Into the Mountains

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Wednesday morning we stayed at home, being lazy while the sun decided if it was going to make an appearance. We headed out late morning, with no plans other than to head toward some mountains. We took the 356 north of Cividale, winding through Faedis before the road turned steeper and curvier. Thickly forested slopes with craggy tops, small towns, the occasional ruined castello on hillsides, almost no traffic.

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We stopped at the larger riverside market town of Tarcento for lunch, choosing Al Muelin Vieri pretty much at random because of the number of cars parked outside. This seems to be where the local business people go to lunch, groups of them eating and playing cards in between courses. We ate very well from the verbal menu, each having a local stuffed pasta dish. We finally got to try cjazonses, the Friulian potato-dough ravioli stuffed with greens, pine nuts and raisins; sauced with butter and cinnamon, topped with smoked ricotta. Sounds odd, but they were fabulous.

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We continued climbing the twisting road up to Musi, way up into the Parco Naturale Regionale delle Prealpi Giulie. Supposedly this is the wettest part of Italy, and as we were driving through clouds at this point, I could see why.

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Lots of hiking in this area of dramatic scenery of cliffs and river gorges, we saw signposted trails all around.We headed east, but stopped when we realized we’d gotten to the Slovenian border, as we hadn’t thought to have our passports with us. Back down and home. Salad for dinner, and reading on the lumpy sofa while listening to the dripping.

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Port Cities

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Tuesday we woke to cloudy skies, and a faint rainbow after the sun broke through the moisture.

We drove south to Aquiliea, to see the Roman ruins and museum, and especially the Basilica. You drive through a flat landscape of vines and fields, suddenly seeing roman ruins along the road and through the dusty town. The tourist office is well supplied with information, and runs a two hour walking tour at 10:30.

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If you’ve been to Rome, Pompeii or Ostia the ruins may not wow you, and most of the choice bits are in museums. But it is still interesting to walk the different areas of the excavated city ruins, and to see areas still being excavated and studied.  The museum across the road from the Basilica has lovely sculptures on the ground floor. Unfortunately the first floor is currently under renovation and was closed.

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But oh that Basilica…just wonderful. The entire floor covered in fantastic mosaics from the 4th century. You walk on a clear lucite walkway that travels the perimeter. At the front you can buy a pamphlet describing the many different elements and stories told in the mosaics. Plan on time to enjoy this. I could have spent hours slowly walking around, trying to take it all in.  No photos allowed in the main part of Basilica, but they don’t seem to mind you taking them in the other areas. Here is a photo from the web.

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There is also a gaily painted little crypt with a collection of gem encrusted reliquaries, and to the left of the main entrance a lower area being excavated. In these areas they don’t seem to mind photographs.

Here is the crypt, and one of the festively decorated displays of saint’s bones.

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Here the the partially excavated side chapel.

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There is a paved bike path to walk along (look for it behind the tourist office) so you don’t have to walk along the busy road between the sites. Very few visitors when we were there, mostly school groups and a few bus tours. I’d imagine it’s busier in summer.

From there we drove the short distance to Grado, parking just outside the pedestrian area. The centro is lovely, with twisty streets, piazzas and many cafes and seafood restaurants. There is also a beach, crowded in chairs in typical Italian beach style, and a long concrete walkway along the shore where people were sunning themselves on benches.

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We came mainly to see the two 6th century churches, both with lovely mosaic floors. Beautifully detailed, with geometric shapes and animal figures, along with inscriptions. These floors are still heavily in use, with church pews on top. Look for the Lapidarium behind the Baptistry, there are many wonderfully carved early medieval stone pieces inside.

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We had an excellent seafood lunch at Trattoria de Tony. Fried moeche, tiny softshell crabs, sweet grilled prawns, and scroppino (lemon gelato, prosecco and vodka)Supposedly somewhere is a Museum of Underwater Archaeology, but in spite of Google and asking three people, we never found where it was moved to.

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Back home, a simple dinner, and wine on the porch.