Field Trip to Trieste

My friend Kate left this morning to return to the United States. Ljubljana-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Seattle, Seattle-home. Kate spent three months traveling in Europe, mostly sleeping on friend’s couches and working in exchange for room and board. I was lucky enough to have her sleep on my couch for her 23rd birthday, and be her last stop on her way home. For her birthday we both had one last adventure together, and took a day-trip to the Italian coastal city of Trieste, just over the border from Slovenia. It was a birthday day so perfect I decided that if my birthday this year turns out to be a wash, I’ll just pretend like last Tuesday was mine, too.

Trieste is an interesting and beautiful city. There’s no major sights to see, nothing particularly special, except in the atmosphere itself. There are very few tourists and its a traditional working port town, so there’s a bit of grit mixed in with the traditional Italian charm, making it all more appealing. I don’t want to go into the history of it all right now, but Slovenia claimed Trieste for its own at one point, and looking at the map one can see why it might make sense. It looks a bit like gerrymandering to the extreme. The people in that region are quite mixed culturally, too. The dialect of Slovenian over there is the weirdest stuff. Think like Spanglish, only… Slovenalian, or something. James Joyce actually spent quite a bit of time here, too. We found a stature of him.

The first thing we did was get some delicious cappuccinos. Have you ever heard of the coffee brand Illy? It was created right here in Trieste! (People are shocked when I tell them that Illy is fairly available in the United States. They always look a bit wounded, like we’ve stolen something, or maybe surprised that me and my countrymen are capable of appreciating good coffee.) We crammed into a tiny coffee shop, standing room only, and were served by a charming older gentleman who flipped the coffee saucers up into the air before setting them before us on the counter. While paying, we discovered that he has family from Postojna, in Slovenia. “Nasvidenje!” “Nasvidenje!” we yelled to each other as Kate and I stumbled out of the crammed shop.

It was a great start to a great day. We had no guidebook, just a recommendation for the best gelato in the city and the addresses of two cookware stores. We climbed up into the hills and had lovely views of the Adriatic, peered into churches, and stumbled across ruins. We did make it to the cookware shops, which was part of my quest to find some odd pasta-cutting implement for my mother. I don’t think I found what she was looking for, but I bought two other odd pasta-cutting tools, so I will not be coming home empty-handed. One is an adjustable pasta-cutting roller, so you can make pasta the exact diameter that you desire. The other is a small one that rolls along and creates perfectly square ravioli. Only in Italy!

The gelato was indeed fantastic, some of the best I’ve ever had. It was so good, and so Kate’s birthday, that we went twice. I had pistachio and chocolate sorbet the first time, and melon and mascarpone with walnuts the second.

It was a wonderful day trip. I’ve passed through Trieste a few times, and always wanted to get out and look around. It was a treat to finally be able to do so, and I loved it. Moreover, as Kate put it, there’s something perfect about seeing a new place with an old friend.



Retrospective, part 1 of ?

It’s wonderful to be properly home. I’ve enjoyed these last few weeks of traveling and visiting and sleeping on various couches, but I am happy to be back. It’s actually great to be getting back into the swing of things, even if it means drowning in The End of the Semester sea. For some really incomprehensible reason, my semester doesn’t end until sometime in February. If anybody figures out why, I’d love to hear the answer.

On top of the end of my finals and papers, yes, I will be taking the Foreign Service Officer test. I registered for the one date available to me in Zagreb, Croatia at the beginning of February, so wish me luck. Unfortunately I joined the Yahoo FSOT prep group, which sounded helpful at the time, but it’s only managed to stress me out. I now receive an odd combination of intimidatingly obsessive emails about study methods and tools, and sappy idealistic notes wishing everybody the best while simultaneously mentioning how desperately they want to work as a diplomat, and so on. Some of the people in this Yahoo group also seem to be suffering under the delusion that their whole career will be brokering peace settlements in between cocktail parties. Hmm.

I will do my best, and assume that I won’t pass the FSOT. It’s quite normal to take it more than once, so I figure I may as well get my first go out of the way.

In between my studying, studying, and studying, I will be good and start writing up the promised reviews of my vacation. Since I’m a bit lazy I will actually skip over most of Slovenia with Abby for the moment, and hurry onwards to Vienna, Austria. Lake Bled was the highlight of our time in Slovenia, though, so I can’t run past that.

Lake Bled is very lovely. Surrounded by snow-caped mountains, containing a little island with a chapel on it, and famous for a special cream cake, what’s not to love? Abby wanted us to rent a rowboat to get to the island. Little did she know that in order to row a row boat, you actually need to know how to…row. Thankfully one of us had some skill, (cough, cough. me,) so we were able to make it to and from the island before nightfall.

One at the island, the work isn’t over. You have to climb this staircase to get to the chapel at the top, which is a popular place for weddings. Traditionally, the groom carries his bride up the staircase, and if he makes it all the way without dropping her it’s good luck. Rick Steves says four out of five couples who attempt the assent make it to the top. (Normally it’s the bride who stereotypically stresses out over exercise prior to her wedding, but in this case I think I’d fret more if I were the guy. It’s quite a staircase.)

Also in the chapel is a special bell, which if you ring is supposed to make your wishes come true. Yep, Abby and I both took our turns before heading back to the mainland. Guess what I wished for? Not telling!

Naturally we couldn’t return to Ljubljana without first sampling the (in my case a very well deserved) special Bled cake, kremsnita, theoretically invented here. I have my doubts about this, having seen variations in Hungary and Austria, but never mind. Wherever it was invented, it is delicious: a layer of thick vanilla custard, topped with whipped creamy stuff, sandwiched in between pastry dough. Can’t go wrong.