Adriatic Adventure Closure

It was a great trip. Thanks for traveling with us. Thank you for putting up with the missing words and typos. Writing a blog late at night after a big meal isn’t ideal for precise writing or careful editing.

Here are some of our random thoughts when we look back on our Adriatic Adventure. They are in no particular order.

  • After driving a Smart car for a week, it may look tiny from the outside, but we found the car to be shockingly roomy on the inside, very maneuverable, and great when parking is tight. Our Prius will feel like a bus for a while.
  • In Croatia and Slovenia, waiters need to speak a minimum of four languages. In Italy they can get away with only speaking three in most places. German is needed much more than French. We saw lots and lots of German tourists. Perhaps the French just stay home and visit other parts of France.
  • The Germans have grown in height in the past generation or two. They are very tall!
  • We were told that the water we were always served for free in Slovenia was an unusual custom. That proved very true. Thanks for the free water, Slovenia.
  • English was spoken everywhere. Even people who said they didn’t speak much English, spoke enough to help us out.
  • Gelato is a perfectly acceptable meal substitute.
  • Signage in Italy is “budgeted.” They may give you one sign, but don’t count on another one.
  • Don’t try eating at U.S. “early bird special” time. 7:00 is as early as dinner is served. Even then, you’ll be eating with other North Americans.
  • The Idiots Guide to Religious Art—
    • Mary wears blue or blue and pink. That’s it. Don’t even think of any other colors.
    • There are many more saints than you ever read about in the Bible and every church has a favorite.
    • Paintings are categorized as having triangular or diagonal lines. In the case of Titian, think layers. If you walk around and say, “Ah, triangular,” “Hmm, diagonal,” or “Obvious layers” people might think you know something. It’s the art version of Radar O’Reilly’s, “Ah, Bach” approach to classical music.
  • Italy doesn’t charge enough for driving on its toll roads. It is no wonder they have financial issues. We took one highway with at least five beautiful tunnels and at least as many high curved bridges. After being on the road for almost an hour, the toll was 2.30 euros. In France it would have been over twenty, but there would have been lots of signs in France.
  • France charges too much for shoes, especially Italian shoes. The Italian shoes in Italy were not a bad deal. We didn’t buy any, but we did notice the prices.
  • Slovenia deservers more time than we gave it. It will require another trip.
  • In France we have always felt somewhat underdressed. That was not the case anywhere on this trip. Casual dress was common on tourists and locals alike. That isn’t to say that stylish clothes weren’t shown in the store windows. We just don’t know who was buying them or where they were wearing them.
  • Traveling with a GPS from home that you know how to work easily, is a must for driving in Europe. It isn’t worth renting one with the car. Buy one at home and become familiar with how to do what you need to do. We are very partial to Stephen Fry’s voice on ours.
  • The vineyards in Italy are taller, less trained, and regulations are more relaxed. They are allowed to irrigate. They are more Type B. The opposite is true in France, which is certainly Type A in wine production. We think there may be some broader generalizations to extrapolate from there about the people of the country as well, but we’ll leave that to others.
  • France gives prizes for the beauty of small towns. Italy seems to love the more rustic looks. Peeling paint can be seen as charming.
  • We leave for our trip to Bordeaux, the Dordogne, and Bilbao in 365 days, 18 hours, and 27 minutes. The next countdown begins.

A Ferry Good Day

For those of you who sent good thoughts that we would make it to the ferry, thank you. Our apartment was about fifty yards from Dock A (not its real name). The ferry company’s Web site said all ferries leave from there. The tourist office and the local police officer we found sitting behind his desk yesterday said the ferry would leave from Dock B (not its real name either) on the other side of the island. This morning, we pulled our luggage past Dock A and saw no ferry. We walked toward Dock B and saw a ferry leaving. Perhaps it’s going to Dock A. Let’s go back there. No ferry at Dock A. Let’s go back to Dock B. There we finally found the correct ferry. Did I mention that there was a pastry shop open between Docks A and B? That was the saving grace of our morning hikes across Rovinj before sunrise.

The ferry was a large catamaran and gave us a smooth ride across the Adriatic to Venice. The ride from the ferry port on the vaporetto to the stop closest to our B&B was more stomach churning.

