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Master's Weekend visit to Verona 14th - 18th May 2010

Early on the morning of the 14th May a group of weary eyed but happy Bowyers, some having obeyed the injunction to be there three hours early, met in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport before boarding the plane for Verona.

During the two hour flight courtesy of British Airways we were served a tasteless cold bacon and egg sandwich a glass of reconstituted orange juice and a hot drink. On arrival at Verona airport we were met by coach and swiftly transported to the Grand Hotel. Having changed and made ourselves comfortable the group walked into the centre of Verona to the Piazza Bra where we split into two more manageable groups for lunch.

After lunch we came together under the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emmanuelle to meet our guide Alberto Pavoni. Starting the tour outside the ancient arena he gave a short outline of the history of Verona before moving to a map of the old Roman city which as incorporated into the pavement. He explained the ancient gridded street layout set in a bend of the river and explained the amphitheatre was outside the old Roman walls. Then we walked into the town to the Piazza Erbe where he showed us the ancient statue placed in a fountain and then went onto explain the monument which incorporated the physical standards for tiles, bricks and the diameter of wooden billets.

We then walked to visit the magnificent tombs of the Scala family and admired the ladder decoration in the design of the family coat of arms and incorporated into the decorative metal work surrounding the tombs, this being a pun of the family name. We also had a quick look into the adjacent Church of Santa Maria Antica.

The next stop was Romeo's House and then we entered a courtyard where it was possible to look through glass at the original Roman levels and admire some magnificent mosaics. The building had originally been an artillery barracks and as we left we passed through a magnificent arch decorated with carvings and bas reliefs of items associated with the use of artillery such as gunners' quadrants, barrels of gunpowder and matchlocks. We then visited Juliette's House and passing through an arch decorated with lovers' graffiti and love notes we entered a courtyard where we admired the magnificent balcony and the coat of arms of the Capulet family which includes a cap. The statue of Juliette was also admired and some members of the party touched her breast which is supposed to bring you luck.

We then returned to the Hotel to rest and change for dinner where we dined magnificently at the Restaurante Greppia on Salami and porcine mushrooms on polenta, followed by gnocchi with mascarpone cheese and red salad risotto, the main course was roasted veal with vegetables followed by a choice of deserts. All washed down with Valpolicella Classico. We then returned to the hotel for an excellent nights sleep.

After an excellent breakfast we met outside the hotel to catch a bus to Mantua. After a short drive and having admired the magnificent castle we disembarked and walked to the front of the cathedral in the Piazza Sordello. Most of the party then indulged themselves with a quick cup of coffee before meeting our strikingly attired guide Giuliana Varini. We set off to the Palazzo Ducale where sheltering from the rain under the arches she described some of the towns history and the role of the leading family the Gonzagas and their large art collection. Some items of which were sold in the lean times to Charles I of England. We were then taken into the Church of Santa Barbara. A beautiful building, designed for musical performances with a magnificent old organ and two galleries one for a choir and the other for a soloist.

The building incorporated a wide range of architectural styles and beautiful frescos paintings and decoration. Walking through the squares we admire the clock tower and visited the Rotonda Church of St Lorenzo the design of which was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and decorated with excellent frescos. The tour ended outside the Basilica of St Andrea which hosts a sacred relic called 'Preziosissimo Sangue di Cristo' ("Most Precious Blood of Christ"), preserved in the Sacred Vessels, which according to the tradition was brought to Mantua by the Roman centurion Longinus. Afterwards the party split up and had lunch before returning to the bus for the return trip to Verona.

At 7pm the party gathered at the hotel for the traditional Master's champagne reception before proceeding to the Restaurante Osteria Ugo where we had an excellent dinner starting with chicken pate, followed by spaghetti "Facia" and macaroni pesto, the main course was suckling pig and the meal finished off with very tasty deserts all washed down with excellent wine.

On Sunday there was an early start as we departed for Desenzana del Garda to catch the ferry to Bardolino we were accompanied by an excellent guide Anne Moslet. We arrived early and had the opportunity to visit an excellent street market and enjoyed a coffee in the street side cafes whilst watching to locals go to mass. The ferry left on time and we admired the coast line of the lake in particular the peninsular of Sirmione with its castle and remains of a Roman villa.

On arrival at Bardolino we visited the Church of Saint Nicolo e Severo. Afterwards we walked along the lake side and enjoyed an excellent lunch before returning to the bus. On arriving at the hotel we changed before going to the Ristorante Liston for Dinner where we enjoyed an excellent meal.

On Monday morning we were again met by Anne Moslet who took us by bus in to the Valpolicella area to the winery "Tenuta Pule". There the owner took us on a guided tour of the cave where we admired the large fermenting tanks and the oak casks used to store the wine whilst it matures. Afterwards in the Cantina Pule she talked about the various wines produced and led the party in a tasting accompanied by local cheese and cold meats.

Afterwards we returned to Verona to the Giardino Giusti a beautiful 16th century garden built on the side of a hill which has excellent panoramic views of the city. The group then split up for lunch and individual exploration of the City before returning to the Hotel to change for dinner.

The party met in the foyer of the Hotel before departing for the customary gala dinner. We were taken by bus to the Villa Pelligrini Cipolla. A most interesting building decorated with light plaster work and murals. Old wall paper had been inserted into parts of the decoration to provide a different texture and brighter colours. Sadly there was a shortage of appropriate furniture and additional conservation was required to show off the beauty of the house to full advantage. Having explored the villa we adjourned to the elegant 'Las Salle delle Cineserie' to dine. The first course consisted of mushroom rissotto and pasta with a duck sauce, a succulent steak then followed and then we enjoyed the desert of chocolate mouse with nuts and wild berries. All was washed down with excellent local wines.

At 10 am on the Tuesday morning having settled our bills we left for the airport. Despite volcanic clouds and the threat of an aircrew strike the aircraft took off on time and arrived at Gatwick 5 minutes early!!!

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