Italy

Trip Start Mar 05, 2008
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Flag of Italy  , Friuli-Venezia Giulia,
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Monday 16th of June: Trieste

The brief sojourn into Italy and Trieste was to fulfill one purpose and that was to aid me in getting to Albania as quickly as possible. I knew that there was a ferry leaving Trieste for Durres on the Albanian coast on the Tuesday at 13.00pm and it was my intention to be on it. I was reluctant to make an advance booking on the internet due to the difficulties I've had of late with transport arrangements and with not being able to locate a hostel in Trieste to book I was boarding the bus in Ljubljana in somewhat of an unknown situation. The bus was due to leave at 6.25am, ticket Eur12, but it was more like 6.45am by the time we actually got underway. It was a short enough trip of less than 3hours so I felt that I would be left plenty of the day to sort out my travel arrangements when I got there, however not having accommodation was a slight worry I must say. The bus journey was giving me another opportunity to experience some of Slovenia's magnificent countryside but it wasn't too long before I was slipping into a sleep that would last till the outskirts of Trieste. I have been struggling to sleep of late and although I'm always tired I cant seem to get more than an hour or two each night, the only break in this pattern comes when I'm riding the rails or on the road where day or night I seem to have no problems with the slumber. When eventually I did wake it was to the sight and sound of rain snaking its way down the windows and as we approached Trieste from a height the normally picturesque port city looked anything but, shrouded in a blanket of mist and fog. I was hoping that the foreboding dark clouds and depressing weather wasn't a sign of things to come.

Getting off the bus I felt my first priority was accommodation and on the drive into the station I had noticed a pension house and decided that was a good place to begin my search. It was a difficult conversation as my Italian is non-existent but I gathered from the way the woman was gesturing that there was no room at the inn. As I hit the streets again the rain was continuing to fall and I was getting the feeling that sleeping in the bus station that night was becoming a real possibility. To try and put that thought out of my mind I decided that it would be best for me to sort out my ferry ticket, successfully completing that mission would have me feeling a lot better about things. There was no shortage of travel agencies all advertising ferry tickets in their windows, although there were no advertisements for Albania it had to be said. I entered one agency and was advised that I would have to wait awhile before someone English speaking was available to deal with my request. The wait was very much worth my while when a stunning girl called me over to her desk and introduced herself as Isabella. She apologized for the length of my wait explaining that at this time of the year it gets very busy as its approaching the high season Summer months. When I explained that I was a travel agent also and that I knew exactly how busy it can get the atmosphere became more informal as we chatted about destinations around the globe and what were the 'in' places for this year. Eventually we got down to the business of why I was sitting in front of her in the first place, a ferry ticket to Albania to depart the next day. As she was tapping away of her keyboard she turned to me and said, "Excuse me, I hope you don't mind me asking but why are you going to Albania?" I was quite taken aback by the question, I really wasn't expecting it and my best response was "well why not". This answer obviously didn't satisfy her completely judging by the strange look she was giving me and when I replied to her question about "when I wanted to return" by saying that I was looking for a one-way ticket she actually stopped typing and looked at me dumbfounded. At this point, to try and ease her fears for my sanity, I came clean about my plans to travel overland to Australia and also that it had taken me several months to get even this far. I could tell she was mighty impressed and I had to divulge in detail my route and my plans for the entire journey. As she checked the ticket, expertly finding me a ticket Eur15 cheaper than the web, to make sure all was in order and since we had been getting along so well I chanced my arm and asked if she knew of any cheap hostels in the area. Straight away she was on the phone and several conversations later she had the address and directions to the only hostel in Trieste 'ostello tergeste'. I thanked her and she wished me luck as I made for the door, the thought going through my head was that my one night in Italy might have turned out very different if I had walked into any of the other travel agencies. a stroke of luck I picked that one perhaps. With the rain having stopped while I was inside I was in an extremely good mood as I made my way in the direction of the bus stop.

