Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Venice 2

Friday, 28 May 2010

Last blog entry I talked about the pros, but here is where I am going to take a more jaundiced view of Venice and talk about the cons.

Venice is lovely, true, but it also can feel a bit creepy and sham. It kind of feels like you are in a play (playing a bit part), surrounded by all the props and stage settings. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I came and have seen Venice first hand at least once in my life, but I think three days was enough. After that it starts to feel like you have overindulged in a banquet of too much rich food.  The population of historic central Venice has declined in modern times to about 60,000 now (down from 150,000 in 1950) with about that number of tourists per day on average. With tourism being so important to the economy you can expect to have to pay your way.

The next pics were taken outside a shop (with the slogan  “Essence of Decadence”), that makes Carnivale  masks in the traditional way, either of leather or a kind of papier mache. The shop proudly boasts that it supplied the masks for the Stanley Kubrick directed 1999 movie “Eyes Wide Shut” with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.


Thought for the day:

Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.
— Truman Capote


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Venice 1

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Here is where I am going to be like everyone else and swoon and fawn over Venice (soon-ish). While I get my thoughts together, I’ll just put up some pics, roughly grouped.

I tried walking from the train station to my hotel. I counted 17  bridges.



Oops. Dead end.



Uh-oh. Must have taken a wrong turn.


Hooray. Ponte Dell Accademia over the Grand Canal. Halfway there.



Another wrong turn. I’m sure the map said there should be a bridge here…


At last, the Piazza San Marco.

Just one more bridge and I am where the map says my hotel should be. But where is it?

Turned out to be down that very narrow laneway between the two buildings.

After settling in to my digs, I went out to explore. First I climbed the clock tower (well, actually I went up in the lift with everybody else).


Then I visited the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). This is where the ruler of Venice lived and conducted the business of state and included the law courts and prisons (connected by the Bridge of Sighs). A number of the rooms are covered with the fabulous paintings of famous Venetian artists such as Veronese, Tintoretto and others, including Tintoretto’s Paradiso, said to be the largest old master oil painting in the world (7m by 22m).



The Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) where the prisoner got his last look at freedom.

I also visited the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, with oodles of old master on walls and ceilings, including more Tintorettos than you could poke a stick at (65 in all, including the magnificent Crucifixion). 

For something a bit more modern, I then visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, right on the Grand Canal, with works by Picasso, Chagall, Kandinsky, Dali, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Miro and others.


There are a lot of tourists in Venice. But it’s not so bad. The large tour groups are mainly around Piazza San Marco, and the day trippers have all gone by early evening. On Thursday evening I wandered around, often getting lost, then suddenly recognising a familiar landmark (aaah… that’s where I am!). And when I returned to Piazza San Marco around 10pm I was greeted by the sight of ankle-deep water all across the square. High tide, and maybe the almost full moon had something to do with it. Nothing for it but to take off my shoes and socks and wade through.



Friday, 28 May 2010

Today I rode the vaporetti for the first time. My first stop was the Lido, the long strip of land with a sandy beach that protects the islands and laguna (Lagoon) from the Adriatic Sea.


The Lido was the setting for Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice”. I found an English language copy in A Venice bookshop and have started reading it. I saw the Visconti movie with Dirk Bogarde years ago and still remember the mood, mingling desire with corruption and death. The other movie set in Venice I saw back in the 70s was “Don’t Look Back” with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, a psychological horror movie.

Some random snaps:


How to judge Venice? It’s a unique place, a waking dream, a fairy tale. It has beauty and above all style, a place you can escape to and forget the outside world for a while. It’s a lot of fun to explore the canals and winding alleys, a bit like an adult adventure playground. On the other hand… (see Venice 2).

Thought for the day:

Awaken; return to yourself. Now, no longer asleep, knowing they were only dreams, clear-headed again, treat everything around you as a dream.

Marcus Aurelius –  Meditations (Book 6, 31)


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Trieste 2

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Today I decided to eschew museums, churches, castles and ancient ruins to go in search of the perfect coffee. As you will see, one ancient ruin crept up on me anyway, though. I wandered semi-methodically from piazza to piazza, caffe to caffe, pasticceria to pasticceria, with the occasional bar and parco/giardino thrown in for good measure. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Trieste is a good place to perform this quest. They have a highly developed coffee culture here. It is the port where 80% of the coffee coming into Italy passes through. And Triestinos drink twice as much coffee per head per year as the rest of Italy, about 10kg!

My first two coffees were at the James Joyce caffe on Piazza Ponterosso. First I had an espresso, a very concentrated shot in a small cup. Then, I took a tip from my friend Andrew, and ordered a lungo. Andrew has helpfully pointed out to me that what we call a “short black” back home is called generally called lungo in Italy (i.e. a “long” pour, resulting in a little extra hot water being added).

