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ITALY Fall 1996 (1)

Trieste and Rome

We planned to make this trip to Italy a combination of new destinations and old favorites. New were Trieste and Cinque Terre and the return visits were to Rome, Florence, Lucca, and Genoa.

Since we were arriving from Slovenia, it was natural to make our first stop Trieste, a destination which gets overlooked by most tourists, particularly those from North America. Trieste is worth discovering!

The bus ride along the seacoast from Piran, Slovenia to Trieste, Italy is very picturesque.

When we crossed the border, we saw long line-ups of cars coming into Slovenia and we were told that the reason was that gasoline prices in Slovenia are substantially cheaper than in Italy. Apparently it's routine for the Italians to fill-up on week-ends.

Driving through the city to the bus station on the other side of town, we became increasingly aware that we had underestimated the size of the city we would find here. The bus ride took an hour, including the border stop, and we arrived at Piazza Della Liberta at 14:30.

We stopped at the tourist bureau in the train station adjacent to the bus terminal and were fortunate to find the office empty except for the young woman who was eager to help and please. She provided us with excellent maps, brochures and suggestions and best of all told us of a current hotel promotion which resulted in a savings of Lit. 50,000 per night, as we were staying the required three nights including two on a week-end. The Novo Hotel Impero was participating and our one-day-earlier-than-expected departure from Piran, due to the lack of Sunday bus service, had made us eligible for this savings. Great start!

It was just a few minutes walk to the hotel, an excellent three-star, with an inviting lobby with well-furnished sitting and lounging areas. The two receptionists who alternated during our stay were very helpful and knowledgeable.

Our room had a small sitting area and a good size bedroom, nicely furnished and decorated rather eclectically, but comfortably. The bathroom was an excellent size with a bidet and a stall shower. The housekeeping was impeccable.

Trieste is a crossroads of the central European and the Mediterranean cultures and a crossroads of the European North-South and East-West trade routes. In this context, its port is a center of international trade and the city geographically is built around the port. The port area contains a large conference center, the central fish market, and an aquarium.

The Piazza Unita d'ItaliaPiazza Unita d'Italia directly across from the port, is a vast rectangle overlooking the sea containing magnificent 19th century buildings. The Town Hall is at the far end, facing the sea, and the other sides of the huge square are lined with the Palazzo Modello by Bruni, the Casa Stratti, the Palazzo del Governo the Lloyd Triestino Palace, the Hotel Duchi d'Aosta and the most notable baroque building in Trieste, the Palazzo Pitteri. It feels awesome standing in the middle of this piazza surrounded by the power and beauty of these buildings.

A few blocks east of the Piazza Unita d'Italia is the Canale Grande along which are beautiful piazzas, buildings and churches. Just behind these areas is the Piazza Della Borsa (stock exchange square), the financial district with its impressive buildings, statues and wonderful shops.

The influences of the Austrians, Slavs, Hungarians and Greeks is evident in the gastronomic customs here, which cannot be found in the rest of Italy. The Rebechin, a traditional Trieste delight which can be eaten standing or sitting in one of many buffets around town is perhaps the most popular. This treat consists of boiled pork, ham, sausages or tripe - each meat, or a combination thereof, is available as a sandwich or on a plate. Available accompaniments are sauerkraut, fresh ground horseradish and an array of pickled condiments. These goodies are enjoyed with beer or wine.

And why, you ask, do I bring this bit of information your way just now? Because Linda and I were quite hungry during our initial exploration of the city and as we wandered through Piazza Della Borsa a tantalizing aroma assailed us at Via Cassa di Risparmio which we followed to #3, Da Pepi Buffet.

It's a small place with eight or nine tables, showcases displaying all kinds of prepared meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, etc., and a counter piled high with boiled meats being hand-sliced and sandwiched or plated for the eager patrons. We were greeted by a young waiter (no English here) who indicated a menu board and using "sign" language matched the meats to the prices.

We both selected boiled pork sandwiches with draft beers and a side of sauerkraut to share - pure heaven! The best way I can describe the flavor is New York corned beef - but it's even more memorable. Having eaten sauerkraut in many countries, I didn't think one could ever stand out as being the best - wrong!

From the area of the Piazza Della Borsa east toward the hotel the beautiful, clean streets are arranged in neat parallels through which we strolled enjoying the architecture, shops, homes and restaurants. This is a prosperous city with class.

