David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Friuli and the Marches, November 1994

We left on Thursday, November 2, for Washington DC. For that short leg of the journey we were upgraded to first class, a nice way to start the trip. In DC we changed planes for Rome/Milan and arrived in Milan where we picked up our rental car, a red Alfa Romeo, a five-speed four door sedan. We immediately took off for our first stop, Bergamo. The old medieval town of Bergamo, Citta Alta (the upper city), is high on a hilltop, surrounded by walls. It was a little difficult finding our way around with the car, so many one-way streets. We finally parked the car outside the town and walked in to find our hotel. We finally found it, a charming place, Agnello d'Oro (the Golden Lamb). Then we had to go back, get the car to bring the luggage in, and then take the car to a parking area. We had such a difficult time getting back, we finally just went down a one-way (Senso Unico) street the wrong way to get to our hotel! Luckily there wasn't much traffic but we got a lot of strange looks.

It was very rainy and we were too late for lunch. We took a nap and then dressed for dinner. It was still too early so we went to a nice English sort of pub for a drink - they even had Guiness for David. Then we returned to our hotel for dinner. We started off with one of my favorites, artichokes (carciofi); then David had delicious rabbit and I had Ravioli Bergamasca - I'm not sure what the filling was but it was scrumptious.

The next morning we loaded up the car and checked out, then parked and explored the city. Soon we were off for the Lake District, Lake Garda. First stop was Sirmione, a darling town on a peninsula jutting into the lake. We explored the shopping area of this popular summer resort, had a light lunch outside where it was warm and sunny, and walked out to the tip of the peninsula where there is quite a large Roman excavation of a villa and baths built by Catullus. What a setting! Then we drove up the west coast of the lake, admiring the beautiful scenery with the fall colors covering the mountains and pretty lakeside resort towns. We spent the night high in the mountains overlooking the lake. Our room gave us a spectacular view of the lake and mountains. We ate dinner across the street: David had a mixed grill of chicken, steak, liver, and sausage. I had veal marsala and more carciofi. There was a big family party going on in the restaurant - it was fun to watch them and imagine that it was a mafia family.

The next day was rainy again and we drove to Trento the town where the Council of Trent met in the mid-1500's to decide how to combat Protestantism. Also at that time many of the buildings were painted with frescoes and they have been restored in the last few years - they are quite elaborate with mythological figures, historical figures, and allegorical scenes. Some of the sidewalks are pink marble! Then we had a nice drive to Bolzano which is very near the Brenner Pass into Switzerland and is called Bozen in German. Everything in the town has an Italian and a German name. We went to a German Gasthaus called Fink for a big lunch of wurst and sauerkraut for David and veal and mushrooms for me, with apple strudel to share for dessert. We found a hotel near the main square and, since the rain had cleared, we explored the town. The Duomo is very plain inside but has a beautiful green and gold tile roof. The architecture of the town shows a lot of the Swiss influence.

The next day the rain had caught up to us again. We got in the car and drove the 200 miles to Udine in the Friuli section of Italy where one of my favorite wines, Pinot Grigio, is produced. We had a good lunch with tiramisu for dessert, then walked around town and found a hotel. We had planned to stay a couple of days, making Udine our base for the area, but we didn't really like our hotel and were not as impressed with the town as we expected to be. So the next day we packed up again and headed east to Cividale del Friuli, a delightful town with a big Lombard influence (7th c.) . We went through their archaeological museum with its collection of Lombardian artifacts, especially beautiful jewelry. Then we drove on past many vineyards to Cormons and Felcaro, a restaurant in a 400-year old farmhouse. It was beautiful and the food was great. We started with a selection of three pates; David had a fish soup (zuppa de pesce) and I had bean soup (zuppa de fagioli); for dessert we had a local specialty, ice cream with figs. Delicious!

Next we drove on to Gorizia where we had expected to stay but found it too busy and difficult to get around - we couldn't even find a hotel! We drove on to Gradisca d'Isonzo where we stayed in a rather modern hotel. We didn't want dinner so searched for a bar. Most bars in Italy are brightly lit, serve cappucino and rolls in the morning, have counters stocked with candy, serve gelato, and look like an old ice cream parlor. The bar we found, Il Parco (the park) was very different, a real bar with snacks and sandwiches and a large whole prosciutto. We got talking with the people at the next table who were friends of the owners, two friendly young fellows who also joined us. They shared their roasted chestnuts and some wine with us and it was quite an evening. This was all done almost entirely in Italian - the more I drank, the better my Italian!

The next day, beautiful and sunny, we were on to Aquileia for the Roman excavations. The 11th century Basilica there has a truly magnificent mosaic floor: a large part of it is of the sea with great fishing boats and all kinds of fish, each fish about 2 feet long. This is the largest complete mosaic floor ever found. And it is built on top of a 4th c building which was built on top of a Roman building. You can go into the excavated areas and see the original mosaic floors of the Romans. Simply stunning. Around the town are many Roman ruins, including the forum.

