Beginning in mid-September of 2017 I spent three weeks in Italy – my fourth trip to this apparently irresistible country. My fellow travelers for the trip’s first two weeks were four other gay men who live in Atlanta.
After my fellow travelers Bill, John, Randall, and Randy returned to the U.S., I stayed on for an additional week, basing myself in Trieste, an Italian town I’d never visited before. I went there initially thinking it would be a convenient base for a day trip to a national park I wanted to visit in Croatia, but I scrapped that plan after discovering the park was a five-hour bus trip each way. Instead, I spent my entire third week in Italy exploring some of the sites in and around Trieste.
The first thing I had to wrap my brain around was how un-Italian Trieste looks and feels. Everything about it – the architecture, the restaurant food, the languages I overheard in the streets and on the buses – made the place I was staying for a week seem more like Vienna than anywhere else in Italy I’d traveled – either during this trip or my previous ones. Not to mention the undeniable fact that Trieste, unlike all other Italian cities I’d enjoyed, seemed so uncharacteristically clean! I’d been warned about this distinctiveness of Trieste – until recent times, Trieste had been a part of Austria – but it was still disorienting to realize on my walks around this city that I was still in Italy.
One entire side of Trieste’s enormous main square/piazza, like Venice’s, faces the Adriatic. Walking to and from other parts of the city, I crisscrossed this piazza many times, and at different times of day and night, and I never tired of it. And as I’d serendipitously timed my visit to Trieste during the week immediately preceding the town’s most popular annual festival, the city’s main square and seaside boulevard were filled with dozens of festival tents and booths selling everything from delicious varieties of locally-baked focaccia bread to Italian-made shoes and electric bicycles, and the harbor was gradually filling up with hundreds of sailboats anchoring themselves in preparation for the annual regatta.
One of my extended ambles in Trieste was a self-guided walking tour (with a free audioguide courtesy the town’s tourist office) through the town’s Roman-era sites and its medieval cathedral. The walking tour involved a lot of hill-climbing, so I was glad I could flop into my hotel bed for a post-walk nap – something I did most days I was in Trieste and, due to the fact that I’d already done a lot of walking during my first two weeks in Italy, I really enjoyed these breaks from my tourist adventures, despite the tiny size and spartan appointments of my hotel room:
Small though it was, my hotel was exceptionally convenient. Located only two blocks from the city’s famous Grand Canal, the hotel was also on the same street as the impressive (and, as so much else in Trieste, its baroque) European Postal and Telegraphy Museum. My visit there was an unexpected treat for someone who still writes letters, who enjoys reading published collections of other people’s letters, and who collected stamps as a kid. The museum’s lobby features a huge and insanely kitschy painting of a flock of cherubs bearing letters, their important errands supervised by the imposing figure of what is presumably the Goddess of Snail Mail!
Another memorable museum in downtown Trieste I visited was its museum of modern art, which incorporated the former residence – complete with rooms with its original furniture, fountains, paintings, etc. – of a Deco-era magnate whose home the building used to be. “Modern” for this museum means the entire 20th century as well as the 21st, and I found there many remarkable paintings (especially remarkable portraits) and sculptures by artists I’d never heard of before. The views from the museum’s rooftop were spectacular.
A Quick Trip to Venice
I abandoned Trieste for a day to do something I’d wanted to do on a previous trip to Italy many years ago: deliberately losing myself in the labyrinthine alleys that lie behind the most popular (and most expensive) sites of Venice. True, I did revisit (and, due to the crush of tourists, revisited only very briefly) St. Mark’s Cathedral and I also made my way to the lobby – alas, only the lobby – of the place I’d in Venice if I win the lottery: the fabled Hotel Danieli:
But I spent most of my time in Venice wandering aimlessly, re-tracing my way out of dead-ends and crossing tiny bridges over equally tiny canals.
Needless to say, I carefully punctuated my reverie-drenched wanderings – and my bouts of mounting fatigue – with repeated ingestions of lemon-flavored gelato. I also treated myself to getting back to the train station via a water-taxi trip down the entire length of the Grand Canal.
Two major disappointments of my otherwise very satisfying day in Venice:
- the Sanasavino Library I badly wanted to visit turned out to be accessible only to people visiting in large tour groups,
- the alarming number of tourists who chose to stare into their cell phones instead of staring at Venice.
Apart from my day trip to Venice, my three forays out of the city and into the countryside near town were:
- a sunny day at the beguiling castle and gardens that were once the residence of Austria’s (and later, of all places, Mexico’s) Emperor Maximilian
- a ferry ride across the bay to an afternoon exploring a charming seaside town of Muggia
- a somewhat less wonderful day – because of my momentarily-forgotten fear of heights – in what is advertised as Europe’s largest cave.
Maximilian’s castle is located on the shore a short bus-ride out of town and was well worth a visit, as were the castle’s extensive gardens.
The palace stables, converted into an art museum, featured, the day I visited, an enthralling exhibit of Art Deco paintings, posters, jewelry, furniture, clothing, books, and other non-architectural artifacts. Part of the charm of the exhibit was the stenciling of numerous walls with quotations from the most famous champions of the period’s style and ideology, displayed in one of my favorite type fonts. A single example:
My leisurely visit to the castle was made completely pleasant not only by the interesting story of Maximillian and his family, but by the sunny weather and my indulgence in snarfing down three separate cups of gelato from the gelato stand in the castle gardens, and by having lunch at a nearby restaurant with a view of the sea.
My favorite day in Trieste, however, was my final one there, when I decided to stop being a tourist and park myself for a few hours reading a book on one of the benches in the city’s most famous park. My walk to and from this near-perfect urban green space
via the long pedestrians-only boulevard that connects the modern city center to the park was just as pleasant as my little respite in the park proved to be. Besides the quiet, tree-lined, cafe-featuring car-free space the boulevard provides, one comes upon things like this facade of a movie theater:
On my way back to my hotel from my afternoon idyll in the park, I regarded my impulsive decision to eat lunch at a Burger King (instead of another Italian trattoria) as a sign that I was obviously ready to begin my journey home. Having spent a wonder-filled three weeks in one of my favorite countries in Europe, I had had my fill of living out of a suitcase and pounding the pavements.
After a nap-filled day throughout the long train ride from Trieste, I spent my final night in Italy in Rome – although not in the hotel that I had so carefully booked before heading to Trieste the week before. The travel agent who’d booked my room had failed to read the fine print on my reservation, and so had I. After a maddeningly time-consuming hunt for the hotel, I discovered my reservation was valid only for a female guest in a mostly student-patronized hotel that segregated its visitors into gender-separate wings! I arrived too late in the day for the hotel to re-book me in a vacant room designated for a male, so I was forced, late in the day, to find another place to stay. That process involved additional unwelcome schlepping, and by the time I found my new lodgings, I was too exhausted to venture back out into Rome again. Still, the place I found was nicer and fortunately more convenient to the train station than my original booking.
The next morning after taking the express train from Rome’s enormous central train station to the airport, I spent my last few Euros on yet another gelato before boarding the plane.
When, many weary hours later, I landed in Atlanta, Randy – who, like my other fellow travelers who had returned to the States the week before – had recovered from his own jet-lag. He generously fetched me from the Atlanta airport – one of most pleasant re-entries ever – and soon thereafter, we resumed our adventure in getting to know each other better – something we are still doing, five months after our splendid trip to Italy.