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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Markets, Museums and Mummies. Road trip to Venzone

This past Saturday, June 9th, I made the call at 7am after a week of stewing whether or not I'd make this the weekend I finally make the 70-minute road trip up to the completely rebuilt middle-ages city of Venzone. A small town in the neighboring province of Udine, rich in history, culture, archeology, natural disaster, and social re-building. Clear remains of times past and recent devistation still stand clear to allow the passerby to get a glimpse of something pretty exceptional.

As a coaxing to get myself to make the road trip up and back I also made plans to stop at the Spilembergo city market which I had not yet been to but very much wanted to get check out. It was literally on my way to Venzone so of course, a stop was mandatory. I am so glad I did and plan to come back myself as well as bring others into crafts and flowers/plants to check as its rich in both as well as the typical artisan cheeses, several produce vendors, bags vendors, lots of clothes, paintings, pottery and other goodies. The whole city center is pretty well enveloped in this market. I spent a good 45 minutes in the market after a caffeine fix just outside the main market. What's a Saturday morning without a cafe stop right?

Market slideshow

I landed myself a new hat as can be seen by the opening picture above. Gotta look the part when you take an adventure yes? The sun was brutal all day long so I am darn glad I got this cap!

I also did well by my mother who says a happy house is one with color and life and flowers do just that. She asks me weekly on the phone if I have gotten any and as of now, yes, I have 3 flowers in my house. I must say, it does add a nice touch to drive up to the house and see these on the front porch.

Upon arrival at Venzone, I had plans to see 2 primary sites.

The Tiere Motus Museum (5 Euro admission) otherwise known as The Earthquake Memorial Museum. Chronicling everything about the May 6, 1976, 6.4 magnitude earthquake the devastated much of NE Udine and the surrounding area, Venzone particularly. The aftermath of the city and region to repair and recovery from this travesty is also known as one of Italys most well-known examples of social, economic and humanitarian efforts to date with repair and near perfect restructuring of the cities ancient mid-evil village structures, churches and walls to their pre-disaster status. Open 9-1 and 3-7 weekends. All in Italian. I wish like heck this had an English version or written English handout or an audio guide in English as I am sure I missed out on a ton of details about this event but even the pictures alone and my limited reading ability of Italian left an impact on me.

The Duomo of St. Andrea Apostle and the adjacent Chapel of St. Michael.
This church nearly completely destroyed in the earthquake, is a spectacle for the eyes. Even for someone not religious at all like me (agnostic), I could not help but truly be in awe of the architectural marvel, artistic skill, and optical pleasure this church offers inside and out. Take your time if you visit this site and take it all in. The mummified remains of the original 12 souls were found in tombs under this church.

See Duomo Images 

The Chapel now holds a crypt holding 5 real mummified remains of local clergy and nobility. Today only these remain since the 1976 earthquake sadly destroyed the other 9. Its 1.50 Euro admission and you get a token to enter from the local tourism info center just 100 or so yards away. That is all you see in the crypt I shall note, 5 encased separate mummies. I was not aware of this until going in past the turnstiles. Still worth seeing in my opinion for the close-up significance this has for the town.

See Chapel Images

After this my plans were wide open, check out the city center, grab an espresso and people watch the locals, walk the streets of the town and explore, and of course, get some local grub as well. This was all accomplished and thoroughly enjoyed! See below:

The many spectacular city views

Suggested Coffee Spot


Via Mistruzzi, 2
33010 Venzone (UD)
Tel +39 0432 985011
Email info@caffevecchio.it
Web www.caffevecchio.it
Closed on Wednesdays

Suggested Food Spot


Via Pontebbana, 29
33010 Venzone (UD)
Tel +39 0432 985443
Email info@allospiedo.it

Images of my sips and bites

I will note the drive up was beautiful as well! I stopped five times to take photos of viewpoints, landmarks, agrotourism sites, and vineyards I wanted to make note of and plan return trips to. This was a gorgeous drive through several classic Italian towns of the FVG region let me tell you that!

For more info on Venzone and other things to see and do there see these sites below. I highly suggest this as a full day trip from Aviano or a short weekend getaway with the sig other or family where something close by but yet far enough is sought. But I promise that you're going to feel much further away as this town does a great job of really transporting you to someplace seemingly much different than the rest of Italy.

Buon viaggio amici miei!

Venzone Tourism Guide Website

FVG Regional Tourism Website: Venzone

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Foodies Paradise: San Sebastian Spain

San Sebastian-Donostia, Spain. Located off the Bay of Biscay and just 25 minutes from the border of France. The Basque Country is a proud culture with a language older than all other romance languages used today. See this map to find out just where I was for 5 days along with 3 friends of mine who also reside in Aviano IT.

After being asked to tag along with a friend and fellow foodie-traveler like myself, I looked into what SS (San Sebastian) was all about. It did not take long at all to see that this city was a European Mecca of food, history and water sports. With 5 museums, 3 beaches, 3 mountains and a whopping 18 Michelin stars within a 25km radius of the city center. 11 dining establishments have 3 stars (highest possible score). I was sold on getting my rear to this amazing place I had never heard of before to see it for myself. Over 200 bars pepper the city which ranks as one of the most per capita in the world. How can one not have a good time here right? Let me take you on an epic journey of culinary and cultural amazement that I got first hand.

Caution, images contained within this blog will induce strong feelings of hunger, cravings, yearning and urges to lick your screen. Resist these urges at all costs. Content contains 100% raw "food porn" that may be unsuitable for those without willpower and discipline to remain calm and controlled. Drooling is a likely side effect for most viewers as well. 