From there we went on to Grado. We had not planned this but our friends from the night before said we must see Grado, a seaside (the Adriatic) resort on an island. We crossed over and decided to have lunch first. We found a likely place and went in. As often happened, we were the only people in the place. It was so pretty with a Victorian atmosphere and blue linens and upholstery. The hostess reviewed the menu with me, making suggestions of their specialties. She left and we decided what we would order, but when I called her back she informed me that we had already ordered! What followed was the best meal I'd ever had in my life. First she brought us a bottle of Pinot Grigio, the best one I've ever tasted. Then she brought appetizers of some fish paste cut in circles on toast triangles with olive oil dripped over. They were delicious. Then came the first course - crepes filled with a cream cheese and salmon mixture with a brownish sauce; I don't know what the sauce was but it was terrific. Next came the pasta course, gnocchi in a red pepper sauce with scallops mixed in. Just heavenly. Then came the main course, turbot on diced potatoes with a lemon butter sauce, topped with crispy fried artichoke bits. Outstanding. And finally dessert - a vanilla creme mold with chocolate sauce with the plate decorated with a stylized butterfly in vanilla and chocolate sauces. On another plate she brought candies - layered chocolate and hazelnut. What a meal!

We decided to stay overnight in Grado, mostly because we could hardly move! We found an open hotel, the Villa Marin, right on the water and a room with a balcony. We explored the town, watching the fishermen come in with their catch. The town also has an old town, with narrow alleys. The Duomo, which is small compared to most we saw, also has a mosaic floor from the 6th century. Not many tourists in the Friuli District, but it was fascinating! Next door is the former Yugoslavia.

After breakfast the next morning at Villa Marin, we set out for Padua and Vicenza in the rain, which had caught up with us again. With all the rain (NW Italy had been having terrible floods), we decided not to go to Venice. We didn't need to see more water! It's good we didn't go because we heard later that it was under water. We drove along the Brenta River west of Venice where Palladio had built many palaces. We got to Padua but found it very difficult to get around. We parked the car and had lunch in a trattoria and then went on to Vicenza. We loved Vicenza immediately! We found our hotel, the Christina, easily, left the car, and walked into town. Everything is centrally located and easy to walk to. Much of the town was designed by Palladio or his students. The Piazza dei Signori is beautiful with the lovely Palladian Basilica, not a church but a meeting place for Vicenzan notables. For dinner that night we went to Tre Visi (Three Faces). It was a very pretty restaurant, sort of like a wine cellar. I had the specialty of the house, pasta with duck sauce. It was very expensive but included the plate to take home.

The next day, sunny and warm, we went on to Dozza, a medievalwalled town we had read about in the NY Times travel section. It's a tiny town, about 200 people, but each year they invite artists to come and produce frescoes on their walls. It's in a beautiful setting, on a hilltop overlooking vineyards, with its own Rocca (fort). The paintings are done in every style imaginable. As we were walking around, we were approached by a woman about my age. She was an American, an artist from San Francisco, who was living in Dozza. She joined us for a wonderful lunch - there are three fine restaurants in this little town, they get so many visitors. For dessert we had three semi-freddo which I had always wanted to try, sort of a soft ice cream with other ingredients mixed in. They were wonderful. She invited us to her apartment for dinner, to be cooked by her friend, Giovanni. We got a hotel room with a huge balcony overlooking the idyllic countryside. We bought some flowers and showed up at 7:00. He made us salmon and mackerel (which I hated but ate), potatoes, peas, a fruit tart and fruit and cheese. We had quite a wild time, what with various wines. Their apartment in the walls of this little town was so pretty with a huge window overlooking the countryside. And they have a big, beautiful cat with gorgeous green eyes.

The next day we spent in Rimini, down on the Adriatic. We saw the Arch of Augustus, 27 BC, and the bridge of Tiberius, 21 AD, which still bears daily traffic after about twenty centuries! After spending the night, it was on to the Marches to visit the little medieval hilltowns a few miles in from the coast. Along the way we stopped for lunch. This is the home of the truffle (tartufo) and I had broccoli -stuffed ravioli with a tartufo sauce. David had lamb chops. We drove along the old Roman road, the Via Flaminia, through a tunnel built by Tiberius in 27 AD to Urbino. We found a hotel and arranged to stay a couple of nights. The Ducal Palace was built by Duke Federico da Montefeltro; it is beautiful with 2 tall towers. We took a tour of the palace: one entire room (very small, about the size of a 1/2 bath) is paneled completely with inlaid wood scenes: musical instruments, the countryside, books, and so on, all inlaid wood much in trompe l'oeil. It's magnificent. This Palace is also home to the Piero della Francesco masterpiece, "The Flagellation" and Rafael's "Il Mute". Raphael was born here. The weather was so wonderful in Urbino, we had our first picnic! Walking around Urbino was hard work with many steep staircases instead of streets. And the church bells rang every quarter hour - they would ring the number of the hour and then in a different tone once for the quarter hour, twice for the half, etc. All night long. I kind of liked it. For dinner we tried a verdicchio, the wine of the region, with our carciofi and rabbit for David and veal limone for me.

