Aquileia, Grado and AquafunJanuary 3, 2017 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 5 °C
We were awoken just after 7am by the beeping of our electric system announcing our two 110 volt leisure batteries had no more power to give. We'd stayed 3 days at Tarcento without electric hookup and not driven too far since, so they hadn't fully charged. They'd been drained by having the air blown heating and the lights on nearly 24 hours a day and and charging our phones and laptops didn't help either. The temperature was 4°C outside and would fall rapidly inside as the heating was no longer able to function, so we started the engine, packed up and set off south towards Aquileia and Grado.
Grado is a coastal town reached via a long causeway. Vicky had read up about its beaches, the islands off its shores and the fishing industry that supplied its seafood feasts. We'd hoped to find somewhere along the way to stop and eat breakfast but the area didn't seem to have any convenient laybys that were big enough for the van.
As the distance between us and the Dolomites increased the land became exceedingly flat, reminding us a little for Northern Germany. Ploughed fields stretched out either side of the road, interspersed by tightly packed plantations of bare trees that we thought might be a form of flood defence. Crossing the causeway, the disappointingly urban skyline of Grado island grew higher. When we arrived there was no beach in sight, just road, pavement and flats. Space was tight but even if we could have fitted, there were signs saying vans weren't allowed to stop at any time. It didn't take us long to decide we didn't want to stay, even if we could have found a parking spot. On the way out we did catch a glimpse of the brightly painted, traditional looking fishing boats moored either side of a channel, their pots and nets stacked on the harbourside.
The first town we encountered back on the mainland was Aquileia. Its basilica was highlighted as a sight to see in the Rough Guide book and we planned to visit. Luckily we spotted a camper van parking area so we had breakfast and headed towards the 11th century bell tower that marked the site of the basilica. The ancinent Roman mosaic floor was the main attraction, but as neither of us have a strong interest in historical sites we hadn't got our hopes up. However, our first glimpse of the inside left us awestruck! Beautifully intact and intricate mosaic images spread wall to wall 40m in front of us and stretched 30m accross the width of the building. Huge pillars supported the arched ceiling that was itself decorated with painted tiles displaying geometric patterns. A glass floor had been constructed above the mosaic so you could see every inch without risk of damaging it. Will was particularly fascinated by the geometrical calculations used to create such a vast design using tiles just 1cm sq.
We gladly paid the €2 fee to enter the small underground crypt and were again left in awe by the wall and ceiling paintings that were nearly 1000 years old! One of the best things about the basilica was that the balance between preserving the ancient artefacts and allowing access had been arranged with care. You could get close enough to the floor and beautifully painted walls to touch them and get a sense of living history. Our experience here more than compensated for the disappointment of Grado and we left in a bit of a daze!
Our stopover that night was outside an 'Aquafun' outdoor theme park further west along the coast in Lignano Sabbiadoro. We were growing closer to Venice and the area was so urban that despite being only 1km away from the sea, the only glimpse we'd had if it was at the causeway earlier in the day.Read more