Fast Times in Friuli – Part II

Fast Times in Friuli – Part II by Paul Downs

I recently returned from a few weeks gallivanting across northeastern Italy with my good friends Sondae and Faith. The following is a multi-part blog comprised of bits and pieces of our planning process and adventures, edited where necessary, of course. Surely any blanks have been filled in by the bottomless glasses of vino and the combination of cheese and prosciutto coursing through my veins.

Last time I left off at sitting in Aunt Mary’s backyard, hungover and wishing away the damage that Jaegermeister had done with ginger ale and Alka-Seltzer…

Hair of the Dog

“Ciao Mary!” I heard one of the neighbors say from the front of the house. Mary, Sondae and Faith had just gotten back from their morning adventures and aperitivo at Bar al Cret, which eventually became home base. It was almost like Cheers, just in Friulano. The Cret was named for a mountain peak in the foothills of the Alps. When the ladies walked in the house and saw me attempting to nurse myself back to health, Aunt Mary sprung into action, making a heaping bowl of mushroom risotto to help ease the hangover from hell.

 Sure, back in the states hangover cures include greasy spoon standards, TexMex concoctions and Chicago gyro joint classics. All of those have helped in the past, but I assure you nothing can make a hangover go away like perfectly prepared risotto. It was starchy, creamy, rich, filling… comforting. It was like getting hugged from the inside. By the end of lunch, I was at least ready to venture out into the world. Certainly not ready to hit the sauce again, but closer to fine.

We went for a walk around town after our late lunch. There were gorgeous mosaics everywhere, some brand new and others restored to their former glory. The region is famous for mosaic art. We also saw quite a few buildings that were just shells, nothing inside other the occasional tree growing through the roof. In 1976, Fruili experienced three major earthquakes (and over 500 aftershocks and tremors) over the course of four months. About 70,000 buildings were inspected following these quakes; more than 43,000 were deemed unsafe and scheduled for demolition. Over 1,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands were made homeless. Many people simply up and left, leaving behind their lives and homes that had been reduced to rubble. The region is still in “recovery mode” to some extent – construction projects are still in progress, others are on permanent hold due to a struggling economy.

We continued winding our way through town. The people were undeniably friendly; everyone wanted to chat. They wanted to practice English and we wanted to practice Italian. All their pet’s names were American. Scott, Benji, Bob – and of course there was a Collie named Lassie – all American names. The only dog in town with an Italian name was Aunt Mary’s dog, Lilo – who quickly became our mascot and alarm clock. Even with earplugs, it’s surprisingly hard to sleep through the back and forth of a rooster crowing and a dog barking. I think Lilo heard that rooster crow every morning and thought, “Breakfast!” After a stop at The Cret followed by getting our frico fix at the restaurant I had met those Austrians at, it was time to head home. We had an early day ahead of us in Caorle on the Adriatic.

Life’s a Beach

We got up with the rooster and the dog the following morning, packed the car and headed south toward the Adriatic. Of course, we stopped at The Cret for some espresso – or if you’re the adventurous type, a café corretto. You guessed it, “corrected coffee,” a shot of espresso with grappa. No wonder I was feeling so good! We hit the road for the hour and a half trip to the coast, of course stopping along the way for aperitivo at a gas station.

On the waterfront there were the requisite brightly colored buildings and scantily clad people roaming around. After an hour exploring the picturesque coast, we started looking for a place for lunch. We opted for Ristorante da Nappa. They had scrawled, in large block letters, “NO PIZZA” on their menu at the front of the patio. We were instantly sold. Liters of house wine were ordered and we delved in to the freshest seafood imaginable. The thought of that salmon steak still makes my mouth water.

The beach in Caorle, much like the beach in Chicago, is bordered by rocks as break walls. Many of the rocks have been carved and donated by local artists to enhance the already stunning shoreline.  After a long walk on the beach, a gelato/Prosecco break and a little shopping, it was time to head back to Sequals. I’m sure many of you have heard stories about what it’s like driving in Italy. Most of the traffic laws are more suggestion than anything else. It seems that also applies to road signs. Our ride home that night turned out to be quite the adventure: detours, construction, missing signs… We eventually made it home, though the thought of that drive without Aunt Mary at the helm is a bit unnerving.

That’s Amore

It was time to head to Venice. We caught an early train out of Casarsa, a small town dotted with castles and a strange fascination with Chinese restaurants and “American bars.” Upon our arrival in Venice, we were relieved to see that it was not yet crawling with tourists. We would be able to make good time through the city and see the sights we all had our hearts set on. After 5 minutes of walking, we realized that compared to what we had heard, it was like a ghost town. Tourism was down big time. Many of the Austrians and Germans that vacation in northeastern Italy had cancelled their holidays because of cooler weather and more rain than usual at that time of year.

We didn’t let the dreary day interfere with our romantic visions of Venice. We were glad to visit such a historic city before it plunges into the Adriatic. Many friends told me that maps were unnecessary in Venice because it was so small. Whenever we stopped to ask someone where something was, we got the same answer, “Just keep going, you’ll see it.” So we did that, and just kept going. After stopping for lunch and meeting a father and daughter from Buffalo, New York celebrating her graduation from high school, we ventured onward, eventually deciding on a gondola ride.

  Our gondolier’s name was Enrico. His father is the Chief of Police in Venice. He seemed to have an affinity for The Jersey Shore based on his fashion sense, we quickly decided that he must be some relation to “The Situation.” He began to sing “That’s Amore” and Sondae jokingly asked if he knew any better songs. He immediately broke out in Johnny Cash, belting every word with gusto. He gave us a very thorough history lesson during our hour long ride. Post gondola ride, we made a bee line to St. Mark’s square. It was stunning. I wish I had more time to spend exploring that corner of Venice.

After a mad rush to catch our train home and several people offering, “Just keep  going, you’ll find it,” as directions to the train station, we finally made it with not a minute to spare. We knew when we got back to Sequals that night that it was going to be a “Spanish dinner” because we were eating so late. After dinner that night, everyone was ready for bed. After all, we had one more day to spend in this little mountain town before heading to Verona.

 Keep your eyes peeled for part 3 of this 3 part series on my adventures in northeastern Italy. Next time: Verona, a prosciutto festival, Dolomites, Maniago and Spilimbergo. Until then, Ciao!

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