My first morning at Udine’s Hotel Principe was greeted by a substantial buffet in the hotel’s downstairs breakfast room. After treating myself to a croissant and some frutti di bosco yogurt (the local Carnia yogurt is some of the best I’ve had), I crossed the street to the train station to catch the 9:30 train to Cividale. Unfortunately, there was a strike and the train had been cancelled. It was uncertain whether later trains would be running, so I decided to wander a bit and then check back in an hour.
My path led me to the imposing, brick Duomo di Santa Maria Annunziata. Inside the church, my eyes went first to the stately, gray arches draped in crimson damask. Lining the nave, ornate chapels featured trompe l’oeil ceilings plus several paintings by Tiepolo. Off the left apse was the Museo del Duomo, which housed a collection of clerical robes, jewelry (including twenty-two rings that belonged to Sant’Elisabetta), and 14th-century artwork.
I returned to the train station to find that the 10:30 train to Cividale had been cancelled as well. It seemed that I wasn’t going to make it to Cividale at all that day, so I decided to spend the day sightseeing in Udine instead. First, I headed to the outdoor produce market in Piazza Matteotti to pick up some bananas, a snack that I always buy no matter where I am. Next, I returned to Piazza della Libertà and spent some time admiring the statues, among which were figures of the mythological Hercules and Cacus, as well as the winged lion of Saint Mark atop one of the piazza’s two columns.
Following the path of my previous visit, I climbed up to castello hill, where I went inside the nearby Chiesa di Santa Maria di Castello. The tiny church is Udine’s oldest, dating from the 7th century; the campanile, topped with an angelic weather vane, was added in the 16th century. The church was empty inside, and as I sat contemplating my options for lunch, the clock struck noon, and church bells began chiming throughout the city.
I descended the hill on the opposite side into the large, round Piazza Primo Maggio. After picking up a few brochures at the tourist office, I circled the hill and randomly chose the first restaurant I saw that was open, Ristorante Pizzeria Manin. It turns out that the gas was out, and the restaurant was unable to serve anything except pizza. I ordered the pizza “chef” with mushrooms, bell peppers, artichokes, salumi piccante, prosciutto, and würstel (hot dog).
After a long, leisurely lunch, I paid a visit to the Musei Civici, a large museum complex housed in the city’s hilltop castle. There was then still plenty of time to see the Museo Diocesano. Housed in the Palazzo Patriarcale near the base of the hill, this museum is known for its many works by Tiepolo.
I had not yet begun working on my book Flavors of Friuli; therefore, my proficiency in restaurant selection was still somewhat lacking. Enticed by a picturesque arcade displaying the sign “Ai Portici,” I chose Ristorante Atlantide for dinner. I was hoping for some down-home, local character like Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, but Atlantide turned out to be a bit more upscale. The interior was appealing in a kitschy sort of way, suggestive of a ship’s cabin: shiny, cobalt blue ceiling and walls with dark walnut trim; faux marble columns supporting potted plants in terra cotta urns; statuettes of Neptune-esque men and sea creatures lining the walls; and a red candle on each white-linen-draped table. The waiters were all sporting black-tie. There were three sections to the menu: seafood, meat, and pizza. I should have taken my cue from the lobster tank and display cases of fresh fish on ice, but instead I ordered from the “carne” menu. The antipasto misto was a sampler plate of salami, speck, bresaola, and two types of prosciutto. Then I had the gnocchi affumicati—plain potato gnocchi in salsa rosa (tomato cream sauce) topped with smoked ricotta cheese. Compared to the ethereal gnocchi di zucca from my previous trip, these gnocchi were just doughy and heavy—unfortunately something I would encounter often in the years to come.