It’s important to try to get the terminology straight. It’s a bit tricky because Trieste has some peculiarly local terms. For example, “in B” means served in a small glass instead of a china cup.


I had this “nero in B” (black in a glass) at La Triestina on Piazza Cavana. This establishment is a torrefazione, which means they roast and sell their own coffee beans. If I had ordered a “capo in B” , I would have received the same thing with a drop of milk and some froth, what we back home (and the rest of Italy) calls a macchiato. The B stands for “bicchiere” or glass. If you are brave enough to ask for a cappuccino, this is probably what you’ll get, but in a cup. Ordering a latte is probably even more problematic. You might just end up with a glass of milk.

Walking on, I found myself unexpectedly face to face with a Roman arch, the Arco di Riccardo, a small part of which is inside an adjoining restaurant.


The arch dates from the 1st century BC, during the reign of Caesar Augustus. And nearby was the Caffe Barbacan, where, just to see what would happen, I asked for a macchiato. I was asked “piccolo” or “grande”? I said “grande” and this is what I got.

It’s probably the closest thing I’ve seen to what we would call a “flat white”.

At another torrefazione, Cremcaffe in Piazza Goldoni, I ordered an espresso “piccolo” (small) and was offered a dob of cream to go in it. Go figure.

By the way, in most caffes and bars they have two levels of prices. Al banco, “at the bench” where you stand up, is cheaper than a tavola, seated at a table. At a cheap caffe for a coffee it can be 0.80 euros vs, 1.00 euros, but in more expensive places the difference can be as much as 1,00 euros vs 2,20 euros! Standing at the bar at Cremcaffe drinking my espresso (and eating a yummy pastry), I saw under my nose  the funny sight of a long conveyor belt full of dirty cups, glasses and plates, travelling through a hole in the wall to a room next door for the washing up.

There were also one or two bars involved in this little odyssey, where I had a spritz  or three. Well it was quite a warm day.

And here is one of the giardini I stopped at to sit in the shade for a while. 


I know I said no churches or monuments, but I can’t help myself.

This is the Fountain of the Four Continents in the Piazza dell’Unita. North and South America are considered one continent and Australia and Antarctica had not yet been discovered. Can you figure out which continent is which?


Next is a Serbian Orthodox church on the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo.

And lastly, the lift in the building where I am staying in Trieste.

I am taking the train to Venice tomorrow. I believe that to get to my guest house from the station I will have to catch a vaporetto (waterbus) along the Grand Canal. How exciting!

Thought for the day:

Do not what is evil. Do what is good. Keep your mind pure. This is the teaching of Buddha.

The Dhammapada – Verse 183.

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Monday, 24 May 2010

I went to Duino today. It is beautiful. It is a small fishing village half an hour from Trieste by bus. It is where the river (called the Timavo here) emerges from its underground journey 30 km away in Slovenia and flows into the Adriatic. There are two castles. The Old Castle is in ruins and dates from the 11th c. The New Castle is the one that Rainer Maria Rilke stayed at when he wrote his German language poem (or series of 10 poems) “Duineser Elegien” or “Duino Elegies”. It dates from the 14th c.


We have a marvellous romantic image of how the cycle of poems was first conceived. In 1911 Rilke had already established his literary reputation, but had been suffering from writer’s block for some time. He was invited to stay at Duino Castle by Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis. He relished the opportunity and later remarked that “solitude is a true elixir”.

In early 1912, he climbed down to the bastions connected to the foot of the castle along a narrow path,  200 feet above the sea. A fierce, cold wind, the Bora, was blowing in from the Adriatic. Suddenly, into Rilke’s mind came the first line of the first of his Elegies, which he shouted into the teeth of the gale:

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?

(If I cried out, who would hear me up there, among the angelic orders?)

He went back up to his room and completed the First Elegy that night. It would take him the next ten years to complete the whole ten elegies.

I found a stone bench in the gardens of the Castle and sat and read the English translation of the whole thing from the book I brought with me from Australia especially for this moment. It took me nearly an hour.

Inside the castle were three or floors of rooms with exhibits connected with the T-T noble family (Thurn und Taxis in German, since it was for a long time under Austrian control, and Torre e Tasso in Italian), as well as the Rilke connection. There was also a special exhibition of antique musical instruments (e.g. violas da gamba) that a foundation restores and makes available to musicians to play.

Another interesting area was a bunker under the castle which was constructed by the German navy in 1943  with forced labour, in order to withstand allied attacks. It was taken over by the British after the war until 1954. Actually, the first allied troops on the scene to accept the German surrender at Duino happened to be New Zealanders.

