Last Day in Udine

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Thursday we drove the 20 minutes to Udine to meet up with Susan from Colorado who had arrived yesterday. Susan and I have known each other online for years through the SlowTrav website and shared occupations in Early Education and passion for travel. We last saw each other several years ago, so it was a treat to meet up again!

Udine, Italy, May, 2017

Udine has a lovely historic core once you drive through the modern outskirts. Porticoed buildings, several charming piazzas, interesting churches and museums.

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We began in the magnificent Duomo, originally Romanesque but considerably enlanged and altered during the Baroque period. There are several Tiepolos inside, a Pellegrino, frescoes covering the walls and ceilings so that you need to walk slowly to focus on what is in front of you to not be overwhelmed by the swirling colors and figures of the whole.

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Then to the interesting little Baptistry, ( Museo del Duomo) with some 14th century frescoes, a beautifully carved stone reliquary, and some 15th century paintings on wood.

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We walked the short distance to the Museo Diocesano and Gallerie del Tiepolo. This 18th century building has large Tiepolo frescoes illustrating stories from the Bible, several other rooms including a beautiful library. Downstairs is a collection of medieval wood statues that were taken from churches in Friuli for safekeeping after the 76 earthquake, and a case of fascinating ex-votoes. We were befriended by the museum’s guard, who was only too delighted to show us around. The place was otherwise empty, not even the ever-present school groups here.

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The Piazza Liberta has a gorgeous clock tower. We admired Palladio’s arch leading to the steep stairs going up to the Castello. Due to my knee we didn’t hike up there, I bet Susan will do so during her stay.

For lunch, we followed Shannon’s excellent advice and ate at Enoteca Giardinetto, a wine bar with very good food. And in contrast to many of Friuli restaurant menus, plenty of options that weren’t meat-centric. We shared a nice salad of warm octopus and potatoes, then Susan and I had different pastas, (Mine was homemade gnocchi made from purple potatoes, with shrimp and sauced with zucchini puree) and Larry had a special of grilled tuna.

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We followed that with a stop at the best gelateria we’d yet found in Friuli, Oggi Gelato for some tiny cups of great gelato.

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After lunch we walked back to Susan’s hotel, first going into the Museo Ethnografico del Friuli. I loved this little place, with carefully curated rooms of artifacts from traditional Friuli homes, work, and life. Again, we were coached by a friendly guard who was very knowledgeable about the collection. Gorgeously carved wooden furniture, more ex-votos, textiles, toys, cooking implements, tools, all sorts of things.

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We said our goodbyes, and Larry and I headed for home. For dinner, we ate at the neighboring agriturismo restaurant Solder. Eating outside at a picnic table with glasses of their wine and simple, homestyle food to share. We were amused that at 10 pm cars and motorinos zoomed up the driveway–the area young men coming up not for an evening’s beer–but for glasses of bollocini (young local bubbly wine).

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Back to the USA in the morning, with a bit of a snafu due to our flight being cancelled, and no notification that we’d been rerouted until we barely had time to zoom to Venice for the flight. We enjoyed laid-back Friuli, and wished we had a few more days to explore. Udine deserves more than a day. We never even got to Trieste, or into the Carnia mountains, Palmanova, or over to San Daniele. We’re home now with a case of Friuli wines, mostly whites but a few bottles pignolo, a rich red we liked a lot.

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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.

Small Towns, Big Art

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On Monday we drove through vineyards and then flatland and fields, many covered with poppies to the southwest corner of Friuli, where it borders the Veneto. Mondays can be slim pickings for tourists in rural Italy, with much closed up tight. But churches are usually open. We first visited the 12th century Abbey Santa Maria in Sylvis, in the town of Sesta al Reghena. The Abbey has been added to over the years, but retains frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries. The church was painted in pale greens and rose, it is quite lovely. Outside are the stone foundations of the 8th century church originally here.

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We also stopped in nearby Cordovado, a town with a charming old core, tiny and largely consisting of one street with old houses, a small castello, and town gates. Just about deserted on a Monday morning.

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In Valvasone we found two churches with beautiful renaissance-era organs and partially restored frescoes, and arcaded old houses lining the streets. So quiet. Where are the people?

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Lunch was at La Baita, a highway truck stop type place, where everyone but us were obviously regulars. Two courses and side dish for 11 euros (2 choices, verbal menu) I had homemade gnocchi then a caprese salad with grilled eggplant. Home style food. Parked next to us was an ape with a load of grape starts, we’ve seen people in the vineyards planting them this week.

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We spent some time strolling through Pordenone, a large and lively town.  Finally, a town with open shops, loads of people, a bustling air. We first stopped into the Chiesa del Christo, chatting outside until it opened with a young man waiting for Confession. He appeared quite anxious and was prepared to wait for the priest. I couldn’t help wondering, what a nice young guy, what he had done? Inside were several 14th century frescoes, including an interesting one  of Christ, with symbols of all the activities not permitted on Sundays.