You know how you have that wonderful feeling in your mouth and that longing in your stomach after you've eaten something so good and you crave more? Well, then you know why we stopped into Capriccio, Piazza della Liberta 2, recommended by our hotel receptionist, as an excellent place for pizza. We enjoyed a perfect mixed salad of leaf lettuce, arugula and "real" tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar and two super pizzas which we shared - one with mozzarella, tomato and ricotta and one bianco, with mozzarella and parmigiano - along with beer and mineral water. The quality and service were excellent. The decor was typical wood, stucco, and checkered cloths. The place was full and all the food looked wonderful - not just the pizza. A typical continental breakfast buffet was served in the pretty dining room off the rear of the lobby.

Our first stop today was at the synagogueTrieste Synagogue on Via San Francesco. It is the largest synagogue, by volume, in Europe. (The one with the largest seating capacity is in Budapest.) There is a Syrian influence in the design. We were greeted at the entrance by security guards who were volunteers from the congregation. The three young men interrogated us very thoroughly and took our passports and our camera before allowing us to enter the sanctuary where the congregation was at prayer. The inside is simple and austere in design. The men and women sit separately in the orthodox manner. A short while later, our passports were returned.

When we were leaving, our camera was returned and we had the opportunity to chat with the three men who were decidedly more friendly. They told us that before the war, there were approximately six thousand Jewish people in Trieste - now there are six to eight hundred. Unfortunately, the tight security is still necessary.

Trieste, the melting pot that it is, has churches of many religions - Catholic, Serbian and Greek Orthodox, Evangelical - and all of them are of spectacular design. In the center of the city is the old city with the Roman theatre and the old churches Santa Maria Maggiore and San Silvestro, behind which lie the alleys of the old town.go to top of page
The old city is at the base of Capitoline Hill which rises high above the city. Atop the hill are the castle, museum and church of San Giusto. The walk up is easy and as you wind your way up, the views are constantly changing. From high on the castle ramparts is a panorama of the city, the suburbs on the surrounding hills and the Adriatic.

After coming down from Capitoline Hill we were looking for a coffee "plus" break. We asked a young couple for a recommendation and they insisted on walking us several blocks to a colonnade in Piazza Della Borsa to Caffe Tergesteo. We never cease being thrilled by the willingness of people to go out of their way to be helpful.

Two pieces of ricotta cheese pie and two cappuccinos hit the spot - at two times the price it would have been in Slovenia. Maybe the Italians go there for goodies as well as for gasoline!

After resting our weary feet, we meandered through the quiet Sunday streets window shopping and appreciating the architecture of the buildings. We were stunned by the design and the size of the of the Post Office/Telecommunications building. The huge lobby with its wide, magnificent stairway is completely marble. We needed some telephone information so we went to the second floor to the customer service department. The service was friendly and helpful.

Next stop was the train station to figure out the best fare options for the rest of our trip. Luckily, an English speaking person was on duty at the information desk. (When we arrived the previous day we had tried to do this, but the agent at that time spoke no English.) She tried every fare plan imaginable and we reached the conclusion that the best option was second class, point-to-point tickets. She spent considerable time with us and would not quit until she had investigated all the alternatives.

There's something about Sundays that suggests Chinese food so we walked along the waterfront to Piazza Venezia 1, home of Grande Shanghai. We found a family-run, nicely decorated eatery with excellent food! The spring rolls were crispy and not greasy with a flavorful vegetable filling; the hot and sour soup had just the right tang; the sweet and sour pork was superb-quality, lean pork with a light breading, worked nice and dry, with perfect sauce; the veal with mushrooms and bamboo shoots in brown sauce was delicious; and the pressed duck was meaty and wonderful. With individual bowls of steamed rice and green tea this was a real treat. In Italy one must follow Chinese food with gelato, so we stopped at the Caffe Degli Specchi in Piazza Unita d'Italia and had a few scoops each.

If Sundays mean Chinese food, then Mondays mean, you guessed it - laundry! After breakfast we took everything, except what we had on, to be done. At 17:00, as promised, we picked-up our washed, dried and nicely-folded clothes. The fresh start was worth the Lit. 15,000.

