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Posts Tagged ‘Opicina’

obelisk at Villa OpicinaSetting out the next morning, on my way to Piazza Oberdan, I first stopped by Pasticceria Bomboniera, one of Trieste’s oldest bakeries, and bought a slice of apple strudel for my breakfast. While some bakers, including my friends at Pasticceria Penso, prepare strudel with puff pastry, Bomboniera uses the paper-thin dough that is traditional throughout Austria and Hungary.

My destination for the day was Villa Opicina, a town high in the hills above Trieste, marked by a striking obelisk erected in 1830 to honor Emperor Franz Josef. While Opicina is most directly accessible by the tranvia—a combination electric tram and funicular—I decided to take the scenic route on bus #42.

From the transportation hub of Piazza Oberdan, the ride took about 40 minutes, passing through a dozen villages of the Carso (the name given to the rocky plateau surrounding Trieste), including Monrupino, Borgo Grotta Gigante, and Prosecco. My mission, once I reached Opicina, was to find an osmizza, a farmhouse open to the public for wine tasting and the sale of artisinal products like cheese and salumi. These temporary roadside taverns are indicated by a frasca—a leafy cluster of branches hung above the door. The custom began in 1784 with an imperial decree that allowed peasants to sell their excess wine and produce in an unlicensed restaurant for eight days each year. Given the region’s proximity to Slovenia, the word osmizza is thus derived from the Slovene word osem, meaning “eight.”

Since I didn’t have any directions to follow, I set out walking along the road from Opicina to Monrupino, keeping my eyes peeled for a frasca. Before long, I had gotten myself lost amid a maze of streets in a quiet neighborhood just off the highway. Thirty minutes later, I came to the end of a stretch of homes on a deserted country lane, so I turned around and headed back. I did spot a couple of houses along the way that had a tiny bundle of decorative twigs on their gates, but those gates were locked, the yards were empty, and the twigs just didn’t look like what I was expecting. It was clear I would need some guidance going forward.

All around me, leaves were beginning to turn various shades of red, orange, and brown. The smell of burning firewood filled the air, and a chilly wind was blowing in from the north, as if to say, “Winter is coming.” I realized that, of my numerous trips to Italy to date, this was my first ever visit in autumn.

I eventually emerged back on the main highway, fortuitously close to Antica Trattoria Valeria—just in time for lunch. There, I ordered the tris della casa, a trio of three different pasta dishes: gnocchi di ricotta, spatzle al basilico, and rollata di spinaci. The gnocchi were served in a cheese sauce and the spatzli in a basil cream sauce. The rollata (also sometimes called rotolo or strucolo) was the most unique of the three, taking the form of an Austrian strudel. A spinach filling was rolled up jellyroll-style inside a large sheet of pasta; after being boiled, thick slices were served with a drizzle of meat broth. I also had a side of kipfel di patate (also called chifeleti): U-shaped pieces of fried potato dough. In contrast to my lunch the other day at Siora Rosa, these were fresh, though still rather heavy and doughy.

Trieste seen from Villa OpicinaAfter lunch, I walked back to the obelisk, which marked the beginning of Via Napoleonica (a.k.a. Strada Vicentina), a footpath stretching along the cliffs to the town of Prosecco. In the hills above the path lay the Bosco Bertoloni, a forest traversed by several more hiking trails. As I meandered along the shady lane, I passed only a few other people, each out for a peaceful afternoon stroll or jog. Whenever an opening appeared amid the lengthy row of cliffside trees, exposing the blue vastness of the sea, I paused to gaze out over the graceful city sprawl in the distance.

Trieste's Via NapoleonicaAfter I had been hiking for about 45 or 50 minutes, the dirt path gave way to a paved road, flanked by the sea on one side and a massive cliff rising dramatically skyward on the other. Several people perched precariously on the face of this gray-and-white karst rock, practicing their rock-climbing skills.

Although the morning had been clear and sunny, a few clouds had drifted in after lunch. Shortly after I reached Prosecco, the rain suddenly began pouring down. Luckily, I didn’t have long to wait for the return #42 bus. It was so crowded, however, that I wasn’t able to squeeze past the other passengers to punch my ticket. This ride was decidedly much less scenic than earlier, what with my being squished and jostled and unable to see anything out the rain-fogged windows. Back in Trieste, the bora winds had picked up, rendering my umbrella completely useless. Anxious to be somewhere warm and dry, I hurried home to Residence Liberty as quickly as I could.

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obelisk at Villa OpicinaBy the next morning, the sun had returned, although there was a bit of a chill in the air. We began the day with more pastries at Pasticceria Penso: a slice of apple strudel and a “domino,” the latter being a bite-sized rectangle of cake layered with rich chocolate buttercream, covered with bittersweet ganache, and whimsically decorated with white frosting dots.

From Piazza Oberdan, we took the tram uphill to the town of Villa Opicina, marked by a monumental obelisk that was erected in 1830 to celebrate a new road between Austria and Trieste. The pedestrian path Via Napoleonica stretches westward about two miles from the obelisk to the village of Prosecco. Although we turned back before reaching Prosecco, we had plenty of opportunities to admire the stunning, panoramic view of the sea.

Returning to Opicina for lunch, we stopped at Ristorante Diana, one of several restaurants along the highway that specializes in cuisine from Trieste and the Carso. They were fully booked but agreed to serve us if we could eat our meal in the next 75 minutes. I ordered pasticcio di crespelle con carciofi e funghi (a lasagna of sorts, with layers of crêpes, artichokes, and mushrooms) and the capriolo in salmì (stewed venison). Mike had a plate of prosciutto di struzzo e cinghiale (cured ostrich and wild boar) and the stinco di vitello (braised veal shank). As a side dish, we shared a dish of carciofi gratinati (artichokes baked with a breadcrumb topping).

Grotta GiganteAfter lunch, our plan was to take bus #42 to the Grotta Gigante, but as happens so often when traveling, we just missed it. As we waited for the next bus to come along, we enjoyed some refreshing cones from the gelateria across the street (me: cioccolato, stracciatella, and yogurt; Mike: pistachio, panna cotta, and amarena).

When we finally arrived at Grotta Gigante—the world’s largest tourist cave at 351 feet high, 213 feet wide, and 918 feet long—we joined a dozen other people for a guided tour. Upon entering, a narrow tunnel opened into the enormous cavern, which is large enough to fit Saint Peter’s Basilica. The echo of dripping water filled the silence, and we were immediately struck by the chilly dampness. Five hundred steps descended past walls covered with curtains of stalactites in shades of white, orange, and brown. The cave’s stalagmites were tall and slender, with flat tops, the calcite concretions resembling stacks of dishes due to the height from which the water drips. What goes down must come back up again, and although the five-hundred-step return to the surface was quite strenuous, it provided a suitable excuse for my recent gastronomic indulgences!

Back in Trieste for dinner, we found a casual trattoria near the city’s old center, Trattoria La Piazzetta. I had goulasch served with potato gnocchi and a side of patate in tecia. This was the meal that clarified for me how those potatoes were prepared: slightly mashed but still chunky and cooked with beef broth, onions, and bits of pork. The goulasch obviously did not contain tomatoes and therefore perpetuated my lingering dilemma about that dish. Mike ordered seafood linguini and veal scallopini in white wine sauce—happily oblivious to the minutiae of cookbook research that was plaguing me on a daily basis.

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