Trieste

Since I properly warned you in my last piece about what lazy tourists we are, I now have a clear conscience in sharing my thoughts on another of Italy’s major cities:  Trieste.

Trieste has a picture-perfect location on a sliver of land wedged between the northern end of the beautiful Adriatic on one side and Slovenia on the other. If you were drawing a map of Italy from memory, there’s a 99% chance you wouldn’t include this sliver because you’d think it belonged to someone else.  Caesar Augustus is credited with starting the harbor there in 33 BC, and after its Roman days, it spent time as an independent city/state, some years under the rule of its bully neighbor, Venice, and centuries as part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  However, during the 20th century — what with those 2 wars — it became a ping-pong ball going back and forth from Austria to Italy to Austria and finally (at least at this point) Italy.   While it’s now Italian, this is not to say that the city looks Italian.  Its public buildings definitely have that spare-no-expense Habsburg Empire look to them. 

Piazza Unita' d'Italia.  Despite its name, it's definitely Habsburgesque.

Piazza Unita’ d’Italia. Despite its name, it’s definitely Habsburgesque.

Surprising for 2 lazy people, we actually did see some tourist sites. The best example of the town’s Roman origins is its 2,000-year old theater, which is supposed to have held 6,000 spectators.  Either those Romans were all painfully thin, or there has to have been more to the theater than meets the eye today.

Trieste-Roman

Maybe the guidebook had a typo, and they meant 600 instead of 6,000.

The Duomo sits above the city and has such a complex history involving 2 churches being joined together, that I couldn’t understand how it all worked, even when standing in front of it.  For me, the memorable thing about it was this lovely 12th Century Byzantine mosaic which once again proved there’s no such thing as too much gold.

When it comes to 12th Century mosaics, you just can not have too much gold.

When it comes to 12th Century mosaics, you just can not have too much gold.

Trieste has a small old section of town with narrow picturesque streets, and a very pleasant café-lined Grand Canal.  Charming as the canal is, I think using the word “grand” must have been some kind of Austrian joke.  Hadn’t those people ever been to Venice?

Nice, but not exactly "grand".

Nice, but not exactly “grand”.

Just outside of town is the Miramare Castle – built in the mid-1900’s by Archduke Maximilian, who was the younger brother of Austria’s emperor, Franz Josef.  Its position overlooking the Adriatic is absolutely beautiful, and as castles go, this could be considered a very modest one. 

It's not "modest" for you or me, but for a Habsburg......  And it really has a knock-out location.

It’s not “modest” for you or me, but for a Habsburg…… And it really has a knock-out location.

It’s a castle that looks like it was meant to be lived in rather than used to demonstrate power and wealth.  Maximilian was a navy man, and his bedroom and study were designed to remind him of his quarters aboard his beloved ship Novara.  The bedroom itself has a small single bed and is the size usually reserved for the staff.  Although his wife Charlotte’s rooms are larger and more opulent, her study is also a size where you would feel comfortable, rather than feeling lost.  The colors are fairly soothing for a castle.  I remember lots of natural wood and pale blue.

Max and Charlotte had only been in the castle a short time when he was offered the job of Emperor of Mexico.  To his credit, at first he said no.  But you know how it is when people like Napoleon III are prodding you to be emperor of something and offering French support, and the Pope is blessing the business, and your Emperor-of-Austria brother thinks it’s a good idea.  In this case, Max should have gone with his gut feelings, because it turned out that Napoleon was easily persuaded by the Americans to withdraw French support, the Pope’s blessings did not necessarily translate into troops and money, and he really should have remembered that he and his brother hadn’t gotten along for years.  He left his lovely home on the Adriatic only to be executed 3 years later in Mexico by the group that did not want an Austrian Emperor telling them what to do.

Getting back to Miramare – in the happier days when Max and Charlotte were anticipating their new life across the Atlantic, they felt they should decorate some of the castle in a manner befitting someone with the word “emperor” before his name.  When I said before that there’s no such thing as too much gold, I was talking about only 12th Century mosaics, not the newly decorated rooms for Emperor Max of Mexico’s quarters.  Red must have been synonymous with royal, and anything that wasn’t red, had to be gold – frames, furniture, woodwork. Since I doubt any living creature could actually live in these rooms, I’m assuming they were only for show.  However, the sad fact is they got so little show time — what with the firing squad and all — that Max should have saved the money to buy more troops.

As for the rest of our visit — the people were very pleasant and our hotel was lovely.  We ate well in Trieste, but we didn’t find any interesting food stores. If they have an outdoor market, they don’t advertise it very well since we never heard about it.  We took an open-air bus tour, thinking they’d show us the interesting parts of town, but they just took us by things we had already seen.  While we heard that in winter, the frigid winds from the north can reach 60 mph, we were there on 90+ degree days, so all of the town’s many cafes were filled with people, enjoying the outdoors and trying to catch a sea breeze.  The bottom line is that Trieste has much to like, but unfortunately, that’s all we ended up doing:  just liking it. We definitely enjoyed our stay, but the sad fact is that our only reason for ever going back would be to pass through it on our way to Croatia or Slovenia.

Having spent this blog damning poor Trieste with faint praise — there was one fabulous thing about it: its “beaches”. I have always said that the only problem with a beach is all that pesky sand. I appreciated the way with some Italian shores, you’re walking over stones or entering the water from steps carved into rock.  But Trieste has made enjoying the seaside even better:

Best "beach" ever!

Best “beach” ever!

Their paved “beach” stretches for miles north of town. There’s parking on the street to the left. The other side of the street has a non-ending choice of restaurants and bars. The trees offer shade.  You have ladder access to the gorgeous water every couple of hundred feet.  AND — you don’t get sand in your bathing suit! Trieste might not rise to the top of my list for anything else, but if I ever feel the need to submerge myself in crystal clear water, it will definitely be my first choice.

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4 thoughts on “Trieste

  1. Yes! A good day! Coffee, hummingbirds, newspaper and Ah! O Boy! Susan’s new piece!

    Hope you enjoyed lunch. Thanks. Sent from my iPhone

  2. What perfect timing – I’m reading a novel set before WWI and the protagonist escaped from Austria back to London by running through Trieste and then the boat to Bari! All yesterday I was thinking I should look at a map to see exactly where Trieste is!

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