After the two days there, we drove down to the coast again, passing many more walled medieval towns perched on their hilltops. We saw the Roman bridge in Cagli and went to the market in San Lorenzo in Campo to pick up more picnic provisions. Then we visited another walled medieval town, Corinaldo. A lovely day. We arrived at the coast in the evening and found an open hotel in Sirolo, another resort area, mostly closed by November. Sirolo is another pretty seaside town with its own medieval area and walls, all overlooking the Adriatic. After our big picnic we weren't very hungry for dinnner but we went out hoping to get just a bite. David ordered just the appetizer "della casa" and I got a pasta dish and salad. The waitress said that they didn't have the "della casa" (for 20,000 Lira - about $13) but had the "della mare" for 13,000 Lira. Then David's meal started coming! First three plates piled with seafood, including some seafood salads, some crab legs, a baked and breaded scallop, etc. He thought it was too much but it kept coming - 2 more plates, one filled with mussels in tomato sauce and one filled with clams on the half-shell. Unbelieveable! David was stuffed!

The next day we went on to Ascoli Piceno. We drove along the Adriatic coast, hoping to have a good seafood lunch in Porto San Giogio before heading inland. We finally found a resaturant but couldn't get the specialty of the area, brodetto, a fish soup, because they served it only on Friday. David had the broiled mixed seafood and I had pasta with scampi. Two bottles of wine with lunch made for an interesting afternoon on the Roman roads - we think we saw Charlton Heston in a chariot going the other way. But we safely arrived in Ascoli Piceno, another hill town, and found a hotel for two nights.

The next day we walked from one end of AP to the other, seeing another Roman bridge, also carrying daily traffic, the Lombard towers, a Roman Gate, and many churches. There is a very beautiful square, the Piazza del Popolo. For lunch we tried another restaurant I had read about, Vittoria. The food was outstanding - we started with assorted appetizers, including stuffed olives, prosciutto, and bruschetta. Then I had crepes florentine with a wonderful cheese/tomato sauce and David had fillets with a cream mushroom sauce. For dessert we had zuppa inglese (like an English trifle, so called "English soup") and another semi-freddo. The meal was so good, we went back for dinner! The Marches is another little-traveled district, but charming.

On Friday we drove over the Apennines with wonderful scenery - snow-covered mountains in the distance - to Spoleto, the town famous for its musical festival started by Gian Carlo Menotti, famous for "Amahl and the Night Visitors". It was a beautiful day. We arrived in Spoleto in time for lunch and found another restaurant I had read of, Il Tartufo. We were the only ones in the place and it was wonderful. I had speck (like prosciutto) on toast with carciofi and then veal with a gorgonzola and mushroom sauce. David had crostini with pigeon tartufo and then chicken (which the waitress called 'kitchen') with a red pepper sauce. We ordered a souffle for dessert and they also brought us chocolates and amari, a "digestive" wine. Wow!

We checked into our hotel, the Charleston (Charleston SC also has a Spoleto Festival), a quaint place with beamed ceiling, a small balcony, and large windows. Then off to explore the town which we really loved - all up and down, many steps, mary arches, few streets. The Duomo is very pretty and the Rocca imposing. The Arch of Crusus is still standing, a memorial to Caesar Augustus' son (AD 23). Part of a Roman amphitheatre here too.

The next day we decided to ride up to Assisi. All along the way I had been looking for pottery and had found almost nothing except one bowl in Urbino. I remembered wonderful ceramics stores in Assisi so we went up there and I bought four plates, all irresistable. We also had a wonderful lunch at Buca de San Francisco with its beautiful stained glass doors. That restaurant was crowded with a Japanese tour. Then we drove to Viterbo, another city that was difficult to get around. We got lost in the old town, with its tiny, winding streets and finally had to ask a store owner to help us! But we finally found a hotel, had a light supper, and hit the bed.

After a quick look around in the morning, we headed for the coast. The drive down was beautiful; we stopped several times along the way to have breakfast, walk on the beach, look for shells, etc. We finally got to Ostia, the port outside Rome, and found a hotel on the waterfront, another with a big balcony. We went over to Ancient Ostia,where there is a huge Roman excavation, for lunch at a restaurant we have eaten in each time we have been near there. I had more carciofi and then more veal. David had fish. Then back to the hotel, a long walk along the sea, and early to bed, to doze off to the splashing waves of the Tyrrhennian Sea. Monday, we turned in the car with 2700 kilometers on the clock, and checked in at DaVinci airport for the long trip home. A truly wonderful trip. We'll be back!

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