November 23, 2014 – A visit with Nathan and Sam

It is so wonderful to see Nathan and Sam (and Jonathan, too!) after our long trip. We stop over after I have my haircut and all go out to lunch and then to Target for some Legos. Nathan suggests we watch Strip this City. They have recorded an episode about Venice. It is really interesting and we learn many new facts. Nathan and Sam watch the episode while putting together their Legos. Jonathan takes a little nap.

Next family gathering – Thanksgiving!

Sam works intently on his Lego creation
Sam works intently on his Lego creation
Nathan and Zayde
Nathan and Zayde

November 16-17, 2014 – The return trip

Upon waking in Udine we find a beautiful day with the sun shining. We decide to find something to see and an interesting place to eat on our way to our hotel near the Marco Polo airport.

Our first stop is at Castello Sassoldo not too far from Aquileia. It is a fortified town from the 11th century founded by a Lombard family. It has been turned in to a B & B and event center. Although everything seems locked up tight, it is a pretty walk through a charming village.

Castello Sassoldo
Castello Sassoldo
Working water wheel at Castello Sassoldo
Working water wheel at Castello Sassoldo

After our drive and walk we stop for lunch. I have found a place near Treviso that serves regional food, Ponte Ottavi Trattoria. It looks like an unassuming family place and has its own parking lot, always a plus.
Ponte Ottavi Trattoria
Ponte Ottavi Trattoria

We walk in and ask in our best Italian for Pranzo per due? Mostly everything we say is a question because then they can answer si or no and we will understand them. Some consternation ensues. What’s this? English speaking people? What are they doing here? Who can wait on them? A charming, smiling lady comes to help us. She apologizes for her English which is tons better than our Italian. They have also helpfully set us down next to a local who speaks English that he learned listening to British TV and radio.

Since everyone is being so nice and trying so hard, we decide on their specialties for lunch. They have made an onion soup which they say is just like French onion soup. (Except it’s not) Their real specialty is grilled meats and tripe (guts). I order the meat and John eats the guts.


So I eat my very not cooked enough onions in the onion soup and John loves his snails (of course). My plate of grilled meat seems like it has been boiled first and then grilled. I give a lot of to John. He loves his tripe. Everyone is so happy that the American likes snails and guts. We are a great success.

Here’s distrubing picture that they have over the bar.

Breast spigots?!
Breast spigots?!

We say our arrividercis and make our way to the agriturismo where we are staying for the night. It is highly rated on Booking.com. Who writes these reviews? At 9.6 I expect something pretty terrific. This is not but it’s only one night.

The next morning we make our way to the airport a short distance away. We fly from Venice to Frankfurt to Toronto to San Francisco. I would write more about these flights but I don’t want to relive them.

Although the weather did not cooperate we have had a wonderful trip. It is always so much fun to visit old and new places and always such a pleasure to come home.

November 15, 2014 – Udine

The people at the Astoria Hotel have upgraded us to a suite for some unknown reason. It’s nice to have the extra room but the windows, which have to be open since it is too hot in the room otherwise (the A/C doesn’t work this time of year), is right on the market square. At least until past 2 AM there are drunken louts yelling in the street and cars with yelling occupants blowing their horns plus shortly before 6 AM the city recycling truck picks up the bin of empty bottles which sounds even louder than when our recyclables are dumped at home. Add to this the crying baby across the hall and you have a bad night’s sleep.

It’s raining today but we have places to go and things to see. We start at the Udine Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Mary. Construction of the building started in 1236 and if you look hard you can still see vestiges of the early church.

The church of St. Mary (Udine Duomo) stock photo
The church of St. Mary (Udine Duomo) stock photo

Above the door is a carving from the 1300's of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ
Above the door a is carving from the 1300’s of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ

The interior shows much of the fashionable update from the 18th century. Old frescoes have a been covered with romantic visions and even some of the things that still exist have been gussied up.
Perfectly good Madonna and Child now wear crowns and jewelry
Perfectly good Madonna and Child now wear crowns and jewelry

Next door at the Museo del Duomo there are still some of the early works including wonderful frescoes and paintings of St. Nicholas and a sarcophagus of Blessed Bertrand, a bishop who died at the age of 90 in 1350. The sarcophagus carvings do not leave out the grisly details.
The bodies of Sts. Ermagora and Fortunatus without their heads. A man holds the two heads in a drape.
The bodies of Sts. Ermagora and Fortunatus without their heads. A man holds the two heads in a drape.

