Travels through Trieste

(Edit: Dec read this and suggested I include more on our runs as we both enjoyed them. Now in highlights.)

I’ve had massive writer’s block on this post. Every time I get to it, I manage to add a paragraph, and then feel uninspired again. Being an organisation/planning freak, I haven’t felt like I can move on to other posts til this is done, and as a result I’ve written diddly squat for months. Now I’m worried I’ll get to the end of the year and these posts will be impossible to write as I won’t remember them well enough!

So I’ve decided to make this into a highlights and lowlights of this stage in our journey, to give it some order for everyone’s sake!

The next stop on our journey I had sold to Dec as a spot for climbing. The area does actually have a lot of decent climbing, but the real reason for choosing Trieste was based on the fact that I’d read La coscienza di Zeno by Italo Svevo some years earlier and really enjoyed it, and had some romantic notion of paying homage to Svevo with a trip.

Trieste is not a big tourist area. It’s a port town, but doesn’t even have a proper beach, and is a strange historic mix of Austro-Hungarian, Istrian and Italian. It’s interesting, but possibly more so to read about it than to explore, as we found out.

Before we get to Trieste though, Dec decided that we needed to maximise on our journey over.

If I’d had more time to consider the journey, I’d have been suggesting Prosecco vineyards, but I knew we were going to stay near the village of Prosecco and figured we would find bubbly there (I was wrong). Instead, Dec decided to investigate Slovenia and the Vipava valley.

The Highlights

1. Vipavska Dolina

This did actually work out well – we discovered a border town called Gorizia (Italian side) and Nova Gorica (Slovenian side). We arrived in time for lunch, and found a pleasant Slow Food restaurant, where Dec had another plate of Italian ham (I kid you not) and I had a tasty seafood pasta dish.

Dec and his ham
Me and my balanced meal

We then drove straight into Slovenia, which we realised after we shouldn’t have done, as we didn’t have a vignette for our car. Anyway, we weren’t stopped or fined so it was probably ok!

The Vipava valley is gaining popularity for its good quality wines, primarily whites, but also reds such as barbera. It’s also renowned for its beauty, its hills that make it a haven for cyclists (and apparently climbers) and for its good food. It’s kind of like Tuscany, but without the tourists or the price tag.

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The “without the tourists” bit turned out to be very real. Dec had scouted out some of the best vineyards online, that said they were open, but we drove around several to find nobody at home.

Eventually, rocking up at a 3rd house (yeh…we soon realised that these weren’t businesses set up for wine tourists, just people’s homes!), a lady appeared and was able to converse with us in broken English. Her husband owned the vineyard but he’d been working with the vines since early, so was having a nap. She could see we’d come far though (the GB car gave it away), and didn’t want to disappoint us, so did her best to tell us about the wines. This led to some very generous tastings, some direct from the tank, and we happily parted with some euros in exchange for delicious Malvazija (the local white wine grape) and some Slovenian Barbera too (which apparently won the best red at a wine festival in Ljubljana last year!).

The only downside after this was navigating the steep and winding roads back to Italy!

2. Il mare

As mentioned before, Trieste doesn’t have a proper beach, but the view of the sea from where we stayed was magical.

We had booked into a B&B just outside the centre of Trieste, at Barcola, nearer the climbing, but the B&B had actually converted into a self catered accommodation, so there were no other guests, we had the place to ourselves!

We had most of the top floor of a beautiful Italian apartment building, built into the steep hillside above the sea, and a roof terrace as well. On our first night we ended up just ordering pizza from Prosecco (thank god for Just Eat having an Italian version), and drinking some of the Malvazija we had bought earlier in the day. We ate it on the terrace watching the sunset over the sea, and it was perfect.

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watching the sunset beyond Castello di Miramare

The sea was also entertaining and refreshing to run along. Dec and I went for a 10km run on the Sunday morning to the Castello di Miramare (you can just see it in the image above, on the spur of the coastline). It turns out that the weather had been pretty awful in Europe until we got there, and this was one of the first weekends with proper sunshine, so all the locals were out, at 08:00 on a Sunday, sunbathing on the pavement by the sea. Never mind Church, sunbathing is the Italian religion, and these sun worshippers were out in force, and they were not going to let the lack of a beach stop them. So as we enjoyed our coastal morning run, we also witnessed families setting up camp for the day, the older folks in their chairs, the younger ones lying on towels on the pavement. Some people had brought full on sun-loungers with them, and were literally unpacking their cars onto the pavement next to the road, and then staying there all day to sunbathe! It all seemed very bizarre!

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Dec on our run at Castello di Miramare

3. Downtime

While it isn’t glamorous to have pizza takeout on your honeymoon, or to cook up some pasta and veg and have dinner in, it was actually perfect. We’d been eating out every day and night for two weeks, sightseeing, partying, socialising and exploring. Having a couple of nights where we weren’t eating super rich food, dressing up or staying out late was much needed. We really enjoyed not having a full agenda for the day, doing some exercise, and taking it easy. We knew we had another two weeks of adventure ahead of us, so 2 days “off” felt justifiable.

