Coming to Rest

by forumholitorium

NPR recently had a TED Radio Hour on the subject of quiet, and as I listened to most of it yesterday, I was struck by parallels between the experiences of the speakers and my trip to Grado last weekend. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed books by two of the speakers, John Francis and Gavin Pretor-Pinney, and Susan Cain’s book on introverts has been on my list of books to read for awhile. The main thread running through their talks is how important it is to take time out to be still and listen. Out of this stillness comes creative ideas, new discoveries about the world, a heightened awareness of the environment, a greater understanding of oneself and others, gratitude, bliss…the list goes on and on.

I took some time out on the weekend, making a pilgrimage to the sea that mirrors my trip to Opatija in May. My destination this time was the other major resort town of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy: Grado. Like Venice, Grado lies on an island in the lagoon heavy upper reaches of the Adriatic Sea. A place of refuge from the start, it was first settled by residents of the Roman city of Aquileia seeking safety from waves of barbarian invaders. The old town of Grado, the Castrum, was fortified by the Romans. Now it’s tourists that come, fleeing the inclement weather and their landlocked existence further north to bask in the sun on the Isola del Sole. They are fortified by fish, polenta, and a glass of friulano in the many restaurants located within the perimeter of the Castrum. TC and I were very impressed by Alla Pace, a restaurant that serves up a mean pizza as well as fish dishes. Most vegetables are produced locally and the seafood is all from the lagoon.

Though it can’t compete with the length of the lungomare in Opatija, Grado’s boardwalk is still a delightful place for a stroll or passegiata. It was originally built by the Austrians to hold back the sea.

This time of year, there are few tourists. Many hotels and restaurants close. It can be very windy, but we were fortunate. The sun was out the whole time.

Grado is an excellent destination if your main goals are to relax and stroll. It never got boring to go back and forth on the boardwalk and along the sandy beach at the western tip of the island. I felt my head empty of unnecessary thoughts and my body become energized with each breath of salty sea air. Yet no trip to Italy is complete without a good espresso. The best cafes are those patronized by local people, where there is an old man sitting by the door watching everyone go by and greeting everyone who matters – that is to say who isn’t a tourist. These cafes normally do not lie in the main tourist zone, and Bar al Porto was no exception. We discovered it as we walked along the harbor the first morning, watching the fishermen repairing their nets. Perfectly situated, the cafe was flooded with sunlight all morning. The second morning, we recognized people who had eaten at the same restaurants or whose paths had crossed ours on the lungomare. Grado has less than 9,000 inhabitants, which means everyone knows everyone. Even thought I didn’t know anybody, I enjoyed watching the members of this community who clearly relished meeting and greeting each other. Hey beautiful called one elderly woman to two of her compatriots as she walked up to them and they all started laughing and chatting. The gentleman at the door was joined by a portly man who had a Miniature Pinscher zipped up in his jacket, body against his ample belly and head sticking curiously out. I closed my eyes, feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my skin and the taste of espresso on my tongue. The murmur of voices lulled me into a state of bliss. I sat there a long time, savoring my arrival at a point of stillness.

The beautiful intermezzo came to a close, and it was time to traverse the Alps, which had hovered on the horizon the whole time. On the way back, we spent a few hours exploring the peaceful Valle Cavanata Nature Reserve just east of Grado, spying on coots, swans, and grey geese. As the sun started to descend, it was time to head north. The fog descended upon us shortly after we crossed the border back into Austria, and I haven’t seen the sun since. Thankfully my next journey will start very soon, and it will bring me to a place far away that looks remarkably similar to the picture below.

Happy travels and much peace on your journey to stillness!