I've been intrigued by the city and sea port of Trieste since reading Andrew Eames' excellent The 8.55 to Baghdad, in which he follows the route taken by Agatha Christie across Europe to the Middle East. It sounded a fascinating place, and now I've been lucky enough to spend a few days there, meeting up with my well-travelled daughter and her boyfriend, I can report that I found it even more appealing than I expected from Eames' description. Was it just that I was escaping the rainy British summer for intense sunshine, interrupted only by one thunderstorm, the most dramatic I've ever experienced? No, it's a really interesting place, the product of a varied history; its strategic significance meant that it changed hands several times, though it's been part of Italy for the past seventy years, as well as for a period before then.
Christie wasn't the only literary figure to be associated with Trieste. Joyce, Kafka, and Rikle are among the others, and Joyce's statue (clutching a book) is to be found on the bridge over a remarkably short canal in the midst of the old quarter, where the architecture hints at the cosmopolitan influences on Trieste's past.
There's a lot to see in Trieste, and I enjoyed a wide range of sights, including the old Roman Theatre. I also came across a second hand bookshop which had a copy of Murder off Miami, the first "murder dossier" by Dennis Wheatley and J.G.Links in the window - the Italian version. Sadly, the shop was closed, and it was my last evening there, so I never got to find out how much they wanted for it. Quite a bit, I guess! The old cathedral and castle on the hill above the city centre are well worth a short climb, and there are plenty of other sights within a fairly short walk.
A bus ride away is the Risiera di San Sabba, an old rice factory which the Nazis converted into a bizarre and horrific concentration camp. You can still see the prison cells, the death cell, and the site of the crematorium. A museum on the site tells the story of what happened there. It's nothing like as well-known as Auschwitz, but I found the experience deeply moving and thought-provoking.
Further out of Trieste, there are some fabulous places to go. They include the Grotta Gigante, a massive underground cave where we took a guided tour, and Napoleon's Way, where the walk from the obelisk at Opicina to the village of Prosecco takes the route followed by Bonaparte's troops, and offers fantastic views. Best of all perhaps were the gardens and castle of Miramare, which were hugely impressive. Well worth braving the vagaries of the local transport system for. All in all, a memorable trip, which followed an enjoyable day in Milan, and a visit to the amazing cathedral. But what I really didn't expect was that storm, which for close to two hours provided a light show that put the Northern Lights in the shade. Amazing.