4. All day aperitivo

One thing I, and most people I know, love about Italy is aperitivo. You pay for one drink, and either get brought a selection of canapes to your table, or are given access to a whole buffet of food (most common in Bologna, where you can literally have dinner for the price of a drink).

This usually starts around 5pm or 6pm, when you head out for a drink before dinner, and ensures you are never drinking on an empty stomach.

In Trieste this was not the case.

We ended up walking for an hour from our accommodation into the centre of Trieste, and it was 30C. We had a lunch reservation for 13:00, but thankfully were a bit early, so ducked into Trieste’s oldest coffee bar, Caffe Tommaseo, where we prayed for aircon and an iced coffee to cool down.

It turned out that the coffee houses in Trieste also serve alcohol, and this place served Italian craft beer, so we ended up ordering that instead. With it we got a range of snacks and a light salad each:

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Don’t you drink your beer in wine glasses?

I was not going to complain, even if it did spoil my appetite for lunch a little!

We thought perhaps it’s a Caffe Tommaseo thing, as it was quite fancy and regal in an old-school way. Later on however, we were wandering around town and found a bustling cafe area, so sat down for an aperol spritz. This could only have been 15:00 and again, snacks galore were presented to us:

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This definitely was a highlight of Trieste! We actually ended up returning to Caffe Tommaseo (hey, it was Sunday, nothing else was open!), and were presented with different nibbles. The cafe is particularly interesting because it is part of Trieste’s rich Austrian coffee history, with Trieste as the port that would receive all the coffee bean imports that would then be distributed to coffee houses all over the Austro-Hungarian empire. Coffee houses were very popular in Trieste too, and Illy, the well-known coffee brand, is from Trieste. The best bit though is that Svevo wrote some of his books at this Caffe!

5. Colazione

As I mentioned, our B&B turned out to be a self-catered apartment, but because we’d booked it as a B&B the owners tried to honour that. They asked us what we liked to eat for breakfast, and we’d said something savoury, but they looked awkward and said that sweet was easier. So we said that was fine, and thought nothing of it.

The next day though we woke up to find they’d left a breakfast feast for us, and ended up picking both sweet and savoury bits. We had fruit, yogurts, fruit juice, fresh coffee, croissants filled with ham and cheese, and beautiful patisserie treats. It was a ridiculous amount of food for two people!

The following day, they brought the same again, except the sweet pastries were different, and we had one of my ABSOLUTE favourite treats, a croissant filled with crema di pistacchio (pistachio spread). It’s to die for. I was one very happy lady.

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decadent breakfast cake

6. Running

Edit: On Dec’s request, I’m including our runs as a highlight by itself.

As we were no longer climbing, this freed up a lot of time, and it felt good to be somewhere without plans, so that we could just do some exercise. I’m not very good at exercising on holiday, but equally, when you’re gone for a month and eating out 3 times a day, it’s worth while!

Being so close to the sea, we had to explore with a run, and with a pedestrianised strip all the way from our place to the castello di Miramare, it was simple! (apart from dodging the sunbathers).

Unfortunately I hadn’t fully considered the consequences of the steep descent from our B&B perched on the hillside, down to the sea, because what goes down, must go up – and at the end of our run, as the heat of the day was beginning to hit, we had to do the slog back up the hill, and I definitely ended up walking.

This didn’t bode well for the run Dec had planned for our second day….

Dec decided that having run along the bottom, we now had to run along the top, and found a route that would take us up through the woods to the top of the hill, where we had already glimpsed the Temple of Monte Grisa.

However, there clearly aren’t that many people who want to walk or run up the hill, as the only decent route was via the road. Every time we tried to take what we thought was a pathway, it ended up leading to houses, or, as we discovered later, into a very overgrown wood that definitely had lost its pathways. This wood was the quickest ascent, but vertical ascent of 146m in 1km, without a path, was not what I’d had in mind when Dec had talked about going for a hilltop run with lovely sea views. At one point we found ourselves in a clearing with no path ahead or behind us, and I was getting accosted by wasps, who clearly thought my sweaty body smelt like their next meal. After a short melt down, Dec decided he needed to get me onto a path ASAP, and we found our way onto the strada napoleonica (where the climbing is) in just a couple of minutes!

After this, it was all pretty lovely. We got great views, and had an easy undulating path along the hill tops, right up to the Temple of Monte Grisa. We decided the road was probably the best way back, and found ourselves zooming down 250m of hillside in just a couple of km.

