Trieste is a city that long captivated my imagination: Just miles from the former Yugoslavia (present-day Slovenia), the Italian city was a crossing ground for spies during the Cold War.
I was traveling through Slovenia with my parents in 2011, and I made sure we at least set foot in the city, as it was only 20 minutes by car from our hotel.
We drove in and parked with no problems and then headed to the waterfront. It was too late to go to any museums, but then, Trieste doesn’t rate high on that scale in any case, and I was more interested in doing as the locals do.
We joined a host of people walking on the waterfront promenade, perusing an outdoor market and popping into shops.During the Cold War, Yugoslavs were able to go shopping in the West, and Trieste was a popular destination for its proximity. After buying items not available in the Soviet Bloc – chiefly jeans – Yugoslavs would go to Prague or Budapest, whose citizens had far more restrictive travel laws, and sell the items at a huge profit. Since the money could only be spent in Czechoslovakia or Hungary, respectively, otherwise-poor Yugoslavs would blow their newfound wealth on five-star hotels and caviar dinners before returning to Yugoslavia.
Ah, the bad old days.
Fortunately, that’s in the past, and I was able to pass through the borders without even flashing my passport.
We walked to the end of a jetty as the sun set over the water. Though it’s in eastern Italy, Trieste is on the part of the country that hooks around onto the rest of the continent, so the waterfront is actually to the west.
It was too early for dinner, so we wandered through the city, past stately buildings and down narrow streets. One of the great traditions in Italy is the evening walk, and it’s something I wholeheartedly wish we did more in the United States.
Everyone was out, from groups of teenagers in leather jackets to the elderly, families with dogs and lovers holding hands.
We sat at a bar with tables set outside in a pedestrian street and had a beer while watching the evening pass.
Deciding it was time to eat, we strolled past a picturesque canal with boats lying at anchor toward a row of restaurants all facing the waterfront. Like any oceanside area, many of the restaurants are overpriced, and there’s probably some great local spot just a few blocks inland.
That night, however, we wanted the ambiance of the ocean and outdoor seating, and the food where we ended up stopping looked fantastic.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara and lasagna came out with some fantastic bread. The late-September night was perfect for being outdoors.
When my mom wanted more bread, she hailed the server and asked for “a piece of bread,” which he didn’t seem to understand despite his good English. She repeated it a few times, he frowned, and then his face lit up. He scribbled something on his notepad and darted off.
“You’re not getting a piece of bread,” I said, and my dad agreed, wondering what would come out.
Several minutes later, the server returned, a triumphant grin on his face. In his hands was a pizza tray. He set it down, and we saw it was pizza, sans toppings, but it had been brushed with a mixture of garlic and butter.
“Piece of bread” had been understood as “pizza bread,” and he did as he thought we’d asked. And he only charged us €2.30 for a side of focaccia. Of course we ate the whole thing and wished we’d had more.
It was getting late, and we had to head to Piran, Slovenia, the next day, so we found our way back to the car.