Friday, July 3, 2015

Truffles, Mines, and Mistletoe - Day Five in Istria

My friend Lynn and I slept well in our last night at BiVillage in Fazana, Croatia. We were comfortable in our little cottage just a short walk from the Adriatic Sea.

We could have easily just stayed there and enjoyed the beach, but we had plenty more to see in Istria.

After a breakfast of fruit, cheese, yogurt, and croissants, we headed back to the house to get packed up and wait for Goran of the Visit Istria Tourism office to pick us.

It was the fifth day we would be traveling in the familiar van with the other writers and guests, Rocky, Nicolas, Andras, and Gyorgy. It was a great group and we were all having lots of fun together on the Share Istria Adventure.

Our first stop of the day was in Labin. I could never get tired of these small Istrian towns as they each had their own personality.

Labin was once a mining town and we got to actually go through a replica of a mine. I don’t know how those men did it, my back was hurting from being hunched over for just a few minutes.

After exploring the Mining Museum and the tools used for mining, we explored more of the artifacts at Museie Gallerie Dell Istria.

We also got to check out some of the art galleries in the town, which is very popular with artists looking for a scenic place to work.

Lynn, an artist herself, and I loved walking around the downtown and looking at the handmade items, but we didn’t have too long to browse before we got into the car and drove to our lunch at Konoba Vrh.

The meal there was my favorite to date. We had two different soups, Nettles and Minestrone, and three types of pasta, spinach, asparagus, and truffles. It was served with beef.

From the restaurant we didn’t have far to go for an activity I had been looking forward to since first getting my itinerary for the trip – truffle hunting.

When we arrived at Karlić Tartufi in Buzet, they had some of their brandy waiting for us. I loved the cherry brandy, but can’t say I’m a huge fan of the mistletoe. I think I’ll just use mine to hang up at Christmas.

After we finished our drinks we went outside to the vans. The dogs that they used for hunting were as excited as us, jumping right into the back of the van when they were told where we were going.

It was a fun experience I will remember and hope to repeat. We were running through the woods following the dogs. They definitely knew what they were doing and they twice found black truffles.

Before we left we stopped at the Karlić Tartufi store. I bought some truffles to take home with me. They were quite reasonably priced.

We then drove back to Rovinj to check into the Lone Hotel. We had been told this was a five star hotel, but, quite frankly, five star hotels in Europe aren’t always what you expect. This one was.

Hotel Lone is a contemporary designed accommodation with lots of open space. The same held true for my room, which had an infinite plunge pool on the balcony

Goran got to go home for a rare night off (he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met) and we walked to downtown Rovinj for dinner.

The guys raved about the large selection of delicious seafood. Lynn and I, who are allergic to shellfish had some antipasto, including locally cured meats, and a tasty snap pea dish with pomegranate seeds.

We also enjoyed a few glasses of different locally produced Istrian wines, including a malvasia and a dessert wine served with a scrumptious cream cake and some cheeses.

It was a beautiful night for our walk back to Lone Hotel. By the time we returned we were exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep – and our final full day in Istria.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Adriatic Sea and the Ancient Past of Pula-Day Four in Istria

It was a beautiful day in the high 70s, with the sun shining over the aqua water of the Adriatic Sea. The only thing my friend Lynn and I had to decide was what we wanted to do at the beach the next few hours.

I felt like I was in a dream when I woke up in our little cottage in Bi Village. It was day four of our Share Istria adventure and we were in Fazana, Croatia, just a short walk from the Adriatic Sea.

What made it even more of a dream was that we had a free morning, something I rarely got on a press trip. We could have a leisurely breakfast at the Bi Village restaurant – a nice selection of fruit, cheese, rolls, pastries, and eggs – and then enjoy the beach.

I was trying to decide whether to go windsurfing or paddle boarding as we enjoyed the view on the long walkway that went along the sand on this Fazana beach.

It was a little disappointing when we arrived at the watersports area and Antonio told us the conditions weren’t right for either, but he offered to take us sailing. I wasn’t going to argue with floating on this beautiful scene in front of me.

Lynn and I took turns sailing and relaxing on the beach. It was a beautiful setting and that thought would continue when we headed to Pineta Mare Restaurant, which was also on the water.

Two of the men from our trip, Nicolas and Rocky, joined us for lunch on the patio overlooking the sea.  Rocky ordered a big bowl of muscles and the rest of us shared huge bowls of pasta, a fettuccine with truffles and a gnocchi in a cheese sauce. Both were delicious.

Lynn went back to our house to shower first and I decided to take the long way. I stopped at one of the Bi Village pools for some laps and then headed to shower and change.

Goran, our guide from Visit Istria Tourism, picked us up in the familiar van and we made a short drive to Pula.

Our first stop was at the Pula Arena Amphitheatre. This ancient Roman masterpiece is something I remembered well from my first trip. In fact, there’s a photo of it hanging in my living room.  

The Amphitheatre had actually gone through some changes since my visit nine years prior. It was now actually being used for shows and a weekly re-enactment of a gladiator fight.

A museum was also added to the bottom floor of the Pula Arena. It contained the plans of the Amphitheatre and quite a few Roman artifacts. Within this very ancient setting was modern technology – the ability to take a self-guided tour with headphones.

The Pula Arena is far from the only remnants of Ancient Rome in this Croatian city. Artifacts are everywhere. We actually saw the newest discovery, found when someone was attempting to clear the ground and put up a new building. 

Unfortunately for the owner, any time anything is found that is from the ancient period the land becomes part of the city.

Another thing that I recognized was the Arch of the Sergii, which happens to be even older than the Arc de Triumph. It led into the colorful piazza I also had previously taken photos of.

We then walked across to Parco Tito, named for Josip Broz “Tito,” a Croatian who was a controversial political leader, but a supporter of his home country.

We also walked by the beautiful Cathedral Assumption Virgin Mary and the office building that still bears five flags for the five empires that owned this land – Austrian, Italian, Yugoslavian, and Croatian.

The next part of our tour was in the more modern section of Pula. We went past cafes and clubs lining the streets, and the Mozart Theatre, before heading back to the Amphitheatre for sunset photos.

We were a little early so we didn’t quite get the sunset look, but I decided a selfie was appropriate, and then did another with Lynn. After all, how often am I going to be in an Ancient Roman arena?!

Dinner was at Kantina Restaurant in Pula. Lynn and I, who are both allergic to seafood, had a tasty beef dish. It was served with some flavorful yams, something we hadn’t had yet in Istria.

After dinner, we went to dock to see light show over the shipyard, but it started raining. The show is done every evening, weather permitting, with thousands of color combinations.

We headed back to Bi Village to get some sleep and get ready for a full day of sightseeing ahead in Istria,Croatia