158km (98 miles) E of Venice, 68km (42 miles) SE of Udine, 408km (253 miles) E of Milan

Trieste faces west, toward the rest of Italy, to which it is connected only by a strip just a few miles wide of what might otherwise be Slovenian beachfront if either of last centuries' world wars had ended differently. For many of its traditions -- from the Slavic dialects you are likely to hear in the streets to the appearance of goulash and Viennese pastries on its menus -- this handsome city of medieval, neoclassical, and modern buildings turns to other parts of Europe and is rightly considered a Habsburgian Adriatic port, tied more to Vienna than to Venice.

Already a thriving port by the time it was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the 2nd century A.D., Trieste competed with Venice for control of the seas from the 9th through the 15th centuries. For several centuries it thrived under the Habsburgs; in the late 18th century, Maria Theresa, and later her heirs and successors, gave the city its grandiose neoclassical look. Trieste was the chief seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the conclusion of World War I, when Trieste became part of Italy. At the end of World War II, Allied forces and Yugoslavia jointly occupied Trieste, which became a free city issuing its own stamps and currency until 1954, when it was given back to Italy.

Politics continue to shape this city -- today you're likely to notice the recent influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. You're also likely to notice that Trieste is a seagoing city. The traditional passeggiata here means a stroll along the waterfront to enjoy a sea breeze and watch the sun set over the Adriatic.

In the cafes that remain (fewer now than before World War I), you can experience the city's history as one of Europe's intellectual centers. James Joyce arrived in 1904 and stayed for more than a decade, teaching English and writing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, and at least part of Ulysses; the poet Rainer Maria Rilke lived nearby; Sigmund Freud spent time here; and the city was home to Italo Svevo, one of Italy's greatest 20th-century novelists, and to Umberto Saba, one of its greatest 20th-century poets.