Assisi and Around


On Thursday we drove the short distance to Assisi, and parked at the S.Pietro lot. As we were walking toward the Basilica SanFrancesco, we found that the street leading up to the Basilica was blocked of by security officials and police. We were told to climb the stairs, along with hordes of grumpy tour groups. When Larry pointed out my cane, they agreed to let me walk up the street. Though in true Italy fashion, the security people at the top would not let me go, so sent me back down the hill. No one quite knew what was happening in the Piazza outside the Basilica, eventually an officer told us it was a political event, with an audience of school children.


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Anyway, I climbed the series of stairs, hooray for me. Well worth the trek, as the structure is immense and amazing that it simple supports itself, all that stone. The fresco work inside is dizzying in its amount, variety, and mixture of artistry and artistic near-misses. No photos allowed, so I’m using some I found online. The lower church is completely enveloped in frescoes, with bands of geometric designs separating the paintings. Add to that patterned floors, rich color and pattern, heavy shadow, crowds, and a guard who periodically shouts “silencio !” Over a loudspeaker. It’s a bit overwhelming. But once we sat ourselves down in different areas and took the time to really look at discrete sections with the obsessive details from an Assisi guidebook, it was wonderful. My favorites were the 14th century Saint Martin Chapel, the Giottos in the right transept and the Cimabue Madonna. Larry went down to the Crypt, I elected to spare my knees.





(these 4 photos not mine)

I was struck by how quickly the tour groups were moved through the place, although it was good to see some of them seated listening to a leader who knew the art. We walked up to the relatively airy Upper church, and found it almost deserted. We walked the circuit of the Giotto St Francis frescoes, trying to guess the narrative of each for a little fun, then looking at the guidebook. The frescoes are lovely, chock full of details and imaginatively rendering of the story of St Francis.

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(these 2 photos not mine)

Back outside, we walked up the street to the Piazza Commune, stopping in two tiny churches along the way, the Oratoria dei Pelligrini  and one other. Old houses, fountains, lots to admire as nuns, priests and monastics walk by. Many shops selling junk, but sone interesting ones as well if you look around corners.

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The Piazza is charming, fronted by the facade of the first century Temple of Minerva, turned into the Church of St Mary in the 15th century. The interior is heavily Baroque, with huge gilded angels smiling down at you. Inside is heavy Baroque, and I liked the gilded angels looking down at us. . Also surrounding the Piazza are several palaces. Larry particularly liked the official measures used in the day, at the bottom of the 13th century tower of the Palace. Oh, and a fascinating fresco “grotesque” under a loggia, a 16th century take on the Domus Aurea, complete with naughty bits. Since it was such a beautiful day, we decided to not go to the several museums, saving them for a wetter day.


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We stopped into Chiesa Nuova, supposedly the site of the house of St. Francis’ parents. We found most notable a little cell where supposedly Francis’s father imprisoned him when he renounced his wealth and family position. Kids, don’t piss off Papa. I had really wanted to get to the Domus excavations down the hill, but it was closed. Another time. We found Santa Maria Maggiore down another hill, with some lovely early frescoes.

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Unfortunately the crypt was closed. It was obvious that many of the “lesser” sights were closed for the lunchtime pausa, so we decided to do the same. We walked down the long but mercifully easy to walk street from Santa Maria back to the parking lot, and headed to Santa Maria degli Angeli.


Our local friend Letizia had recommended La Basilica for simple, traditional cooking. We shared a wonderful antipasti of perfectly friend vegetables, crunchy and not at all heavy. Zucchini, eggplant, beans, cauliflower, olives, zucchini flowers, all delicious. Then I had pasta with cherry tomatoes and porcini; and Larry had pasta with a Norcina sauce (sausage, truffles, cream) Good food, lovely host.

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After lunch we toured the not terribly charming Santa Maria, where nevertheless  I adored the tiny little hut inside, a reminder of Francis’s huts and supposedly where he founded the order. Google “Porziuncola Chapel” to see the wonderful photos of the exterior and the interior frescoes. Obviously a venerated space, people were sitting in contemplation and prayer inside. If you follow the little corridor, it leads to a rose garden  of thornless roses, and a little chapel with some lovely frescoes.

