunday of the month, so entrance to each place was only 1€ instead of the usual 10€.
Overall, Verona made for the perfect weekend break. It was affordable, accessible and had plenty of things to do and see. My first experience of solo-travel brought me new Christmas traditions from the markets, friends with whom I am still in touch, and a renewed sense of self-confidence. For first years who have just spent ten weeks on campus and those students living out in the surrounding towns and cities, travelling during the holidays is a great way to burst the Warwick Bubble and experience somewhere new this Christmas.