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Trieste 25 September 2011

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On to Trieste

Onward to Trieste and our last stop in Northern Italy. Always a place of interest to me, because of readings, stories from people who've been there, I have had this city on the top of my list to visit ever since we started planning this trip.

We boarded our mighty steed -- well, the Cividale Udine train -- and started our last northern Italian train trip down the mountain and along the shore to Italy's farthest eastern corner, a place said to be more Balkan, more Austrian, and more exotic than anything Italian.

mouse over for where this is in Italy

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Rolling hills, serious trees, rivers with actual water in them, and then, finally, in the distance: the sea! We are such creatures of the edge that we miss it when we are away, and here we've been in the mountains and inland plains (the ocean is never far away in Italy) for almost a month. 

As we approach Trieste, the karst cliffs and outcroppings get taller and the countryside more demanding. The last 30 kilometers runs right along an ocean full of boats, oyster beds, big ships.

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I don't know what I expected – a blend of San Francisco and Hong Kong with a little Vancouver? – but what we find is a graceful blend of Austro-Hungarian Empire building and Italy at its best and most exotic. After a little hotel excitement – we trade in a dump reserved by internet from a lying website for something lovely – we're out for a stroll along with a few tens of thousands other Tristanos, headed for sunset viewing from the fortress ramparts.

<p>Palazzo Governo</p>

Palazzo Governo

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Atop an abruptly steep hill in the middle of the city there sits a fortress and the Duomo. The cathedral reflects the closeness of the Greek tradition: golden mosaics in the domes. The fort, built by the Venetians well after there was any real threat of attack from pirates (the usual Venetian excuse for city walls, fortresses, etc.) was really meant to be a magnificent place to stroll the ramparts, admire the harbor (and Venetian might) while watching the sunset.

In the bowels of the fortress we found a museum remarkable for how little it told us, in any language, about where and when its artifacts were found.

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A beautiful mosaic floor piece from an excavated fishing temple around the bay, a mysterious beehive shaped object with a snake curling around it and a hole in it labeled "omphalos" -- the Greek word for belly button. Many more undistinguished but nevertheless beautiful objects from the era before scientific archaeology really made itself known. Most of these object most likely came from the 1st Century BCE.

Back down the hill, past the Roman Arena, we plunge right into the middle of a celebration of European Union Day, with candies from England, Cookies from Belgium, bulbs from Holland, and beer from Germany. The streets are mobbed with excited people.

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Dinner at an unusual place, El Fornel, highly praised by our guidebook (Rough Guide) and interesting because it is outside the rigid pattern of Italian food -- you pour your own water, as much as you like, and serve your own salad; no menu, but you are served after consulting with the waiter. Everyone has something different. Our waiter and we didn't communicate especially well, and while the dinner was delicious, I could see that others ate better. Home to our cozy apartment, from which we could see the fireworks of the EU celebration shooting out over the harbor ...and I got a chance to try out the "fireworks" setting on my wonderful little camera.

With the prospect of a new country coming up, we use this last day in now familiar territory to find a map of Croatia, reserve our places on the bus to Rijeka, get our next few nights' lodging in order.

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 ...and, of course, a couple of the best local meals we can find.

But first, after a substantial wander during which we achieve most of our goals -- we're still looking for recordable CDs -- we stop by a local place for our morning capuccini. Trieste is renowned throughout Europe as the locale for great coffee ... and these were good capuccini. A little neighborhood dive, yet we are made to feel like family.

More wandering, and then lunch at a nearly invisible but practically perfect little restaurant near our apartment, where we are served an exquisite lunch amid all the pomp and circumstance of a proper Italian meal: a selection of fresh roasted seafood on the left, and a prawn with superfine fettucini in a fresh tomato and baby green bean sugo.

We are almost done with the top of Italy. I am moved to offer up some reflections on Italy and Italians here, on a special page that will undoubtedly be modified and expanded as we return to Southern Italy and I get time to think about what I have seen. I welcome your comments.

<p>two perfect plates from Ristorante Cittadicherso</p>

two perfect plates from Ristorante Cittadicherso

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