 

img_4664

We followed the host’s perfect directions to Residenza de l’Osmarin. We would have dropped breadcrumbs, but the pigeons would have eaten them before they hit the ground. http://www.residenzadelosmarin.com/

For lunch, we stopped at shop called Prosciutto and Parmesan for some prosciutto and pecorino. Fooled you, didn’t we? Pecorino is dramatically better in Italy that in the U.S. because of the use of raw milk here. Anyway, we sat on the steps in the shade and enjoyed a little Italian snack.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the back streets. Yes, we managed to find some gelato. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a gelato shop here.

First impressions of Venice are not always great. It’s a very heavily touristed town (80,000 visitors per day and only 55,00 permanent residents) containing long lanes filled with trinket shops. The rabbit warren of streets makes it very hard to navigate. The main attractions — such as San Marco Square and the Rialto Bridge — are rather hideously disfigured by commercial dreck. The charm of Venice can only be found in the neighborhoods, behind the façade erected for tourists.

This evening we had the pleasure of redeeming a Christmas present from Cindy’s sister. She gave us a progressive dinner walking tour through the Cannaregio region of town (one of the northernmost sections of Venice). With the guidance of the excellent tour guides, the secret life of Venice came into view. http://www.venicebitesfoodtours.com/

The tour started with a visit to several bars specializing in “cicchetti” — the small snacks that Venetians love to eat as they go from bar to bar before dinner, drinking an ombre (100 mL) of wine to accompany their snacks. Most of the snacks are about 1.5 euros and the house wine is 1 euro for a small glass. First, we ate popeti —deep-fried meatballs.

img_4674

That was followed by gambini y sour (shrimp with pickled onions, raisins, and pine nuts — holy cow, it was good!) and baccala montecato (dried cod reconstituted and whipped with olive oil, salt, and pepper). Both were so delicious.

img_4679

We then tasted stracchio — little pork sandwiches.

img_4677

Our last cicchetti stop involved mounds of speck, prosciutto, and roasted herb chicken (sliced paper thin) and cheese — smoked ricotta, blue cheese with cranberries, and polenta with cheese and saffron. Truffle honey was available as a “condiment.” What a way to work up an appetite!

img_4684 img_4683

We then sat down to a dinner (!) of mixed seafood, salad, and risotto con funghi (mushrooms). Next was an obligatory stop at the best gelato shop in Venice. Two scoops — one of the house specialty (honey, ricotta, and roasted sesame) and one of coconut (perhaps the best flavor of the trip so far). Our nightcap — sitting by the Grand Canal — was a “spritzer,” which in Venice is made with three parts Prosecco, two parts of a local liqueur called “Select,” and one part sparkling water.

You may recall that we took two culinary walking tours in Ljubljana last week. This tour was different, but the pride and local culinary zeal shone through with the same intensity as our tour in Slovenia.

Tomorrow, we’ll tour the hidden art treasures of Venice, as many of the great paintings of this town are in churches, not museums.

 

By the Sea, By the Sea

Today was our “vacation from vacation” day. We had no concrete plans for today when we left home in the States.

The couple who owns the apartment where we are staying in Rovinj invited us to go out on their boat this morning, and we were happy to do so. The husband kept apologizing for how cool and windy it was, but it felt great to us. The color of the water kept changing with the light, and each color was prettier than before.

IMG_1394 IMG_1386 IMG_1381

One interesting story our host told us was that last week three very large sperm whales were seen in the area. Normally these whale are only found in places with in very deep water. He said that scientists believe the earthquake that caused all that damage in Italy last month threw off the whales’ navigation

After a few hours of floating about, we hopped off of the boat and went for a walk to get our land legs back. Let me say a bit about the “streets” in Rovinj.

IMG_1373
Watch your step!

The town feels like it was designed by rabbits. The lanes wind around, slope very steeply, end suddenly, and are paved with large, very smooth rocks. On our first day here we joked that the local orthopedists association likely pays to keep them polished so that people will slip and slide. We have since heard that one reason Rovinj became a popular vacation spot for the Germans and Austrians is because there is a world-renowned orthopedic hospital here. I’m guessing that if a bed opens up at the hospital they just polish the stones a bit more. You really have to watch your step to avoid being the next patient. (In truth, over one thousand years of foot traffic smoothed the stones to their current slippery sheen.)

