October 17, 2012 – Trieste Means Wind Part II“The toilet paper is out,” I tell the guesthouse clerk, holding out the empty cardboard roll. I’d planned to leave it on the front desk since he hadn’t been there when I’d gone in to the restroom, but this is even better (toilet paper shortage is one of my few slightly irrational fears). With my good deed done for the morning I head back to my room.
A second later, my camera in my bag, my hair tied back in a braid and my jacket on, I start for the front door. There’s a sound behind me and I turn. The clerk has a wide grin lighting up his face. “For your pleasure,” he says, holding up a new roll of toilet paper. “Something new!”“Perfect!” I say. What else is there to say? Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, chants its way through my mind. I’m laughing as I leave.
It’s another blustery day. The sun is out, the wind is strong. A chill dances in the air. There are a few wispy clouds drifting busily across the sky. I stand for a moment on the sidewalk, zip my jacket up to my chin, and take stock of it all. I’ve made a list of things I’d like to see in Trieste. I’m intrigued by the Grotta Gigante and interested in San Giusto’s Castle. I plan to head in their general directions and see what I can. If I get distracted along the way it’ll be all well and good. Today I have no specific expectations, just a tentative game plan. First though, I need some fruit, maybe a piece of bread or two and, most of all, a cappuccino to get me going.I wander around until I find a coffee shop. I pay the extra couple of cents to get mine in a To Go cup and then go sit outside so my hair can get blown out of its braid instead of drinking my cappuccino at the café counter. After I’m moderately caffeinated I roam the streets until I stumble across a corner shop with fruit. I get a few bananas and some peaches. At another store I buy a loaf of bread. Down the street, at an outside market, I buy some cheese. Thus armed with breakfast I can take on the world. Or, at the least, the wind. More or less.
I’d seen a sign yesterday for the Grotta Gigante so I start that way. As I go, I look down each street. Every one has a distraction. There are enticing stairways leading me up, taking me down. There are spires that draw me to the churches they top me like a moth to a candle flame. There are arched tunnels and stone walls. There are skinny bell towers and fat bell towers. There are breathtaking (or is that my out of shape gasping from climbing the stairs?) views of the sea. There are cozy, secret balconies that I want to sneak on to and observe the world from.I lose myself in the streets.
I mean, I really have no clue where I am. All I know is that my hostel is generally downhill. Back that way. Somewhere. I feel like I’ve walked miles, days.I decide to find out where I am. So I duck into a little shop. I’d been warned (from a book? from my imagination? from another traveler?) that Italians don’t much like Americans, and that they aren’t as accommodating to English speakers as some of the other European countries are. That in mind, it’s with a pocketful of wistful embarrassment that I wasn’t able to learn more Italian than I did that I put my best foot forward and go for it. A friendly looking older woman is standing behind the counter. A younger man is across the counter from her talking. Gathering myself together and sorry to interrupt, I pull up my few Italian words. “Excuse me,” I say, politely when they’ve turned my way. “Where is San Giusto’s Castle?”
They know right away that I’m not a native speaker. “San Giusto?” They look at each other and consult in Italian. I follow along the best I can. Apparently it’s far far away.“There’s a bus,” the lady says to me in English. She’s friendly and accommodating. She opens a drawer, pulls out a transit guide and flips through it trying to find the bus number for that route. “I can’t find it,” she says. She flips through it again. The guy comes around the counter and logs online to the bus system’s website. They talk to each other in Italian and occasionally turn around to tell me something in English. Minutes tick by, five, ten, fifteen, and I’m thinking I should just head back to the center of town and go from there, but they’re going way out of their way to be helpful and I do appreciate it. A customer comes in and the lady pulls herself away from helping me to finally serve him his coffee and give him a sandwich. He puts in his two cents about how to get to San Giusto’s and then leaves. The lady and guy go back to studying the computer screen and finally she says, “Okay, you take the bus from here to the main city stop and then you transfer to the One and it’ll take you under a bridge. Go under the bridge, and then the next stop after the bridge you get off then walk up the hill and you’ll be there.”
I repeat it all, thank them profusely and walk out. Doing something new and unplanned can sometimes be scary. Taking the public transit with transfers feels out of my day’s adventurous limits. Why is this more daunting than anything else? I ask myself.I don’t know, I reply. It just is. I’m just going to walk.
They really went to a lot of trouble to help you.
