ISTRIA, CROATIA: on the "Trail of Romance" to CHARMING ROVINJ


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October 10th 2012
Published: October 11th 2012
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ISTRIA:




Istria got my full attention as I saw it listed as one of the "Best of the World Must-see Places for 2012" on an issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

I became set on reaching the Adriatic Sea from Zagreb, Croatia's capital, where I would be visiting friends. I really wanted to get a taste of at least Rovinj and I ended up getting so much more.

My friends arranged for us three to be taken on a road trip with a fellow from Zagreb. So, at 7:30am we left to explore Istria's highlights.

We had a lovely drive through the green Istrian interior with bucolic landscape of rolling hills, small hilltop villages with Venetian style church towers pocking the skies, olive tree groves, mountains, and more.



PAZIN

Once in the Istrian region, Pazin was our first stop. This is a tiny town of some 9,000 inhabitants. We headed to the Kastel, a Medieval castle, which now houses two museums. We were greeted by an archeologist who works at the castle and is a close friend of my buddies. First we walked around to see the Pazin Chasm, a deep abyss made famous by the writings of Jules Verne. Next we headed to the castle for a special private, guided tour.



PULA:

At the tip of the Istrian peninsula, Pula was a delightful surprise on our itinerary. I have been to Roman Amphitheaters before, but I really enjoyed this well preserved right at the heart of Pula one the most. Again, no crowds, so it was a delight to be able to take it easy, and enjoy the place sharing it with just a few other travelers. Seating on top of the arena, I could look to one side and see the marvelous deep blue of the Adriatic sea, through the many Roman arches. On the opposite side, an arch perfectly framed a lovely yellow church. I contemplated the scenery, enjoying its beauty, glad I wasn't a spectator of a violent gladiator contest, which this arena was built for.

Afterwards I headed for a stroll on the lovely streets of the old town, passing through the plaza where locals chatted having drinks on the outdoor cafes.

I could not believe that, in such lovely environment, there was actually an official street sign pointing to a McDonald's. Yes, a freaking McDonald's, among all the amazing wealth of Roman arquitecture!!!!!!! That is simply horrendous!!!!!

It was just by the Triumphal Arch of Sergius which led to a narrow street filled with little shops and a scrumptiously tasty gelato store.

When my friends called to pick me up, the meeting place was "in front of McDonald's"!!!! I looked through its glass door to glance at the menu. I see, what else, but overpriced junk food. Whyyyyy????????? It's hard for me to comprehend the attraction to such lousy food, even more so in a country with a delicious a varied cuisine.


ROVINJ



The Charming hill top town by the Adriatic Sea, was the highlight of my visit to Istria, and the reason I wanted to come to the Coastal Istria.

When I read on my National Geographic magazine that Rovinj is a "romantic town which rises from the Adriatic like an estranged island of Venice", I knew I wanted to walk its streets and to experience its vibe.

As we approached Rovinj, we were greeted by a marina, filled with small fishing boats. The hilly town served as a backdrop. "What a lovely sight", I though, content to be there.

We were starving, so we headed to one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. The menu offered so many tasty choices, and tossed between dishes of famous Istrian fresh seafood (I do make exceptions now and then, and eat seafood) and a dish with the equally famous Istrian truffas. With time to taste both, I went for fish with local olives, cheese, and wine. All incredibly delicious.

A long stroll through the narrow and steep cobbled streets and alleys follow, taking time to admire the buildings, the psychedelic art shops, and the underwear drying hanging on clothing lines out of windows, which appeared to happily fan us, as the wind blew.

My favorite sights were of the very narrow alleys between buildings which led to the dark blue sea. Each of these little alleys revealed a particular cozy setting, some with a single little table (see picture), or a candle, or a piece of art. Picture perfect and romantic, alright!

Reaching the top of the hill, we visited the imposing baroque Church of Saint Euphemia, the patron saint of the town. She is said to have been tortured for her Christian faith by an Emperor, before throwing her to the lions, in AD 304. The legend tells that her body reappeared of the coast of Rovinj in a boat. Inside the church is the tomb of the saint.

The views from the church, on the top of the hill, were fantastic, with the sun stroking the sea down below.

My friends tell me that this is a perfect time to visit the town, as there are few tourists. I'm told that during the summer one can hardly walk the streets packed with people. I love off season travelling!

We sat at a bar by the water for a drink, before heading to the marina for a sinful, tasty gelado. No, the books don't lie: Croatian gelatos are definitely better than Italian gelatos, for sure. Yummy!!!!

A decision had been made by me, as we left Rovinj: I'm to return someday, to spend more time romming the cobblestone alleys of this lovely town, which is one of the last true Mediterranean fishing ports still around.





RIJEKA and OPATIJA

These two coastal towns in Kvarner Gulf, not Istria, were not on my itinerary, but hey.... Do I ever refuse passing by and stopping at any new destination? No, of course not.

And so we went, driving and walking, now at night time, just to see another part of Croatia.

Opatija: In contrast to low-key Rovinj, opatija is a refined seaside resort town. It had its days of glory up to the Yoguslav period, but nowaday it still attracts the conservative, older rich. We took a very pleasant moonlit walk on the waterfront promenade, passing by impressive Hapsburg mansions and hotels.


ISTRIA


My take on Istria? I loved the area! Who knows if I won't be back someday? Besides re-visiting these places I saw and liked, I could even venture into the Istrian black forest, with a few dogs and pigs trained to hunt delicious truffles!!!!! Cheers!



Next, will explore the PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK: Exquisite beauty.

see next blog


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11th October 2012

Great place
Looks a fabulous area to visit, had been on my list for this year but not sure we will get around to it this time.
12th October 2012

Very nice place to visit
Dear Meryl. I hope you get to make it to Croatia. Worth a visit.
11th October 2012

nice pics! beautiful country and gorgeous coastline. i was there 6-7 years ago. one day, whilst i was waiting for my friends running errands, i caught myself in a sort of trance looking up to the buildings in this square and, suddenly, i noticed all the bullet holes through the buildings. it made me think about what they went through during the 90s conflicts. it is great to live in a place of peace. bjs e saudades
12th October 2012

Wars and wandering
Fabi. I was in Yugoslavia just before the war broke. It was interesting going back, talking to my Croatian friends about how they handled it. Yes, we are lucky to live in war free places. As far as getting lost looking at the beauty of places, I know well what that is like. I love it. Beijos da prima

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