We planned a special dinner for tonight. Upon the suggestion of the three people we have met here, we had dinner at La Puntulina restaurant. La Puntulina is owned by the same family as the place where we ate on Monday night. As one local told us, “They stay open all year because they are good and local people eat there. Many of the tourist places close for the fall and winter.” This restaurant has a view over the water at sunset. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

We started with the Istrian prosciutto and cheese and a grilled scallop salad.

img_4628

We then had the second type of Istrian pasta that Ivona told us about — pljukanci. This pasta is only made and served fresh. It doesn’t ever get dried. It was served with shrimp. Jim had the winner dish. It was fish with an olive crust. Wow!

img_4634

The desserts of Crema Catalina (sort of a toffee creme brulee) and semifreddo with red fruits were both several steps beyond yummy.

img_4635

Enjoying great food and watching the sunset over the Adriatic made a lasting memory. We are feeling very blessed.

img_4631

We have wandered around the town a good bit and can say that we enjoy it very much in the early morning and in the evening. The bulk of the day finds it filled with lots of tourists, many with well-behaved dogs.

IMG_1375

We packed our suitcases this afternoon because we have a very early start in the morning. We are taking the ferry to Venice and there seems to be great confusion about where we go to get on the ferry. The Tourist Information people said one place, the Web site says another, and our hosts say it depends on the direction of the wind. The two places are across town from each other. Think a good thought that we pick the correct location or find out early enough that we need to be at the other spot.

 

Istria and History-a

We got up well-rested, put on our walking shoes, and went for a long, brisk walk along the shore of Rovinj. It is hard to believe that this is the same town in which we arrived yesterday. This morning NOBODY was out and we had the place to ourselves. After we walked past the general harbor area, we came to some fancy resort hotels with fancy lounge chairs by the water and women sweeping the tiny specks of leaves off the sidewalk. We talked about the idea that for some people vacationing is sitting in the sun with a drink. That’s not us.

A rainbow to start the day
A rainbow to start the day

We then got ready for a day of touring with Ivona. We have been communicating with Ivona for almost a year now, and we asked her to show us the Istria that she calls home. She drives a taxi and knows the area inside and out. We had told her of our interests and she planned the day. May we just say, that if Ivona is any indication of the next generation of Croatians, the country is in good hands. She was open, friendly, smart, kind, and hard working. We spent seven hours learning about the area from someone who knows it well.

When you travel inland in the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, you quickly enter a section of hilly, green country that is VERY reminiscent of the Tuscany region of Italy. In fact, Istria also has small “hill towns” capping some of its larger hills, all of them sporting tall campinile, or bell towers, like San Marco’s campinile in Venice (fitting, as Istria was dominated by Venice for centuries).

We started our tour of Istrian hill towns in Motovun (population: 531). It is a walled town with views to the sea. Walking seemed to be uphill in every direction, but we managed pretty well. The woods around the walls of Motovun are famous for having some of the biggest and most numerous truffles in the world. One can hire a guide in Motovun and go truffle hunting when truffles are in season.

IMG_1327
Montovun from a distance
IMG_1329
The distance as seen from Montovun

We then took a quick trip around Oprtalj (there’s a beautiful golden mosaic in their church pediment),

IMG_1349

and continued on to Zavrsje, a town that was abandoned long ago during the plague. It was hauntingly beautiful. A few people have moved into the town and are renovating the ruins. I see a House Hunters International episode on the horizon.

IMG_1354

We had lunch in the hill town of Groznjan. Ivona had told us about two Istrian pasta specialties and we were determined to hunt down one of them. Fuzi is fresh pasta that is cut into squares and rolled around a toothpick. That allows more sauce to get inside. We found some at Pintur café. We sat outside under the awning as a gentle rain fell and ate pasta and Istrian sausage. When we finished lunch, the rain stopped.

IMG_1365
Fuzi carbanara

We wrapped up the day climbing to the top of Vrsar (a hill town right on the coast) and Jim went up to the top of the bell tower. He loves the heights. And he loves burning calories in anticipation of another trip to the gelateria.

