Sunday, August 30 – Sweet Verona (Waiting For Better Days)

By Alessia Martino TURIN, ITALY

When I talk to people about 2020, I tend to define it as a ‘weird or strange year’ rather than the worst one. Indeed, it has not been the best, but I was still able to find joy in this 2020 madness. Of course, I am just talking about my personal experience and not wanting to invalidate anyone else’s. However, I won’t define my 2020 as horrible because of others, even if the past few weeks haven’t been the rosiest ones for me.

August started for me on a positive note. I decided to meet a friend for a nine-day vacation across the North of Italy. We didn’t do it mindlessly, but pre-planned with care. We decided on a route based on the (COVID-19) cases in each place. I personally looked at the numbers for a few days. We picked a route that included Milan city, which had three active cases, a stop on Lake Garda, and Verona, which had 0. I had to convince my friend to keep Venice out as they had a spike in cases. Later I discovered that Venice was like a ghost town as many had my same thought. We also picked hotels against hostels, as it didn’t seem the time to be sharing rooms with strangers. We just had to came to terms with the idea of using public transportation. Masks and seat arrangements were in place for all forms of transportation. We also picked the end of July, as August is the most traveled month in Italy.
The vacation itself was great, although Milan still had some kind of protest near the central station, and lots of things were still closed. The main cathedral was closed for visits but opened for service. People could go on the rooftop (masked), though, and have a quick peek of the inside while exiting back. Things are to be fully opened by the end of August from what I gathered. The highlights were anyway the long graffiti walls, the vertical forests, Chinatown, and the food. Milan has more to offer than just fashion week, and there I had the best non-in-Japan sushi other than the amazing Aperitivi by the Navigli canals.

Lake Garda was amazing as well. We found ourselves in a small town, with little to do, but with great local food and lots of outside seating. Our B&B had an outdoor pool, and we took advantage of it. We read that have not been cases due to swimming pools but kept some distance (from others) in the water anyway. We also moved the sunbeds to be able to relax. We also took a ferry to other islands. Visits needed to be pre-booked online to avoid overcrowding, and masks needed to be worn outside if in others’ presence. We were able to go to a castle and some other ruins. We skipped the main beach as it was simply overcrowded. It was shocking as people had no masks and kept no distance. We found a less-crowded one, set up a place with no immediate neighbors, and I was able to have a quick dip.

My favorite part was probably Verona, although the tourist discount card was not available to spend less. We choose what we wanted to see and went for it, strategically planning when to go where. It worked as the Verona Arena was empty and just for us, and we made it to Juliet’s house just in time. The courtyard was empty, the statue untouchable (usually is good luck to touch Juliet’s breast, don’t ask me why), and the letters’ wall covered; there was also a person in charge to guard both. The famous balcony was ours for about 10 minutes before anyone showed up, and we could enjoy empty rooms. When we left the courtyard, a long line was there, while we didn’t have to queue. Only a few things were closed, like a castle under renovations, but got to enjoy every corner and every hill of the town. The last few days of our trip, as August began, was a bit busier, and the streets were bustling, but we still managed to keep people distanced and to find an amazing restaurant with the inside all for us. Restaurants were still following the rules, but we witnessed some waiters with masks under their nose on the 40C degree heatwave day.
However, places have become busier since then across Italy, and beaches have been assaulted. People have told me that people in the South don’t really wear masks, compared to the North. Clubs have been only recently closed across the peninsula (but why open them in the first place?), while small masked parties are tolerated. Also, now and for a few weeks, masks need to be on from 6 pm outside. In the meantime, schools across the country are trying to prepare for the new school year. Replacement of two-people desks where those still exist, making smaller classes, alternating on-site and distanced learning, different entrance turns, and paths. However, no one really knows what will happen, although Germany reopening and reclosing schools can be an insight. People fear contagion, closure, and a possible second lockdown. A first small lockdown has been done in central Italy in a town that has found 12 positives. Although all from the same family, the mayor has decided to close the town for about three days to be able to test everyone.
More precautions have been taken for international travel, adding quick testing in airports for people coming from high-risk areas (identified as Malta, Greece, Croatia, and Spain) and quarantine. The system isn’t perfect and still very flawed, but better than nothing. I am just shocked by the number of selfish people who try to skip testing and quarantine by passing through other countries.

Therefore, I have been keeping to myself most of this month, staying with my new rescued cat and enjoying the company of a few, away from the chaos and the heat, waiting for better days to come.