The tourist office had suggested a side trip to Muggia, a charming Venetian town between Trieste and the Slovenian border. After depositing the laundry at the lavanderia, we boarded bus number 23 at 11:00, (Lit. 3,000, round trip) and arrived there at 11:30.

Muggia hugs the seacoast, but the downside is that it is directly opposite the commercial/industrial part of the Port Of Trieste. The historical center has the usual narrow, cobblestone streets, colorful houses and lots of flowers on balconies. Many of the buildings are in a sad state of repair but work was being done on some of the major sites. The centre is enclosed by medieval walls. The castle, built in 1375, towers over the town. The highlight is the waterfront with its picturesque harbor and marina. With several cafes to choose from, we found the cappuccino and gelato we had to be only fair, and more costly than in Trieste. The 13:50 bus arrived back in Trieste at 14:20.

We headed back to Da Pepi Buffet for a porchino (boiled pork) sandwich, sauerkraut and beer fix - great - and spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the waterfront area until our feet gave out and, laundry in tow, we headed back to the hotel for a rest before dinner.

We had our final Trieste dinner at one of the city's oldest restaurants Birreria-Buffet Da Primo, Via S. Caterina 9. The front of the establishment is a prepared food buffet, with boiled meats of course, and stand-up-eating/drinking counters. We opted for a table at the rear and started with selections from an excellent antipasto/salad table. On each table, there were bottles of the best quality virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread was plentiful and good. So far, we were very pleased and were looking forward to our pasta mains of spaghetti vongole and tagliatelle frutti di mare - disappointment! The preparation of both was quite ordinary. The clams were tiny and tasteless and the frutti di mare was difficult to find. Even the portion of pasta was skimpy. Can't win them all!go to top of page
Next time you go to Venice, visit Trieste as well or, better yet, make it part of your Slovenian experience. We opened the breakfast room at 6:50 and boarded the 7:35 train to
Rome. It had rained all night and it was cloudy. We had heard that many parts of Italy were flooded. We saw muddy, soaked fields as we headed south from Padua. The route was pretty all the way and the IC trains are clean and comfortable. We arrived in Rome fifteen minutes behind schedule at 15:00.

Our last trip to Rome was in April, 1995, and we were fortunate then that the city was not overrun by tourists. Not so, this early October, 1996. It was a "zoo". We suspected this would be the case, since we were unable to get reservations in any of our preferred hotels. We finally found something at the "posted" three-star Hotel Portoghesi, Via Dei Portoghesi 1, a fabulous location in the old city and within easy walking distance of all the sights.

Like many hotels in Rome, the owners have been reluctant to refurbish, but not to raise the rates. From the gross receptionist to the shoddy housekeeping to the out-dated facility, this was poor value. When we phoned from Toronto to make our reservation, we were told we could have the "last available room" a Jr. Suite, Lit. 250,000. This accommodation was not a suite, but just their terminology for their largest room - a dingy box with an unrenovated bathroom, just above and fronting on the noisy street.

The next day, we managed to get our room changed to a brighter but smaller one with a tiny, but renovated bathroom for Lit. 230,000. We did some checking and found that it is very difficult to get good three-star accommodations in Rome for less than Lit. 275,000, and you must book well-ahead to be sure. Now that I have that off my chest, Rome is still one of the great cities in the world to explore. Each time you will find something new and interesting. This was to be a wonderful five day visit, in spite of the hordes of people.

On our walk from Termini station to the hotel, we began our stay in the best possible way, with a stop at Giolitti, Via degli Offici del Vicaro 40, for the very best gelato and panna in Italy. Then, after checking into the hotel, we spent what was left of the late afternoon enjoying the artisans' shops all around our area.

The Associaciazone Artigiani Dell'Orso represents the artisans in the area bounded by the north end of Piazza Navona, Via Zanardelli, Via Monte Brianzo and Via Della Scrofa. For wood-working, furniture restoration, upholstering, porcelain and ceramics, goldsmiths, engravers, silversmiths and glasswork, this is the place.