There is a lady docent here who follows us around. She is very nice but she doesn’t speak any English and doesn’t really know much about any of the artworks. She does, however, keep me from taking pictures.

Next stop, the Patriarchal Palace which now functions as an art museum. We have only 45 minutes to see this as we are reminded that the blessed Italian lunch must be observed for three hours. We get the audio tour and start with woodcarvings from the Middle Ages. The lady from downstairs comes rushing up to us. “No,no, time is short! Tiepolo upstairs!” Seriously, I would much rather look at the woodcarvings but we follow her upstairs since trying to explain would be pointless. We look at the Tiepolos. Yes, very nice. Then we hurry downstairs again to see the woodcarvings.


Then there is a great altarpiece with 10 carvings. The upper tier are all lady saints. It seems like there was only one model.
Altarpiece
Altarpiece

Here are close-ups of the lady saints –

These are the Stepford wives of the New Testament.

Obviously we have seen a lot of stuff so far today. Our plan for the rest of the day is to have a late lunch, stop at the store to buy something to eat later in the room, and watch the ATP Tour World Finals.

One last picture to epitomize much of our vacation.

Old churches and rain
Old churches and rain

November 14, 2014 – Cividale del Friuli

Today is the long awaited day of no rain. We pack up and get on the road from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Udine, Italy. Along the way we plan to stop at Cividale del Friuli, a town known for its Roman and Longobardo artifacts.

First we stop for some gas. Our diesel Peugeot has been getting really great mileage. Mostly I take this picture to show that there is actually blue sky.

Blue skies as John fills up the car
Blue skies as John fills up the car

We make our way across the border into Italy. There are no stern-looking crossing guards here. Just an EU Italia sign. Cividale del Friuli is not far over the border and we plan to see three sites – Tempietto Longobardo, the National Archaeological Museum and the Museo Cristiano. First up, the Tempietto Longobardo.

This small chapel from the 6th century has a few frescoes but is mostly known for the six enigmatic female figures high above the altar surrounding a window. The figures, slightly taller than life size, all have halos. The two next to the window point to it, a reference to Christ being the light. The other four hold the crown of martyrdom and the cross in their hands.

Tempietto Longobardo
Tempietto Longobardo

Female figures in the Tempietto Longobardo
Female figures in the Tempietto Longobardo

Moving along we visit the Christian Museum and Treasury of the Duomo. Here we see the striking altar of Ratchis built in the mid 8th century by the Lombard king to commemorate his father. The bas-relief carving is amazing.

Ratchis altar
Ratchis altar

Detail of Mary (with cross on her forehead) visitng Elizabeth
Detail of Mary (with cross on her forehead) visitng Elizabeth

Lunchtime!

Thus fortified we tackle the National Archaeological Museum. This museum features mostly Roman grave goods and relics.

We’ve had a good visit to Cividale del Friuli and now make our way to Udine where we will spend the next two nights.

November 13, 2014 – Walking tour of Ljubljana, Slovenia

We don’t have a big agenda today. There are no old churches with frescoes or even much in the way of Roman ruins in Ljubljana so we decide to do a walking tour of the city. It’s a very pretty city with lots of 18th and 19th century buildings.

At the tourist information office we are able to rent iPhones with a tour loaded on them. All we have to do is following the walking directions from the guides and we will see it all. As it turns out, following the directions in real time is nearly impossible as the narrators assume that you are an Olympic race walker. So we have to keep stopping to figure out where we are, but in the end, we see most of the old part of the city.

Here’s some of what we saw –


I have to give a shout out to a place we stopped for cappucini. It is the best cappucino that I have ever had. Anyone who reads this and goes to Ljubljana should definitely stop there.
Cafe 13 - best cappucino ever!
Cafe 13 – best cappucino ever!

On the rampart wall of the castle we meet a young man from Turkmenistan named Guy who is living in Ukraine and visiting Ljubljana. He has visited New York and is going back. He asks us to take his picture. He has an iPad and a fancy camera. We oblige. He takes our picture. It’s all so “it’s a small world.”

