topics: Aquileia, Attila the Hun, tourism, history, Roman Empire, antiquities, mosaics; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: May 2, 1998

Food of the Day: spaghetti carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara is just one of the infinite ways of preparing pasta. First you start with any kind of pasta... spaghetti in this case. Then to make the sauce, you basically need to slice up and pan-fry some bacon. Next separate a number of egg yolks into a bowl and scramble them while at the same time mixing in grated Parmesan cheese. Once the pasta is done you slowly stir in the bacon and egg and cheese mixture. That's it!

Person of the Day: Antonio Lanza, Ph.D.

Every once in a while, during our travels, we come across a person who warrants special praise. Our person of the day, Antonio Lanza, Ph.D. click to view a photograph is such a person. In addition to helping us make contact with his brother Franco, at the latter's school in Bronte, Sicily, Antonio endeared himself to us during our stay in Trieste by arranging countless details that made our visit to Trieste infinitely more interesting and enjoyable.

Where to start?

Our first contact with Antonio was when we were trying to arrange an Internet dial-up account for our stay in Trieste. An inquisitive email to Spin found Antonio and his colleague Roberto. More than just being a receptive ear to a plea for a free dial-up account, Antonio seemed to groove almost immediately on what BikeAbout's hopes and dreams were for our voyage. So much so, that he suggested a visit to his brother Franco's school in Bronte, Sicily. Our visit there was a wonderful and delightful affair that left us feeling sad and empty when it finally drew to a close. It also served to perk our interest in Antonio, "the man behind the emails."

This interest was heightened during the ensuing months as we occasionally sent email back and forth. It was through Antonio that we also started to receive some of our first fan mail (from the students of the Carducci school in Trieste). Antonio was also gracious enough to let us use his address at Spin as an emergency drop for packages of cookies and summer-weight clothing mailed ahead by family and friends.

On Wednesday, when Anthony and Padraic arrived in Trieste on the train from Ljubljana as the advance guard for BikeAbout, Antonio graciously met them at the train station. Leading the way in his little red car (and earning the nickname Antonio "Mario Andretti" Lanza as we biked our little hearts out trying to keep up with him), he guided us to the Spin offices for the usual Wednesday night chat 'n' debate. He even helped cajole members of the Carducci school to drop by to provide expert information about Trieste for the evenings online discussions.

But Antonio did not stop there though. He served as our liaison with Alberto Deana, arranging the meeting that put us in touch with our first FIAB contact (for more about him and FIAB, check out yesterday's and today's Rider Notes), in essence starting the ball rolling for our Italy networking attack.

He even invited us over to his house, introduced us to his lovely family click to view a photograph and fed us (the easiest and quickest way to our heart). Over a lovely meal prepared by his wife Francesca, we learned about Antonio's alter egos. Theoretical astro-physicist by day (really), Internet guru by afternoon, and super dad at night and on the weekends, he is one busy guy. In between talking about BikeAbout, the Internet, black holes, the international space station and neutrino traps we were captivated by his children Daniele (age 6) and Aurora (age 4). Daniele showed us the list he made of 483 different animals (Dad has plans to help him create a searchable database...) while Aurora click to view a photograph managed to steal Anthony's heart (he'd like it back, Aurora) as she quickly memorized everyone's age and name. (For more about dinner at the Lanza's see yesterday's dispatch).

Where to stop?

Our thanks go out to Antonio for introducing us to his brother. Thanks for receiving and holding boxes and envelopes during the months prior to our arrival. Thanks for graciously storing our bicycles in your office during our visit. Thanks for making and receiving all the phone calls. Thanks for the Internet access. Thanks for inviting us into your home and introducing us to your family. Thanks for the food and conversation. But most of all, thanks for being the helpful, calm, reassuring voice in the "email darkness." You helped us keep to our goals during some of our lonely moments on the road.

From the bottoms of our hearts, thanks.