At night, we dined at Settimo all Arancio on Via Dell Arancio 50/52, an old favorite, that is always excellent. We shared carciofi, lightly fried, crispy and delectable artichoke. Linda had fettuccine salmone and I spaghetti with clams, mussels and arugula cooked with oil and parsley. You cannot go to Arancio without having their frittura pesce - a huge assortment of perfectly coated, seasoned and pan fried calamari, scampi and small fish (three types). The service, quality and quantity at reasonable prices make it one of Rome's best values. With good bread and the house red, it was a huge meal - but we hadn't had lunch (just some gelato) - and we'd traveled so far!

We had been looking forward to this day, because at night we'd be having dinner in Trastevere with other members of our internet travel newsgroup who had arranged to get together in Rome. After a poor breakfast in the roof-top breakfast room, attended to by a despondent employee, we decided to check out the location of the La Torre restaurant, Via Natale del Grande 10, so that we could make a bee-line for the place in the evening. Besides, the route there through Piazza Navona, Campo Di Fiori, The Jewish Ghetto and over the Fiume Tevere, the Tiber River, is one of our favorite walks through Rome.

This old city area still has the feel and look of the past with the smells of cooking and fresh markets. The outdoor tables are filled with folks enjoying their coffee, chatting, watching us go by - perfectly at ease. The tourists enjoying their dreams come true and trying to behave as Romans. We took it slow and easy, checking-out every store window, reading every menu and watching the businessmen darting in and out of buildings, with phones to their ears, oblivious of all else.

When you go to the ghetto area, watch the hustle and bustle of the wholesale/retail trade and when lunch time comes, follow your nose to the place that most excites you. This led us to two places: Tomassini Margherita, Plaza Cinque Scole 30, a tiny trattoria, and pasticceria Il Boccione, Via Portico d'Otavia 1, a Jewish old-world bakery.

Tomassini Margherita is run by two middle-aged women - one out front and one in the kitchen. The menu has very few offerings - each is homemade, substantial and reasonably priced. In the ghetto, you must start with fried or steamed carciofi - we shared a fried portion. There are usually two pastas and two sauces from which to choose. Linda had the agnolotti stuffed with meat and I had the fettuccini, both with tomato sauce, served with grated cheese and deliciously dense bread. Very special in its homemade simplicity! go to top of page
Out, and around the corner for a treat from Il Boccione - a cookie for Linda and a piece of "babka" coffee cake for me. Oops, what's going on down the way at Via S. Maria del Pianto? There are hordes of people going into Zi Fenizia, a "pizza rustica" type place with a huge array of pizzas, cut to order and sold by weight. Indicate how much of which ones you want and then just pay and enjoy. Noted!

On our last visit, we had made a token pass through a small part of Trastevere. This time we navigated through the maze of narrow streets and piazzas. The place was alive with what seemed to be mostly young locals. One gets the feeling of an uninhibited lifestyle. We found the restaurant but were not successful in our other quest of finding David's, famous for "the best gelato in Rome". We asked many people who looked at us mystified. We had read about David's in a newsgroup posting from Laurie in Rome. Well, we'd check this out further with her in the evening at the get-together. We ambled back to our hotel for some rest before heading back to La Torre for the 20:00 gathering.

We had pictures of Cheryl Moreau and Laurie Federgreen and when we arrived at the restaurant, we spotted them standing out front. Linda walked up to Cheryl, with a picture that Laurie had taken of Cheryl in Sardinia some months earlier, and comparing the picture to the person, she commented on what a good likeness it was. "It was a great ice-breaker" Cheryl said recently, "be sure to include it in your travelogue!"

Laurie was with Peter Egyed and we were joined by Ilona de Borhegyi and Erick Barbier. All of them live in Rome except Cheryl, who is from Portland, Maine. Allen and Martha Gifford from Ventura, California, Leanne Greenberg from Sydney, Australia and Carl from California, rounded out the group.

La Torre was an excellent choice because they cater to large parties and don't mind if you linger. Meeting people from all around the world, with whom you chat all the time, is a marvelous experience. It was a delightful evening of sharing interests, getting to know one another, good food and drink and finally discovering the truth about David's! It seems it was David MacFarlane who posted the fact that the best gelato in Rome was in Trastevere - and the ensuing exchange of messages on the subject began referring to the place as David's gelato place - and that's where we came in! After a good laugh, Laurie led us to Fonte Della Salute. The gelato was good, especially the pistachio nut that David loves, but the panna was just okay. Sorry, Laurie, Giolitti remains our favoritego to top of page
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