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The street lead to a gorgeous corso of 15th and 16th century palaces, many still covered in faded frescoes. There are lots of attractive shops and cafes on the ground floors, a pedestrian zone, and several interesting museums (sadly closed on Monday). This is a delightful town, with people riding bikes, eating in cafes, and going about their business.

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We stopped for a gelato, (pink grapefruit, very refreshing) and then headed for home.

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Sunday in Slovenia

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We had a morning visit planned with a winemaker Shannon likes in Slovenia, a 45 minute drive east. We also made a reservation at a nearby restaurant where she takes her groups. Among the many emails  necessary to make these plans, she warned us that we’d likely need three hours at the winery. Three hours? That seemed excessive to me, our winery visits are usually completed in an hour or so, longer if it’s a thorough tour of the facility. But OK, we reserved with Matjaž at Tilia at 10:30, with lunch down the road at 1.

Yup, rain clouds over Slovenia. But oh, those rains make for a lush green landscape. The 114 carries you through a valley lined with vines and fields, with hills rising from small towns at their base. Each town seems to have at least one white church and belltower.

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Matjaz met us at his home, and we first wandered over to his cherry orchard to munch on ripe cherries as we talked. His father managed a winery, and he and his wife have worked their whole lives in the business. They’ve worked for wineries in Switzerland and in the US before buying this property and starting their own small winery. His wife completed her PhD, and now is a university professor. He buys grapes from farmers in the valley and produces three lines of wines–the fresh white for which the valley is known, Pinot Noirs and blends; and his top line Pinot Noirs.  He also consults to other wineries, and seems to have his oars in multiple waters. We spent some time in the cellars, and then commenced tasting. And tasting, and talking, and tasting some more. Matjaz is passionate about winemaking, has strong opinions, and likes to share them. I think we had tasted close to a dozen wines, then grappa, when we attempted to start easing ourselves out at 12:15. When we left with five bottles at 12:45, Matjez called the restaurant that we were on our way–aparrently the owner hates when people are late.

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Made it to Majerya in Vipava at 1:05. If you didn’t know this restaurant is here, tucked into a a twisting lane in a small farming village, you’d ride right past. In an airy stone building is a restaurant bustling with people enjoying a leisurely Sunday lunch–large tables of extended families, children running in the vegetable garden, young couples holding hands while sipping wine.  The food is sophisticated, elegant without being fussy. And surprisingly affordable for such high quality.

We were first brought glasses of sparkling wine with a little plate of savory pastries. We then split a wine pairing through the meal. I started with a dish that Shannon had described–fried dandelion leaves, served with a rich yogurt. The texture of the crisp, slightly bitter leaves with the dairy sweet yogurt was fabulous. Larry had a plate of transparent carpaccio, also wonderful. We shared a traditional extremely thin pasta with a sauce of spring vegetables that was one of the best things we ate on the trip. Then I had pork with a stuffing of nettles; and Larry lamb and spinach in a pastry case. We shared dessert of a cherry tart with cherry gelato. Fabulous meal, charming staff and all around experience. If you are anywhere in the neighborhood, you must, must go.

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Stuffed to the gills, we drove around the long way to get home. Up into mountains, alongside a turquoise river that reminded me of the color of the water in Plitivice in Croatia (I looked it up, it’s the same minerals that turn the water that color) , through more vine-covered hills, cherry orchards and small towns with white churches.

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Tons of people selling cherries by the side of the road, we stopped and bought a huge bag.  At one point we were driving a one-lane gravel road and met another car coming down–luckily the other driver knew the road and was able to back down and to the side to let us pass.

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Cherries for dinner.

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Museums and Wine

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Saturday morning promised dreary weather,  with the rain already hitting Slovenia, a few miles away. (It became our joke of the week to watch the rain clouds form over Slovenia every day. Yup, raining in Slovenia again.) So as planned we went back to Cividale to visit the museums. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is a real gem, with locally found artifacts from Roman, Lombardian, and more recent times. There are large detailed signs in each room with English translations. The rooms are carefully arranged, by era and also by material or theme, so you can really thoughtfully wander through history and ideas. Roman and early Christian floor mosaics, reliefs, stone decorations from buildings, Lombardian early Medieval work, including fascinating artifacts collected from tombs.

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We were just about the only people there until large groups of children arrived for a family special activity. My Blue guide had a good overview of the rooms, identifying pieces of particular interest. Don’t miss the outside courtyard with funeral pieces (including several from a Jewish cemetery from the 14th through 18th century); we had to ask at the desk for it to be unlocked.

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We also went to the smaller Early Christian museum next to the Duomo, which had some marvelous items in a beautiful old palazzo. A fantastically carved 8th century altar. Originally it would have been painted, even now bare stone is is beautiful. Even the ceiling was wonderful.