There was one surprise stop on the way back to our apartment. Ivona stopped at her house to pick up some grapes grown by a friend and she gave us a bag to enjoy. It was such a kind gesture by such a kind person. We feel very lucky to have found her.

After our magical lunch and grapes to snack on, we decided to just walk around Rovinj this evening and find a tiny bite to eat. Guess which snack won? If you said gelato, you win! B052 is the gelato spot that called to us. Isn’t vacationing the best?

The Road to Rovinj

We bid a very sad goodbye to Ljubljana and promised to return to see — and taste — more of this beautiful county. With the little extra time we had before the bus arrived, we walked around the old town area one more time. We stopped in our tracks to listen to a chorus of opera singers going through their warm-ups at the orchestra hall. Just lovely.

IMG_1299

We headed to the bus station to meet our bus that was taking us to Rovinj, Croatia. The topography changed dramatically in the four-hour trip. The colors went from the hunter greens of the evergreens and reds of the geraniums in planters to the sage green of olive trees and bright fushia of the bougainvillea. The giant trees became shrubs. The houses went from Austrian-inspired Alpine homes to Tuscan-inspired stucco homes in shades of peach and yellow.

Here are some things to know about Rovinj.

  • Rovinj is pronounced Row (like your boat) veen (rhymes with seen).
  • It is on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, across the Adriatic from Venice.
  • The old town is pedestrian only and the water views are beyond gorgeous.
  • The harbor is bordered by a wide, cobbled (and buffed to a slippery shine by thousands of tourists’ shoes shuffling along) pedestrian walkway lined with cafes. Promenading along the shore is what one does here.
  • This area used to be part of Italy until WWII.
  • Like Ljubljanans, the people of Rovinj speak English very well, almost to a person. They also speak German. And Italian. And Croat. It’s pretty darned impressive.
  • Seafood, truffles, wine, cheese, and olive oil make up the food theme here.
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7K4yHo5Blo

Our first impressions of Rovinj were not very enthusiastic. It was hot, we were tired and sort of lost, and the place was packed to the gills with German tourists. All of that has changed as we end the day. The town is built around a crescent-shaped harbor. It reminded us of Cassis, France on steroids. There isn’t a beach, but people were swimming in the water accessed by steps lowered from the walls around the harbor. The water just hypnotizes you with its clarity and the way light dances along the surface.

IMG_1311

IMG_1310

IMG_1312

We’re staying in a lovely apartment near the heart of the action called Villa Markiz. The owner was very helpful in getting us un-lost, and giving us great suggestions for dining while we’re here. Last night the owner of Pop’s Burgers in Ljubljana suggested a restaurant that he likes here and our hostess agreed. We gave it a try.

Let’s just say that one doesn’t just stumble on Gianniani’s. You have to know it’s there. We started with the Istrian ham and cheese plate. Istrian ham is like prosciutto but drier and less salty. The sheep cheese was a perfect match to it. Jim had some ravioli with truffles and was in paradise. We shared a grilled seafood plate and some cloud-like gnocchi with scallops. Perfection on plates.

IMG_4531
Truffles, anyone?
IMG_4534
Scallops and tomatoes with gnochi
IMG_4533
Mixed grilled seafood
IMG_4532
Istrian sheep cheese and local ham

We tried a little teranino, which is a liqueur made from the local “teran” wine. It is sort of like port with a cinnamon taste to it. Cindy loves it and a bottle is going to somehow find its way back to the prairie.

 

Vorfreude 2016

You may remember from our pre-trip note last year, that vorfreude is the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasure. Jim and I leave tomorrow for our long-anticipated trip to Slovenia, Croatia, and the Veneto region of Italy. We’re calling this trip our Adriatic Adventure. If you get out your world maps, you’ll see that the area we’ll be covering is near the northern part of the Adriatic Sea.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 3.22.45 PM

We’ll be taking two cooking classes, strolling on three culinary walking tours, sipping our way through several vineyard visits, getting up close to some great art, enjoying some mountain hikes, and wading in some serious Greek, Roman, WWI, and WWII history. Doesn’t it sound like a wonderful trip? Did I mention that there might be cheese involved?

 
We’ll be back in touch on Friday from Ljubljana, Slovenia. Until then, we’ll be knee-deep in vorfreude.