28 July 2012: Day 10 – Grado to Trieste

52.5 km (32.6 mi)

We awoke to the sound of our little air conditioner conditioning away.  The nice thing about beach resort towns is that there is very little early morning traffic or church bell noise.  People are on vacation here!  We grabbed our atlas and headed down to a very big, very hotel-y breakfast.  It was delicious and we, of course, ate our fill with no care for what we must look like to our fellow guests.  Plates piled high with fruits, eggs, cereals, and anything else, we perused our route for the day.

With joy we counted our kilometers…just 53 (that’s around 32 miles).  Hah, no problem.  And it really wasn’t.  What we did realize, though, having decided to stay in Grado, is that our trip to Trieste would be an out and back, since the road to Venice was back past Grado, more or less.  Hmm, we decided to see if there was another way to Venice, or could we possibly “cheat” with a ferry.  After all, as the crow flies, Venice really wasn’t all that far from Trieste, across the gulf.  There HAD to be a ferry from Trieste to Venice, right?  Well…no.  Apparently there isn’t much demand for said ferry, but there is a ferry between Grado and Trieste and one between Venice and a few ports in Croatia, south down the coast from Trieste.  Hmm.  Both interesting options to explore, but first, onward to Trieste!

We rode out of Grado through the other end, not back across the bridge that brought us into town.  At first it was a bike trail that doubled as a beach access trail for vacationers walking from their hotels to their days on the sand.  Families abounded.  It was definitely summer vacation in Europe.  Generally speaking, the road out of Grado toward Trieste was flat, hot, and sandy.  We noticed as we left Grado that things seemed very dry.  It seemed like it hadn’t rained in weeks.

The next part of our ride was truly delightful.  The road stopped heading inland and started to turn, following the coastline.  With the Adriatic stretching out as far as the eye could see to our right, we enjoyed the sea breeze at our backs as we cruised toward Trieste.  The miles dropped away fast because the wind was so strong, pushing us forward (I preferred not to think about the ride back toward Grado if it came to that and if the wind decided to continue blowing the same direction…).  We saw a fruit stand on our left and thought, why not stop for a break?  It was one of the best choices we could have made!  We left the fruit stand with a couple of peaches and a melon (adding to my panniers – wine and melon…thankfully there were no mountain passes).  We saw turnout up ahead that overlooked the sea.  You could look down the coast to Trieste.  It was stunning.  The next few moments were absolute heaven as we sunk our teeth into the juiciest, sweetest, most delectable peaches we had ever eaten.  Amazing.  I can taste them even now!

The rest of the ride to Trieste was quick.  We set a fast pace and arrived early afternoon in the city.  As we rode into town, we noted two things.  First, Miramare Castle (Castello di Miramare) on our right down just above the water looked like a fairytale castle that hovered on the rocks overlooking the ocean.  Wow.  Second, as mentioned, the road follows the coastline, and as you get closer to the city, the road narrows with rocky hillside rising up on the left and the water closing in on the right.  Suddenly you enter the outskirts of the city, which is roughly a boardwalk and massive rocks that fall into the sea.  The area is covered with…people!  Yes, vacationers, beach-goers.  Except, I couldn’t call them beach-goers exactly because there was no, well, beach. It was boardwalk where the people strip down to their bikinis and speedos (I mean, everyone does), stretch out their blankets or set up their lounge chairs and lie out in the sun.  Handfuls of adults and some kids were in the water, jumping off the rocks and swimming around.  It was a real sight, slightly comical in our modest American way.  Plus, we also noted just how tan these people were.  Complete with tanning oil…maybe melanoma isn’t such a big deal in that region?  Regardless, it was people having a whole lot of fun, and I am all for that!

We stopped to gather our bearings and see if we had a map that might help us orient and ultimately locate our B&B.  While we studied our little Trieste insert in the atlas, a blond man approached us.  He looked about our age.  He asked us, in perfect english (slight accent) if we spoke english and if he could take a look at our map.  It turns out he and his girlfriend were Dutch and were just finishing a three-week cycling trip through the Czech Republic and Croatia.  They were heading to the airport outside Trieste just now and he just needed to check the map to make sure they had their timing correct for making their flight.  We chatted about our respective trips, and Kovas and I ultimately determined that this couple, or perhaps the Dutch in general were far more hardcore than we were because they camped throughout their whole trip.  That’s impressive (and saves a ton of money). Plus, the flights were dirt cheap through the local low-cost airlines.  It was enough to make me want to drop everything and move to Europe.  The access to amazing cultures and scenery is unbelievable!  Oh well…

Finally we reached Trieste the city, and it was absolutely that.  Trieste was the first large city we’d seen since Salzburg.  It was definitely bigger than Innsbruck and Kufstein and certainly bigger than the places we rode through in the Dolomites, so we were a bit culture-shocked.  Admittedly, my first impression was not great.  It seemed dirty (the buildings had a strange sooty film on them) and just busy with cars and people like any other city.  I did notice the architecture was lovely, but very different from other parts of Italy we’d seen.  It actually looked more like Innsbruck in a way.  Clearly we had a lot to explore before we could really judge this place, so we set out to find our B&B and start from there.

