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Eastern and Western Europe -- Part I

Author: WFDoran (More Trip Reviews by WFDoran)
Date of Trip: June 2006

The only thing wrong with the Novo Hotel Rossi was the neighborhood. It was a bit isolated and not in the best section of town. The hotel was quiet and you'd only see a couple of people in the breakfast room and/or the bar.

Without luggage the walk back to the train station which is also the bus depot was reduced to five minutes. A twenty minute walk up Corso Porta Nuova, which starts at one of the old Roman gates, leads you through the commercial part of town into the historic center. Besides being home of Romeo and Juliet it has lots of important Roman ruins as well as medieval churches and buildings. It has the best preserved Roman theatre in all of Italy.

The main square in the old town is called Piazza Bra. This is an extremely large piazza, which has a number of bars, restaurants and outdoor cafés. There are a number of small streets that lead you off the Piazza Bra deeper into the old town. As you wander down these streets you come onto various other piazzas, which are a little quieter than Piazza Bra. Also on the Piazza Bra is the ruins of the old Roman arena which is now used for an opera festival.

In Piazza del Erbe they have a produce market each morning. Your best bet is to get a map with walking tours from the Tourist Information Center and traipse around the whole historic part of Verona. That evening we ate dinner at a placed called Bar Boomerang; a lovely old Italian name. It is on a small side street off Via Mazzini which runs off the Piazza Bra. I had a wonderful dish of sliced roast pork that had been cooked in a red wine sauce served with baked herb golden potatoes. This was preceded by a tomato basil mozzarella salad and a bottle of the local wine. My past the stage of blushing bride had a nice dish of pasta bolognaise and the whole bill came to 40 euros. There were two tables of hip local kids next to us who consumed lots of snacks and drinks while talking loudly on cell phones and each other. For dessert we stopped at one of the many gelato shops on Corso Porta Nuova as we strolled back to our hotel in the warm summer evening.

On Monday we spent the day exploring the big streets and back alleys on the historic center. We even stopped at Romeo and Juliet's house. We found a delightful little spot overlooking the river with a great view of Castle Santiatro and the Roman theatre across the river. We sat under shade trees and enjoyed the view and the breeze from the river. We had a nice salad lunch at a place called Pizzaria Trattona Impero, it's in the Piazza del Signore #8. We had a couple of wonderful salads and a liter of mineral water for about $25.

That evening we dined at Restorante Adriatico; Via A. Mario. Pat had a mixed salad, I had tomatoes and onions. She had a wonderful dish of large tortellini stuffed with ricotta and spinach while I had veal scaloppini with porcini mushrooms. A bottle of mineral water and a bottle of the local Valpolicella completed our repast. That lovely meal set us back about $55.

Both nights in Verona and in fact just about every night in Italy we ate outside and enjoyed the warm summer evenings.

On Tuesday morning we took a train to Padova, which is also known as Padua. Here we picked up a rental car and drove to a small city named Udine (pronounced Udina). We went down to the station, bought our tickets and hopped on the train. We were sitting on the train and the conductor comes by and I handed him the tickets. He said we didn't get the tickets properly stamped and therefore he was going to fine us 25 euros. Of course that didn't happen and he just signed the tickets to show that they were used.

You have to be careful in Italy when you buy train tickets many times they are good for sixty days. You can use them on any train going from the two points you purchased them for. For instance, the tickets we bought were good for any train, any day for the next sixty days going from Verona to Padova. However, before you get on the train there is a little yellow box that you must stick each ticket into where it's date/time stamped to show that it's been used. Later on when we were in Padova and took the train on two separate days into Venice we scrupulously stamped our tickets in the little yellow box. However, no conductor came by either time to check our tickets.

Udine is located about halfway between Venice and Trieste, about 75 miles north of the Adriatic Sea and about 75 miles south of the point where Italy, Slovenia and Austria meet in the mountains.

We stayed in Udine at the hotel Principe at Viale Europa Unita 51 - 33100. The tab including breakfast and parking was $99 per night. The room and accommodations were as I previously described. I must say the staff here was extra friendly and helpful. They recommended great places for us to have dinner each evening. When we asked them about going to the beach they told us to go to Bibioni beach, they selected a hotel and even called the hotel and made our reservations for us. They were just absolutely delightful people. This hotel is also located right across the street from the railroad station but a courtyard blocks all of the noise and traffic so you have a quiet little sanctuary back off the main street.

Udine is not an ancient city but a very attractive clean city. We were about a ten minute walk from the pedestrian district which is the main center of activity in the town.

On our first night there on our way to the recommended restaurant we stopped at Café Contarena located on Via Covore, 1. This ultra smart modern café is located in a huge new classical building located at Piazza Castello. We were thoroughly impressed with this place. It seemed to be the center of snap and smartness. The clientele were fashionably dressed and had edge. They had an extensive wine list and most of it was available by the glass. The barmaids at the wine bar know their wine very well and will take you on a nice little tasting voyage of the various local wines. The local wine producing region is Frujulia.

They produce some real fruity white wines as well as a sparkling rosé and a number of good reds including merlot, cabernet sovereign and two new ones that I was introduced to named Refrosco and Pinolo. Refrosco is like a Cabernet Sovereign and the Pinolo is more like a Zinfandel. The first time we stopped there I had two glasses of wine, Pat had a vodka and they served us a complimentary appetizer of pasta with fresh vegetables. Our total bill was 12 euros.

We ate at a place not far from the Contarena. The Hostaria Alaa Tavernetta located at Via A. Vi Pampero-2 is just passed Piazza Domo. This place is not to be missed. It's one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in. It's not that expensive, it's not that fancy but it is fabulous. The owner who explains the menu to you and takes your order and recommends wines is a dead ringer for Rod Stewart. His wife, who is also no slouch, is very active on the floor of the restaurant. The rest of the staff is relaxed, friendly and hospitable. Pat and I split a buffalo mozzarella salad that was a baseball size hunk of fresh buffalo mozzarella served on a bed of fresh greens with sweet cherry tomatoes, assorted greens and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Actually while we were perusing the menu they brought out a complimentary glass of the local sparkling Rosé wine and a basket of mixed homemade breads and breadsticks. Then "Rod" came and took us through the menu. I had baby roasted pork chops with a mushroom wine gravy and polenta. Pat had grilled strips of chicken breast over a bed of arugula topped with shaved pecorino cheese. The owner suggested the Refrosco wine. The food was simple regional cooking of the area but executed superbly. After dinner they brought out dark chocolate that was hacked off of a large bar, a mixed biscotti made of corn flour and local grappa. All of this set us back about $100.

Continue to Part II.

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