I had not realised before, but Trieste only became Italian territory in 1954. In 1947 was created the “Free Territory of Trieste” which extended from Duino and Trieste all the way along the coast to Koper and Piran (where I have just come from, now Slovenian) and much further south than that. In 1954 Trieste (up to the current border with Slovenia) went to Italy and all the rest to Yugoslavia. Wikipedia says the FTT was only officially dissolved in a treaty between Italy and Yugoslavia in 1975.

Thought for the day:

…Nach der ersten Heimat\ist ihm die zweite zwitterig und windig.

(After the first home\the second seems hybrid\and windy)

Duino Elegies (Eighth Elegy) — Rainer Maria Rilke

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Sunday, 23 May 2010

I am ashamed of myself for casting doubt on the Italian work ethic in my last post. What I had in mind was the foreigner’s impression that in general Italians “work to live” rather than “live to work”. Since I’ve been here I’ve noticed that co-workers seem to have fun and make jokes with each other a lot. But maybe I’m just reinforcing my existing prejudice by noticing only what I want to.

Anyway, I got down to the bus stop in Piran on Saturday and the bus to Trieste showed up and left on schedule at 6.45am, so I didn’t have to walk to Italy after all. I was quite prepared to give it a go, however…

I have had an interesting, relaxing couple of days here. Haven’t done much except walk around a bit and sit in piazzas, cafes and parks, soaking up the atmosphere. But hey, that’s mostly what it’s all about I reckon. As I used to tell my work colleagues, 80% of success is turning up.

Here are some pics.

First, the harbour and the very large  piazza (square), the Piazza dell’unita d’Italia (Unity of Italy) which is flanked by palazzi (palaces) on three sides and the water on the fourth.


I think the symbol on the flag to the left of the Italian flag represents Trieste. I came across it later, as you will see.


The nearby piazza, the Piazza della Borsa (Stock Exchange Square) is being renovated.


 Next is the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, just behind the Canal Grande, with a neo-classical style church dominating.


The remains of a 2nd century AD Roman amphitheatre was discovered only in the 1930s, built into a hill not far from Piazza dell’Unita.


Stadiums like the MCG may be bigger, but the concept is exactly the same.

Just behind this hill, there is a higher hill (San Giusto) with a church (cattedrala)


and a castle (castello)…


Views from the castle…


I didn’t drink much beer in Slovenia and none so far in Trieste. They make much better wine in these parts than beer. In Slovenia, the house wine by the glass (they called it “open wine”) was variable in quality (as distinct from those only slightly more expensive). However, even the cheapest wine in Trieste is very good. There is a culture of the before dinner “aperitif”. As evening approaches, the bars and cafes get very busy. I noticed that three quarters of the customers seemed to be drinking an orange coloured drink. I wondered what it was and ordered one too. It’s called “Aperol spritz” or simply “spritz”. It is white wine (preferably prosecco, a dry sparkling white wine grown locally), with Aperol (an orange liqueur), a dash of soda, ice and a slice of orange in a large wine glass. A very refreshing summery drink. And the alcohol is diluted to the point where drinking a few of these won’t leave you with a headache.

Prosecco can be drunk straight too, as I did this afternoon at the venerable establishment “Caffe degli Specchi (Cafe of Mirrors) on the Piazza della’Unita. I sat at an outside table and watched the world go by.


In bars here, an endless supply of chips, olives, peanuts and bread-sticks are provided as a matter of course. When I ordered the glass of prosecco at caffe degli Specchi, the chips, olives and little scone-like things were complimentary and the bill was 4.50 euros. At a more modest caffe or bar  a glass of prosecco is about 3.00/3.50 euros (seated/standing), a glass of house wine about 2 euros and a coffee 1 euro. It shows that patronising an up-market historic caffe for the ambience once in a while doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

The author James Joyce lived in Trieste for many years, including when he was writing his novel Ulysses. I came across a couple of memorial tributes to him.


This trip has started me reading a few things I have been meaning to get around to one day. Like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It’s definitely made me want to read Brothers Karamazov. So maybe I’ll start reading some James Joyce. Any suggestions on what to start with? Ulysses perhaps? From what I have heard starting with Finnegan’s Wake would not be such a good idea.

Some random pics of buildings.


The last pic is of a synagogue, one of the largest in Europe, but not as we by now know, the largest, which honour belongs to the Dohany utca Synagogue in Budapest.

Lastly, “Il Melone” (the Melon), which used to sit on top of the bell-tower of the San Giusto basilica, but now resides at the nearby Castle. The symbol on top of the “melon” is the same as the one on the flag in Italian Unity Square.

I hope to do a day trip tomorrow to Duino (about 15 km from Trieste) and see Duino Castle where Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his famous long poem “Duino Elegies”.

Thought for the day:

We should have been excused from lugging a body, the burden of the self was enough.

Emile Cioran – The Trouble With Being Born

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