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Eastern and Western Europe -- Part II

Author: WFDoran
Email: WFDoran@aol.com (More Trip Reviews by WFDoran)
Date of Trip: June 2006

We spent the next day exploring Udine. The highlight of which is the grounds of the castle. We had a nice little salad lunch at Bar Ala Rocca located at Piazza Marconi #9. We had two great salads and two bottles of mineral waters for about $13.

That evening we dined at Restaurant Vitello di Oro at Via Valvason #4. Even though we ate in the outdoor garden this place was extremely formal with impeccable service. The staff wore ties, the maitre d' wore a suit and the menu was heavy with fish entrées. We watched them serve a whole fish at the next table. The fish was de-boned and elegantly arrayed on the peoples platters. For an appetizer we had ravioli with egg, cream, capers and mushrooms. To that, fresh grated pepper and cheese was added, wow, what a dish. Pat had an excellent beef steak and I had bacala which is salted cod fish in phyllo dough. The beef in this area comes from Tuscany and is as good as the good beef you get in the United States. We had another brand of Refrosco wine that night and it was excellent. They presented us a tray of homemade cookies at the end of our meal. We stopped for a nightcap at Café Contarena on our way home. In the Piazza Domo we stopped and watched the free opera production for a while. Again this is a city that comes alive at night and all sorts of things are going on. The outdoor cafés are crowded, there's entertainment in the piazzas and people are just hanging out.

The next day we drove up to Treviso. The car we had was an Alfa Romeo 169 diesel with a six speed transmission. This vehicle was a combination station wagon/ SUV. It was extremely peppy and had good acceleration for a diesel. We could cruise along at 70mph at under 2,000rpm in 6th gear so I know we were getting close to 35 miles to the gallon. It took us about an hour and half to drive up to Treviso. I was going 70-75mph and people were blowing by me. I think on a lot of parts of the Autostrada there is no speed limit. I did notice that if you're in the left hand land you better keep an eye on your rearview mirror because cars come up on you very quickly and they come just about to your back bumper and flash their lights expecting you to move over immediately.

The Treviso exit on the Autostrada is the last exit in Italy. This is the point where Slovenia, Austria and Italy come together. On the way up there were lots of cars filled with families towing campers or had roof racks. You could see it was mother, father and the kids going on vacation. The license plates were from all over Europe.

The weather in Treviso was like Colorado. Jagged snow covered mountain peaks and thick forests of pine, beech and white oak surround the town. This is big ski country with nothing but restaurants and t-shirt shops. It's extremely touristy, something similar to Blowing Rock. There was a nice quiet main street with all sorts down to earth stores such as hardware, clothing, a post office, etc. This was definitely the one used by the full-time residents.

When we got off the Autostrada just before entering Treviso we stopped at a little roadside place called Café Daiwat. They were extremely nice. They didn't charge us to use the toilets or hassle you for doing so without sitting down for a meal. It's very different than the Autostrada rest stops. After our stroll through touristy Treviso we went back to Café Daiwat for a delightful simple lunch of sandwiches on homemade bread and a sweet red pepper salad.

After lunch we discovered the town of Camporosso, which looked a lot more Austrian than Italian. There was a ski area right outside of the town and in fact the ski lift came almost to the town. The town was extremely quiet and I guess it was a weekend ski town and not many people were there during the week. You could tell by the names on the houses that the population was a mixture of Italian and Austrian. I would imagine that mix of people must cause each one of them to have a complex. The Austrians are industrious, energetic and neat while the Italians are laidback and prone to relaxing and chilling out.

We got back to Udine in time to have a cocktail at Contarena before dinner. We had dinner at Tratoria al Frati Piazza Antonini #5 in Udine. This part of Italy gets a lot of German tourists so when we walked in they gave Pat and I menus written in German. I guess we're starting to look like Europeans. We had spaghetti with garlic, oil and pepperoncini which are hot peppers and another different but good version of sautéed chicken breast with arugula, tomatoes and cheese served with wine, mineral water and a grappa for $60. It was a good sturdy meal.

On Friday morning we headed down to the beach. We stayed at the hotel Presidente for 96 euros a night which included a nice big air-conditioned room with a king sized bed, parking, breakfast and dinner as well as a spot at the beach with a beach umbrella and one chair and one lounge. It was an easy drive down the Autostrada and then on a country road through some small towns to get to Bibioni. We stopped at a small town and took pictures of the local market. Pat used the restroom in the local bar and the people were very friendly.

Bibioni was directly south of Udine which puts it halfway between Venice and Trieste at the head of the Adriatic Sea. The water was calm and very clean. It was considered very healthy because it has an extremely high salt content.

Bibioni is the Myrtle Beach of Italy. It even has miniature golf. However, it is different in one respect. It's mainly German, Austrian and Italian tourists. There are no inhibitions about wearing skimpy bikinis, with or without a top no matter what size or age. In fact I think some of the older women were still wearing the same bikini they had bought in the 60's. It had shrunk and they had grown. To be fair there were lots of women who looked good with or without their tops. It was kind of funny to see them undressed on the beach and then dressed later in the dining room. They looked quite different.

The food in or out of the hotel was quite pedestrian but we did have some real good pizza. On Saturday we walked on the beach to the other end of the island. It was much nicer up there. Instead of wall to wall hotels it was expensive condos. There were plenty of open beaches. In the area we were at the umbrellas were lined up in perfect rows and columns and that's all you could see; umbrellas, people and chairs as far as the eye could see. It seemed the other end of the island also had nicer restaurants and shops. However I can't complain about our stay at the Presidente for $96 a night, it was a heck of a bargain. The beach was nice and sandy and the water was plenty warm enough for swimming.

On Sunday morning we drove back to Padova to return the rental car and stay at the hotel El Fagiano. We did get caught in a traffic jam leaving Bibioni that cost us about an hour of time but I guess that's life at the beach.

After dropping off the car we took a cab to Al Fagiano, which I believe means pheasant. It's located at Via Cotelli #45. This hotel is located right off Piazza del Santo, one of the main piazzas of the old town. When we arrived on Sunday the whole town was extremely hot and extremely quiet. It was like a ghost town. I guess everyone was at the beach or in the mountains or somewhere else.

One of the reasons we stayed in Padova was that it had proximity and good train service to Venice. For $5 round trip you could take a thirty minute train ride and be right downtown Venice. Our hotel cost 77 euros ($96) per night but no breakfast included. It was like all the other hotels; king size bed, air-conditioned, recently refurbished, clean, great friendly people and good service.

By the way we shouldn't be complaining about gas prices in the U.S. When I filled up the rental car in Padova I put in the equivalent of about ten gallons of diesel and it cost about $5.70 a gallon. So gas is a real bargain in the United States.

The first evening in Padova we ate at a place called Restorante Vecchio Falconiere. This restaurant sat on one of the canals of Padova and was a very serendipitous find. The outdoor dining area was loaded with flowers. The owner came out with a platter of various pastas and explained the pasta menu of the evening to us. Pat had gnocchi with poppy seeds and smoked cheese while I had fresh spaghetti with porcini mushrooms. They also specialized in Tuscany beef which he brought out on a big cart and sliced it to order and then a cook came and ran it back to the kitchen and simply grilled it. We did not choose that, instead Pat had veal with white wine and lemon and I had bacala (cream cod fish) over polenta. We each had a salad and we shared a plate of mixed vegetables and had another bottle of delightful Refrosco wine. The tab for this repast was 75 euros or approximately $90.

The next day we took the train into Venice and got off at the San Marco station which is right on the Grand Canal. The first thing you should do when you get to Venice is buy yourself a good map which costs about 2½ euros.

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