The (Formerly) Free Territory of Trieste

If you find yourself in one of the little settlements high in the hills above Trieste, with the pretty sea views and bilingual (Italian and Slovenian) signs, you can sometimes see tree branches tied to road signs. These indicate that an osmizza, or farmhouse selling its homemade products, is nearby. This Austro-Hungarian tradition (every producer is given two weeks a year to sell directly to the public) meant that I was able to enjoy a farm-fresh dinner with Alessandro (an Italian I met in Hong Kong), Dan (Serbian), Foteini (Greek), and Santiago (Colombian). Thankfully, we all enjoyed ourselves so much that it didn’t matter that the service was slow (though we didn’t complain when they gave us shots of grappa la fruta as compensation). 

You can think of Trieste as a checkbox city since you can cross off seeing or experiencing things normally associated with other places. There’s the Austro-Hungarian architecture that creates a dignified atmosphere and a well preserved Roman theater to see a performance. You can climb uphill to see a castle from the Middle Ages or just go swimming at one of the public beaches. I didn’t know that the Nazis built concentration camps in Italy so it was sobering to walk around the Risiera di San Sabba and to see the outline of its Nazi-destroyed crematorium. Even the central post office and its small museum were worth a visit (the building itself reminds me of the Old Post Office in Washington, DC). 

Alessandro and Dan gave me a lot of great recommendations. Miramare Castle, a shining white 19th century residence, is a proud symbol of the city and the tour of the huge, cathedral-like synagogue downtown was informative. I’m glad I followed Alessandro’s advice to visit the antique Cafe San Marco afterwards—in their sophisticated decor is complemented by a very tasty tirumisu. 

A common thread to this trip has been that people were extremely generous with their time. Alessandro and Dan spent several hours one evening giving me a walking tour of downtown where I saw wide streets (originally supposed to be canals), narrow alleyways (part of the Jewish ghetto), a former industrial pier turned into a popular hangout spot, as well as a (supposedly smart) Erasmus student cave to peer pressure and jump in the mildly polluted harbor. My last night in town was spent on a beach blanket at one of the crowded beaches with a bunch of friends enjoying the perfect weather and pleasant company. Again, I am very fortunate. 

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