Sunday, August 9, 2009

Seaside in Caorle

Gazing out at the gray skies, I checked the weather forecast. With a prediction of only mostly cloudy skies, we headed off to the beach in Caorle (pronounced Kah-orh-lay). Avoiding the autostrada and tollways, we took a ride along the road with the river snaking alongside. Boats were moored all up and down the river.

Arriving in Caorle, we could see this was the "it" spot on a Sunday in August, when Italians are famous for closing up shop and just going on vacation. The streets were packed with people walking and biking to the beach, out for Sunday morning strolls, and enjoying the shops and restaurants in this seaside town.

The Cathedral of St. Stephen is the most important monument of Caorle; built in 1038, it is a particular example of Romanesque and Byzantine-Ravennate style. Sunday morning mass was in service so we did not venture inside. Outside, the characteristic bell tower, of 1048, rises to a height of 48 meters (and leans in the style of the Leaning Tower of Pisa). It has a cylindrical structure and it is surmounted by a cone-shaped cusp, that makes it unique in the world. The bell tower can be visited Monday - Thursday at 9pm.

Walking from the Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin of the Angel Church along the cobbled walkway, take heed of the carvings in the large rocks. You will see everything from the Blessed Mother and baby Jesus to fish, turtles, and dolphins carved into the boulders.
Rounding the corner of the church, the 15 kilometer long beach stretches out in front of you dotted with thousands of umbrellas. Some people are lounging, some flying kites, and others boating. We picked out spot of sand and relaxed a bit before taking a dip in the Adriatic, which was quite cool today!
With the sun being evasive and having spent about 2 1/2 hours at the beach, we packed up our beach blanket and decided to stroll around town. After checking out the beach front hotels and bed and breakfasts, we headed past the cemetery and soccer field where the narrow streets open up into a bustling piazza. Here you could find everything from touristy little shops selling beach towels and umbrellas to clothing and jewelry. There is also no shortage of restaurants, cafes, and gelatarias.

We came across the Ristorante Alla Squero who had spaghetti con vongole on the menu, so I was sold! With a friendly buon giorno, we selected an outside table. I, of course, had the spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti with little neck clams steamed in white wine and butter) which was delicious!
Of course, with 10 minutes to spare on our parking slip and housework to be done at home, the sun finally made an appearance. Oh, well. With Caorle only about 1 hour away, I am sure we will be back before the summers end.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Basilica di Sant Antonio of Padua

Each year, thousands of people crowd the deep marble bas-reliefs to place their hands on the Tomba di Sant'Antonio (Tomb of Saint Anthony) with framed requests, thanks, and prayers. While we made our trip to Padua (Padova) in search of Ikea for some much needed household items, we couldn't resist a trip to the famed Basilica.

With many streets under construction, we found ourselves on the backside of the huge Basilica with a river and walls blocking our entrance. Following others who parked on the same street and looking like they knew where they were going much more than we did, we found ourselves finally at the Basilica.

Being denied entrance because I was clad in shorts, I purchased a scarf at one of the many street vendors in the Piazza del Santo, fashioned myself a skirt of acceptable length, and was permitted inside. Not only is the dress code strictly enforced, no photography is allowed in the Basilica.

Before leaving the central nave, observe the great fresco by Pietro Annigoni, finished in 1985 on the counter facade, depicting St. Anthony preaching from the walnut tree. This episode from his life took place in Camposampiero (Padua) where the Saint, just before his death, spent a brief period of rest and reflection (from the second half of May to 13 June 1231).

To the right lies the Tomb of Saint Anthony, the heart of the Basilica. The Saint's tomb lies directly under the altar at head height. Here you will see visitors grasping the tomb in prayer and thanks. Continuing around, priests are at the ready to provide blessings in the Chapel of the Blessings. The Treasury Chapel (Cappella delle Reliquie) sits directly behind the main altar where you may admire the Saint's uncorrupted tongue, his jaw bone and other relics recovered during the recognition of his mortal remains. Do not expect it to be a tongue which is bright red in colour. It is still however an inexplicable fact, given that it is a very fragile part of the body that is usually among the first parts to disintegrate after death. More than 770 years have passed since St. Anthony died and this tongue is a perennial miracle, unique in history and full of religious significance.

Much of the left side of the Basilica is currently under construction, including the Chapel of Saint Anthony. Many busts rest along the arches near the entrance/exit of the Basilica so be sure to look up!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled is a glacial lake in the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia. The lake surrounds Bled Island, the only natural island in Slovenia. The island has several buildings, the main one being the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary built in the 15th century. The church has a 52-metre tower and there is a stairway with 99 steps leading up to the building.

Wanting to take in this picturesque town, we made the 2 1/2 drive from Pordenone. Travel Tip: When using the autostradas to cross from one country into another, be sure to get your vignette (sticker) to show that the road tax for using that country's roadways has been paid. You must display the sticker in your window. We did not know about this and so did not purchase an Austrian vignette at the last tollbooth before leaving Italy. Unfortunately for us, it resulted in a 120 euro fine.

Arriving in Bled, we were struck by the beauty of the blue lake with the Julian Alps as a backdrop and a Medieval castle standing high on a cliff above the lake. Deciding to take in the view from above, we headed to Bled Castle.

After a climb up a steep, cobbled walkway (wear flat shoes that grip because the cobbles are very slippery!), we reached the ticket window. Entering the castle, go to the left where there is bar and gelataria. Here you can ascend a staircase for a stunning, panaramic view of the lake and island. Directly below the castle is the Castle Bathing, a grassy beach with waterslide.

From here, you ascend up to another platform where the Castle Restaurant is located (the view comes with a high pricetag) and the Museum. A display proudly presents one of the most beautiful 6th century findings – a peacock-shaped brooch found at Pristava below the Bled Castle.The peacock is known to adorn the Garden of Eden and is often referred to as “the bird of paradise”, a symbol of life and wealth. The museum tells the history of Bled from the time of the first settlements to present day.

Next, wander down the steep ramp to the Wine Cellar and see a demonstration of bottling of wine from oak barrels. The visitor who fills a bottle as a souvenir, corks it and waxes it, is presented with a certificate.

Hungry and ready for some lunch, we descended from the cliff back to the lakeshore in search of a great lunch. The Panorama,, was an excellent choice! Not only does their terrace offer a spectacular view of the castle on the cliff and lake as you dine, they offer a selection of seafood and a mixture of Mediterranean and Slovenian cuisine. I highly recommend the Caesar salad, although unlike any Caesar salad I have had before. The lettuce was a mix of rocket, radicchio, and curly endive with prosciutto, olives, tomatoes, and a dressing that tasted much like the German sour cream dressing. I also had the mushroom soup, which came in a pastry cup as the bowl, as an accompaniment. It was outstanding!
There is much to do in Bled. Take a boat tour to the island (€12) on a pletna boat, a gondola like boat with 2 paddles, which includes 30 minutes to wander around the island or visit the Church of the Assumption. There are also many areas to put down your beach blanket and take a dip in the lake. You could also visit the Lectar Inn Museum which makes traditional Slovene gingerbread.