Both routes ended up being a pretty decent excursion, of 10-13km, and while out we got to:

Experience local culture, see some local sights, get some great views of the city, get a feel for the local flora and fauna, and even saw some local wildlife (snakes, anyone!?). Oh and we burned a few calories, making our next meal feel more justifiable! It was a good reminder of just how much you can take in of a place by going out for a run or a walk, and why I keep doing it!

The Lowlights

1. Osmize

I read about these on a Guardian article and thought they sounded great, “a pop-up cantina serving vino for under €1 a glass…with incredible views down the wild coastline.” They serve local wine with local produce for very cheap prices, and many of them are perched in the hills above the city with good views and vibes.

The article did say that most were not open throughout the year, so I duly researched them, found a website that had all of them listed, including opening times, and thought “well we can try these and hopefully enjoy a couple of glasses of wine in a fun environment”.

What actually happened was:

  • We waited ages to catch a bus to near the first Osmiza.
  • We had a 20 minute walk after we got off the bus
  • This walk was a 25% gradient hill. We had to go up. In 30C heat. In sandals.
  • The Osmiza was shut and the owner told us it was only open in May and December – go figure.
  • We walked to the next Osmiza down narrow hill roads with only enough space for one car.
  • The next Osmiza was open and, getting excited, we went in.
  • This Osmiza was actually shut for a private party. (I have to add at this point that it turned out osmize are basically people’s gardens that they make into outdoor bars. We were walking up to people’s houses AGAIN!)
  • We walked back down the hill into Trieste, having had no wine, and no food.
  • We were now sweaty and tired.

We then bought some food at a supermarket (shock horror! A supermarket open in Italy on a Sunday afternoon), and went home to cook.

2. The transport

Transport? What transport?!

Our hosts had been super helpful with suggestions when we arrived and advised us not to drive into the city centre, where it was apparently expensive and difficult to park. Instead, we could get the bus, which went from just outside, all the way to town.

Sounded perfect. Except it turns out you can’t buy tickets on the bus, only at a Tabacchi (the nearest was 20 minutes walk away and shut on a Sunday) or via text (not possible with a UK phone) or on the app (which didn’t work).

Having failed to buy tickets we thought we would wait for the bus and ask if we could pay on board anyway, but the bus never came. And so we ended up walking, and walking, and walking. It was so hot, and the pollen in the air had set off Dec’s hayfever really badly, so that by the time we reached the town centre we were both feeling rotten, and that beer in the cool, air-conditioned and pollen free coffee house was possibly life-saving!

3. Lack of tourism

It’s not like there was nothing to do in Trieste. The history and architecture of the city was very interesting, and its geographic position has led to it being a strange anomaly of something Italian but not quite Italian. However, as far as visiting goes, there isn’t an awful lot to do. We didn’t bother with the inside of the Castello di Miramare, but we saw the outside, and we ran to the Temple of Monte Grisa (you can see it behind us in the photo below – the striking brutalist structure, in a triangular shape, with hundreds of smaller triangles to denote the letter M (for Maria/Mary) – it’s also known as the Formaggino by locals, meaning cheese triangle!).

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Another sweaty hill run in the heat!

We sadly didn’t make it to the Faro della Vittoria, the impressive lighthouse which opens to tourists to climb on a Sunday, and it was way too hot to enjoy the city’s traditional “buffet” restaurants, which serve traditional Austro/Germanic fayre (sauerkraut, pork knuckle, dumplings etc etc.), and having walked around the centre of Trieste, where we saw the Grand Canal, the Piazza dell’Unita and the port, unless we felt like visiting more churches, we didn’t feel there was much more to see.

It was perfectly pleasant, but I suppose for a city that has such a rich history and interesting stories to tell, we didn’t get much out of it, and had I not read about it in advance, I wouldn’t necessarily have felt much of that history and culture during our visit.

4. Prosecco

OK, so I only have myself to blame here. The signs were all there, it is in fact written about widely over the internet. You no longer go to Prosecco to buy Prosecco. Prosecco vineyards have moved away from the village bearing their name, to just outside Venice.

Somewhere we had just left. This was definitely a case of not doing my homework. I mean, I was planning a 3 day wedding and a 3-week honeymoon, so I’ve forgiven myself for not researching this better, but to learn that the birthplace of Prosecco is now nothing more than a run-down suburb of Trieste was a bit of a blow. In fact, the only thing we bought in Prosecco was our pizza takeout on our first night!

Knowing as well that if we’d planned better, we could have also detoured via the Prosecco region on our way to Trieste was really frustrating. It’s not like it’s my favourite drink in the world, but I do enjoy it, and it would have been exciting to visit some of the vineyards of one of the most beloved drinks in the UK!

Final Thoughts

Our time in Trieste definitely wasn’t one of the highlights of our honeymoon. But we did manage to relax (when not being screwed over by buses or not-open osmize!), eat well and drink well, in an attractive location with some wonderful views. Sometimes, that really is enough to say you’ve had a good time.

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seafood platter at Eataly by the port – life is good!

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