Beautiful Rovinj and 99 Steps of Terror

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April 10th 2015
Published: April 11th 2015
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We trudged down to the bus station at 6:30 this morning in order to catch our bus from Ljubljana to Rovinj. As we walked along the streets we were amazed at the number of people already up and about. Upon arriving at the bus station we set down our bags at the assigned post and waited with anticipation. Dozens of highschool-aged kids were getting of the train and walking into town. Evidently school starts at 7:30 am! At 7:10 our big, blue Crnja bus pulled in. We showed our ticket and asked if we had to change buses in Trieste (as indicated on our sheet). The driver said no, that this bus went straight to Rovinj. Thank goodness as we were both a little worried about the transfer, recalling the bus drop off point in Trieste on our way to Slovenia (inside the depot where it was dark and not well-marked). We got comfortable in our seats for the 4.5 hour long ride. We went through some beautiful small and large towns. The route we took is interesting because we had to leave Slovenia, go back to Italy, re-enter Slovenia and then into Croatia. The one blessing is that when we got to the Croatian border our passports were stamped so we are safely and legitimately out of the Schengen Area which means our 90 days starts over. No going to the German jail for us!

As we entered Croatia we saw people out in their vineyards, digging their vegetable gardens, and picking rocks. The earth here is a rich ochre colour. Spring flowers are blooming and the buds on the trees are just opening. The landscape is beautiful We arrived to Rovinj around noon and followed our directions to Margerita Apartments. We got a little bit confused as the streets are not too well marked, especially if they are small ones. Two kind ladies but eventually backtracked and found it on our own. We walked down the lane of the two storey house, where recent work on the beautiful gardens in the front yard was evident. As we stood there a large, ruddy-faced man came out onto the balcony and wished us a hearty, "Dohber Dahn." We responded in kind but that was the extent of our mutual understanding. This was the owner's father, Paul, who bellowed for his wife, Maria, to come out. She is a tiny, raspy-voiced lady who was a bit confused because in actual fact the check-in time is 5:00, making us 4 hours early. The man exuberantly gestured for us to come in to their home. We put our bags in the livingroom and no sooner had we sat down and they were pouring us cups of "grappa". Wow, that packs a punch! You have to picture the four of us sitting in this tiny livingroom, a Croatian soap opera is playing on the TV, magnificent smells are wafting from the kitchen, no one understands a word each other is speaking (he is Hungarian, speaking some German to Curtis and she is Italian), every once in a while Paul bursts out with "Casanova" and lets into a big belly laugh! But as it is with human nature and the generosity of people, we managed to laugh and try our best to communicate. Next thing I know Maria hands me her cell phone and indicates I am to talk! It was their English-speaking son who let me know that it's fine we came early and that his mom would take us to the apartment. We went upstairs to find ourselves in a 2 bedroom apartment complete with a small kitchen, big bathroom, livingroom and a terrace with a view over the Adriatic Sea and a washing machine to boot! She quickly pointed out how to lock the door and left us on our own.

After a bit of unpacking, we walked down to the Old Town of Rovinj which is a 5 minute walk and is gorgeous as it is all along the water and then up a big hill, topped off by a church. We wandered the wide, pedestrian streets and soon stopped for a bite to eat. We shared a magnificent pizza and cevapcici, something I had not eaten since my time in Bosnia. We then found a grocery store and picked up a few things for dinner and breakfast (hope Curtis enjoys the 10lb. loaf of bread that is about the size of his hand and the weight of a brick).

Around 6pm the owner, Vilim, came up to meet and greet us. He is a very gentle, soft-spoken man who talked to us and showed us places on the map to visit once we have our rental car on Saturday. He was quite accommodating and we enjoyed chatting with him.

After a lazy morning we walked into the old town, over the shiny white stones that wind there way through Rovinj. This hilltown is a myriad of tiny streets with beautiful shops, boasting Istrian Olive Oil, soaps, art galleries and Croatian made jewelry. We made our way up the steep street to the St. Euphemia Basilica. This white church, perched at the very top of the hill offers a wonderful view over the Adriatic. This baroque church was built in 1736 and holds the remains of St. Euphemia in a sarcophagus. Legends say that when Euphemia was 15 years old, she was arrested by Diocletian's soldiers in Constantinople and ordered to give up Christianity. She refused and was tortured on a wheel. Remaining loyal to Christ, she was then thrown to the lions who killed her but did not eat her body. Her body was preserved in Chalcedon where she lived. In 620 the town was overtaken by the Persians and the sarcophagus was transferred to Constantinople. In 800, the Christians were forced to remove the relics to Rovinj where she is now considered the protector of this town.

While wandering the aisles, Curtis told me that we could go up the bell tower for 20 kunas each (2,75 euros). We knew the climb would result in a spectacular view so up we went. As we first entered a lady was coming down with a very strange look on her face. Almost one of intense relief. We didn't have anything to worry about because we have climbed so many stairs this would be a piece of cake! Well let me tell you that is 20 minutes of my life flashing before my eyes. The stairs up to the bell tower are made out of split logs and are about 5 inches wide and 3 inches thick but the worst part of all was that there was a large gap between each one so you could see directly down below. I was an absolute wreck going up. My knuckles were white as I gripped the wooden railing (which looked none too sturdy either). I made it all the way to the last set which turned into an unimaginable set of narrower, steeper steps that lead to a ladder. I started up and went right back down where I froze to the wall. Curtis kept urging me up but there was no way I could bring myself to do it. As I stood pasted to the ancient wall I saw a face peering down at me from above. No, it was not the angel I was praying for but a kind man who said, "Come up. The view is worth it!" I said I just couldn't do it. He came backwards down the ladder and then down the narrow slats. "You must go up. It is beautiful. You can do it. I will stand here and catch you if you fall." Well I swallowed my fear and tried again. I made it to the top and looking back gave him the thumbs up. Maybe he was my angel. The view was majestic as we had an unhindered sight of the islands, sea, and town below. However, I still had to contend with the climb back down which I figured would not be as bad as the way up (how wrong I was). After I made it down the extremely steep ladder (backwards) with Curtis coaxing me down, I then began the downward climb. This was absolutely worse for someone who is terrified of heights! I was so afraid my foot was going to fall through the unevenly spaced steps. After what seemed in eternity of going down I asked Curtis how many sets of steps were left, he said 4 or 5. After another couple sets he looked down again and said, "You're doing great, only 7 or 8 to go!!". At that point I became tearful. I clung to his hand as he lead me down the last few steps of each set until we finally reached the ground where I damn near kissed it!

We continued our walk down from the church where the town of Rovinj has done an amazing job creating a beautiful stone and paved walkway along the sea that merges down to different levels. The water is so crystal clear at the edge and then changes to a beautiful greeny blue. We continued our walk in the sunshine and then stopped for a drink at a gorgeous terrace along the water where we sat on cushions and looked over the water.

Part of our plan today was to find the place where we pick up our rental car on Saturday. We followed the pristine promenade to the other side where you get the million dollar view of Rovinj. It absolutely takes your breath away as the town sits perched up on the hill with the basilica at the very top! We walked and walked until we reached the hotel that is listed on our voucher as our pickup point. Apparently they bring the car to us right out front of the hotel where we sign the papers and get the keys!

We strolled leisurely back into town along the water where hundred of yachts and sailboats are moored. Through the clear water we could see sea urchins clinging to the rocks and fish swimming around. We then stopped at the grocery store and headed back to our apartment to cook dinner.


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