I still remember watching Letters to Juliet for the first time. My cousin and I were staying at our grandparents’ house and had chosen it during a trip to Blockbuster. As we sat in the yellow-hued living room, we hit play, and from that moment, we were hooked. Over the years, our obsession with Letters to Juliet grew stronger. Whenever we got together, my cousin and I watched it. And, as time passed, we began to dream of a road trip through Italy, retracing the steps of the movie’s protagonist, Sophie, and just maybe, finding a letter or Lorenzo of our own!
Fast forward thirteen years, and I was finally blowing the dust off this dream to make it a reality during my incredible trip to Italy in March 2023. Unfortunately, my cousin could not join me, but she gave me her blessing to do it without her. After six months of meticulous planning, replanning, and enough stressing to rival a Shakespearean sword fight, the time had finally come to check this adventure off my bucket list. My first stop on this Letters to Juliet tour? The picturesque city of Verona!
Nestled on the banks of the Adige River, Verona is a marvelous city full of culture, hidden wonders, and incredible views where couples go to fall more in love and the heartbroken to seek Juliet’s advice. Since I didn’t fit in either category, my visit led me to enjoy the fictional history of the city, indulging my love for literature and cinema.
Club di Giulietta – Becoming Juliet’s Secretary
Although Letters to Juliet is a work of fiction, the Secretaries of Juliet are very REAL and encourage travelers to join them in their mission of replying to the thousands of letters left at Juliet’s House or mailed from every corner of the globe! Naturally, to have an authentic Letters to Juliet experience, I had to apply to become a secretary. You probably heard my scream of excitement the day I opened my acceptance email.
After an early morning train ride from Florence, where I watched half of Letters to Juliet to refresh my memory, I hopped on a bus to assume my new role as Juliet’s secretary. Navigating through a maze of wrong turns, I arrived at Club di Giulietta, tucked in a hidden alleyway. The place was cozy and compact, a single room filled with costumes and pictures that whisked you into the enchanting world of Juliet Capulet. I had to pinch myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming before taking my seat at the long table in the middle of the room, which two other volunteers already occupied. My instructions were clear: choose a letter from the wooden crate and pen a reply as Juliet herself!
As I stared into the crate filled with envelopes and folded paper, I whispered a silent prayer for guidance. With trembling hands, I reached inside and pulled out my first letter. Unlike my fellow volunteers, who dove headfirst into composing a response, I took my time to read each word and carefully craft a reply on my phone before transferring it onto the provided stationary.
Each sender had a different question and need, but their words were equally touching in their sincere honesty and hope. The first letter I opened was from a twenty-one-year-old seeking assurance that it’s okay to be content in her singleness while her friends were finding “the one” and tying the knot. Another pondered how someone could promise “until death do we part” when people constantly change. However, the one that tugged at my heartstrings the most was a tear-stained letter from a young girl mourning her first love.
In two hours, I penned five letters, and while I’ll never know if they reached their recipients, I continue to pray that the Lord uses my words to bless these women.
Juliet’s House – “Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?”
My morning at Club di Giulietta was a FABULOUS start to my Letters to Juliet adventure. I could’ve stayed there all day, but there were more places I needed to see before heading back to Florence. Following in Sophie’s footsteps, I made my way to Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House). The small square was buzzing with energy as tourists crowded the space, waiting their turn to take a picture next to Juliet’s statue. According to local myth, if you touch Juliet’s bronze breast, you’ll have good luck in love. While I don’t believe in luck and find it strange that people want to touch a thirteen-year-old’s breast, I couldn’t resist posing for the picture before purchasing a ticket to go inside the museum.
After entering the “famous” Capulet house, I climbed the creaky stairs and immersed myself in the exhibit. It’s astonishing how a fictional tragedy like Romeo and Juliet has become a reality for many. While some might think it a waste of money to explore a building with no real historical significance, I thought it was completely worth it! Peering into the glass cases that showcased period clothing and taking my turn on the balcony brought the play to life in ways I hadn’t expected. The quotes scattered around the museum were also a nice touch, especially for imaginative people who can see the scenes in their minds. It was like being on a film set.
Thanks to the blog Almost Ginger, I managed to find a few smaller film locations from Letters to Juliet scattered around the city. I was very proud to discover the balcony where Victor, Sophie’s fiancé, shouts, “Sophia, wherefore art thou sweet Sophia!” I must have looked like a right goofball getting all giddy over a random balcony in an empty street, but honestly, I couldn’t have cared less. Much like Romeo and Juliet, Letters to Juliet has become a real part of my life, and spending the day visiting the locations where these iconic scenes were filmed while watching the clips on my phone to verify I was in the right place was my idea of the perfect day!
Lunch Time – Where’s the Pasta?
By mid-afternoon, my stomach was staging a noisy rebellion, so I paused my quest to get lunch.
Pro Tip: Don’t eat at the restaurants in the Piazzas, as they are most likely tourist traps — well, unless it’s Osteria dell’Orcagna Pizzeria in Florence (order their ragù al bolognese and Pappa al Pomodoro). Also, if the menu has pictures, RUN!
