Mike and I are now visiting the Istrian Peninsula which is split between three countries Italy, Slovenia and with the majority of land in Croatia. For the last 10 days Mike and I have been staying in Koper, a lovely waterfront town in Slovenia. We have used it as a base and spent much of our time visiting Italy. We plan on moving in a few days to the Croatian coastline on the Istrian Peninsula.
By far the largest town in the area is Trieste. I am the last female in my family to get to see Trieste. Both my mother and sister visited it as teenagers. It took me a little longer, but Mike and I are here now. In some of the larger cities Mike and I purchase a local city card. This card, once purchased, gives you free entrance to many of the tourist sites including museums, castles and more. The city cards often include bus, boat and walking tours. The Trieste one was a little different as it wasn’t just for the city but for the entire Italian region, Friuli Venezia Giulia or FVG. Because of purchasing this FVG card Mike and I spent more time in Italy, traveling to other towns that we might not otherwise have seen.
Because we had bought the FVG Card we spent our first couple of visits into Trieste going around to sites on the card. The cards always have an expiration date, so you tend to feel a little rushed. At the Trieste Tourist Information Centre you can rent audio handsets for a self-guided tour of the city. There are about 22 sites on the tour. Luckily this audio tour was included with the FVG Card. Since we didn’t have to pay separately for the tour they let us borrow the handsets for two days which was very nice. The tour took us to a Roman amphitheatre, museums, aquariums, another castle and more. We were very lucky with the weather. As you might be able to tell from some photos in the photo gallery, it was drizzling just a little, on our first visit. After that the weather has been glorious. It was bright and sunny with a bit of a breeze and highs around 23⁰ C or 73⁰ F, just perfect for walking around. We had hoped to ride up the same tram car that my mother rode when she was a teenager, but it had been in a nasty crash two years ago and it isn’t expected to reopen for another two years. The large squares and buildings and pedestrian areas in Trieste, as in many European cities, are great to see. We visited one art gallery that had a couple of very old pewter statues on display behind glass. They had had plastic copies made using 3D printing, to allow the blind and others to “see” and touch the masterpieces. I thought that was a great idea.
We were very lucky to accidentally end up in Trieste during the week of the Barcolana Festival and Regatta. All week long the city is filled with people and tents and exhibits culminating in the world’s most crowded sailboat race. This year was the 50th anniversary of the Barcolana Regatta.
Trieste is a waterfront city with boats everywhere. When we first arrived, we didn’t think that we would still be here 10 days later for the final big day of Barcolana. We knew that we would get to enjoy the festivities leading up to the finale. Thanks to the FVG Card getting us outside Trieste to other towns in the area we are spending more time on the northern part of the Istrian Peninsula than we expected to. This meant that we were still here for the main day of the Barcolana Regatta. We didn’t actually come back to Trieste on Sunday to watch the race itself, but more to enjoy the spectacle and to see the people and everything that was happening. There can definitely be too much of a good thing. If you look at the picture below you will see the hordes of people on the waterfront. When I walked in those crowds I couldn’t see a thing except people’s backs. Mike had a better time of it with his eyes above many of the bodies. It was fun to see and all the boats on the water looked superb, but I didn’t really want to spend too much time in that crowd.
We had considered trying to get a camping spot in Italy near Trieste. After driving on some of their very narrow roads, which we had been warned about, we decided that our spot in Slovenia, 20 minutes away, was just fine.
One place heavily advertised just outside Trieste and also included with our card was Grotta Gigante or The Giant Cave. We almost didn’t go because we had just visited the Postojna Caves in Slovenia that were really interesting, but these ones were free and quite close, so we stopped for a visit. The cave is really one very large room in which you are given a one-hour tour. The one-hour breaks down to 25 minutes walking down 500 steps to the bottom, with a short break for information from the tour guide part way down. A brief talk was given when we were at the bottom and then we spent 35 minutes walking back up the 500, sometimes slippery and uneven, steps. Although Mike liked it, I did not enjoy it at all. Because it was one huge room there weren’t the interesting shapes and sizes and displays of what nature can form that we were expecting. You had a ceiling miles above you and the floor way below. If you hadn’t been in a cave set up for tourists before it might have been interesting. I have recently been concerned that my knees are going to give me more problems over the next few years. These 1,000 steps didn’t help at all. The next day we toured a town in Slovenia and I refused to even go up the hill to the castle because of sore knees. The cave wasn’t a highlight ☹. I will say that there are some scientific studies and instruments in the cave that generated some interest. There are two pendulums on very long, very thin steel wires dropping down the centre of the cave. This instrument amplifies the earth’s movements 40,000 times and records them. Among other things, it can be used to detect earth tremors and to measure and study earthquakes.
At the top of this post is the really lovely Castle Miramare built by a younger brother of the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, just before he became the Emperor of Mexico. The castle was to be the residence of Maximillian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. It is all white in colour. It is built on a rocky promontory in the Gulf of Trieste, about 10 km outside the city. It is a great example of a luxurious aristocratic residence which maintains its original furnishings. The land was purchased in 1855, the building started in 1856, and in 1860 Maximillian and his wife took up residence on the ground floor while the interior construction continued.
The size and shape of the building are completely designed around the edges of the cliff it stands on. The panoramic view of the Gulf and the city of Trieste in the distance is just fantastic. The grounds looked lovely. Although the setting and the building are everything you could wish for in a castle, Maximillian and Charlotte didn’t get much enjoyment out of them. They ended up only living here, in a home still under construction, for less than four years. In 1864 Maximillian left the Castle Miramare when he was unexpectedly made Emperor of Mexico. Three years later he was executed by firing squad in Mexico. Charlotte suffered an emotional collapse after his death and apparently became insane.
Part of the ticket for the Castle included a visit to the stables. It was getting late and Mike and I decided that if we saw the stables on the way out we might have a look in, but we weren’t going to go looking for them. It would have been a shame if we had missed the stables, there was nothing “horsy” about them. Today you would be hard pressed to tell that they had ever been stables. The building was hosting a really fascinating interactive museum about Maximillian. In some of the rooms, just after you walked in some of the walls would start playing a film or showing slides about a certain period of time. In each room they had a different method of telling the story to keep it interesting and to keep you involved. It was extremely well done.
To end this post I am including a photo from one of our multiple trips into Trieste. As many of you know, my husband doesn’t like eating outside. We found the perfect compromise. When I took this picture I thought that we were under roof but outside on the water’s edge. It turns out that we were actually indoors. There is a floor to ceiling glass wall between Mike and the water. It was really well done, terribly overpriced but lovely.