A foggy day in Trieste

I spent the day sightseeing in Trieste – on foot because I didn’t want to face that hill again by bike.  So I caught the bus to town and was befriended by a lovely little old lady who knew not one word of English though we shared many expressions of surprise each time the bus came to a sudden halt.  I think I managed to convey that I was from New Zealand and was travelling by bicycle, and she gave me a friendly ‘ciao’ when she got off at her stop.

My first stop in Trieste was the main square, Piazza Unita d’Italia, commonly shortened to Piazza Unita.  The square is bordered by the town hall and a number of palaces all built or restored after 1870.  In the square is a fountain representing the four continents discovered at the time, though I couldn’t figure out which statue was meant to represent which one – except presumably for Africa, where the body of the statue was of a darker stone than that of the others.  Three sides of the square are bordered by these grand buildings while the final side borders on the sea.  Well, the road that runs along the edge of the harbour.  Either way, it is a striking space, even on a grey and misty day.

Piazza Unita d'Italia looking towards the sea.
Trieste Town Hall.
From the moment I arrived (and promptly got lost in the maze of grey streets) I was struck by how much Trieste reminded me of Wellington.  It is built around a harbour ringed with steep hills upon which pastel coloured houses have been placed.  The difference here is that all the roofs are of the same red clay tile rather than a variety of coloursteel.  From the main square you look out over the harbour to Miramare.  This area had a similar feel to the waterfront in Wellington, with people coming to eat their lunch near the water despite it not actually be such a nice day.  And of course I couldn’t help but note the similarity between Miramare and the Miramar peninsular.  All in all it made me feel a little homesick for a short while.
View over Trieste.
I hired an audio guide from the local tourist office for 5 Euro and listened to a couple of the entries before meeting up with fellow couchsurfer Velarino.  Velarino had just moved to Trieste from Rome a fortnight ago and was keen to meet locals and travellers.  He also does a lot of cycling and makes his own ‘tall bikes’.  And he really does mean tall.  He showed me a picture of his latest one and it is kind of like a normal bike with a second floor.  He likes them because it raises you up high in the traffic increasing your visibility, though it does apparently require some skill to mount.  He took me to a café (that also reminded me of something you’d find off Cuba Street) that served reasonably priced food and drink and it being nearly 12pm I ordered something that I later found out was traditional to the Slavic cultures that have held sway in Trieste in the past.  A soft white cheese rolled in a flaky savoury pastry and shaped into a coil. Quite tasty.

Afterwards we continued on the trail of my audio guide, listening to the cheesy prattle all the way up the hill to the church of San Giusto.  Despite listening to the audio guide go on at length about it, I can’t recall anything of interest about the church except that two cannon balls were mortared into the front facade.  Off to the side were some Roman ruins and a castle, which we didn’t pay to go inside.  Standing in the courtyard were two large statues of men who at a brief glance looked like they were playing hockey.  Turns out they were Michez and Jachez, the nicknames given to the figures that used to strike the hour in the bell tower.  Built in 1870s these are the restored originals.  A new pair were cast in bronze to replace them in the bell tower.
The Church of San Giusto.
Michez and Jachez.
We walked down the hill from the castle through a wealthy neighbourhood past remnants of the city walls.  Next stop on the tour was the Roman Theatre, right next to the supermarket.  It has been interesting to see how ruins are often just alongside boring and un-glamourous shops or houses in the cities and towns I have visited.  I suppose there’s not much choice given the cities have been continuously built around them, but it seems an odd juxtaposition.  According to the verbose audio guide the series of square holes around the top are where supports for a roof or awning structure used to be.  We walked on to the waterfront to eat what we had bought at the supermarket, and listened to the very kiwi sounding hostess announce the imminent departure of the cruise ship alongside us.

Velarino took his leave of me then, and I continued on to follow the audio guide to it’s wordy end.  As I was returning to the tourist office I passed through the Piazza Unita again and saw there was quite a crowd forming.  Curious, I hung around to see what about the happen.  It appeared there was some sort of military parade with a marching band and a small group of uniformed representatives of different defence groups.  The crowd was very well behaved and almost as orderly as those parading, keeping in a well formed square around the edge of the parade area.  Each group marched in accompanied by the band, flags were raised and speeches given, but even a quick Google courtesy of the free municipal wifi couldn’t enlighten me.  

Once the ceremony was over and the crowd dispersed allowing me to gain entry to the tourist office, I asked what was the reason for the parade.  It turned out that it was a celebration of the return of Trieste to Italy 29 years ago.  Despite all the nattering of the audio guide on the history of Trieste and it’s rule by the Venetians, Austrians, Italians, Yugoslavs and a brief period of division under the rule of British, Americans, and Yugoslavs after WWII, it was sobering to see this very current reminder of the reality, and of how recent it was.  In New Zealand it is easy to think that territories only change hands in long distant world wars or in the culturally foreign middle east or Africa. 

After returning my garralous companion, I went in search of a supermarket and wandered around a few more streets that took my fancy.  It seems this part of Trieste was coming alive at dusk with many cafes filling with patrons.  
The Grand Canal.
As I again walked through the Piazza d’Unita I saw that a concert was underway outside the doors of the town hall.  A full orchestra and choir, by the sounds of it though it was almost impossible to see for the crowd, was performing to a very appreciative audience who demanded and encore as I watched.  I thought it was fantastic to see this sort of thing outside and in public, not hidden away in a concert hall.

I found myself a pizzeria that looked barely one step above dodgy, but had reasonable prices.  It turned out that I must have just been early, because by around 8pm there wasn’t a table free.  I ordered a pizza with marinated eggplant – so good!  


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