Mary and John in Ljubljana (Picture taken by Guy of Turkmenistan)
Mary and John in Ljubljana (Picture taken by Guy of Turkmenistan)

It’s past 2 PM so we find a restaurant and have our usually main meal lunch.

We walk around a little more. It’s not actively raining. We stop at a store and buy some bread and salami for tonight’s dinner and head back to the hotel as it begins to get dark.
Ironic sign seen in a store window
Ironic sign seen in a store window

November 12, 2014 – Visiting the Pilato Winery on the way to Ljubljana

The question in the morning is no longer, Is it raining? It’s, How hard is it raining today? Today the rain is coming down in sheets. It’s also thundering and streaks of pitchforked lightning are visible from our window. It’s like a bad Hollywood set. We manage the luggage down the stairs and I hide in an overhang while John runs it over to the car. It’s hard to carry an umbrella and luggage at the same time.

The weather is finally getting to me. We’ve done a good job over the last week+ keeping a happy face and dodging the raindrops. We’ve seem most of things we’ve wanted to see but we are getting tired of the rain and gloom. There’s been more rain in the last week than California has had in the last two years. But we soldier on.

On Wednesday when we arrived in Croatia, the waiter got all excited when he saw our name on the credit card. Pilat? Are you related to the Pilato Winery Pilats? There’s a whole town filled with nothing but Pilato and Pilat families. Then last night at the hotel, Pilato wine was on the menu. We had to try some.

John with namesake wine
John with namesake wine

We usually try to find something to do on our way from one place to the next. Today it will be to stop in at the Pilato Winery. After leaving the big highway we travel down winding country roads. We are really not sure where this winery is but we trust Jack, our GPS, to find it. Rounding a bend in a small town, there it is.
Pilato Winery
Pilato Winery
Cool logo
Cool logo
John and logo
John and logo

Unfortunately it looks pretty much closed up. We go to all the doors we can find and knock. We go next door. Finally a car with a delivery comes up. John runs after them. He explains he is a Pilat from the U.S. and he is trying to meet the Pilato’s of the winery. They oblige by calling the Pilatos up. A charming young lady comes out to meet us and open up the winery for some tasting.
Pilato Winery tasting room
Pilato Winery tasting room

John with wine boxes
John with wine boxes

We find out that everyone in town is basically a Pilat. Some append the final “o” and some do not. We chat and try their wine. The chardonnay and the malvasia are good. The cabernet sauvignon not so much. The winemaker and John exchange business cards. What a great experience it has been all around.

We travel on. After passing through the passport checkpoint into Slovenia we start looking for a place for lunch. Jack directs us to a restaurant off the main route, Gostilna Cah in Rizana.

Restaurant Gostilna Cah
Restaurant Gostilna Cah

The proprietor is definitely not friendly. In fact he seems a little scary. He tells us to sit anywhere and gives us a multilingual menu. None of the languages are English. There’s Italian, though, and we muddle through.

As we leave our somewhat unpleasant lunch experience, we give a glance at the macabre woodcutting on the wall – a group of animals carrying a coffin. It’s been kind of an Alfred Hitchcock lunch.
Doomsday plaque
Doomsday plaque

We drive the rest of the way to Ljubljana in the pouring rain an check into our digs, the Hotel Cubo. It’s very near the old center and everything should be walkable.

We have our usual breadstick dinner and settle down to watch the ATP World Tour Finals.

November 11, 2014 – Romans, rain, and beer in Pula

This morning we get up and look out the window. It seems to be missing something. Ah, rain. It’s not sunny but it’s not raining.

Our hotel is in the town of Uvala where it is not raining at the moment
Our hotel is in the town of Uvala where it is not raining at the moment

The man at the desk suggests that we park quite far away from the Roman arena as the downtown is too crowded. We drive down and find a parking space across from the Roman arena. I think crowded in Croatia and crowded in California mean two different things.
We find a parking space just across the street from the Roman arena
We find a parking space just across the street from the Roman arena

The arena is immense and I strike a pose quoting Marc Antony’s eulogy of Caesar. We are the only people in the arena.
Roman arena in Pula, Croatia
Roman arena in Pula, Croatia
"Amici, Romani, Cives..."
“Amici, Romani, Cives…”

