The striking aroma of a sturdy cigar, the incessant chatter of olive-hued brunettes, the coarseness of a vintage Vino Rosso on your palate and a distant Pavarotti masterpiece lilting you into a different world—that's Italy! I am often inspired to replace ‘joy' with ‘Italy' in the dictionary for the secret of its gregarious, fun-loving folk lies in the old Italian saying ‘Si vive una volta sola' (you live only once!)
Seated on a platform jutting out into the horizon, I meditatively watch colossal vessels from the world over gently arrive and depart from the charming port of Trieste, like watching the majestic dance of the aquatic Big Five on the pristine blue Adriatic, when I suddenly feel a familiar tap on the shoulder and an unforgettable baritone. It was Nachiket, my kindergarten buddy, now a captain in the Merchant Navy! As we caught up on old times over a tall Tuscan cigar, I learnt more about ships, ports and the unpredictability of the Adriatic from this most unexpected guide who showed me around Trieste for the rest of the day!
A short distance from the main hub of Trieste is Muggia, a tiny commune plunk on the Slovenian border, offering a breathtaking panorama of the both sides of the Adriatic with a verdant Slovenian expanse just walking distance away. “Voila! That is my Panama-Flagged Bulk Carried,” he proudly smiled, pointing out to a ship anchored exactly between the two countries as we gorged on mouth-watering Penne Rigate con pesto in a family-owned trattoria perched on a hill!
In this university town celebrated for its spirit of youth, one can find hardy Italians of all ages living it up every moment, sunbathing on the long-winding promenades, sail boating, wine-guzzling, sharing smiles, hugs and endless varieties of sumptuous cuisine!
A visit to Trieste's Kleines Berlin Nazi bunker opens doors to the town's turbulent past. It was here that the Nazis evacuated Trieste's citizens to escape American bombings during World War II. Gas masks, bicycles, radios and a map showing the exact location of the bombings and original photos shot by the US pilots from the aircrafts are among the museum's priced exhibits.
A town bubbling with verve and zest, magnetic as it can get, Trieste never sleeps. With its traditional restaurants, spirited people, charming locales, and the Adriatic smiling at you from every corner, Trieste grows on you.
A full moon illuminates a row of white cottages with black conical roofs. A lad plays an old folk tune on homemade single-stringed violin and a boisterous ‘Buona Sera caro fratello' (good evening dear brother) from a burlesque farmer tells me that I am in the midst of a fairytale come alive!
In Alberobello, you cannot help but get drunk with the wine of life as this quaint little town in the heart of Puglia in southeast Italy unfolds its magic with its typical Trulli (singular, ‘Trullo') homes, cobbled slopes, affable folk and rustic charm!
This World Heritage Site, apart from being one of Italy's most fascinating spots, has an intriguing history of its own. These Trulli homes—white at the base, having conical black roofs, each having its own symbol, either Christian, Jewish or pagan—were originally built to evade taxes. In the middle age, anyone who built a home on the king's land was heavily taxed. The Pugliesi, being a smart and evolved community, built dry stonewall Trulli that could be easily dismantled on the arrival of the taxman, announced by a smoke signal, and quickly reconstructed. Though the Trulli were originally built more for convenience rather than an aesthetic expression, Alberobello's unique architecture attracts tourists round the year.
Puglia being a haven for wine aficionados, wine tasting with exotic local cheese varietals is a pure treat! I was welcomed by an elderly couple to their cozy, old-style Trullo home-sharing, along with tales and poems of old, some of the region's choicest reds, the earthy Primitivo di Puglia 2006, the sought-after Promitivo di Manduria 2008, not forgetting a crisp dry 2006 Chardonnay White, paired with delicious taralli—a traditional home-baked pretzel.
Shopping in Alberobello brings out the child in you. Trulli boutiques dazzle with an endless array of cute souvenirs, fancy attires, fascinating toys and locally made whistles, duffs and rattles.
In the heart of Tuscany's medieval wonderland lies the abode of spiritual solace. With its quitetude, creamish-yellow homes and winding cobbled lanes, Cortona is like a mother's hug! This tiny town is poets', musicians' and writers' paradise, and a haven for those who seek soulful experiences.
A steep climb brings you to the famed Eremo Le Celle Franciscan Monastery which St Francis of Assisi, one of Christianity's most venerated saints, had personally graced with his holy presence. Revered throughout the world for being the apostle of unconditional love, compassion towards all beings, selfless service, devotion and simplicity, the words of San Francesco d'Assisi, “Fermati. Del silenzio davanti a dio, rischopri chi sei” (Stop. Through silence before God, rediscover who you are), at the entrance of the monastery was instant enlightenment.
A small church with a Franciscan Cross with the simple words ‘Pace e Bene' (Peace and Goodness) had extremely devout worshippers praying passionately, the sound of a gushing stream in the valley below adding to the tranquillity of the environs. Here, one can often come across soft-spoken Cappucin Friars (the name Cappucino was derived from the colour of the friars' robes that resembled that of the coffee) welcoming you in impeccable English.
The life of this great saint reminded me of an old Persian couplet that truly describes his simplicity and spirit of service to humanity. “Shamm e mehfil e shahan budan lotfi nadaarad. Ey! Khosh aan shamm'ee ke roshnan mikonad viraaneh ra” (Being a candle in a monarch's court is of no pleasure. Lo! Blessed is the light that illuminates desolate hearts).
Trieste is a three-hour drive from Milan.
One can fly to Rome via various destinations, and drive from Rome to Tuscany.
One can get around any one of these Italian towns by road. Italian motorways are known to be picturesque.
Italy is about enjoying life. One can enjoy traditional
cuisine, wines, cigars, music, history, art and natural beauty.
Though Italian is the language, English is widely
spoken and understood.