Place of the Day: Aquileia

Yesterday, while talking to Alberto and planning of our route to Venice, he concluded that we needed to plan a diversion to Aquileia. Why visit this little dot on the map? This question loomed ever larger as we spun into this sleepy little town.

However, flipping through our Lonely Planet guidebook, we discovered that this town has historically been anything but sleepy. Originally founded in 181 BC as a fishing village, Aquileia quickly became a trading center between northern and southern Europe. Its importance and physical size grew to such an extent that for a period it was even called Second Rome.

Completely destroyed in 452 AD by Attila the Hun and then later rebuilt, Aquileia became the seat of a Christian patriarchate (a group that exercises jurisdiction over and ordains bishops of smaller sees - a seat or jurisdiction of a bishop - in its domain) in the 6th century and flourished until it was occupied by its neighbor city, Venice.

Today, Aquileia is a sleepy little town that survives on the tourist hordes that descend upon it to take in its wonderful mosaics and quiet atmosphere. See the Rider Notes for more about Aquileia and its basilica's lovely mosaics.

Tech Fact of the Day: control of Trieste has historically been a complicated issue

Trieste and the surrounding region have not always been a part of Italy. Originally built as a Roman port by the emperor Augustus in the first century BC, Trieste fell to Attila the Hun after the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. It then passed through the hands of the Byzantine Empire, the Lombards of northern Italy, and the Frankish kings before finally becoming a free commune. Late in the 14th century, Trieste placed itself under the protection of Austria where it remained (aside from two brief periods around the start of the 19th century when it was part of French controlled Italy).

As Austria's only seaport and as a result of its free trade status, Trieste flourished. It was not until the end of the First World War that Trieste became a part of Italy.

During the Second World War, Yugoslavian troops, backed by the Allies (see our dispatch from Dubrovnik, Croatia for more about this period) captured Trieste. Under the peace agreement signed in 1947, Trieste and the surrounding area was made into the Free Territory of Trieste which was directly under the control of the newly formed United Nations. Within these territory there were two zones: zone A, which was the city of Trieste and some of the surrounding area, was under Allied control, while zone B was under Yugoslavian control.

Zone A was eventually returned to Italian control as part of an agreement between Italy and Yugoslavia (signed in 1954 and made into a treaty in 1975). The rest of the territory became part of what is modern-day Slovenia.

Group Dispatch, May 2
photograph of Anthony

This dispatch starts out a little sadly as we were forced to bid farewell to Antonio, our Person of the Day. Rousing ourselves early to pack all our newly washed clothing, we regretted not having asked Antonio to meet us at the rectory to at least transport our increasingly heavy bags to the nearby Spin office where our bikes were stored. Hefting them to our shoulders and teetering a little under the burden, we headed outside and discovered... you guessed it: Antonio. He had guessed that we might need a little help and was waiting for us. (It is easy to see why he is our Person of the Day).

Once we were reunited with our lovely Wheeler steeds and had downloaded email one last time, as well as phoned ahead to a kind gentleman named Loris whose number we had received from one of our contacts at a FIAB office. Loris had helped arrange housing for us with other FIAB bike friend in San Giorgio di Nogaro. So, once we had the directions, we were off.

It was good to be on the road again. It was a sunny, relatively warm day and we had a lovely route planned out by our friend Alberto (not only planned but scanned, printed and highlighted). And ride we did, relatively straight to Aquileia. Relatively straight that is... Alberto had suggested a route that was as far from the main road as possible and several times we had to "feel" our way along tiny back roads.

While Aquileia (today's Place of the Day ) was once the fourth city of the Roman Empire - even earning the nickname the Second Rome - today it has dwindled in importance and is a small quiet town in the countryside between Venice and Trieste. The main draw for visitors is the basilica click to view a photograph and its wonderful mosaics.

