Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Trieste – Better Close Up

Up till now, my impressions of Trieste have not been good. When you drive along the motorway past the edge of it, the city seems full of ugly apartment blocks, and horrendously hilly. While, looking across the bay from Slovenia at night, the contrast in the number of lights makes it seem horribly overcrowded and busy.

However, having got the bus there from Izola, on closer inspection, we found Trieste to be a really attractive place, full of character and lovely architecture. What gives Trieste its character is that it's been something of a political football over the past couple of centuries, as ownership of the city has passed from power to power, meaning that the city has influences from Italy, Austria and from the Slavic world too. The city was initially an important Roman settlement (as evidenced by part of a Roman arch sticking incongruously out of another building), and it was then a satellite port of the Venetian Empire. But, what gave Trieste its major boost was that after the end of the Venetian Republic at the start of the 19th century, it was awarded to the Austrian Empire, as it became their first ever (and only) route to the sea.

As the Austrians proudly started up their new navy, they embellished the city with some superbly grand architecture that made it seem like a Vienna by the sea. At its centre, the huge main square facing out to sea (apparently the biggest in Italy) is a wonderful set piece - surrounded by impressive monumental buildings that make it seem like a set from an opera.

In a boost to local flagmakers, the Italians managed to grab Trieste back from the Austrians after the First World War, and then after the Second World War, the city was coveted by Tito's Yugoslavia, and had to be designated an International City until 1954, when the international courts finally agreed that it should stay Italian. Since then, the city has grown rapidly (hence the rows of ugly apartment blocks that cling on to the steep hills around Trieste), particularly populated with Italians who left the former Italian coastal possessions (like Izola) that became Yugoslavian in 1945.

Even the food and drink scene here is still dominated by Trieste's influences from MittelEurop. It was the Austrians who first got Europe interested in coffee (which they imported through Trieste), something that the Italians have now moved on to an art form – in fact, the famous coffee brand, Illy, started up here. While, curiously enough, the most famous Trieste dish is bratwurst or pork served up Austrian-style in a bun, in restaurants that couldn't feel more Germanic if they tried. I guess it doesn't matter where it all started – Tracy loved the coffee and I loved the pork roll.

So, we were very pleasantly surprised by Trieste, although the traffic on the streets, the graffiti and the underlying sense of big city chaos made us feel happy to return to our peaceful haven in Izola.