Woke up relatively early on our first day in Italy. It looked gloomy outside, but at least it wasn’t raining. Following the free breakfast at the hotel bar, we checked out and headed towards the town center.
We decided to take advantage of the dry weather and our early morning departure, started wondering around the cobblestone streets of the old city. We strolled through Via Mercatovecchio, stopped by Loggia del Lionello at Piazza della Libertà and onto Castello di Udine. The road to the castle was too steep and slippery for pedaling, so we pushed our bikes to the top.
After the quick sight seeing detour, we got on to the route to Trieste. As we pedaled out of the city, we both wished that we had more time to spend in Udine; it looked like an awesome place with much to explore and see. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time and wanted to get to Trieste before dark. As we wondered out the country side, the weather became more summer like. For the first time in the last two weeks, we had a clear sight of the sun.
We followed the Fiume (River) Torre south towards the Adriatic Sea. It was a pleasant ride on mostly flat roads winding through many small towns and villages with little to no traffic. I have always been impressed with Europeans’ passion for restoring and maintaining old buildings instead building anew, and Italians were no exception. Although, the buildings in the small towns along our route didn’t look as old as the ones in the larger cities, perhaps most dating from the late 19th to early 20th century, they nevertheless echoed the same spirit. As we rode through the streets surrounded by these old buildings, I was reminded of scenes from Italian classics such as Cinema Paradiso, Malèna and the Novecento. To add to the eeriness of the place, this part of Italy seemed deserted. Most of the shops were closed, and we rarely saw anyone on the streets. And when we did see someone, it was usually an old lady for some odd reason.
However, that quickly changed as we merged onto highway SS14 near Papariano. This was one of the main arteries that connected this part of Italy to Trieste. The traffic was quite heavy and the worst of all there were just too many trucks with long trailers who drove like mad men. These truckers were just insane. They knew full well that two cars travelling on opposite directions barely fit through the streets let alone a truck and a car (sometimes two trucks in opposite direction), but that didn’t stop them from trying to force their way in at extreme speeds. They were just a$$holes.
What made our situation particularly bad was the fact that the roads in this part of Italy either have tiny (measured in inches) shoulders or don’t have any at all. That is not a problem when there isn’t much traffic on the road and the drivers are courteous to cyclists. Unfortunately, neither was the case on this stretch and the route just wasn’t ideal. But, we didn’t have much of choice and had to stick with it until we crossed over the Isonzo river.
But we first had to get our bellies filled. We saw a restaurant just as we merged onto SS14 and stopped to eat there. It was more of a bar than a restaurant and the only available thing for us was pizza. We didn’t mind it a bit as at this point our bodies were calorie starved (as you read you will notice that having pizza became quite the routine for us) and we both loved pizza, who doesn’t?
As we were waiting for the pizza to arrive, we noticed that we were the only ones ordering food. All the other patrons were stopping for a quick drink at the bar before continuing on to their journey. It was quite nerve wracking seeing the sheer number of drivers who presumably drove around buzzed in this part of Italy.
Just as we were getting tired of counting the patrons coming ad going out of the bar, the cheeky waitress arrived with our ‘pizza’. It looked like an experiment gone wrong in the hands of a 5 year old. The crust was extremely thick with a puddle of olive oil in the center causing the tomato sauce to overflow from all sides. Needless to say, it was one of the worst pizzas we ever had. It looked like we managed to find the best and worst pizza Italy had to offer all within 24 hour period.
After crossing over the Isonzo river, we turned onto a smaller side road where we can enjoy our ride once again without much of a traffic. However, a few miles down the road as we were nearing the Adriactic, we had to merge back onto the dreaded SS14 once again. Well, at least this section had a shoulder. Right before it intersected with the express motorway, we spotted a guy selling all sorts of produce from his truck that was parked alongside the road. We stopped to see what he had to offer, but communication was an issue. We were having hard time even get him to understand simple hand gestures. I guess some of the gestures we used for numbers weren’t as universal as we thought. Anyhow, we bought some ‘yummy’ oranges and ‘baeeh’ cherries from him before resuming our ride.
Just as we assumed, most of the traffic on SS14 diverted onto the express motor way at their intersection. The scenery changed quite a bit, too. The road was no longer flat. It would continuously ascent or descent as it wrapped around the cost. It had a more pleasant, strange holiday vacation like feel to it. Right past the intersection with the motorway, we stopped at a park called Bocche del Timavo which I think roughly translates to mouth of Timavo (a river). As the name suggests, this is where the Timavo, an underground river roars onto the surface. We walked around a bit and visited the old church that was built next to the river.
The road we were following became a very wide city street as we entered Trieste. The torrents of traffic, pot holes and occasional railroad tracks made for an unpleasant ride and forced us to seek refuge on the sidewalks from time to time. Once we got to the waterfront in the center of the city, we stopped at an ice cream parlor to use the internet. The ice cream was quite good and we managed to find an apartment called Residence Sole via Tripadvisor.com. They had good reviews and when my brother called them, they said they had a place for our bikes.
The apartment wasn’t too hard to find as it was near where we had stopped for ice-cream. It was in a neighborhood that consisted of soulless multi-story concrete buildings, each supporting a mixture of residential apartments on higher floors and business offices in the lower ones. We rang the bell and the landlady whose name escapes me at the moment, came down to greet us. She showed us a small storage area where we can lock our bikes. Once we did that, we got into the tiny elevator and made our way up to the apartment. The apartment was nice, clean and fully furnished with a functionally equipped kitchen. The manager (owner?) lived in the apartment upstairs and offered to help if we needed anything. She had done a good job making the place feel homey with a large collection of books and movies. The only issue was that the walls were paper thin. Although, it was quite as we first settled in, around dinner time we could hear all the conversations from the family next door. It was quite unusual for me in that their noise really didn’t bother me. To the contrary, I think I enjoyed it a bit. The conversations they were having, even though we didn’t really understand them, made the place feel even more homey. Following dinner, conversations gradually gave way to snoring (I kid you not). We were too tired to be bothered by all of that and I am quite sure we joined the snoring chorus ourselves at some point during the night.