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Phespirit goes to Italy
Trieste     March 2009

The sightseeing started early. Phespirit's Ryanair flight to Trieste took him close by the south of Venice, and then immediately veered northwards to provide an even more magnificent view of the lagoon from just beyond the Lido. Phespirit had done well to secure himself a window seat on the left side of the plane. Having visited Venice twelve years earlier, he still considers it unrivalled as the most beautiful city in the world. What would be his considered view of Trieste?

Phespirit's first impression was that Trieste is like no other Italian city he has visited. The architecture has much more in common with the likes of, say, Salzburg, Maribor or Ljubljana than with Florence, Bologna or Rome. For many years this was Hapsburg territory. It has changed hands several times in its history, yet it endures as a major Adriatic shipping port. It is more functional than fantasy, more practical than political. The city is not exactly awash with distractions for tourists but there are enough to fill a good day, and sunsets are essential viewing from the modest waterfront promenade.

The hilltop Castello would have been good for soaking up sunshine and admiring panoramas had not a cold, hard-blowing wind persisted throughout the first two days of Phespirit's visit. Temperatures hovered around 10-12°C but the wind-chill dragged it much lower. Directly adjacent to the Castello, the Basilica Cathedrale di San Giusto is atmospheric and scores well for the quality of its mosaics. Geography and history means that the Catholic church does not have Trieste for itself. The Serbian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches are well represented, and the synagogue on Via San Francisco is said to have been the largest in Europe when built in 1912. Phespirit liked the main Serbian church, Santo Spiridore. Its beautiful artwork and mosaic work, both inside and outside, is much more naturalistic than can usually be found in Orthodox iconography.

Phespirit's favourite attraction was the Civico Museo di Storia ed Arte e Orto Lapidario, situated just a football's throw from San Giusto (Phespirit found an old football in the museum grounds and put this to proof). The museum is packed with all manner of little artefacts made by Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, Egyptians, even Mayans. Its 'stone garden' is a hotch-potch of capitals, altars, statuettes, stelae and all manner of fragments, and is sufficiently pleasant for couples to want their wedding photographs taken there. It's just a pity that the information about exhibits is only available in Italian.

For variety, Phespirit travelled north by train for a day in Udine. Like Trieste, Udine is not one of the great Italian cities but it has its own historical quirks, plus a modern art gallery, a civic museum, a cathedral, a castle on a hill, and a presentable square. The Gallerie d'Arte Moderna di Udine (GAMUD) has a superior collection of art from the past two hundred years - and better still, Phespirit had the place to himself - yet it was topped by the even more outstanding Museo Revoltella back in Trieste. The latter is one of the best collections of modern paintings Phespirit has ever visited.

[A grumpy aside: Phespirit would never generalise about a whole nation of people but this latest visit to Italy, his sixth, almost tempted him believe that Italians have no capacity for speaking softly; certainly not in art galleries or museums - disappointingly in the cases of those working there - where levels of ignorance are matched only by the volumes of voices in conversation or prattling incessantly on mobile phones. Strange for a nation with such a strong tradition of respect.]

So what is Phespirit's considered view of Trieste? His balanced assessment: pleasant but unremarkable. It's no Venice, but then where else is? Trieste retains a special place in the region, though. It is out on a limb, a terminus and a crossroads, still pivotal on the map at least. That's always a good enough reason for a visit.

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