I know.Ignoring my other, more thoughtful self, I decide I’ll go back to where I started from. I’d written down directions from there with the help of the internet the night before. It can’t be farther than a handful of miles. I’d just been hoping that my wanderings had brought me close to the castle instead of to the other side of town from it. Even while I’m planning to disregard all the help they’d so time consumedly and kindly given me, the guy, who is leaving the shop at the same time as me, says, “You can buy your bus ticket across the street there.” He indicates the tobacco shop across the road. “It’ll cost you 1.50. The bus leaves from right in front there. It should be along in a few minutes.” He points out the bus stop.
“Thanks a lot,” I say. I can’t very well walk away now, it would be rude, so I go across the street and, in opposition to my own silly hesitance, buy a bus ticket. After about five minutes of waiting, the bus slows to a stop at the curb and I get on. I remember to validate my ticket (all the travel guides had warned me about being sure to validate my train and bus tickets or risk being fined a horribly high fine), and take a seat. I’m suddenly very grateful for both the information and the ride. My muscles sigh in relief and I settle back. I hope it’s a long trip. I also hope I arrive there soon.I get off at the city center, cross the street (after asking a few people to make sure I take the bus in the right direction) and wait for the 1.
Eventually it comes along and I climb on. I follow the lady’s instructions and get off after we go under the bridge. Just ahead there’s a sign pointing me up the hill towards San Giusto’s castle and church. I follow the arrow. Several curves, hills, and a few other churches later, I come to an obelisk and fountain. I find a spot out of the brunt of the wind and eat some fruit, bread and cheese. It’s way past breakfast time.I look out over Trieste from my place in the heights. You’re in Italy! I remind myself.
I know! I respond. I hadn’t forgotten. It’s amazing.It’s amazing. I gather my things and with a fuller belly make the final ascent, pushing hard against the wind, up another hill, up more steps, around another curve and finally come to San Giusto’s Castle.
I pay for a ticket to tour it and get an audio guide. I’m almost too enthralled by the views to pay attention to the recorded voice as it tells me the history and uses of the place. I do listen well enough to learn that I’m standing on stones that were built anywhere from the 11th to the 14th century.I spend hours there, walking turrets, ascending staircases, ducking in dark rooms lined with cannons and giant round stones bigger than my head, descending stairs and exploring the statue filled museum down in what feels like the old dungeon. At some point, with the desire to be out of the wind—which is strong enough to make me take two balance catching steps every now and again--I go into the café just off the Captain’s House Tower and order a cappuccino. While I wait for it to cool enough to drink I redo my braid. I’m wind worn and probably sunburned. I sigh with contentment.
I’m in Italydrinking a cappuccino at a castle
I write in my notebook. This level of happiness is becoming a habit I hope I never quit.
After I leave the castle I head over to the cathedral. When I’m done admiring the rose window of the cathedral I go inside the little gift shop underneath the bell tower.“Buongiorno,” the shop tender greets me.
“Buongiorno,” I reply.We get into a multi-lingual conversation and somehow between the Italian, English and French I find out that I can buy a ticket for only one euro to go up into the bell tower. While taking my money and giving me my ticket, the shop tender tells me all about the bells (in French because when he asked I told him I spoke French “un peu” with a smile that was meant to indicate that was pretty much all the French I knew). But I understand enough. I understand exactly when he tells me (still in French), “Don’t touch the bells.”
“Okay,” I say. “Thank you.” And then I walk up the four billion flights of stairs to the tower.The bells are huge. Wonderful. Etched over with intricate reliefs. I want to touch them. But I don’t. Instead I think of the Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey book called The Nine Tailors; a mystery in which the poor murdered soul (spoiler alert) was killed by the ominous and overwhelming sound, vibration, and power of the nine bells.
I’d rather not die that way, so I don’t touch.
Eventually I climb down all those stairs, bid the shop tender another thank you and goodbye and walk the (thankfully downhill) way back to my hostel, getting dinner and more sightseeing in before I finally close the door to my room and call it a day.The next morning, the guesthouse clerk is coming in as I’m heading out.
“You’re checking out?” he asks.“Yes, thanks for having me,” I say.
“I’m Vladamir,” he says.
“Amanda,” I respond.He sticks out his hand to shake mine. I oblige.
“You’re American?” he asks me. I nod. “I love Obama!” he exclaims. He’s still got my hand in his handshake. I don’t know how long is too long to hold on, but we’ve passed my personal preference point. I take a step back and gently reclaim my hand as we talk politics. We talk politics until I manage to squeeze out the door and get away.“I love your language!” he calls out as a parting shot. “Safe travels.”
“Thank you,” I say.I’m hoping for safe travels too. It’s Saturday morning and I’ve got a ticket to ride.
I’m on my way to Venice.