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We though a nice drive would be a good plan for the afternoon, so took the 444 out of Assisi. It winds and twists as it skirts the mountain ridge, giving great views way over to the Appinenes and down into valleys. It’s a good road, and you pass through a couple of small isolated towns.


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We then turned south at Cerqueto, and got off at Nocera Umbra. This is an off the beaten path town with a long history and an archaeological museum we’d like to get back to. I had read in Bill Thayer’s journal of a Roman wall and bridge in the area–in spite of crisscrossing a few times, we never found them. We did chance across a Museum of Textiles in little Valtopina, unfortunately, you guessed it, closed.


We stopped in Foglino to scope out parking for Saturday night’s Medieval parade for the Quintana, and to see of Gelateria Crispini, who recently was named as having the best pistachio, really is all that. Foglino has a large underground garage at Porta Romana, and while the outskirts are ugly as sin, the old centro is full of life and charming–kids hanging out, business people having a drink before heading home, real shops for shoes and vacuum cleaners. And while I don’t know about the gelato being the best, the pistachio and bacio were pretty damn good.

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Back home, we stopped by the store to get a few groceries, and I was delighted to find zucchini flowers in great condition. I used the recipe I learned from a cooking class in Bologna, stuffing them with a bit of ricotta and lemon zest, and then simply sautéing them instead of frying in batter. Very delicate this way, and you can actually taste the vegetable.




Rest Day

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Wednesday morning was beautifully clear, and we wanted to do less running around. So after a lazy morning at home, we first stopped by Spello’s weekly market at the bottom of the hill. Many trucks with clothing and housewares, plants for gardens, a porchetta truck, and some stands selling “antiques.” No produce, sadly.

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We then drove south. just past Trevi, and found the Tempietto del Clittuno. It is on the old road that parallels the highway, near the Fonti del Clittuno, an ancient spring that is now a pretty park. The Tempietto was built in the 4th or 5th centuries using Roman fragments from the area. It’s a darling structure, with the weathered columns set high. If you squint, you can see that two of them were carved to look like palm trees. Climbing the stairs, you enter into a tiny chapel with carvings and 7th century faded frescoes of Jesus, and Saints Peter and Paul. Set above the river, near an old mill with no one around but the bored girl in the little ticket office, its an evocative place.

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From there, we drove the short distance to Trevi, a hilltown that rises dramatically from the valley floor. There are some interesting churches and sights up there, which we decided to save for another day.

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We did stop at the Renaissance church of Madonna delle Lacrime, to see the Perugino frescoes. Closed up tight. Larry called the local tourist office, and was told someone would open it at four.

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We took a drive up the hillsides around Trevi, which are thickly blanketed with olive trees. I had considered renting a place up in these hills, and wanted to check out the area to see if it was as remote as I’d thought..  The road was quite good, except for the final stretch up to Campbello Alto. A miniscule town, stone buildings, deserted but for a small dog who thought we were the best thing he’d seen in weeks. Beautiful views down to the valley, with slopes of olives and some villages perched on hillsides. I noticed that the olive trees on one slope were browned and dead, wonder what happened to them?

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By now we were hungry. I found on the map a hotel ad restaurant up the hill, we called, and were told they were open for lunch. La Fontanella had a pretty terrace under the trees, where a group of business people were eating huge platters of antipasti while simultaneously talking on their phones. We had a long, wine-drenched lunch, accompanied by a friendly old dog who looked like he’d been eating pasta four times daily. As usual, we split everything. One house antipasto platter of local salumi and crostini with assorted toppings, a pasta with truffles, a simple salad, and grilled lamb, which came out on its own tabletop grill.  All this, and the owner didn’t think we ordered enough! Good food, nice place to spend time on a lazy day. And I got to admire the owner’s infant granddaughter.

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It was nearly four when we finished, so w headed back to the church outside Trevi. Still closed. We were going to meet some online acquaintances in Spello, so we figured we’d try another time, and headed back home.

