The 10:20 to Trieste
Arrival in Trieste, Italy, perhaps the easternmost city of Western Europe. was in a thick gray soup of gloom and rain. I couldn’t have been happier. The scenery, which would have consisted of the steep rock granite-faced hills known as the Karst was completely blocked by thick fog, as was the Adriatic, turned to dishwater from its sapphire blue of only two days ago. If this keeps up I won’t have anything at all to do or see for a whole week!
Jan Morris, in her travel book on Trieste, had warned there was nothing to see and nothing to do here. Another travel writer had warned not to spend any more than five days in the city, which is why I booked seven. And just when Paul Theroux had decided that “Trieste was the quietest, most law –abiding place I had seen so far,” he witnessed a vicious nighttime street fight. Clearly this was a town that travel agents, when asked about a vacation there, would regard you dismissively and try to steer you to, say, Tulsa instead.
Yet, my first encounter in stepping off the train at Trieste’s Centrale station was another act of Italian harmony. Gianni, my landlord for the apartment I had booked for the week, offered to pick me up and drive me to the apartment himself. He’d meet me at the station. I won’t need GPS for this one at least. But I still needed something that I’m convinced now I am genetically lacking in. After twenty minutes of fruitlessly circling the station, I could find no trace of Gianni, nor he me. The station is no bigger than an average Safeway. It was like agreeing to meet someone in the produce section, and not finding that person after searching past every stalk, gourd, leaf and tuber in the store. Finally Gianni texted that he had to get back to his day job. I started to look for a café to kill the afternoon until the official four o’ clock check-in, when he spotted me. (Later that week, when I was wandering in circles looking for the bus station to book a daytrip to Lubiana, Slovenia. who pulls up beside me but Gianni. We greet each other and I ask him where the bus station is. He pointed to his right and said, “You’re standing right in front of it.” I’m sure he pulled away thinking he’d never see me again, and would have to sell my belongings, abandoned in the apartment I couldn’t find my way back to, to a flea market.
I took stock of my directionally – challenged self, as I took my first walkabout in the city the following day. I soon saw that there wasn’t a square block in the whole town. Streets came to an intersection from oblique angles that all looked alike. Clearly, I would be hopelessly lost, and since I’d neglected to copy down my address, I realized there’d be a good chance I’d see some of my stuff for sale at a flea market by the end of the week. I decided to confine my wandering to the very ubiquitous public bus system for the length of my stay. I ran into only one problem with that, and that’s the subject of my next blog.