Monday my brother took me down to the coastal town of Caorla. After the pouring rain of the weekend (we got two inches or so and rained out the Befana bonfires), it was a gorgeous, sunny day, and relatively warm. He didn’t tell me where we were going. When we were nearly there he asked if I could guess.
Frankly, I hadn’t any idea where we were or even that the coast was anywhere near. The only thing I knew was that we were heading south, away from the mountains, but “south” covers a lot of territory from Aviano. Living on a huge, open plain, there are no real vantage points from which to see the surrounding territory, so I had no way to even guess we were near the coast. “Um, no,” I said. “I haven’t got any idea of the geography yet.” I think he was slightly disappointed.
Caorla seems like a lovely little seaside town. We walked along the paved path along the beach, but didn’t actually venture down onto the sand. I would have, had I been by myself, but I wasn’t sure where my brother was going or how long he wanted to spend out of the house. I very much enjoyed it, though.
Right on the beach is a little church. One side of the church tower has a large light on it, facing out to sea, so I imagine that it functions as a sort of lighthouse, though the light wouldn’t be visible from all directions. The stones along the sea wall are interspersed with a variety of stones that have been carved by different artists. Some of the carvings are whimsical (one of the first ones I saw was a head with an alligator or crocodile perched atop it like some Egyptian deity), while others seemed more abstract or more serious. They did liven up the waterfront walk quite nicely.
We finished up our short walk and had lunch at a seafood restaurant. The grilled fish was delicious but the rest of it was really only so-so. He hadn’t eaten there before, so it was a shot in the dark. The place he usually eats there was closed, as Monday was a holiday. Despite the mostly uninspiring food, I was glad to have a bright day, and to get some salt air in my lungs again. I’d been missing it mightily.
Yesterday, though, we got up at about 6:30am to get the train from Sacile to Trieste. My brother prefers to take the train from Sacile rather than Pordenone (which is closer) because you can actually find parking there, and the train isn’t as crowded when you get on. We got first class tickets because he wasn’t sure whether the second class compartments were going to be packed with students and commuters. By the time we got to Udine, there were crowds boarding, but first class remained relatively roomy by comparison.
I enjoyed the train ride up to Trieste. For quite some time, we were traveling over the plain but as we got more into the mountains, I began to feel much more at home. All I could think was, “This is more like it. This feels right.” I’ve been missing having hills surrounding me. I feel too exposed out here with nothing but space around me and I know I wouldn’t be able to live in a place like this, even in a city, for very long before it really started getting to me. I need the steep hillsides and the variety in the terrain to truly feel comfortable. I need the sea close at hand. I need to be able to look up and see the hills ranging into the mist, and the trees on the mountainside.
One of my brother’s friends had commented about the hills in Trieste, suggesting that I might have a rough time with them. Having lived in and around Seattle for so long, the thought mostly amused me. I can’t wait to be living between the mountains and the water again. I’m fine with climbing hills, and I can generally take my time if I’m walking. The exercise agrees with me. So far the only three complaints I have heard from anyone about Trieste are:
- The Bora wind. I figure the city is prepared for it and I can learn to live with it.
- There’s no parking. Since I can’t drive, this is irrelevant.
- Hills. See above.
If these are the only complaints people generally express, it can’t be that bad a place to live, can it? These may well be famous last words, but we’ll see what happens.
Trieste is a border city, on the edge of Slovenia. It was the seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a couple of centuries. During the Cold War, it was nearly as divided as Berlin, though without the physical wall. There was once a small US Navy base there, long gone now. The British writer, Jan Morris, wrote a book about the city called Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, which I read a month or so before coming to Italy. She made the place sound quite melancholy, which wasn’t the impression I got when we visited.
As we approached Trieste, Duino Castle was visible along the coast in the town of Duino, made famous in the literary world by Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies series of poems. Not much further along was Miramare Castle, built by the ill-fated Hapsburg Archduke, Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico. He lasted for about three years before he was executed by firing squad. Personally, I’m more of an Emperor Norton fan, myself, but the castle is lovely from the train, situated on a point overlooking the Adriatic. Sadly, the train windows were a little smudged and dusty for taking photos.
When we arrived at the Trieste station, there was a young man walking out into the city ahead of us; he was wearing a long and rather nice black cloak. “Okay,” I thought, “that looks about right to me.” The impression was further confirmed when we stopped at a bar across from the train station. A woman who may have been in her early 40s was one of the baristas, wearing nose and labret piercings with studs. Obviously among the conceptual group of “My People.” I felt a tiny spark of joy at seeing her.
