A Day in the Life of an Italian Traveler in Trieste

Open a traveler's notebook for an inside look at the life, times and history of Trieste.

The following is Part Two of Bruna Riccobon’s experiences in Trieste, Italy, where she spent part of her childhood and where she returned to for several months last winter. (Read Part I here.)

The city of Trieste,as well as most other major Italian cities, has excellent public transportation. They have frequent bus service to various parts of town as well as to nearby communities. There is also inexpensive train service that can take you to other cities in Italy and throughout Europe. (A ticket from Trieste to Venice cost 17 euros—about $20.)  Taxis are also cheap.

Trenitalia has made some recent changes to their ticketing system, which I was not happy about. You used to be able to purchase a ticket for a local train and use it anytime within 30 days, but now you have to buy a ticket for a specific day. You can exchange it, if you decide not to go, but that means spending at least 15 minutes in line at the ticket office. This can only be done 24 hours before departure.

Also, the new red, white and green validating machines don’t always work, and the ticket does not get stamped. If you don’t realize this before boarding the train and alert personnel or use another machine, you can get fined when caught with a non-validated ticket. I witnessed a nasty argument between the train controller and a passenger because of this situation.

This article first appeared in La Nostra Voce, ISDA’s 28-page monthly newspaper, which chronicles Italian life, culture and traditions. Make the ISDA pledge and subscribe today.

Most people, especially the older generations, still purchase their groceries at the local markets. In the neighborhood where my apartment was located, there were: two butchers, two bakeries, two fish markets, three fruit and vegetable stands, and three supermarkets—one of which was located right next door.

These were all within easy walking distance. There was also a drug store and a pharmacy (in Italy they are not the same—pharmacies sell only medicine and other medicinal items; drug stores sell cosmetics and other things found in U.S. drug stores).

A night view of Trieste with car light trails on Carlo Goldoni Square.

Italy has socialized medicine, but even when you have to pay for your own, it is inexpensive compared to ours. A basic doctor’s visit costs the equivalent of about $50, and most medicines cost less than ours (my thyroid medication, where my co-pay is $38 in the U.S., costs the equivalent of $3 in Italy). Some items that require prescriptions in the U.S. can be bought over the counter in Italy.

Outside some pharmacies, there are small vending machines that dispense emergency items such as aspirin, diabetic syringes and even birth-control items.

I was surprised to learn that there are only four major hospitals in Trieste; two regular hospitals—one of which is used mainly for emergencies, and a children’s hospital. There is also a sanitarium for people with chronic bronchial diseases.

Most of the population—even senior citizens—seem to be fit, and serious obesity is not prevalent. I attribute this to the lack of fast food restaurants (only two McDonalds and one Burger King), and the fact that people walk a lot.

Parking is at a premium, so even when people drive somewhere, they are usually forced to walk at least a block or two, and many parts of the downtown area are for pedestrians only.

Food and drink, overall, was less expensive than in Pittsburgh, with the exception of certain dairy products such as milk, butter and eggs–and beef. Most fruits and vegetables cost half as much. Wine, of course, was also of higher quality and cheaper. In Trieste, you could still enjoy an excellent meal—with wine—for what I normally pay for pub food in Pittsburgh.

There are many small Osterie (pubs) throughout the city that feature a tasty take-out menu which changes daily.

I found the cost of basic utilities to be less than in Pittsburgh, although they were projected to increase in the spring. The incredibly cheapest cost was for basic cable—about 75 channels, including some of ours—costs only 95 euros (about $120) per YEAR, which is split into a monthly rate and incorporated into the light bill.

Special channels, such as Netflix, cost extra.

The weather in Trieste was milder than in Pittsburgh. There were only three days in February when the temperature dipped below freezing, and we were hit with a whole half-inch of snow, which melted by the afternoon. It was the first snow they had seen in six years. Trieste, however, is often battered by a nasty wind called bora that can reach up to 120 miles per hour and makes it seem much colder than the temperature.

The Molo Audace pier of Trieste in a winter evening.

Fortunately, it only struck about a half dozen times throughout the winter and lasted just a few days.

Churches are beautiful,  however most don’t have heat or air-conditioning. There are still many masses scheduled. The church in the neighborhood where I was staying had a mass on Saturday evening, four on Sunday morning, and one late Sunday afternoon. Many have at least one mass said in a Slavic language.

There aren’t any donations envelopes. People drop their alms in the basket, which usually consist of just a few euros.

Churches are partially supported by the taxpayers; a small percentage of everyone’s paycheck (0.08% in 2016) is deducted for charity. Half of that is used by the government to support the poor; the other half can be designated by the taxpayer to go to the church of his choice.

School students pick their course of study that prepares them for their future careers and attend specialized high schools throughout the city. English is a required course starting with middle school. Students still do math without a calculator and use workbooks and notebooks. Good handwriting is encouraged. Students are not bussed; high and middle school children ride public transportation, which means they are competing with other commuters for the available seats during morning rush hour.

There is a limited dress code for older students: no shorts, flip-flops, tank tops, sweat suits, nor skirts more than 2 inches above the knee unless worn with tights.

The crime rate in Italy varies from city to city. I read of little crime during the time I was in Trieste (a murder, a couple of robberies, and two incidents of pick pocketing—where the Albanian perpetrators were quickly apprehended.)

The drug epidemic has not reached the city and doesn’t appear to be as serious in Italy as in the U.S. yet.

I believe part of this may be due to the fact that doctors don’t immediately resort to opioids for pain management and try less addictive remedies first.

There has been an increase in crime in some of the major cities like Milan and Torino, though, and Naples, where there was always a danger of pickpocket activities and petty theft. The Mafia is still alive and well. It is most active in the South–particularly in Sicily, Calabria and around Naples. Some members tried to infiltrate the government, but were prevented. It operates under various names such as the Cosa Nostra and the Camorra. There is also the Chinese Mafia which is active also in the North.

More than 200 members of the Cosa Nostra and Camorra were arrested while I was there and about 140 members of the Chinese Mafia. Scary incidents that were taking place early this year involved Baby Gangs — young teenagers (ages 12 to 16), who were trying to join the Camorra — were beating up other teenagers and committing  crimes to prove that they were worthy.

Major protests took place in the area in an effort to curtail the violence just before I left. Gypsies still prey on tourists at train stations and tourist sites, but are not as numerous as in the past.

Some of the African migrants that have landed on the shores of Italy were also involved in some crimes. The Mafia was attempting to recruit them to distribute drugs and perform other illegal activities. I didn’t encounter much of this up north, although a few were involved in petty infractions like riding the bus without a ticket and jumping off when the controller arrived, or jaywalking.

Jaywalking in any major city in Italy can be a dangerous habit. If a pedestrian crosses against the light or not on the white lines, he risks his life and could get fined. Even crossing on the pedestrian crosswalks is not completely safe during peak traffic time. Traffic was horrendous in Trieste as in most other Italian cities. Drivers are aggressive and impatient. In some cities, red lights and stop signs are considered just a suggestion.

In many cases, criminals serve lighter sentences than in the U.S. People get house arrest for crimes that would land Americans in jail.

Tax evasion is still a problem in Italy. Taxes are high, so people do what they can to minimize them. Some  self-employed people work in “the black” and don’t declare all their earnings. Money received from rental of properties is often not reported by the owners.

Businesses are required to give the customer a receipt for their purchases and customers are required to take them. Most shops have trash bins by their exit so patrons can dump their receipts if they don’t want them.

To be continued…

Share your favorite recipe, and we may feature it on our website.

Join the conversation, and share recipes, travel tips and stories.