Isabella's directions had been spot on and it was only a few minutes before I arrived at the bus stop. The bus I was looking for was a number 36 and, as if like some kid of sign, there was one already waiting for me. As I climbed aboard I was clutching the piece of paper that Isabella had given me with the name and address of the hostel. After a quick check with the driver that he knew the spot and would be able to tell me when to alight I got down to the business of paying for a ticket. To my dismay I discovered that you can't actually buy tickets on the bus, they can only be purchased from shops or newspaper stands and the tickets are then validated on the bus. With the size of my backpack I had quite a bit of difficulty backing my way out the door of the bus, my trekking poles kept getting stuck. I'm not joking, it was taking me ages and the driver was giving me a look that said he was eager to get going. Somewhere between embarrassment and frustration I made a jump for it nearly taking half the door with me. No sooner had my feet hit the pavement but the driver was on his way and I was going to have to wait for the next one. My quest for a ticket proved successful, cost Eur1, and I was back at the bus stop when the next no.36 pulled up. The driver was one of these typically Italian types, jet black greasy hair in ringlets down to his shoulders. He too knew the place I was looking for and would be able to tell me when and where to get off but he wasn't due to depart for another 15Min's so we both jumped off for a quick cigarette. As he climbed off he was followed by a middle-aged woman dressed up in what id imagine were the latest fashions and just off a catwalk in Milan. She had the biggest pair of sunglasses id ever seen; they took up most of her face. She might actually have been younger than I'm giving her credit for but you just couldn't tell without seeing her face. Anyway, she was not very happy judging by the way she was shouting at the driver. It was hilarious, she was shouting at him in Italian and he was responding back to her but when she replied again he would be making faces and slagging her off in English to me. She was still shouting and I was still laughing as we all boarded back onto the bus and as we pulled out I was in no wiser as to what her problem had been. I knew that the hostel was a good 4miles outside the city centre but Ive no comprehension as to how far 4miles actually looks like. When the bus pulled to a halt and I found myself the only person left I was under the suspicion that the driver had forgot about me and that I was quite a bit further outside the city than 4miles. My suspicion was confirmed when I tapped on the Perspex glass that cocooned the driver and he began waving his arms wildly in the air and apologizing profusely with his sight of me. Within a flash he was passed me and out the door urging me to follow. When he ran into the middle of the road and into on coming traffic I was reluctant to follow, I was not about to be a lemming following to my death. When he started waving his arms in the air as if landing an aircraft I was thinking that the poor lad had to be a few sandwiches short of a full picnic. Just when I though he might be possessed I recognised the reason for his erratic behaviour as he was flagging down a bus going in the direction from whence we came. After thanking him and climbing aboard I recognised the driver as the one from earlier that morning when my bag got stuck. He gave me a rye smile and insisted that he would remember to show me the correct stop. 'Ciao Bella' I shouted back as I climbed down from the bus, and strangely to a lot of laughter. I looked back to see the driver all red faced and an old man laughing his head off as he leaned on his walking stick. The bus was well on its way and I was walking through the gate of the hostel before I realised that I had said 'goodbye lady' or something to that effect. Languages have never been one of my strong points. I had only been in Trieste a few hours but it was already turning into one eventful and pleasant morning.

The hostel was closed when I arrived and a sign on the door informed me that they would not be open until late afternoon. Not wanting to be hanging around for the few hours and with only one day in Trieste I hid my bags behind a hedge and went off to explore the area. The hostel location was one of the most beautiful Ive ever come across. Isabella had said that it was nice but she had undersold it by a long way, I could never have imagined it would have been as spectacular. It was right on the sea front with a long promenade stretching to just outside the city centre. The nearest attraction, 200meters, is Miramale castle and gardens. The castle was built by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and is an ornate pleasure palace. The gardens are beautiful to walk around. There is also a marine reserve and a diving school on the site. After a few hours there I decided to take the walk into town and do some supply shopping and soak up some of the atmosphere. Trieste is a city in the extreme northeast of Italy on the gulf of Trieste, an inlet of the gulf of Venice, at the head of the Adriatic Sea. The city has mainly been a transit point for budget air passengers on forays into nearby Slovenia and Croatia however in recent years it has seen a revival of tourism with the renovation of the harbor to accommodate the large cruise ships sailing around the Mediterranean. With the increase in tourism the city is undergoing a suitably grand style makeover with a real cosmopolitan feel and a café culture that you would expect from any Italian city. Another aspect you would expect from an Italian city is present in the extreme, the noise from speeding mop-heads and car drivers. You would want to have eyes in the back of your head crossing the road, it's a daunting challenge. One other tid-bit of useless information I was able to dig up on Trieste is apparently one of our most famous authors, James Joyce, was a long-term resident here. By the time I exited one of the many supermarkets with my dinner for that night and supplies to make the 24hr ferry ride to Albania as bearable as possible, I must have walked close to 10miles. Another 4mile walk back to the hostel was not on my list of things to do so I decided to save my legs and get the bus back. I had neglected the washing of my clothes of late and was starting to run out of clean underwear, catching up on that was a dull chore in the extreme but a necessary evil. I found my luggage behind the bush, exactly where I left it and checked into the hostel thinking that if it had been stolen the thieves would have been real disappointed with a backpack full of dirty clothes. Not wanting to put the task off any longer I was ready with my laundry bagged in no time at all but a quick reconnaissance of the hostel building didn't reveal any washing machine. A check with the guy at check-in revealed that the reason I couldn't find one was because there wasn't one and the closest laundrette was a self-service back in town. Not wanting my good mood to pass I accepted this information in good spirits and headed off plastic bag of dirty laundry in hand. A great thing about the bus tickets in Trieste is that they are valid for travel for the hour after the time validated on the ticket, meaning that for my Eur1 I was able to use the same ticket for two bus rides. For once I found what I was looking for, the Laundromat, with relative ease. Unfortunately I can't say the washing process went as easy as that. The first blow I received was in trying to get tokens for the machines. You required 5 tokens altogether, 3 for the washing machine and 2 for the drier. A vending machine on the wall advertised that it was dispensing tokens for Eur1 per shot. The smallest money I had was a Eur10 note but that wasn't going to be a problem as a picture on the machine indicated, as far as I was concerned, that it gave change. With no fear I placed my Eur10 into the machine but as the tokens were dispensed the noise created seemed to me to indicate that I got more than just 5 tokens. Counting them out I was confused to find 11 tokens and no sign of any change. Taking a deep breath I said good-bye to my Eur and put it out of my mind, i wasn't going to let anything shatter my good mood. Next up I required some washing powder. Another vending machine on the other wall dispensed what looked to me to be washing powder and conditioner. Unfortunately this machine didn't take my excess tokens and not wanting to make the same mistake by putting in another Eur10 I crossed the road and got some coinage from a newsagent. The machine asked for Eur3 so that is exactly what I put in, pressing B5 for the powder. Filling the machine with my clothes I opened the washing powder in readiness only to find, to my total dismay, that it wasn't washing powder at all. Somehow id managed to buy a Eur3 laundry bag. Standing dazed and confused back in front of the vending machine I couldn't figure out where I had gone wrong. It seemed so simple, put money in, press buttons, and take out washing powder. My mind coming back down to earth I realised that I was going to have to go back across to the newsagent and break a Eur5 in order to have a second attempt. This was turning into an expensive excursion. Taking much time over the second attempt I pressed C6 and thankfully was dispensed the powder necessary to get my clothes clean. As I was loading the powder into the drawer I couldn't help but notice that my t-shirt could do with a little clean so I took if off and loaded it up. Just before I pressed the button to start the cycle I thought to myself 'sure I might as well throw the jeans in too'. As the Laundromat was self service there