We popped into three Northern Italian towns we’d never visited before. Here are some mini snapshots…
Where is all the second hand stuff? I was convinced I’d find so many little relics and dust-collecting nic-nacs to add to my “old stuff” collection at home. Most “old stuff” in Australia I’ve found at op shops and garage sales, and it’s usually originally from England…old teacups, kitchen items, accessories like dress gloves and brooches. SURELY there’d be even OLDER stuff floating around mainland Europe!?
I wanted to visit Marostica because it’s a fabulous walled city with a giant chess board painted in the town square. Why’s it there? Every two years since 1454, a human chess game has been played out there after two of the town’s noblemen battled over a chessboard to win the hand of the same lovely lady. These days, it’s a drama filled event, where one of two games is re-enacted with fire, horses, and actors dressed in historical robes. It’s on again September 2020. Check out the video below!
The OTHER reason I wanted to visit was because there was allegedly an antiques market on that particular day. Yes, it was on, but there were only about 10 stalls. One lady was selling fur coats. One guy had loads of African masks. There were old books galore, and loads of coins. Avalon found a vintage Italian Fanta necklace. I left with nothing. Those ancient walls made for a stunning backdrop for a day out though.
Aquileia, between Venice and Trieste in Italy’s north, was once one of the liveliest hubs of the Roman empire. Now it’s a pretty quiet place with fields dotted around the town fenced off with Roman excavations still taking place.
Most people come to Aquileia to visit the Santa Maria Assunta Basilica. Although we were the only ones anywhere in or around the town and had to interupt the two custodians who were busy vacuuming. They were NOT happy about us rolling up and paying for tickets.
There’s been a church on the site since 181 BC, and the drawcard is the gorgeous mosaic floor from the 4th century, wavy with the movement of the earth, but still vibrant and expressive, after being covered over for years (they were only uncovered in 1909) after a variety of well-meaning renovations. They’re said to be some of the best preserved mosaics in the world. Glass walkways have been installed so you can get a good look at them without them being destoyed.
The Crypt of Frescoes beneath the church is home to some of those glorious washed out 12th century frescoes I love, as well as some bedazzled reliquaries holding a variety of saints’ bones. Fancy!
Trieste is the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Its location on the water and vast port made it a vital city in the Habsburg Monarchy (Austrian rule) from 1382-1918. Like Vienna, there are blocks and blocks of handsome, uniform, five story buildings, but unlike Vienna these buildings are squished together on tiny streets, making most of them dark and cold.
Our apartment smelt of dried fish, and while the owners might think their design style “ecclectic” it looked more “Dollar Shop”ish, with a bizarre mix of wall stickers, random canvases and various framed prints thrown on the wall in a kind of crafting frenzy.
Delicious eggplant and smoked cheese pizza around the corner made up for our disappointment.
We wandered through the main sights of the city in a day. The imperial Piazza Unita d’Italia, the postcard-ready Canal Grande di Trieste, the 2,000 Roman Theatre was our backdrop of a supermarket lunch.
I’m not sure how Italy still operates with their opening hours. Many of the shops out of Capital cities, although Trieste IS a capital city, close for lunch making it a massive butt pain for tourists. Kids usually go home for lunch which means somebody (and I’m guessing that somebody is still mum) has to be around to pick up the kids and have lunch steaming on the table for them. What happens in international meetings? Are Germany and England left on a conference call waiting for Italy to come home from their minestrone meal? It also means it’s pointless working anywhere more than 20 minutes from home (it usually takes me 2 hours to get to work in Oz), because your whole lunch break would be travelling home and back into work.
Having stores open late however means that when the sun goes down, squares are filled with families and friends walking dogs, catching up over coffees and drinks. It feels like everybody is out socialising every evening. Maybe THAT is what’s more important?
Two days in Trieste was enough for us. Miramare Castle is one of the city’s other big drawcards, but we were a bit over opulent palaces and fanciness. We were ready to get back into Slovenia to see a castle of a very different kind…