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Back in Spello, we enjoyed hosting Mac and Karen from Texas for conversation and wine in the garden. Larry walked them back down the hill, and I did some reading and writing, then threw together a salad for dinner. After dinner, we spent a fun evening chatting with the Canadians in the other apartments, contributing to the enormous bin of empty wine bottles accumulating.



Up to Perugia

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We never quite made it to Perugia on our first visit to Umbria, so we decided to rectify that oversight today. We braved the Bermuda Triangle of tangled access roads our GPS sent us on to try to avoid the morning traffic jams on the outskirts. Got off at Madonna Alta near the Stadio, and parked at one of the huge lots at the MiniMetro train. After realizing that the ticket machine didn’t like our US credit card, we finally managed to get a ticket. The MiniMetro is just that–a tiny, one-car train that zips up a monorail like track up the mountain. At the Pincetto stop at the top, Larry geeked out over the workings of the tracks and wheels. We took a few escalators to get near Corso Vannucci –only afterwards did we realize there was a funicular we could have taken.

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We started out in the Gallerria Nazionale in the Palazzo dei Priori, which has room after room of beautiful paintings from the 12th to 15th centuries in roughly chronological order, mostly by Umbrian artists. I loved seeing how styles and techniques developed and flowed through the centuries. Many gorgeous Gothic and Renaissance paintings, with some Mannerist toward the end. Many Peruginos. A few heavily carved wooden pieces, some textiles.

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A simple door to the right of the Gallerria leads to the Sala del Collegio della Mercanzia, for the city’s Merchant Guild. Inside is an arched room covered in elaborately carved and inlaid 15th century woodwork.

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Just past the Galleria door to the right is the entry to the Collegio del Cambio. You enter to a beautifully paneled little room, which leads to a room smothered in frescoes by Perugino, mixing classical and religious narrative. Mercury and Moses, Jupiter and Jeremiah. There is a guide who points things out in machine-gun rapid Italian. Supposedly one of the panels was painted by a young Raphael. (no photos allowed, so here’s one from the Web)


A tiny chapel in back has frescoes of the life of John the Baptist, complete with a charmingly gruesome beheading scene.

We sat outside on the steps of the Sala dei Notari, watching business people, students, tourists, and families walk by, congregate, and gesture while talking on their cellphones. We once again demonstrated that we fail at selfies.

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Up in the Sala dei Notari which was built in the late 13th century are frescoes of the coats of arms of bigwigs of the 13th and 14thcentury, and above, scenes from Aesop’s Fables and the Bible.

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We continued walking down the Corso, enjoying the views down from the park at the end. To the left, there’s a nice bar with outside seating overlooking the valley.

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For lunch, we walked down a steep hill to  Osteria a Priori , recommended by a friend. Upstairs are table under  stone arch. A small, local menu, cheerful staff, and good food. We started with a plate three vegetable mixtures–local beans; tomato and bread salad; and a frittata with the local red onions and cheese. Then I had rabbit roasted with olives; and Larry had a filled beef pasta simply sauced with the local red onions. All very good, although I thought the rabbit a just bit oversalted for my taste. Just as enjoyable was watching a young family of infant, mom,dad, and Nonna at the next table. Each taking turns calmly and tenderly caring for a fussy baby while eating, with the dad obviously very engaged and totally comfortable with infant care. And grandma stepping in as needed, but letting these new parents take charge.

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We needed to walk off lunch, so decided to head to the Giuditta Brozzetti textile workshop. I used to weave, so really wanted to visit the wotkshop. We walked down many, many steps, and then across the former 15th century aquaduct. My physical therapist will either yell at me or give me a medal. Then up through a University building, and to the workshop, housed in a deconsecrated church.

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The founder’s granddaughter Marta runs the shop now, which in her grandmother’s day had nearly 30 women weaving the gorgeous traditional textiles. They were doing a tour for a group when we entered, which they kindly let us join. The designs are elegant, often featuring griffons, simple bands, fruits and flowers. Although she has a 300 year old hand loom, Marta uses the several old jacquard-powered looms from her grandmother’s day. Jaquard looms were among the first mechanized work, first used  in the mid 18th century. The multiple harnesses pull harnesses to open or close the warp to weave the designs, with the Jaquard card punched with the pattern to make the harnesses lift the warp as indicated on the card.  The weaver still throws the shuttle or uses a fly shuttle for speed, and has the exacting and backbreaking job of threading the hundreds or thousands of weft threads through the heddles. I was reminded of why I stopped weaving.

