Trail of the unexpected: James Joyce in Trieste

James Joyce spent 15 creative years in Trieste – and his spirit still lives on here.

This Thursday, thousands will congregate in Dublin – and Buffalo, Buenos Aires and other cities – to celebrate Bloomsday, the day in 1904 on which all the action of James Joyce's novel Ulysses takes place. Ironically, no Bloomsday razzmatazz is planned for Trieste, the city where Joyce spent more than 15 richly creative years between 1904 and 1920.

Visitors need not know a jot about Ulysses or its author to relish the Joyce trail, which brings the Italian city's Austro-Hungarian heyday astonishingly close.

Swaggering oversized statues flank doorways once owned by prosperous Habsburg merchants, and crumbling walls strike an occasional melancholy note. Helpfully, an easily walkable itinerary available from Trieste's tourist office maps the eight houses Joyce inhabited and dozens of his favourite haunts. It is fascinating to discover how this grand and beautiful Adriatic port interacted with the man who wrote most of Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man while living here.

The stories attached to Joyce's time in Trieste are constantly diverting. Arriving aged 22 and penniless, he planned to fund a spell abroad by teaching English. On arrival, he installed his young mistress Nora Barnacle on a park bench opposite the station while he hunted for a place to stay, but instead got arrested along with some rowdy English sailors and had to be rescued from jail by a reluctant consul. He carried on behaving just as unreliably for the next decade, unable to support his family without the help of his steady brother Stanislaus who settled in Trieste.

His happiest period was spent living on the third floor at number 4 Via Bramante, near some elegant steps leading to the Basevi Gardens. You can retrace his possible route when taking his young son and daughter to the local school, where they picked up the harsh Triestine dialect. Joyce liked to stride out, undaunted by the steep hills of the city. Sometimes he went further afield, to escape what he called "a damn silly sun that makes men into butter" and occasionally to escort one of his rich and attractive students up to the Carso plateau. An urban tramway opened two years before Joyce arrived, and operates still. Every 20 minutes and for a mere €1.10, you can climb aboard a tram-cum-funicular at the Piazza Oberdan to ascend the steep gradient and gain magnificent views over the harbour.

For a time, Joyce breakfasted every day on presnitz (a succulent fig roll with nuts) and red wine at the Pasticceria Caffè Pirona. Now, tempting Mitteleuropean pastries are mounded up under the glass counters of this historic Art Nouveau bakery at 12 Largo Barriera Vecchia. The pedestrianised Via San Nicolò was where the Joyces lived at number 32 above the Berlitz School which employed Joyce. Next door is the Umberto Saba Antiquarian bookshop, little changed from the time that it was owned by Joyce's friend, the celebrated Triestine poet Umberto Saba.

Joyce might not have had two crowns to rub together for all the years he spent in Trieste, but he couldn't live without certain pleasures: eating out drinking (a lot), buying books and going to the theatre. He frequented the Teatro Verdi, condemned to the cheap seats where the "sodden walls ooze a steamy damp" and smelled of the "sour reek of armpits". The atmosphere in the upper loggione these days is far more genteel, but the opera is just as captivating.

One entertainment which cost Joyce nothing was to attend places of worship. As the main port of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire, Trieste embraced a polyglot melange of cultures. One of Joyce's favourites was the Greek-Orthodox church of San Nicolò with its twin towers facing the sea, where the mysterious rituals behind the curtain intrigued him. Many of his most loyal friends and students were from the Jewish community, which was wealthy enough in 1912 to open a synagogue built on a lavish scale on Via San Francesco d'Assisi. Today, the Tempio Israelitico can be visited on Sunday mornings and Wednesday afternoons.

A cultural omnivore, Joyce frequented the red light district of the Città Vecchia quarter, including a brothel at 7 via della Pescheria, now a semi-gentrified apartment building. He was equally at home in high bourgeois coffeehouses like the Caffè San Marco, still evocative of Viennese elegance, and the Caffè Stella Polare near the Canal Grande. It was here that he once tore such a strip off the local newspaper editor for chasing after Nora, that the poor man burst into tears. Nothing so dramatic happens now.

A bridge over the canal is graced by a bronze statue of the Irishman caught mid-reverie. I was too taken aback to demur when an Italian passerby who offered to take a photo said "I suggest you kiss him". I was allowed to keep my distance from another fine statue of Joyce enveloped in a flowering rose in the exuberant Giardino Tommasini.

Ulysses is famed for encompassing everything under the sun. For all its wonders, Trieste can't promise quite that range of experience, but Joyce's time here is worth commemorating – on 16 June or any other day.

Travel essentials: Trieste

Getting there

* Trieste is served by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted and Birmingham.

* If starting in Venice, regional trains depart from Venice Mestre throughout the day with a journey time of about two hours to Trieste Centrale ( trenitalia.com; singles €10).

Staying there

* James Joyce Hotel, 7 Via Cavazzeni, Trieste (00 39 040 311023; hoteljamesjoyce.com). Hidden away off a narrow pedestrian lane in the old town, the hotel's reception is located across the street in the smarter Urban Hotel Design. Doubles start at €108, including breakfast.

More information

* Bloomsday is on Thursday 16 June.

* Trieste Tourist Office, 1 Via dell'Orologio (00 39 04 0347 8312; turismofvg.it). * 45 plaques around the city indicate places of Joycean interest.

* The book James Joyce: Triestine Itineraries by Renzo Crivelli is a detailed guide (in English and Italian) with maps.

* See also www.retecivica.trieste.it/joyce

News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin