July 22, 2017

Saluti a Trieste

Las Vegas. Montreal. Munich. Trieste. 24 hours of traveling and several different time zones later, me and my travel companion had finally arrived to the beautiful little city of Trieste, Italy. My grandfather had made this journey back to his home town several times in his life, but for me… It was an entirely new experience. We made our way to the main floor of the tiny little airport, and I immediately knew the man sporting a big grin and a polo shirt with the Trieste emblem was Franco, Papa’s second cousin. We exchanged the customary Italian greeting with a kiss to both cheeks, which immediately reminded me that I was no longer in America.

Crammed in the back of a 20+ year old two-door Volkswagen, I was in a silent awe at the beauty of this unfamiliar land. I wasn’t sure if it was my silence or Franco’s unconventional driving habits that led my grandfather to asking me every 90 seconds if I was okay. Regardless, I couldn’t wait to learn all about the place my grandfather came from.

While this little city held many great memories for my grandfather, it contained equally as many difficult ones. We were just about 10 minutes from entering the bustle of the city when my grandpa called for my attention to the right side of the car. We were driving along a beautiful road on a cliff (what I’d guess was at least 100,000 feet) above the Adriatic Sea and I was excited to learn my first fact… Little did I know what was 30 seconds ahead of me. Franco gave a series of honks to the spot where my grandfather’s brother had driven off the cliff with his wife so many years ago (rip Luciano).

Before we made it to our little apartment for the next two weeks, there was still another grave site I would have to digest. Papa grew up in this northeastern city during a time of tribulation and war. I quickly learned that my grandfather wasn’t showing me present day Trieste, rather I was seeing this city through his childhood eyes. These stories were coming from a little boy who had no choice but to witness the disasters of World War II. We were stopped at a red light when he pointed to a stone wall, “There is where I saw many people hung during the war.” Suddenly it was no longer just a stone wall with a bus stop in front of it.

While I had come to Italy largely to learn more about my grandfather’s past, I was equally thrilled to indulge in a culture I’ve never known. Through several one way streets and pathways lined with cars bumper to bumper, we had made it to our apartment. My appreciation for old buildings dwindled to a degree when I discovered I’d be walking up 5 flights of stairs twice a day for two weeks. After catching my breath and remembering how out of shape I am, I walked into our quaint little one bedroom apartment where I had a rollaway bed prepared for me in the middle of the kitchen.

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After a jet lag-induced nap, we went to Franco’s, where I found I’d be having most of my authentic Italian meals over the next couple of weeks. “Small” isn’t even close to describing the size of his kitchen and dining area, of course lined with Oktoberfest mugs. In a space as big as my walk-in closet, he prepared countless delectable meals for the three of us; insisting that we save our money.

I was used to barhopping at home with my friends, but I never imagined I’d be doing it with my 85 year old grandfather and his cousin. I should’ve known the two friends my grandpa would pay visits to were bar owners. By the end of the trip, my American, non-Italian speaking self would be considered a regular. First stop was Ciacci [cha-chee]. Just above the door was a small lamp with a beer logo on it; the only indication that there was a running business in this slighty-larger-than-Franco’s-kitchen joint. With about 3 regulars occupying the bar, behind it stood Ciacci – a chubby faced, beer bellied Italian with an immediate grin at the recognition of my grandfather’s return. To sum up Ciacci’s bar: every inch is covered in German, Austrian, and American memorabilia and for every drink you have, he salutes you with one of his own. After a couple beers and a goodbye that was far from the last, we made our way to Paulo’s [Pou-low].

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Paulo. Paulo. Paulo. Within 15 seconds of our arrival, I could almost feel at home. Greeted with a big hug and drinks on him, I was quickly understanding the humility of this culture. By day 3, Paulo “baptized” me as a Triestina by serving me wine in a traditional stemless glass that he typically only serves to Franco. From that night onward, it wasn’t even questioned what type of glass I’d be drinking out of.

Over these two weeks, I was able to walk through some amazing castles with even more stunning views. We viewed the land where my grandfather’s house that he was born in once stood and even saw the original key to the house; which his cousin Gilberta holds. I was able to see the beautiful historic churches Papa was raised in and experienced a little bit of Trieste’s neighboring areas in Slovenia including the infamous Lipica Stud Farm where the horses are born black and as they mature, they turn white.

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I would be lying if I said my trip to Venice wasn’t one of my favorite parts of the trip. As a child, I spent my summers camping around the American West national parks and fell in love with the view of the Grand Canyon. Venice wins. There is something about the building to building contrast with the water. The lack of streets and concrete. It’s a sight to behold that no photograph can properly catch. I was lucky to experience this special day with a new tour guide: Franco’s sister, Donatella. Every canal was unique and just as beautiful as the next and don’t even get me started on San Marco Square. If you ask my grandfather about Venice, the first thing he’ll tell you is how much my mouth dropped when I first entered this vastly breathtaking site. A single day was not enough, and I cannot wait to step foot in this city on water again.

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Trieste’s cuisine is as unique as their dialect. They are not joking when people tell you that once you have Italian gelato, any other ice cream will be a disappointment. My grandfather and I averaged almost one gelato a day and I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit that. One of the largest food related culture shocks was when I had my first pizza and was required to cut the entire thing with a fork and knife in order to “fit in”. Let me tell you… It’s a lot quicker to shove a slice down your throat by hand. I was also lucky to be able to have an experience that most tourists don’t get. On our last day, we went to Prosecco where I enjoyed many glasses of original Prosecco wine at the local Osmiza Verginella. Osmiza’s are a local “secret” in which for a limited number of days, locally grown wine, meat, honey, etc. are sold to the public community.  (To learn more about this tradition: https://ecobnb.com/blog/2013/11/osmize-local-food-carso/)

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Perhaps the most important thing I learned on this trip was that I am not Italian. I am a proud Triestina. All my life, me, my sister, and our cousins grew up believing that we were Italian and we were extremely proud that a fourth of our blood was from this country. However, we were very wrong. Trieste was long ago Austrian territory and even now the people of Trieste wish to go back. They are a culture so unique to the Italian country that they don’t belong in it. They have influences from Germany, Slovenia, and Austria to bring together a community of people unlike any other. Not to mention, they drink like no other. In the two weeks I was there, I had more beer than I’ve ever had in the year that I’ve been of legal drinking age in America.

It wouldn’t be a farewell dinner without a farewell pizza. Our last night was concluded with a lovely outdoor dinner with Donatella and her spunky daughter, Connie, who took a 6 hour train ride just to meet me. We enjoyed one last Cappuccino Trieste and a bittersweet goodbye to Franco at the airport. I was less than excited for the 12 hour flight ahead of me, but I was ready to be surrounded by English speakers again. Trieste. Munich. San Francisco. Las Vegas.

To view the rest of my trip, check out Bella Italia


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  1. Kate says:

    My dear,

    If this is what you produced while "struggling" to put your thoughts into a meaningful, thoughtful project, well then, everyone should have your struggles. This was beautiful! Thanks for sharing, Nan.

    Love you, Aunt Kate

  2. Noelle Blizzard says:

    It’s soooo nice seeing papa so happy here. Thank you for making the trip of lifetime with Papa, Nan!

    • Brianna Wollard says:

      Thank you Noelle! I’m so incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity. I hope I did the family proud.

  3. Gavin Pelham says:

    Brava Brianna! It is wonderful to see the world through your eyes. Keep writing more.

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