was no staff working there and looking around I saw I was the only patron using the facilities, so off came the jeans. As I was down on my knees loading them in I thought to myself 'if I want to get real value for money I should probably throw in my boxers shorts too'. Grabbing the Eur3 laundry bag I fashioned what can only be described as a kind of dress, whipped off the boxers from underneath, loaded them in the machine to join the rest and proceeded to sit and read my book with my ruck-sac expertly placed to prevent anything slipping out. Those of you old enough to remember the Levi's advert in the early 80's will recall that hunky guy stripping off down to his boxers, much to delight of all the women doing their laundry. I'm not saying my scene was anything as sexy as that, in fact I wouldn't even advise people trying to picture it, but what I will say is that I went one step further than that guy, an Irish version of the iconic advertisement. Thankfully I managed to get the load washed and dried without any interruptions. I was almost going to give them an iron too but I though that might be pushing my luck. Looking out the window of the bus as it sped off in the direction of the hostel, I was enjoying the warm snug feeling from my underwear when I had to laugh, thinking what someone might make of the security tapes if they ever had to be watched for some reason. The whole laundry experience had left me with a ferocious hunger and I was really looking forward to the tuna and pasta I was planning to cook up a storm with. Walking around the hostel with my food I had a strong feeling of deja vu, was it just me or were they hiding the kitchen along with the washing machine. What seemed like a reasonable request to me brought nothing but indignation from the guy working in reception. In all my years hosteling around the world I've never encountered a hostel that didn't have a kitchen, it goes against what a hostel stands for. It appears that the whole hosteling way of life is relatively new to Italy and they haven't quite copped onto the idea fully. Putting the disappointment of not having tuna and pasta out of mind I satisfied myself with some ham and cheese sandwiches instead. Lying in my bunk that night staring up at the bed in front of me, I was reminiscing on the strange but enjoyable day id just had. The last thought I can remember was thinking about the 'pleasure/ pain theory', you know the balance of the universe, for every pleasurable experience there has to an experience of pain to balance it out. As I drifted off to sleep I recalled that my day had plenty of painful disappointments and yet not an equal amount of pleasurable moments during the course of the day. Had it not been for the determination to hold onto my good mood I might have been going to sleep in a different frame of mind, I wondered if the universe was trying to short change me on the pleasure/ pain theory ;0)

I was developing a bit of penchant for bananas lately, actually I've always loved bananas but after id eaten my third one that morning I was thinking that it might be a good idea to try a few other fruit varieties, before I developed some kind of potassium overload. Saying only "ciao" I checked out of the hostel with a little more dignity then the day I had checked in. With a ferry departure time of 2pm and it now being 11:35am I was giving myself plenty of time to rectify any unforeseen problems that tend to follow behind me like some kind of lost puppy. For once, I was in town and heading for the ferry terminal without any dramas what so ever. When I got there though the condition of the ferry terminal didn't fill me with confidence that I was in the right place. It was housed in what I can only describe as a cross between the remnants of a war zone and a wreckage yard for cars. I was there quite early so there was nobody around to confirm to me that I was in the right place, as I sat on a kerb I was going to have to trust that this was the right place. After an hour a chance at human contact presented itself and thus an opportunity to make sure I was indeed waiting on a ferry to Albania and not some crazy, lawless country ;0). As the guy sat down on the kerb beside me I drew his attention with a nod and a smile. While returning my nod and smile he said something in a language I couldn't quite identify. Realising that I couldn't respond he asked me if I was English, a common mistake no matter where in the world I've found myself. When I told him I was actually Irish, the confused look on his face was something else id experienced on many such instances for it seems that Ireland, to most people, is a made up place or at the very least not in any atlas they have ever seen. Eventually something managed to sink in but as he spoke I focused on the only English words I could make out, "Albania, Tirana, and tourist". When I replied that I was going to Albania and that I was a tourist he stood up, laughing, and shook my hand vigorously before disappearing back to wherever he had come. My fist experience of Albania over me I sat back and watched the cavalcade of trucks and jeeps hauling anything from ceramics to lawn furniture make their way into a disorganised queue for the boat. Surprisingly when the ferry arrived the loading of people and vehicles morphed into a kind of organised chaos and we were pulling out of port with the minimum of fuss. I found myself a bench in the lounge area amongst the tattooed lorry drivers and settled down for what was going to be a long sail down the coast of Croatia eventually arriving in the port of Durres and Albania, country number 15 on my road to Australia.
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