Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Italy: Time for Trieste

One of several grand facades on Piazza Unita d'Italia, the gigantic
square at the heart of Trieste.

Our "Balkans" trip was all Balkan -- Greece and countries that once were part of Yugoslavia (Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia) -- until we took a short taxi ride from Piran, Slovenia, to Trieste, Italy. And how could we not visit Trieste since we were already so close?  Trieste is Italy's least-Italian city. Slavic and Central European influences are almost as evident here as Italian, making Trieste Italy's one truly cosmopolitan city. It emerged from World War II as the Free Territory of Trieste and formally became part of Italy in 1955.

The areas of the city that we explored on foot centered around the gigantic Piazza Unita d'Italia, a plaza dominated by grandiose buildings from the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, when the city was part of the Hapsburg empire. A lot of today's sidewalk cafes began in that period as Viennese-style coffeehouses. To the west of the piazza is a more-or-less modern city with a regular street grid punctuated by the Canal Grande.  To the east of the piazza is an older section of narrow, mostly pedestrian streets lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Duchi d'Aosta, which is on the piazza and home to the well-regarded Harry's Grill. After dropping our bags at mid-day on a Friday, we set out to explore and have lunch while waiting for our room to be ready. We headed into the newer area and eventually stumbled upon a great lunch at a sidewalk pizza place on Via Rossini beside the Canal Grande. Back at our hotel, we found our room had a great view onto the piazza but had hardly enough space to open two suitcases, so we coughed up a few more euros and moved to a "junior suite," which had a bathroom almost as large as the first room, a sofa, plush chairs and still a great view of the piazza.

That first afternoon, there was a big demonstration outside a government building on the other side of the piazza. We went over and one of the protesters told us that Victor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, was meeting with Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister. The two, both notorious for anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, were supposedly discussing building a wall between Italy and Slovenia. No, it's not just the United States that has gone mad. Significant parts of Europe are also falling for nationalistic clap-trap, much of it here (as in the U.S.) promoted by Russia, according to various intelligence agencies.

Other than getting to shout "no wall" in Italian (or maybe not; we don't know), highlights in Trieste included the small but fascinating Revoltella Museum and the huge Grotta Gigante, one of the world's largest caves.

The Revoltella Museum (click HERE) is in two parts. One was the palatial home of Pasquale Revoltella (1795-1869), an important businessman and financier in imperial Trieste. He was a major backer of the Suez Canal, which he saw as essential to rebuilding Trieste as a trading center, and he was a major art collector. Upon his death he willed his home and his art to the city, along with money to maintain and expand the collection. That expansion is the museum's second part, an adjacent building containing  modern exhibition space. So a visit here is a bit of a time warp -- you see many works that Revoltella chose himself displayed as he chose to display them, interspersed with his personal mid-19th-century furnishings. Then you pass into the newer part and you might as well be at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Even if you aren't interested in art, Revoltella's palace with its fountain and marble stairs is worth the price of admission, which was 7 euros.

The Grotta Gigante involved a 40-minute ride on a city bus, which we caught at Piazza Oberdan, about 15 blocks from our hotel. The cave (click HERE), which opened to the public in 1908, is mostly one large chamber with a total volume of 365,000 cubic meters, a length of 167 meters, a width of 76 meters and a floor-to-ceiling height of 98 meters (more than the length of an American football field). It is so tall that pendulums suspended from the top move ever so slightly near the floor when there is significant seismic activity almost anywhere in the world. Entry is only with a bilingual guide, who takes visitors on an 850-meter path, descending 100 meters underground (and then, there's the climb to get out!) at a constant temperature of 11 Celsius (52 Fahrenheit) year-round.

Trieste isn't a foodie destination like Bologna or even Naples, but it has a lot to offer. We happened upon a decent outdoor Greek place beside a construction site in the older part of town. We had pizza twice in Trieste, each time as good or better than we had last year during three months in southern Italy. One well-hidden Tuscan place is worth recommending: Enoteca L'Etrusco (click HERE). One of its Tuscan specialities is rabbit, which I had. L'Etrusco is on a pedestrian street called Via dei Capitelli. We were there during one of Europe's heat waves, and our orders were taken in the dining room, which was quite warm. The personable host persuaded us to move to a cooler, shaded outdoor table, even though it was threatening to rain. We were all set up outside, enjoying our drinks under a patio umbrella, when it started to rain. The host led us back to our original table now that the rain had cooled things down and the dining room was comfortable. If it's a choice between air conditioning and really good customer care, I'll take the later.

One unexpected treat in Trieste was stumbling upon a "late shopping" block party. Apparently, merchants stay open late, hire a band and serve food to encourage late-night shopping. We heard the brass band play "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys, "Drop That Bass" and a couple of other tunes that I couldn't put names to. This was in the newer part of town and we were walking back to the piazza after being turned away at a restaurant because our hotel had screwed up our dinner reservation. We ended up getting a sidewalk table at a big Chinese place on the harbor. Since we love Chinese food, this was a happy ending.

Here are some photos.
Those cameras are pointed at Matteo Salvini, Italy's
interior minister, who was the subject of a large
protest demonstration the day we arrived. We caught
only the slightest glimpse of him. 

Another view of the media scrum around Salvini.

Protesters wait for Salvini to emerge during a meeting with Hungary's Victor Orban.

The view from our room at the Grand Hotel Duchi d'Aosta. At left, police
provide security for a meeting between  Matteo Salvini and Victor Orban. This
was after the protest. To the right is a large sidewalk restaurant.

The Church of Saint Antonio Nuovo sits at the eastern end
of the Canal Grande. 

These lollipop-like trees are hollies that are kept
trimmed. We saw them in several parts of the city,
including this square well away from the touristic center.

I'm not sure what this sign is trying to say. Come back and shop in Trieste?
Abandon your Trumpian and Brexiting ways and come back into
the world of rational thought? 

The ruins of a Roman-era theater are a few blocks
from the central piazza.

Pasquale Revoltella's palace-like home
is part of the Revoltella Museum.

Too much is never enough. That might have been Revoltella's decorating mantra.

 "The Piercing of the Isthmus of Suez," 1864, by Pietro Magni
 (1817-1877), an allegory that shows Europe, left, holding in her right hand
the Red Sea and in her left hand the Mediterranean. Revoltella was
an important backer of the Suez Canal, which he thought would
benefit Trieste. This is a work that he commissioned.

A ceiling in Revoltella's home.

This storeroom at the Revoltella Museum is open to visitors.

"Emancipation of the Black Men," 1873, by
Francesco Pezzicar (1831-1890), a Trieste

Another work by a Trieste artist, this one is "The Kiss,"
1931, by Ruggero Roman (1877-1965). 

A view of the harbor from the roof of the Revoltella Museum.

A table for two on a pier at the harbor.

Mid-afternoon finds city streets quiet,
though there are a lot of people at the
sidewalk restaurant in the distance.

Most of Trieste's buildings date to the late 19th century and the
waning years of the Hapsburg empire.

That crane is on the waterfront. 

A brass band pauses between numbers at a late-shopping block party. 

No words needed for these warning
and informational signs about Grotta Gigante.

Stairways with strong railings make descent into
the cave a breeze.

Those are two tubes, each of which holds a pendulum that swings ever
so slightly in response to seismic activity even on other continents.

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