City slicker / Trieste

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The Independent Culture
November is a busy month for Trieste with the opening of the opera season and commemoration of the landing of Italian troops in 1918 to liberate the city

Nationality: Italian, but only just. By turns Austro-Hungarian, then Free State, then ceded to Italy in 1954. Local Slav-Italian dialect studied by language wizards. Border with Slovenia a mere tram-ride away.

Tram-ride: One of the oldest lines still running (started 1902), with wooden and brass fittings, goes up precipitous slopes with dazzling views of city and harbour. Tram-buffs should take a tram from Plazza Oberdan in the city centre - get tickets from newsagent there.

Civic inferiority complex: Rivalry with Venice, on opposite shore of the Adriatic. Trieste is more staid than Venice, more bourgeois and mostly on dry land.

Civic superiority complex: Utterly justified as leading literary city, a rival to Paris and Dublin. Richard Burton (no, not that one, boyo - the explorer) produced famous Victorian erotica, his translation of The Arabian Nights, during his stint as British Consul. James Joyce taught Triestans their first faltering words of English when he was a teacher in a language school. Local author Italo Svevo was model for Leopold Bloom.

Inspirations: Lots of bars. Also libertarian, strong Republican tradition. Religious buildings of every denomination - Joyce went to services in the Serbian Orthodox cathedral. Refuge for persecuted Jews but had Italy's only concentration camp, now a national monument, the Risiera at San Sabba on the outskirts of the city.

Unfair smear: "Ah, Trieste, Trieste ate my liver!" (Finnegan's Wake). In fact, Joyce touched the innocents of Trieste mercilessly for never- repaid loans.

Unusual opportunities: Ship-spotting in the huge harbour. The Italian battle-ship Audaco has its own berth here and British visitors, as seen in the television series HMS Brilliant, occasionally hitch up to bollards.

What to eat: Hot meals in bars. Menus are Slav/Italian, with Oriental touches: ravioli, goulash, kaiser-fleisch, Prague ham, Cevabcici (pronounced Chevabcheechee - shish-kebab). Rebechin - a traditional snack eaten standing at buffet. Smart young Triestans go out to Grignano and dine at the Principe di Metternich on the water-front. Don't forget you mobile phone.

Shopping and staying: Investigate the elegant grid of streets behind the harbour. Very few tourists, so prices are well below those of Rome and Florence. Hotels are cheaper than Venice, which is two to three hours away by train. However the city can be very sultry making inns in surrounding villages more appealing during the summer.

Road hazards: In the mountains, stray deer wander across the paths. In the city, stray scientists do the same. They (scientists, not deer) stay at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Grignano, split the atom for breakfast and spend the day wandering round with an upside-down street map.

Biggest hole: Grotta Gigante, situated 10 miles out of the city in the Carso region, is one of the world's largest caves. It is 900 feet long, 300 feet deep and much featured in adventure films. Caving types stay at the Hotel Ristorante Milic, amidst tiny stone-walled orchards and dove- cotes. Sweater essential.

Natural disadvantages: The Bora (north-east winter wind) - lifts you off your feet; the Scirocco (south-west summer wind) - melts Cornetto in your hand. The Contraste (Bora and Scirocco blowing at once, fortunately rare) makes any movement in any direction utterly impossible. Go on - it's lovely. And ever so bracing.

JANE JAKEMAN

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