April 1996

After leaving Dubrovnik, the ferry deposited us the next morning in Bari, Italy. This was a stupid idea. One of the reasons we were in Italy at all, given the ground we were attempting to cover, was that Trieste was just a couple of hours’ train ride from both Ljubljana and Zagreb, and we’d get to technically be in Italy to boot, a country we’d never visited. Fine. But those of you Italy-aware out there reading this are already saying to yourselves, “but didn’t he just say ‘Bari’?” Actually no, I just typed it.

You have to remember our situation and the geography, something we would have been a bit more careful to check out. We were in Dubrovnik, which is at the extreme southeastern end of Croatia. Since we’d seen Zagreb already, our next destination was Slovenia. And Trieste is even closer still! Two of us were still in the throes of a nasty virus, and the memory of our bus ride from Zagreb to Split put us off the idea of going by bus up the windy two-lane roads all the way to Trieste. We asked at a local travel agent, and he said that the time driving from Bari to Trieste and from Dubrovnik to Trieste was about the same, except the roads were better in Italy–and rail from Dubrovnik to Trieste was not an option. So we though, well, a discounted rail ticket in Italy and a place on the ferry will be much easier to take and faster, right? We didn’t realize that the train time would be as long, as well. Had we looked at a map…oh, well.

So, waaaay in the south of Italy (the Achilles tendon of the boot), we got in and realized it would take us about 10 or more hours to reach Trieste by rail. And the discounts didn’t work, and no foreign credit cards were acceptable (Citibank, one of the top ten largest banks in the world, is less reliable than an institution of the Italian financial system? Apparently it’s not just the American South that’s filled with provincial ignoramuses in high places). No matter, we were stuck.

So in 8 hours (we found a better route) with 20 minutes in Bologna and 10 minutes in Venice (not the downtown station, unfortunately) we get to Trieste. And it’s the day before Easter Sunday, so everything’s closed. Passing up several likely-looking pensions, one of our party insists on finding the place mentioned in the evil Let’s Go, and we get the usual–Let’s Go places make you feel like you’re roughing it, no matter that there may be places cheaper and nicer, or $1 more and much nicer. Loved having to use the family’s personal shower and dodge their biting rat-dog. Thank you Berkeley, for getting me in touch with the proletariat, who looked suspiciously like the kiddies of Euroelites doing the Maoist thing out of Let’s Go as well. This solidified my opinion of the evil Let’s Go.

I was as sick as the rat-dog should have been, so I didn’t go out for the Italian meal that my compatriots did. All that was open was a pizza joint that served pizza not as good as that in Croatia but twice as expensive. The next morning, of course, nothing is open except the sandwich place in the train station, which uses the same stand-in-line system as Russia, with about as many people speaking English, though they were much nicer about bending the rules to accommodate.

So, 30 hours in Italy with only two genuine Italian train station subs, no wine, and one cup of industrial cappuccino, not surpassing the equivalently-priced American coffeehouse variety. A sad, sad showing, but I claim diseased thinking as my defense–that and the opiate of the masses having a really strong showing, which was to haunt my search for Slovenian wine later.

On the other hand, the view through the train window was nice, and most people were nice. They were, however, stereotypically Italian. In fact, much of Italy did little to dispel the stereotypes of Italians prominent in the US: things were fairly unorganized, people spoke with dramatic shouts and pitch changes–but the trains did run on time. Well, no final judgment, until I can go without the ravages of disease and the Holiday of Catholic Holidays to contend with.

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