Newest Review: ... tempered by older Italian influences and the Slavic touches. Even the train station is truly grand! It's still a busy port and very muc... more
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Date: 10/08/05, updated on 15/07/09 (1215 review reads)
Advantages: Compact, plenty to do, only two hours away
Trieste is situated in the far north western corner of Italy in the region of Friulli-Venezia Giulia, which borders Slovenia and Austria. It is a former Habsburg city and this influence is apparent from the architectural styles of its more recent buildings, its cuisine and in its spirit. Trieste has the relaxed atmosphere of somewhere like Vienna, rather than the hustle and bustle of Rome or Naples; it is more coffee house than trattoria.
Arriving at Trieste's central bus or train stations, the first thing you notice is a kind of faded grandeur. While it is a city of striking buildings, it is essentially down at heel and, in the main, neglected. The sad sight of the now almost ruined dock buildings is testament to the fact that in contrast to former times, Trieste is in some respects now surplus to requirements. The Habsburgs developed Trieste as their empire's southern port as it was the most northerly place to land cargoes from the Meditteranean. However, after the First World War Italy absorbed Trieste into its terrritory and had other, bigger and more conveniently situated ports to use instead.
Luckily I arrived in Trieste by air and enjoyed a thirty minute coach ride, the route, for the most part, hugging the Adriatic coastline. Despite it being the middle of February the sun was shining, making the sea seductively twinkle and glisten. Close to the city was the wonderful sight of hundreds of little sailing boats moored for the winter, all neatly tied up creating a blue and white chequerboard just off the narrow, rocky beach.
Closer still to the centre of the city stands the castello at Miramare, more of a folly than a true fortress but picturesque nonetheless. From here your view of the sea begins to be obscured by a strip of pine woods between the road and the sea. On this particular day people were taking advantage of the unexpected warmth, strolling arm in arm or walking dogs through the woods.
The neighbouring bus and rail stations are five minutes walk from the centre of Trieste and, alighting from your chosen mode of transport, you are immediately struck by how well sign-posted things are in Trieste! All the major hotels are sign-posted by name rather than just the word 'hotels' and a graphic indication of a bed. There is also a plethora of signs indicating the museums and churches and just so that you realise that you really are on the edge of western Europe, signs point out the routes to take for Zagreb, Vienna and Ljubljana.
Visitors arriving without accommodation can enquire about rooms at the tourist information office situated on via San Nicolo, where the staff speak good English and can also provide you with a wealth of information on the area.
I had pre-booked a single room at the Hotel Alabarda where the staff were friendly and welcoming and cheerfully indulged my questionable attempts to communicate with them in Italian. The hotel is situated on a quiet street close to the main shopping area and a stones throw from the sea. It was spartan but clean and my room had an ensuite shower room although I did have to go along the corridor to use the toilet. However, at around £25 for the night this seemed to be a small price to pay.
Conscious that I had only a short time inTrieste, I went staright back out onto the streets which quickly led me to the Piazza Ponterosso (home to James Joyce and his wife in the early twentieth century), here a small yacht basin cuts in from the sea and on either side cafes and pizzerias overlook the pretty scene. At the head of the basin stands the church of San Antonio Thaumatrugo, a somewhat overbearing and solemn building which is certainly imposing if not aesthetically appealing.
Much more impressive is the city's main square, the Piazza Unita Italia which is bound on three sides by magnificent edifices constructed in the late ninteenth century from which proudly hang Italian tricolores. The final side is open with views onto the Adriatic.
If you are willing to risk life and limb crossing the busy road, you will be rewarded with a delightful walk along the sea front and from here you can better appreciate the beautiful facades of some of Trieste's grandest buildings including the Bank of Italy and the Teatro Verdi. It is hardly surprising that the citizens of trieste choose this route for the evening 'passegiata' on warmer evenings.
With the temperatue dropping as night closed in, I crossed back into town and did some window shopping on the Corsa Italia. Designer stores abound and this is a shoppers' paradise. Well-heeled Italians, towing along immaculately groomed toy dogs could be seen deliberating over exquisite leather goods and wonderful shoes but, considering the price tags, I made sure my purse stayed in the depths of my bag!
