Monday, February 9, 2009

On the Slovenian border

I squinted in the sunlight as I followed a sidewalk stretching along the rocky coast of the glassy Adriatic Sea to a white castle overlooking the water. I adjusted my bag again to keep it from slipping off my shoulder. One of the shoulder straps had broken that morning. The soles of my boots were wearing thin. Two buttons had fallen of my coat. I had been traveling for less than a week and my wardrobe was already falling apart.

The sight seemed designed for photographs and postcards. The afternoon sunlight intensified into deeper shades of gold as I neared the gate. Later as I walked back down the long stretch of sidewalk to catch the bus back to the city of Trieste, the sky ignited into a brilliant, multi-colored sunset. Here I was, on the dramatic Adriatic coastline with rugged green mountains marking the Slovenian border in the distance. The day before I hadn’t known the city existed, and even when I arrived I had no idea that I was in the northeasternmost corner of Italy on land that belonged to Austria until 1920.

The port city of Trieste, once a music and literature hub attracting international talents such as James Joyce and Sigmund Freud, now is neither an influential nor touristy city. In fact, I might have been the only foreigner there exploring that day. When I got off the train I asked for a map and walked toward the center in search of a cafĂ© where I could plan my day over espresso. I entered an elegant little place on the edge of certainly the most grandiose plaza I had ever seen, UnitĂ  d'Italia. In a corner table I sipped my coffee and examined my map while a cigar-smoking man discussed the morning news with the two baristas. Coincidentally my visitors’ map mentioned that Trieste is famous for its 19th-century Vienna-style coffee houses still fitted out in their original Victorian crystal chandeliers.

Just off the spectacular plaza lined with dozens of 20-foot-tall Christmas trees, children ice-skated to blasting Christmas carols. A smaller plaza adjacent to a smart shopping district held a bustling holiday market. Trieste is certainly not a quaint, rustic Italian town. More Vienna than Rome, it is an elegant if austere city of wide, straight streets and palatial, marble buildings.

After finding the ancient amphitheatre marked on my map, I climbed nearly vertical streets to a sober fortress-like castle in the surrounding hills. I had to brace myself during the steep descent to the city. Afterward I ended up wandering back to the market, where I visited a petting zoo. I saw a tiny calf napping on its reclining mothers back, a sight I appreciated almost as much as the storybook castle.

1 comment:

  1. Hi-- I just stumbled across your blog.
    The castle in this post and in your banner is Miramare Castle, no?
    I lived near Trieste for two years-- it really makes me happy to see other people appreciating the area.


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