My cravings led me through Verona’s charming streets to search for an authentic pasta dish. I was about to give up my search for pasta and choose whatever place I came across when I stumbled upon La Bottega Della Gina XX. This quaint takeaway serves mouthwatering fresh pasta to be enjoyed on the go or in their upstairs seating area. The chef, a true pasta maestro, helped me select the perfect dish — Tagliatelle al Capriolo (deer ragù) — which had me sighing in delight with every forkful. (I’d fly back to eat this again!) As tempting as it was to order a second bowl, I knew I had to keep moving if I wanted to explore the other places on my list. So, I said “Arrivederci” (goodbye) and headed to the other side of the river.
An Unexpected Hike to Piazzale Castel San Pietro
Crossing the Ponte Pietra, a Roman arch bridge that has been standing since 1000 BC, I made my way toward Castel San Pietro. This Austrian barracks, built in the 1850s, is known for its breathtaking panoramic views, so I was excited to reach the top of the hill. Following the signs, I embarked on an unexpected trek to the summit of Colle San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Hill), passing a Roman theater on the way. Much to the chagrin of my recently sated stomach, I climbed more than a hundred steps before taking a breather in an open courtyard.
Eyeing the remaining ascent with a frown, I dropped my bags on a large rock and laid down, soaking in the sunshine before continuing. As I lay there, movement caught my eye, and I sat up to investigate. To my horror, I watched as a cable car effortlessly glided past me! “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I declared out loud with a sardonic laugh. “You’re telling me I could’ve gotten a CABLE CAR to the top rather than climb uneven steps on a recently filled belly?!” If I didn’t laugh, I would’ve cried — the long day was catching up to me. So, with my dignity somewhat intact, I glared at the cable car each time it made its taunting ascent and descent until I’d gathered what was left of my strength to continue my journey to the top.
The view was worth every huff and puff! From the multiple vantage points, I could see for miles! The sun danced on the Adige River, painting the colorful buildings with an irresistible glow, begging to be shared with the world. After snapping dozens of pictures, I FaceTimed my family to share the breathtaking (literally, those stairs were steep!) experience with them. They rolled their eyes when I told them my cable car story, probably relieved to be enjoying the view from the comfort of their homes while I did all the legwork.
If you’re looking for the perfect sunset location in Verona, Castel San Pietro is the spot to go (though take the cable car if you don’t like stairs). It’s also an excellent place for groups of friends to congregate along the walls. You can dangle your legs over the edge as you savor the end of the day.
A Quest for the Perfect Gelato
Despite spending over a week in Italy, I had yet to sample one of the country’s most iconic delights — gelato. So, after conquering the hill (walking down was easier than going up), I plunged back into the heart of Verona to uncover the secret behind the gelato craze.
Pro Tip: Italy is teeming with gelaterias, but not all are created equally. Stay away from the places with mounds of gelato — especially bright colors — on display!
Determined to make my first Italian gelato experience memorable, I embarked on a quest to find the perfect scoop, which led me to Amorino, located just off the bustling Piazza Della Erbe (the market square). I’d seen people lining up earlier, so I assumed it had to be good, and boy, was I right! Amorino offers a truly unique experience and was the perfect choice for my inaugural gelato. Instead of a simple scoop, I was presented with a meticulously crafted rose, with the option to have a different flavor for each petal! Keeping it simple, though, I chose three flavors – strawberry, caramel, and vanilla. It was, without a doubt, the best gelato I had ever tasted, setting the bar high for the rest of my trip.
With my sugar levels replenished and a joyful skip in my step, I wandered through the market kiosks in the Piazza, gathering a few souvenirs for my family. Then, it was time to catch a bus back to the train station.
Pro Tip: Always have your bus ticket BEFORE you board — you can purchase them at convenience stores. And don’t forget to put it in the machine to get it time-stamped!!
I thought I’d researched Italy’s public transportation before my trip, but when I tried to scan my credit card on the bus, it didn’t work, and panic set in. In Italy, getting caught without a ticket (or the wrong one) can result in a hefty fine, so I needed to find a quick solution. If I got off the bus to find a store, I’d risk missing the train I’d already paid for. So, with 10% battery left on my phone, I frantically downloaded an app and managed to pay the €1.30 fare just as the bus pulled up to the station. Phew!
Back to Florence – Israelis Everywhere and an Embarrassing Moment
No matter where I go, it seems Israelis have a knack for finding me. At Juliet’s House, a group of Israelis arrived as I exited the museum. Then, on the train back to Florence, I sat diagonally from an Israeli gentleman. I noticed him writing in Hebrew, and after some linguistic gymnastics, I found the right question to start the conversation. We spoke the majority of the way, enjoying each other’s company. When the train pulled into Firenze (Florence), the man introduced me to his son, and we exchanged pleasantries. Of course, in trademark Hannah-rose fashion, I couldn’t simply part ways the conventional way. Instead, I said goodbye and proceeded to descend an unnecessary staircase that took me to the other platforms rather than the exit (which had been straight ahead of me).
Thankfully, I didn’t run into my new acquaintances as I corrected my mistake. However, that didn’t stop my cheeks from reddening in embarrassment as I headed to the restaurant where Liz and Toni, two friends I’d made during the Serious Writer Retreat, were waiting for me. It was so fun to spend time with friends and talk about our adventures after spending the day alone — the perfect ending to this dream-come-true day!
Verona stole a piece of my heart, the highlight being Club di Giulietta, and I can’t wait to return soon. (Who’s up for a quick trip to Verona for some ragù?) While I could’ve spent days exploring Verona, I was on a mission, and “La Città Eterna” (The Eternal City) was calling my name. Rome, here I come!