To avoid allowing this blog from going directly to novel length expose on SS food and tourism I will focus on a few specific areas I want you the reader to gain insights to that I feel will help anyone else get the full effect of what I experienced and what you can look forward to if you travel here in the near future yourself.

Outdoors: We did not get nearly the opportunity to get outside and in the water, as we had wished for as mother nature did not have the same plans we did it seemed. It drizzled most the day all 4 days we had in SS. Mornings were cloudy and cool and by lunch we had rain pay us an unwelcome visit. This shifted our plans to more indoor activity...

Museums: The shift in plans took us to four major historical sites. San Telmo Museum (my favorite of them all), The Naval Museum, The Aquarium and the Monte Urgull summit History House. All were good picks. The Naval Museum I must note was small and more for those into clothing fashions of the local area's history, this is more for you. The bottom floor was cool with nothing but facts and figures about the whaling industry of SS and how it became a world leader in the industry. The aquarium was solid! I spent 2 full fours taking stock of ships, whaling, mining, the 1890 regatta/crew origins of SS, seeing new and exotic fish, coming face to face with great white sharks, yeah, just go! STM was wack! You will learn tons about SS culture, society, history, war, people, you name it. A must go for tourist not familiar with SS. The featured exhibit on death and dying was particularly fascinating. It made you think and see a sensitive Taboo topic in a new light for sure. Mount Urgull History House was small and short but free. Worth a look since you go through it to get to the top of the castle and see the monument of Jesus Christ perched on top. Its all in Spanish or Basque so English only speakers/readers are left with just the pictures throughout the 2 floors.

The Food!:
This is where it's at people! We came to find great food, amazing food, spectacular food, and we did over and over again. Great wine as well I shall note. Roja is the major Spanish red wine and Txakoli is the local Basque specific white wine. I found that I enjoyed both very much and had them both at nearly every meal. I gotta blend in right!?

Pinxots (pronounced peen-chos) is what SS is world famous for so that is what I had to try out as priority #1. With hundreds to pick from at EACH bar, I wanted to know the best ones to scout for. I looked up the top pintxos and found a select few must-try items. Here they are:

Jamon Iberico Ham

Gernika Peppers (Similar to Shishito Peppers)

Despite its less than appealing look, this baked spider crab is divine! 

The T-Bone coal fire grilled steak, cod omelet and pil-pil style code shown down below were also top menu items I fell in love with.

And of course, I had to score the best local, traditional, Basque-style baked goods as well for the sweet fix. Here they are:



Pastel Vasco

Some other steller scores I had from various bars in SS are found below.....yeah, I know!

Acai Bowl

House Salad Caravanseria

Sauteed Market Veggie Plate Caravanseria

Two whole meal toast types from Old Town Coffee

Avocado and egg whole meal toast Old Town Coffee

House Iberico Ham Salad at Cafe de La Concha

Jumbo Grilled Prawns

Another market salad with tuna

Seafood Paella at Portaletas 

Squid entree from Cafe de La Concha

Grilled Octopus from Cafe de La Concha

And here is a small sample of the pintxos plates I had explored through and OMG were they all amazing! Fresh, flavorful, local, delicious produce and seafood in endless supply and forms.

We also made plans to find one of the popular daily tasting menus the city is known for having M-F at many of its bars and restaurants. 4-6 courses with endless wine and coffee (cider in this case) offering key plates of the venues best foods and true culinary roots of Basque cuisine. Prices range from 20-250 Euro we found. We picked a Cider House in Old Town (the heart of SS) of which are truly unique only to SS with a handful of original venues still in business serving up their traditional cider as they have for centuries. Take a look at what we got for 35 euro each:

Fresh baked farm bread and sausage

Cod and egg omelet, super good! 

Pli Pli style cod

Garlic and olive oil baked hake and pepper

T Bone Steak rare. To die for!

Yea round house cider, 6.6%

Apple Tart

Self pour cider vats. One dry, one sweet, both good!

Here is a snapshot of the places I found these amazing sips and bites at. I would go back to any of them in a heartbeat. Try and plan to hit as many of these as you can if you're planning a trip to SS and what some seriously good eats and drinks.

All your beer needs found here.

Cider, daily tasting menu, pintxos

Breakfast drinks, pastries, macro bowls and acai bowls
International fare, big menu, good, big, market salads

Large pinxot bar with tons of options

Good coffee, amazing toast items of many kinds

Amazing beach view, great seafood, good salads. Good wines.

Cool vibe, busy, decent pintxo bar, great paella and solid market salads

Great salads, good wines, huge pinxtos bar. Busy!

OK folks. This is going into novel territory already so let's wrap this bad boy up. I'm sure you're close to starving now yourself so best let you go fix that. The bar has been set quite high for my next travel destination after having gotten the royal culinary offerings of SS. Being a somewhat picky eater it was soooo nice being able to see most all the food you might want before you order it. Plus you pretty well have the food just seconds after you plate it yourself so minimal waiting time. Even hot pintxo plates you order take just minutes to come out as well. Most are served cold on the bar tops as you walk in. The walls list or the menus list the hot plates and larger ration sized plates. You just show your plate to the bar staff and they count your pintxo type and amount and you pay right then or when you leave. I spent about 25-35 euro per place we went to and that's for a Josh sized plate of 8-10 pintxos mind you. Often with a salad on the side plus wine. 

This city is an Instagram foodies top calling if I ever saw one. Deciding what pictures to post here which would not make the cut was the hardest part of this blog post. Safe to say you got a darn good "taste" of what went down on the trip. 

Adios mi amigos!