In hopes of talking to some people with experience around Trieste, we went over to the American Corner. I’d found them on the internet when I was researching the city several months ago; they’re located at Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, number 6. There’s a library there that used to be part of the no-longer-operating American consulate in Trieste. When the last consul died in 2008, the State Department closed the consulate and never bothered to send anyone else, but the library remained and was taken over by a group of volunteers. Now they manage a library of books and movies, they host movie nights and English-language documentaries, offer English classes and Italian classes, along with other social gatherings. One of the things they host is a monthly gathering for English-speaking newcomers to Trieste to offer some orientation to the city and its services. The next one is on Friday the 17th, and I’ll be hopping on a train to go down for the weekend to attend.
The Facebook page for the organization had them listed at number 9, and the map pin on the page had them placed in yet a different location. I asked my brother to call them and we headed off to Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, along the waterfront up to the canal. “It’s after the Serbian church,” he was told.
There is no number 9 after the Serbian church. I don’t think there’s a number 9 at all, actually. I spotted a nondescript door in between a couple of businesses, with the typical column of resident/business labels and doorbells. “Maybe we should look at the door, there,” I said. “They might have a name tag up.”
“Oh, no,” my brother said, “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. Let’s walk a little more.”
We walked around the block. We walked up to number 1 and down past the Serbian church. I said, “We should call them again.” He did.
It was, in fact, the door I’d suggested we check out. Naturally.
We went inside, up the tiny, ancient lift and into the offices. It’s actually a fairly nice location, with a number of rooms for their library collections, their movie room, classrooms for adults and kids. The volunteers we spoke to were quite nice and there’s apparently a thriving small community centered around the place. They have regular hours, but are often open if someone’s in the office just because someone is there. We had a very nice chat with Denise, who was helpful and quite informative. She gave me a stack of flyers for classes and events, and some contacts for people in the city who might be able to help with finding a place to live. “We’re always looking for volunteers,” she said. “Do you have any library experience?”
I’m not a librarian, but I live in one, and I’ve worked in bookshops and libraries before, so it’s likely I’ll be spending time there and probably doing some volunteer work myself, to get acquainted with people and start to find community. It’s always easier for me to talk to new people if I have an actual reason to speak with them, rather than just randomly approaching strangers; having A Thing To Do would be very helpful while I got settled in.
After our chat with Denise, we grabbed some lunch and called a rental agency. We had found a few places that looked like possibilities on an online rental site. She said to meet her at one of them at 2:30, so we spent a little time wandering around the area of the apartment we were going to look at. Denise had said the neighborhood was a nice one, and fairly quiet, which was encouraging. The building itself is across the street from the train station, in walking distance of pretty much everything, and at a fairly substantial hub of bus routes. The place was gorgeous inside, as well, so I’m currently in the process of dealing with attempting to get a rental contract. I emailed the agent today and gave formal notice that I want to rent the place; she’d texted my brother and asked me to do so, as they had another inquiry about the place today. I don’t know whether I’ll get it, but it would be ideal if I could, as it’s a lovely large place with a southern exposure and lots of light, in a place that was just renovated. The apartment went on the rental market not three weeks ago, right about the time I arrived in Italy. I’d love a place with light after spending ten years living in a cave.
Friday we’ll be going into Trieste again. Italian banks run very differently than US banks, and the only way you can withdraw cash from the bank without a bank card is to go into the branch where you opened the account. That means I’ll need one in walking distance of wherever I happen to live.
You can’t just walk into an Italian bank. The damned things have airlock doors equipped with metal detectors. With most of them, you can’t even carry your bag inside. You have to leave your purse or backpack in a locker outside the door, provided by the bank. It certainly seems like the sort of thing that would make robberies a lot harder, if nothing else. I’ll admit it all seems very strange to me, used to being able to walk into any branch of my credit union without having to pass through an airlock, and withdraw money if I there is a teller at the branch.
A lot of banks here don’t do online banking yet, either, so I had to spend time today searching Italian bank websites (mostly in Italian) to figure out what services they offered. I did find one on the waterfront, only a few blocks from the apartment I’m trying to rent, that actually has online services something like what I’m used to, including bill paying. It’ll make life a lot easier if I don’t have to deal with walking down to the bank for a check every month when I need to pay bills to places that don’t take cash. It looked like they might even set up automatic payments for rent, though I’m not certain. We’ll have to talk to them when we are in town again on Friday.
Before we headed back to Sacile on the train, we wandered around the city a bit. The more we walked, the more I thought, “This is a place I could live. I’d like living here.” We found ourselves in the Piazza Unità d’Italia and stopped at Caffè degli Specchi, a very famous and very elegant café. The place has a tea menu along with all the coffee, for which Trieste is quite famous. They have loose leaf tea, served in those wonderful Japanese cast iron teapots. It’s the first place I’ve found in Italy so far that had more than a little box of random tea bags, if they had any tea at all. Loose leaf tea. My day was made.
Tomorrow we’re supposed to go into Montereale Valcellina and see if we can get my ID card. My brother’s landlady was supposed to go file a declaration that I’m living here so that I can get the documentation. I have no idea if she’s had time to do that yet. We shall see.