B&B Zenzero & Cannella was off the main street, up away from the waterfront and deeper into the actual city.  It was essentially in a residential/working part of the city (non-tourist area as we later learned).  The B&B was a couple of floors up in an apartment building whose architecture was impressive and definitely old-looking.  The lift (elevator) matched its building.  It might be the smallest, most precarious lift we had yet encountered.  If you didn’t close the doors of the lift upon exiting the lift, no matter what floor you were on, it wouldn’t move.  That is, if you left the doors open to the lift, you screwed anyone else who wanted to use the lift because it would not come when called.  We were warned never to do this once we oriented in our B&B.

Andrea is the proprietor of B&B Zenzero & Cannella.  He is awesome!!!  We felt instantly welcome in his uber-cool B&B.  It’s not huge, maybe 3 or 4 rooms, but the rooms are so simply yet cleanly decorated.  Each has a theme.  Ours was the green room.  Very zen.  It was so refreshing in that lovely B&B, especially after Grado’s sweaty, sandy, salty atmosphere.  Andrea was quick to provide us with everything we needed to know about Trieste, including dinner recommendations and a warning that any restaurant we wanted to try we had better go that night (Saturday) because most were closed Sundays.  We thought, “No way.  It’s prime tourist season.  Of course they’ll be open…”  Regardless, we were instantly impressed and decided that we had a new favorite (or at least in the top 5) B&B from all our travels.  We learned so much from Andrea about Italians, Italian culture, Trieste culture, and the difference between Trieste and the rest of the country.  He explained that there was a huge Germanic influence in Trieste, which explains the very Austrian architecture.  In fact, he said at one time Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was connected to Italy and the country united in the 1800s.  Thus, the culture of Trieste is more Germanic than Italian in many ways…there was some obvious frustration in his voice as he described the region’s exasperation with the current government/politics and tax structure.  Fascinating.

Because we had arrived (for once) early enough in the day to still enjoy the sights without collapsing from hunger, we cleaned ourselves up and set out to tour Miramare Castle, leaving city exploration for tomorrow. So, of course, we set out on foot, readying ourselves for a good long walk, because our ride hadn’t taxed us enough that day.  We knew Miramare Castle was on the road out of the city, the same way we had ridden in, so off we went.  We wandered through the working part of Trieste, which looked like any other big city with large brand-name stores, office buildings, etc.  The difference was that most of the buildings were truly that Germanic style and it was really lovely.  However, we still noted the sooty appearance of the buildings, wondering if this was the result of centuries of pollution or other industrial effect?

The entrance to Miramare Castle eluded us the first 4 times we walked by it.  We managed to explore the whole marina before realizing that the Castle was actually above us along the road into Trieste, but the entrance…?  In our defense, the gates, when we finally found them, were well-camouflaged by the greenery over growing both sides of the road.  Frankly, for such a prominent tourist destination, we were surprised to find that the gates  were more like the entrance to the Secret Garden than to an Archduke’s Castle.  Practically pushing aside overgrown ivy vines and noting the large stone wall that surrounded the park, we entered the Castle Gardens, which were truly beautiful.

The Castle itself is really more of a large manor home.  It was built in the mid-19th century by Ferdinand Maximillian of Hapsburg (from the Austro-Hungarians).  He wanted a place in an incredible setting that was befitting his rank.  Unfortunately, we arrived just an hour before the park closed (because we had taken so long looking for the entrance), so we had to rush through the museum and the gardens.  It was well worth it, though.  The home is pretty cool with all the preserved furnishings.  It’s very ornate and beautiful in that overly-done-gilded-kind-of-way.  I was interested in the history since I know very little about pre-WWI Italy and Austria-Hungary.  If you’re headed toward the Trieste region, I definitely recommend a peek at the Archduke’s castle.  For more information, visit this link to the Castle.

After the Castle tour, it was headed toward evening, so we wandered back into Trieste in search of one of the recommended restaurants.  Truthfully, I barely remember the dinner that night.  It was fine…but nothing to take note of.  In fact, the nicest part was wandering the narrow streets in search of the restaurant and enjoying a nice meal outside on the patio.  You see, now that we were out of the mountains, evenings were pleasantly warm (while days were getting unpleasantly hot).

We ended our first night in Trieste on the docks looking at the city.  As we left the restaurant and found our way toward the waterfront, we were surprised to find a massive main square surrounded by beautiful buildings.  It was very orderly, just like the Austrians.  This main square had a myriad of streets peeling off of it that led to more little piazas, restaurants, gelaterias, boutiques, etc.  Ahhh!  So THIS is the Trieste we had been looking for!  It was charming, pleasant, and, best of all, not too terribly touristy.  We got the impression that Trieste is a bit off to the east for many American tourists who are spending their time in Venice and more southerly Italian destinations.  Certainly there were Europeans vacationing as well as Italians, but it really wasn’t too over-crowded.  Trieste is a city worth visiting, and certainly worth returning to!

 

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