There is an exhibit in the spaces under the arena where they used to keep the wild animals and gladiators. It is about trade during the Roman era in the Adriatic. They have a photograph of a map from the 4th century A.D.
Who doesn’t love a map! It shows Roman roads and cities. The top strip is includes the Istrian peninsula, then there’s the Adriatic Sea. Below that is Italy which has mountains running down the middle, then the Mediterranean Sea and at the bottom Africa. Aquileia which we visited is very prominent.
Ancient map
Ancient map
Aquileia on the map
Aquileia on the map

We continue with a walk around the harbor area. There is a touching memorial to the partisans of WWII. These anti-fascists died very young, some not even 20. A bust of Tito is among them.
Partisan memorial
Partisan memorial

We are headed toward a Roman temple when it begins to rain. We hurry back to the car getting there just ahead of a heavy downpour. We decide just to do a driveby.

It is well after lunchtime so we make our way back Uvala and look for somewhere to have a light lunch. I am still not 100% but would like a little something. It turns out that Uvala is something of an upscale ghost town. Most of the houses are just for the summer or for rent. All the restaurants are closed. In our wanderings we have come across a billboard for the Beer Club. Maybe we can find it. We do! It is really pouring now and by the time we walk from the car to the pub we are pretty soaked. John finds an old favorite from when we were in Montenegro on a cruise. “Make mine a Niksicko,” he says. Then he follows up with a Croatian brew. We share a ham and cheese panini.

John and Niksicko
John and Niksicko

A local brew
A local brew

We head back to the hotel. We are tired of being wet. We catch up on mail and blogging. I take a nap. Later we go down to hotel restaurant for dinner. We feel sorry for the family running it. It’s not summer and it’s not sunny and no one is visiting Uvala. Here’s our dinner –
We are really, really hoping for no rain tomorrow!

November 10, 2014 – Touring Porec on the way to Pula, Croatia

It’s November 11 today and I have been feeling pretty under the weather since yesterday at lunchtime. But if I don’t write down what we saw, I will forget it. I am abbreviating this by just putting the commentary on the pictures.

Although we've driven into Slovenia before it's still kind of new to us
Although we’ve driven into Slovenia before it’s still kind of new to us

The border to Slovenia and the one into Croatia aren't total open like the rest of the EU
The border to Slovenia and the one into Croatia aren’t total open like the rest of the EU

Welcome to Croatia!
Welcome to Croatia!

Before we head to Pula, we stop in Porec. Our goal here is to see a 6th century church.

After lunch in Porec we walk down a pretty street
After lunch in Porec we walk down a pretty street

The town is all built up around the church complex so it isn’t possible to get a clear shot of the building. First we go into the Baptistry.
Baptistry
Baptistry

At this point I am feeling bad and can only sit in the church while John takes pictures.
Interior of the Euphrasian Basilica founded by Bishop Euphrasius in the mid 6th century
Interior of the Euphrasian Basilica founded by Bishop Euphrasius in the mid 6th century

Over the altar is the stunning altarpiece with the first depiction ever of Mary as mother of Jesus
Over the altar is the stunning altarpiece with the first depiction ever of Mary as mother of Jesus

In the picture above St.Euphrasius is shown on the left side of Mary holding his church.
Above the mosaic of the Madonna is Christ and the 12 Apostles
Above the mosaic of the Madonna is Christ and the 12 Apostles

Other mosaics include an Annunciation
Other mosaics include an Annunciation

and Mary visiting Elizabeth
and Mary visiting Elizabeth

There's also an arch dedicated to female martyrs. This is the mosaic of St. Justina
There’s also an arch dedicated to female martyrs. This is the mosaic of St. Justina

At this point I need to get to the hotel in Pula. We manage to get ourselves back to the car and get to the hotel. In our room is a cruise ship display of towels.
Towels as swans
Towels as swans

A bad night’s sleep ensues.

November 9, 2014 – Trieste

Our days have fallen into a pattern. Breakfast, sightseeing until 1PM or 2PM, late lunch, more sightseeing, crash in room, and have breadsticks for dinner. Today is no exception.

Our hotel, Palace Suites, an adjunct of the Continentale Hotel, is centrally located and most things are easily walked to. The one exception would be the cathedral complex which is located on a high bluff. We decide to do the lower part of the city in the morning. First up, the Roman amphitheater.

Roman amphitheater in Trieste built at the end of the 1st century A.D.
Roman amphitheater in Trieste built at the end of the 1st century A.D.

