Nov 5-8, 2014: Jan Morris wrote a whole, evocative, book about Trieste. A romantic castle perches on a headland nearby. It makes a convenient stop between Ljubljana and Ferrara. I even found a more or less reasonably priced apartment hotel. So I was all set to like the place. But I didn’t.
Of course, the weather didn’t help, being uniformly grey and often wet while I was there, and limiting my sightseeing – I had to abandon my plan to visit Miramare, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian’s castle, as it required a fifteen minute trek over an exposed headland. But I think it was more that the town, resolutely monumental and heavily Hapsburg, was just not my style. Coming right after small and charming Ljubljana, it suffered by contrast.
Aside from getting up at 6:10 to make the bus from Ljubljana, the first day started well enough, with attractive scenery out of the window, and a Croatian woman married to an Italian in the seat next to me. I had no difficulty finding my hotel, walking distance from the bus and train station, but the apartment, big but bleak, felt unwelcoming. The main square, fronting the Mediterranean, felt equally big but bleak, although there some sunshine might indeed have helped. As it was, the grey skies matched the grey buildings, and the grey battleships temporarily moored offshore. The ships were in town for a national holiday, and some local veterans were clearly pleased to see them. I joined the queue to board, but gave it up in favor of coffee when rain was added to half an hour or so of no movement.
I had little better luck with Trieste’s permanent sights. Despite checking with the T.I. I never did find the aquarium. The Roman theater was small and neglected. The Museum of Oriental Art was tiny with hardly any English signs, although I enjoyed the suits of samurai armor. The Museo Revoltella had no English at all, awful paintings, and resolutely baroque decor. The Castello di San Giusto had too many steps and too much armor, although the basilica next door did have one nice mosaic. About the only item on my things to do list that I actually found interesting was the tram that labored up the steep hill behind Trieste to Villa Opicina, and even then the weather was too gloomy for any worthwhile views.
The only bright spots were an Austrian restaurant, conveniently situated round the corner from my hotel, and one of the canal-side cafes. Given the wet weather, I was just as happy to eat close to home, and with the Hapsburg vibe Austrian food seemed perfectly appropriate. The place was cheap and cheerful, the food edible. The cafe I picked was also cheap and cheerful, and served a most generous spritz, a drink I love and cannot seem to find in the Italian restaurants in North Carolina. Maybe it is a northern Italian specialty, and I am dealing with southerners?
I am sorry not to write a more upbeat piece, but Trieste was a place I was glad to leave, and do not plan to revisit. I was more than ready to move on to Ferrara, a place I had enjoyed in 2004.