Italy 2000: Day 3: Wednesday, April 27: Udine

Wednesday, April 27: Udine

The weather appears to be overcast and slightly cooler today, but no rain is in
the offing.

After breakfast (we did have some attitude problems with the breakfast room
waitress--she had to assert her domination of the area), we headed off for a
Tiepolo morning. Even though Tiepolo, the father, is more strongly identified
with Venice, Vicenza and the Veneto, he had his early commissions and success in
Udine and later returned here to paint in his maturity.

Our first stop was the Duomo, a very large cathedral; there are three Tiepolos
in the building as well as some very magnificent carved wooden choir stalls.

Across the street in the Oratorio, Tiepolo (the father) had painted the ceiling
and Tiepolo (the son) painted panels of Biblical scenes on the walls. You are
supposed to ask the sacristan at the Duomo to let you in to the nearby Oratorio,
but we neglected to. Luckily some Italians were also trying to get in, so they
used their cell phone to call the Cathedral to summon someone to open the door.
(Ain't modern technology grand?)

The ceillings are quite lovely--Tiepolo had a way of controlling all aspects of
his compositions; the figures are quite indvidualized, the colors are vivid and
the pictures grab your attention and hold it fast. This is particularly true
in the Tiepolo rooms of the Patriarchal Palace a short way across town.

Tiepolo was commissioned by the religious leader of Udine--the Patriarch--to
decorate the palace where he received guests and official visitors. Tiepolo was
given free rein to express himself as he wished. Among the highlights are his
depiction of the Judgment of Solomon on the ceiling of the Red Room.
The colors and details are astounding after 300 years and the ceiling fresco has
an unusual power. The Galleria degli Ospiti is even more amazing. A small
where visitors waited before an audience with the Patriarch, it is crammed full
of Biblical scenes and pictures of legendary Greek and Roman subjects. Not only
did he do the paintings, he designed the entire setting that the paintings were
displayed in--to most amazing effect.

The other highlight is the library thousands of volumes on all subjects in floor
to ceiling bookshelves, accentuated by portraits, designs, moral admonitions,
sculptures....a remarkable tour de force.

Certainly Udine is worth a visit for art lovers, if for no other reason than the
Tiepolo attractions. (D: and this area is so little touristed that we often
found ourselves the only ones in a room-an amazing way to experience the art).

After our Tiepolo morning, we got in the car and headed for San Daniele nel
Friuli with the goal of sampling some San Daniele ham for lunch. The drive to
San Daniele was quietly scenic but this area of Friuli is not going to
dazzle you like Tuscany or Umbria does. But San Daniele is a hill town and you
have to climb sharply to reach the centro storico at the top of the hill. If it
hadn't been so overcast, there would have been lovely views in all directions.

Our first job was to pick a place to sample the ham. Since every place in town
offers a "degustazione" of the local specialty, we consulted our numerous guide
books and headed to La Tavernaccia, a few steps from where we parked in the
center of town. It turned out to be a great choice. A new restaurant, the room
was charming and inviting and the host the same. We ordered a big board of the
ham, some local cheeses, marinated vegetables, and a carafe of wine. It was all
excellent...the ham is less salty
than Parma ham but silky in texture and delicate in taste. I also had a bowl of
a perfect mixed bean soup and Diana had a nice piece of torta di mele (apple
cake) for dessert. If the staff hadn't pulled the "disappearing Italian waiter
trick" at the end of the meal, it would have been perfect.

After lunch, most everything was closed so we sat on the Duomo steps for a
while. I took a short walk up to the top of the hill to check out the view. By
the time I returned, the Duomo was open so we took a peek; it was quite modern
and austere inside. We then headed to the Church of San Antonio Abate, which
was now a museum housing the fresco cycle of Martino da Udine (known as
Pelligrino), a local painter.

Before leaving town, we tried to pinpoint the location of the old Jewish
ghetto--San Daniele had apparently had a significant Jewish population in the
middle ages--and after a few false starts were able to find the Piazza Cataneo,
which had formerly been called the Piazza degli Ebrei.

We will have to return to visit the famous library in the town on our next
visit, which will be a good excuse to return to sample some more of the town's
most famous product.

Leaving San Daniele, we decided to head north to the mountainous area--an
extension of the Dolomites, called The Carnia. We stopped first in Gemona,
which nestles on the slopes of one of the peaks. The town center has been almost
completely rebuilt since the disastrous 1976 earthquake which hit Friuli. The
chief attraction is the Duomo, which was reconstructed at that time (the
photographs of the damage are striking). In addition I was curious to know more
about La Cineteca di Friuli, a movie museum and library; unfortunately it was
closed. I did pick up a flyer announcing an upcoming exhibition at the
Cineteca--Stanley Kubrick verso 2001. It would have been fun to see it.

Driving further north, we stopped at Venzone, a medieval walled town which was a
major stop on the trade routes during Roman times. Venzone was also heavily
damaged in the 1976 earthquake (parts of the town were also damaged during
bombing raids in 1945) but they have almost completely reconstructed the town to
the original specifications. The Duomo (still under construction) is light and
airy; new wood paneling on the balcony and a modern wood sculpture contribute to
the distinctive feel inside, as does the photo exhibit at the rear of the church
which shows the extent of the damage.

I wanted to ride a little further north into the mountains (they are around
6,000 feet tall in this area and very rugged), so we jumped on the autostrada
intending to ride for ten minutes and get off at the first exit. Unfortunately
the first exit was not for almost 35 kilometers, so we got more than I bargained
for. These mountains are on the border with Austria so there is a tremendous
amount of truck traffic from all over Europe on the road. The road goes through
numerous long tunnels and is surrounded on both sides by high cliffs. Turning
around finally, we retraced our steps and returned to Udine.

After a short rest, we headed out for dinner at a nearby osteria called Al Lepre
(the hare). It is one of the many osterie in Udine that serves both as a place
to eat as well as a gathering place for locals to go for a glass of wine. The
bar was full as was one of the dining rooms, but we were ushered into a second
room which was completely empty. This is not usually a good sign but it turned
out that our waiter was in an expansive mood and had time to spend with us and
talk about various subjects. It made for a pleasant evening and the food was
pretty good also...Diana did have another encounter with overcooked white
asparagus drowning in butter, which may well be the only way you get white
asparagus in Friuli, followed by a very good stinco di maiale (roasted shin of
pork). I wasn't too hungry and settled for an okay plate of spaghetti alle
vongole, a salad, and some spinach. The local tocai was very good. Diana had a
good strudel--the filling was better than the pastry--and the waiter found a
panna cotta in the kitchen for me. All in all, a very nice evening.

A short walk back to the hotel and quickly to bed...

Jim and Diana