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After leaving, Larry was convinced that he could easily drive back to pick me up. My knees would not complain about being spared the climb. So he headed back up the stairs, took the MiniMetro back down, and then drove to pick me up. Negotiating our way out of the city was a bit hair raising, but we managed. We both enjoyed Perugia, and want to get back on another day to further explore.

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Back home through a few raindrops. A small takeout pizza for dinner.

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Monday in Montefalco

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As often happens on the second night in Europe, I woke up midway through the night. Got up, read, then went back to bed and overslept. So a leisurely start to the day. But since it was dreary and beginning to mist, a short jaunt seemed in order. We drove the short distance through the valley through Foglino, then past Bevagna, and then up the steep winding road through vineyards and olive groves to Montefalco, the “Balcony” of Umbria, at least according to the local tourist boards.

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Montefalco was a wealthy town during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, with several notable churches. We parked just outside the walls, and walked up the steep cobbled street, past many souvenir stands and some shops selling lovely linen textiles or the local wines. (Now I’m kicking myself for not looking at textiles. Let’s blame Larry, whose eyes were glazing over when I looked in shop windows.) At the top we reached pretty Piazza del Commune, surrounded by old stone buildings.

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We walked down to the Museo, attached to the church of San Francesco. The Museum was eerily empty, not large but had some interesting paintings, objects from daily life, (Hey, textiles!) and downstairs through rooms of stone fragments,  the monks’ old wine cellar with ancient wine presses and equipment.

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The church was built in the mid 14th century, and has many wonderful frescoes, some recently restored, others damaged or softly fading into the walls. The main apse of scenes from ST Francis’s life fairly glows.

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Side chapels hold more frescoes, I was particularly fascinated by several depicting Hell, complete with raging demons, snakes, and people having a great old time being devoured.

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I also loved this early 16th century painting, which according to my guidebook tells the story of Mary and a misbehaving child, with his mother threatening the child with the devil if he doesn’t get his act together. Effective parenting? Who knows.

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Across the church is a serene Nativity fresco by Perugino, with Lake Trasimeno in the background.

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By now it was lunchtime, so we crossed the Piazza to L’Archemista, a restaurant several friends had recommended. It wasn’t raining yet, so we took a chance and sat outside. We shared a special antipasto of grilled vegetables with thin slices of pecorino and two vegetable sauces. Really light and good. The Larry had a special of beef topped with red onions (grown locally and harvested now, we’ve seen signs for a red onion festa) and grapes; and I had a salad of arugula, with slices of pork, pine nuts and parmesean. Two glasses of really nice wine. The owner came out, peered down the street at the sky, and started hustling people and settings inside. Larry looked at his weather app, which showed no rain. So much for tech. Immediately, the rain started, and so the staff made room for everyone inside, where we finished up with a great dessert of warm chocolate and pear cake, served with cinnamon gelato.

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By now it was absolutely pouring, so we poured ourselves into the car, and drove to clouded-in Spello  to dry off and spend the rest of the afternoon reading.  Lentil soup for dinner, and a pretty sunset.

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Back to Umbria

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One of our first trips to Italy was an extended family trip to Umbria, back when the boys were small and my parents were still traveling. I rented a gorgeous house on a hillside outside Todi, and we spent our days throwing the kids into the car, exploring hill towns, eating delicious lunches, afternoons in the pool, evenings on the porch with wine and the view of Todi. Besides a fast trip from Le Marche another year, for some reason we’d not been back.

I had made the arrangements for our Spello rental last year, before my knee problems became acute. I probably should have more carefully reevaluated considering all the hills I’d be descending with an unstable knee, ah well, I’ll be a slow walker and use the cane.