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Upstairs, I loved this monumental 14th century embroidered altar cloth. The legend says that the artist completed it in one night, assisted by angels.

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I consulted my Google map to find a likely place for lunch.  We found  Trattoria al Pieve in Corona. Another excellent meal, sharing lightly smoked goose breast, sliced like prosciutto; then gnocchi with rabbit ragu; and cinghiale with sour cherries. We were going to pass on dessert until we saw what other tables were ordering–a fun take on tiramisu, where the waitress poured a shot of espresso over as it was served. Good!

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It was raining hard after lunch, so we made an appointment to taste wine at Borgo San Danielle in Cormons, a winery recommended by Shannon. The helpful woman there had no English, but we managed. The Pignolo, an old red Friulan grape was particularly good, as were their whites. Some wine is going home with us. Their grounds are beautiful, and I believe they also rent rooms.

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We drove home in what was now a downpour, happily the gravel road up to the house wasn’t washed away. We spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing at the house. I made yesterday’s market peas for dinner, mixed with sauteed mushrooms. Nice light dinner with some bread and wine.

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Among the Vines in Friuli

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We drove from Venice to our agriturismo just south of Cividale del Friuli on Thursday morning. We’re staying in a winery that rents rooms and apartments, Perusini outside of Cormons. http://www.perusini.com/en/. We are in an old house high on a hill, that has been divided into two apartments. We had originally booked one of the halves, and upon arrival discovered that it only had an exterior staircase, with bedrooms on the top floor and the only bathroom on the ground floor. Uh, with my knee, dragging myself down and up on an outside stairway in the middle of the night, no. Very fortunately, the apartment in the other half of the house had an interior stair, was available, and in fact had the much better view from the porch. It is definitely funky as country houses can be, but we have a fabulous view, a comfortable bed, and the toilet flushes.

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We hit the local Despar for some groceries. Corno di Rozzano is a newer town, not much on charm but with good shops and services for the community. We easily cooked pasta with sausage and greens for dinner (after rinsing out the cooking pots and plates, yuck) , and ate on our porch with a nice bottle of Friulian wine. What more does one need?

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Friday morning we went to the Cormons weekly market. Not huge, and the usual trucks selling made-in-China shoes, clothing, and housewares. But there were several fruit and veg sellers, cheese trucks, and butchers. We bought a kilo of the sweetest peas I’ve ever had, some zucchini, tomatoes, and fruit.

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We drove around a bit, admiring the vine-covered hills, mountains in the distance, and glimpses of castles hidden behind trees.

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Then drove the short distance in a valley to Cividale del Friuli, a lively and very interesting town with plenty to see and do. We found parking in a lot near the “Devil’s Bridge” in the south of town. The centro has attractive main streets, and plenty of evocative cobblestone alleys to explore. It was a stronghold of the Lombards, and retains much of its history.

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There’s a Roman mosaic under the town hall, a Duomo, the lovely Piazza Diacono lined with cafes, a restored 14th century house to explore, and a nice riverside walkway. We tried two regional sweets, gubana and strucchi, pastries filled with nuts, cinnamon and chocolate. Our favorite visit was the the beautiful Tempietto Longobardo, built in the mid 8th century. Tiny and very special, with carvings and partially restored frescoes.

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We had an excellent lunch at Antico Leon d’Oro, just across the Devil’s Bridge on the south side of town. We tried the local traditional frico, a hot mashed potato and cheese dish, hilariously served with polenta. Definitely something to get you through a cold winter. Also excellent was my pasta with asparagus, and Larry’s herb-stuffed ricotta dumplings.

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Cividale has several interesting museums, and since the weather for tomorrow promised rain, we decided to return to them then. To take advantage of today’s sun after lunch we drove north to Gemona in the foothills, (about 40 minutes drive) with mountains rising all around making for a spectacular landscape. The town is built up a hill, and was mostly destroyed during the 1976 earthquake with centered there. The town has been rebuilt and some of the older parts restored. There is a marvelous medieval cathedral with a striking facade. The interior was heavily redone in later centuries, but still there is the charming Romanesque font which incorporates a font from the 2nd century with beautiful carvings. We wanted to go to the small museum, but even though the sign n the door said open, it was firmly shut. Ah, Italy, what can you do. We’ll try again.

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A few miles north we stopped at Venzone, a lovely walled town that was also completely rebuilt from the original stones after the quake. There’s a 14th century civic hall, and a cathedral that is still being restored.

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For dinner we ate at Al Postiglione, the restaurant on the agriturismo. Meat and Meat is what you eat here. We had an excellent crudo, a fresh salad (yay, vegetables) and then the main dish arrived–enough perfectly rare steak for four people, plus vegetables. We also had an engaging encounter with the local curling champions at the next table, celebrating their victory. They seem to push polenta pots on an ice rink, insisting we see their videos on youtube. Much laughter.

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