Amazingly this amphitheater used to be outside the city walls on the seashore. Due to the silting up of the harbor it now sits in the middle of the city.

Next we wander down by the waterfront. The Piazza del Unita d’Italia is the largest piazza on a waterfront in the world. Important, I guess, if you are into being placed in the Guiness Book of World Records for something. (Much like Baker, CA’s largest thermometer) It’s an impressive space celebrating Trieste’s reunification with the rest of Italy after WWII.

John in front of the Piazza del Unita d' Italia
John in front of the Piazza del Unita d’ Italia

The Fountain of the Four Continents  - The fountain was built to represent Trieste as a city of prosperity, thanks to its establishment as a Free Port by Charles VI and Maria Theresa of Austria's policy for developing the city.
The Fountain of the Four Continents – The fountain was built to represent Trieste as a city of prosperity, thanks to its establishment as a Free Port by Charles VI and Maria Theresa of Austria’s policy for developing the city.

Close up of the statue depicting the Americas
Close up of the statue depicting the Americas

Looking out into Trieste harbor
Looking out into Trieste harbor
Statue, harborside, of two girls sewing an Italian flag.  Installed in 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Trieste to Italy
Statue, harborside, of two girls sewing an Italian flag. Installed in 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Trieste to Italy

Even with its ancient Roman ruins, the city of Trieste mostly looks like a prosperous late 19th century city.
Buildings along the main street next to the harbor
Buildings along the main street next to the harbor

We’ve been walking around looking at things for quite a while now. We stop in at the Tourist Information center and find out that the cathedral is closed for the sacred Italian lunch until 3:30PM. So we figure it’s time for a little lunch and a little siesta for ourselves.

The obligatory food pictures –

After lunch and a little rest we decide to go up to the cathedral. It is really up high and we decide to take a taxi due to my bad knee and John’s unoperated hip. We get up to the Cathedral of St. Justus and there are a lot of cars there. We go in and there are a lot of people and kids in some sort of scouting get-up. So we go to sit down to see what’s up. Then the Bishop arrives and we sit through a mass with singing and celebrated in both Slovenian and Italian.

Cathedral of St. Justus
Cathedral of St. Justus

Blurry shot of the bishop after mass
Blurry shot of the bishop after mass

The Bishop seems very sweet and at offertory time the kids bring up baskets and baskets of local produce. He examines each basket and smiles and talks to the kids.

Luckily for us, all the lights are on in the cathedral highlighting the fabulous mosaics from the 11th century. When mass is over and everyone heads for the door John and I hot foot it up to the front to take a look and snap some photos before anyone can turn out the lights and yell NO FOTO at us.

Mosaic of Christ flanked by St. Justus on the left and St. Servilo on the right
Mosaic of Christ flanked by St. Justus on the left and St. Servilo on the right

Madonna and Child with twelve apostles
Madonna and Child with twelve apostles
Behind the central apse are more modern mosaics
Behind the central apse are more modern mosaics

Now here’s a thing we didn’t quite think through. How are we going to get back down to the hotel? It’s dark out now and we are not going to be able to find a taxi. Luckily we strike out (down) in the right direction and slowly make our way down the steep streets to the lower part of the city.

November 8, 2014 – A leisurely drive to Trieste

There are two routes one can choose between when driving from Aquileia to Trieste, the fast one on Autostrada A-4 or the slower one on state road 14 which winds its way along the coastline. We decide on the slow route and pull off the road a few times to look at the views.

View along the Adriatic coast
View along the Adriatic coast

We decide to break up the short trip with a stop at Castello di Miramare. Just north of Trieste on a promontory it was built in the second half of the 19th century by the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg as a residence for himself and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium.
Castello di Miramare
Castello di Miramare

We walk around the beautiful grounds for a while and stop to have an espresso. We even sit outside as the rain has held off today. Then we head back up the coast towards Trieste.

Since it’s lunchtime we are in favor of finding a seaside restaurant where we will be assured to get great fish. We spy a restaurant and pull over. It’s a good omen, the restaurant’s name is California. Of course we take food pictures –


After a couple of false starts we reach our hotel in Trieste. Our room is actually a little apartment. I think we will be very comfortable at the Palace Suites for the next two days.
We are really looking forward to our two nights in Trieste.