My thoughts turned to my growing hunger so I headed back towards the marina. On the way two children wearing white outfits with embroidered waistcoats jumped in front of me and showered me with confetti. I later learned that this was part of the celebrations for Valentine's Day which in Italy last several days in some towns. I chose to eat at Il Barattolo where a large number of seafood dishes sit alongside the enormous number of pizza options on the menu. I plumped for a wonderfully dressed octopus salad followed by the 'frutti di mare' pizza wich was generously covered in fish and shellfish. After such delights I could not manage a dessert but the complimentary local digestif which appeared with the bill was much appreciated. At around 14 Euros this was not the cheapest place to eat but the food was fantastic! Pizzerias abound and I only spotted one Chinese restaurant to represent the food of other cultures. Italians are justifiably chauvinistic about their cuisine and who can blame them?
Conscious of being a lone female in a strange city I did not want to go into a bar alone but I did fancy another drink so I found a pleasant looking cafe and settled in on a high stool at the bar. The great thing about cafes on the continent is that you can as easily order a coffee as a beer and nobody bats an eye. After a night cap I ordered an espresso to see me on my way and was given a deliciously strong shot of Illy. You see the Illy brand all over Trieste and its hardly surprising given that the family are from Trieste and Riccardo Illy is aprominent figure in local politics.
Breakfast the next morning was simple but filling, jam-filled brioche, croissants and yoghurt (more coffee, Illy of course!) and when I said farewell to my hosts I was presented with a lovely cloth shopping bag bearing the name of the hotel and a line drawing of the building.
I deposited my bags at the station and took myself off to see how much of the city I could pack in to a couple of hours. My first stop was the Revoltella which is the city's main musuem. It is a Viennese-style palazzo in which you can see a vast array of nineteenth century furniture and paintings of Trieste and the surrounding area. In an adjoining palace there is a collection of much more recent works, one of the most impressive modern art collections I have seen. For an entrance fee of about three Euros, this was money well spent.
I could have chosen from a diverse selection of museums and galleries in Trieste. Others include the Museo Morpurgo, another late nineteenth century palazzo left to the city by the merchant Mario Morpurgo and the Museo Civico di Storia ed Arte (the Municipal Museum of History and Art which contians the usual eclectic mix of Roman artefacts, Egyptian relics and arms and armour that you find in most major cities around Europe.
Although I didn't have enough time to visit the Castello on the hill of San Giusto, I was struck by its impressiveness and would certainly make this a priority if I ever visit Trieste again. Several locals recommended it for the best views over Trieste. The Castello itself is a fifteenth century Venetian fortress and from downin the city you can appreciate why the site was chosen for this purpose.
I had just enough time to dive into the city's cathedral, San Giusto. There has been a structure here since Roman times but what stands today is a Romanesque building with magnificent vaulting and an attractive Gothic rose window.
Heading back to the station I took the opportunity to buy some provisions for a train picnic, stopping at one of the traditional food stores where I bought some local cured ham, some cheese and some delicious crusty bread. The streets around the Via Roma are a delight - small speciality shops are crammed with all manner of goods. One of my favourites was an old-fashioned chemist's shop where all the medicines were stowed tidily in a vast antique cabinet, occupying the space from floor to ceiling behind the counter.
My impression of Trieste is of a port which has seen better days but also of a city which is doing its utmost to adapt and find a new status. I saw industrial parks on the edge of the city with units taken up by multi-national companies and the large number of young people in the city belies any idea that Trieste is a dying and forgotten city. On the contrary, Trieste is a city in which the old and the modern sit comfortably together. The mix of traditional but thriving specialist shops and stylish international boutiques is testament to this.
Now that I can fly directly to my beloved Ljubljana I am less likely to revisit Trieste but I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different in italy or just for a city break in general. Trieste is very much its own city, a curious blend of its neighbouring cultures and that famous Italian style and arrogance. Easily accessible from Stansted thanks to Ryanair, Trieste offers an opportunity to see a remarkable and surprising little bit of Italy.
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Summary: An Italian treasure with an Austrian influence