Fairly easy flights, although since we were using miles a more time consuming routing than preferable. But I’m not going to quibble about free airfare. We arrived in Rome fairly jet lagged, but got the suitcase and rental car within fairly good time (for Italy, anyway). Only snafu was discovering for some reason that our Italian SIM cards, which we’d topped up with the help of an Italian friend, were somehow not working. We stopped at the Autogrill for bad paninis and wifi, and managed to call Nadia our key holder through WhatsApp.

I had read in Elizabeth Minchellis blog about “truck stop mozzarella “, a shop at the Orte exit where the owner brings bufala from Campaignia up daily. Caseficio Lufa is a very nice shop selling products from the south, including beautiful pastries and other goodies. Two balls of bufala went with us, and I saw people walking out with huge bags for the weekend.

Up to Spello, and we took the winding road almost to the top. And almost, because the Piazza is being replaced, and the road temporarily ends. Luckily we got a space along the road near the little elevator, and walked up to find wifi so we could contact Nadia again. Huh, Spello wifi doesn’t work, thanks Italy. A nice shop owner let Larry use his phone, and so we met up with Nadia, who walked us down the steep little street to Casa Spello.

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We are in the Augustus apartment, a beautifully remodeled one bedroom apartment in an old stone house on the outer wall of the village. Very pretty, comfortable, and a good value for Umbria. Only drawbacks are the extremely steep street which I take at the pace of a 90 year old, and the noise from the highway. We’ll deal. The wonderfully helpful Nadia showed Larry where to park up via Giulia, which is an easy and almost flat 10 minute walk. She even helped drag our bags to the apartment.

Larry went out to forage at the local shops, and then we threw together a simple dinner of salami, cheese and tomatoes. Met the people in the other apartments, a bunch of pleasant Canadians. We went for a walk around town, poking into a few of the photography exhibits open this month. Some cool old buildings were being used, we’ll have to explore more of them. Then got gelato from Bar Bonci, which seems to be a village hangout. We made ourselves stay up to 9, then slept like the dead.

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Sunday morning in the rain, we first retrieved the car then went down the hill to the SuperConti. A pretty big store for a small town, with a popular prepared food counter where people were picking up goodies for Sunday dinners. I was particularly charmed by the little bottles of premixed Aperol spritzes. That’s a kind of convenience food I could support. Larry dragged our shopping cart back to the house, with me clutching his arm on the wet stones.

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We tried to get into La Cantine for Sunday lunch, but they were full. We grabbed a table at Il Pinturrichio around the corner from the house, because each time we’ve walked by good smells waft down the street. A good choice we shared an antipasto of eggplant, topped with fresh tomato sauce and crusty Parmesan. Then Larry had pasta with Cingiale (wild boar) sauce, and I had a special of red gnocchi, sauced with cheese and shaved truffles. All very good, although the truffles not as fragrant as I’ve sometimes had. Around us were groups of Italians having multiple courses, punctuated by going outside for smoke breaks in between. Sad to see so many young people smoking.

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Walked further down the hill, and went to see the marvelous 1501 Pinturicchio frescoes in the Baglioni Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore. Three scenes, with such superb details you see something new each time you look. On the floor are intricate 16thcentury tiles. I sneaked a few photos very quickly (along with about 10 italian speaking visitors in a tour group) before a guard asked us not to. One woman argued with him and continued to snap away, until he simply turned the lights off! We’ll stop by again to see the Perugino frescoes when there isn’t a tour group hogging the view.

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The other churches were closed, So we then wandered through town, peering down and around the stone streets. On the way we ran into Nadia. She introduced us to an American couple who own a house in town. They’re here for four months, lucky people.

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Such a lovely place. Back home I put together Gina’s recipe for lentil sausage soup and we watched the terrible hurricane news from Florida. Sanibel was evacuated yesterday, and we’re already mourning what will happen to the fragile island, and our timeshare apartment there. We have family and friends in Florida, hoping everyone is OK.

The sun came out, and we sat on our little porch watching the light change and people wander down our street to the Properzio towers. We have a little visitor who made herself quite at home until Larry chased her back outside.

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Last Day in Udine


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


Into the Mountains


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.