We are starting to consider ourselves as mosaic experts after 7½ months of checking out examples around the Mediterranean (for example, in Utique, and Tunis, Istanbul and elsewhere). Even so, our "hardened" mosaic eyes were impressed with what we saw in the basilica.

The very large mosaics were discovered here in 1904 under the basilica's raised floor and have been dated to the 4th century AD. Entering the church is a little disorientating as basically the entire floor of the basilica is COVERED in mosaics. They are everywhere. It was no surprise to learn that the floor of the basilica is the largest known Paleo- (or early-) Christian mosaic floor in Western Europe (it measure almost 760 square meters (over 900 sq yds)!). The most famous part of the mosaics depict some of the early days of Christianity with scenes from Christ's life, lots of animals (especially fish, but also stags, lions click to view a photograph, boars, birds click to view a photograph and sheep) and what must have been Roman notables. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Over the last 1600 years and many earthquakes the floor has shifted and heaved so that walking around is a bit of a challenge. You have to walk up, down, over and around bumps in the undulating floor.

Outside we took in the ruins of the porto fluviale (river port). click to view a photograph When Aquileia was "peaking" as a Roman city, the sea was considerably closer than it is today. The river port allowed boats to come right to the edge of the city to unload their cargo. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Back near the basilica, as we ate our lunch, we could not help but notice that we were certainly not the only ones enjoying the beautiful weekend day in the sun. click to view a photograph There seemed to be not only foreign tourists in town, but also many Italians. Together they filled the cafes and restaurants and spilled out onto the basilica's sun drenched lawn.

Pulling ourselves reluctantly back onto our Selle Royal saddles, we pushed on the final few kilometers to San Giorgio di Nogaro where we would spend the night. It was almost that easy...the directions we had to his house were a little vague so we ended up biking through a field or two, down a gravel road and then we had to carry our bikes over a rail line or two. But other than that, it was as easy as pie.

When we found our home for the evening, we were warmly welcomed into the midst of the local chapter of the Federazione Italiana Amici della Bicicletta (FIAB). Giorgio introduced us to his parents, Mardelena and Octavio; his wife, Marcia; their daughter, Marta click to view a photograph; and the FIAB group consisting of Lucco, Bruno, Liu, Fieroella, and Gleola.

Sensing our hunger (what sort of lunch is white bread and jam anyway?), Giorgio and his mother quickly sliced up some bread and homemade sausage and cracked open several bottles of homemade wine as Ethan used his Italian skills to explain BikeAbout to the group.

Then the tables turned and we learned about the reason for the FIAB meeting. We discovered that everyone was gathered together to prepare dozens of posters that had just arrived in anticipation of a huge bicycle awareness day called Bicincitta. Organized by UISP (Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti), it is going to happen on May 24. On this day, bicycle advocacy groups (including many local chapters of FIAB) in 150 cities all across Italy are organizing community bike ride. Giorgio's friends had come to his house to prepare the posters announcing the time, location and route planned for San Giorgio di Nogaro and vicinity. Seeing that our innate skill as master glue-ers could be utilized, we showered and then jumped into the raging industry. click to view a photograph

We all took turns pasting posters click to view a photograph and amusing baby Marta click to view a photograph while trying to communicate with the group (none of them spoke English and we are not quite fluent in Italian, yet...we will need a couple of more days for that). Before long we had prepared thousands of posters (well it seemed like it, dozens anyway) and worked up quite an appetite.

With Grandmother Mardelena watching carefully, Anthony and Padraic presided over the production of the dinner. While spaghetti carbonara is not extremely difficult (see today's Food of the Day), it is pasta and therefore must be perfect - the pressure was on.

Rest assured the spaghetti was fine and we devoured every spaghetto (one spaghetti). As we moved into the salad and fried calamari, we also relaxed over some more homemade wine and talked about bikes. We also took the opportunity to show the group the Web site.

Before long though, our exhaustion started to show and after we helped clean up, we turned in and almost immediately fell asleep.

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