Friday, September 25, 2015

An American in Croatia - Part I

Make that two Americans. Two American honeymooners.

We just got back from our 2 weeks (ok, 12 days) abroad, celebrating our recent nuptials. We haven't blogged in ages because of those nuptials. It was a very busy Spring planning everything, and then a busy Summer recovering from the festivities and planning our two weeks away. So one of these days I'll get around to recapping the wedding. Obviously anyone who is reading this was probably there, but I still think its probably smart to write down our wedding experience before its lost to my poor memory.

But on to Croatia! The land of truffles and honey and more truffles and risotto, and more risotto, and a little more risotto...

For those of you who hear Croatia and start picturing Borat or the Kremlin, let me set you straight. Croatia is the opposite coast from Italy on the Adriatic. In fact, its even kind of shaped like Italy. And their boots are very similar in feel - similar scenery, weather, food... The language is definitely more Baltic - more Borat - but everything else is very Mediterranean.

We picked Croatia after a dutiful search through travel blogs and well traveled friends' recommendations and, after narrowing in on the Mediterranean, all of those sources pointed us towards Croatia. Cheaper, less traveled, less touristy. Oh, and Game of Thrones was filmed there.


We planned our trip via car, travelling down the Adriatic coast line with a few hops into the interior.

We started in the capital, Zagreb, where we flew in. We flew across the pond via Virgin Atlantic, which I am officially in love with. We flew their American line to California a few years ago and for long stretches like that, I think I will always fly with them. They are just too luxurious not to. Like 30 free movies, tons of music (duh), another 30 free TV shows, blankets, pillows, extra leg room, really awesome meals (including chocolate covered popsicles and free wine!). Ok, I guess everyone gets it. Fly Virgin if its for 5 hr+ flights. (Ok, can I get some free Virgin miles for that advertisement??!!)

We spent about 48 hrs in Zagreb, which was perfect as we were a bit jet lagged and travelling the next day would have been torture. Zagreb is in the North and inland so it has a much different feel than rest of the Adriatic-hugging towns. Its not as far over as the Serbia/Hungary side of the country but it has more of that feel. In fact, I thought its old town looked very like Vienna (not that I've been, but via pictures, the architecture is very similar), which is not off base seeing as its about the same distance as Budapest or Venice.

Zagreb is all about the cafe scene. They really, REALLY like their kava (coffee) there. About every other shop is a coffee shop, or at least serves coffee. The thing to do is sit and drink coffee, wherever you are! So Day 1, that what we did - went to find us some coffee! We headed to a popular spot, not far from the square, where they advertised gluten free options (one of the 2 places I saw gluten free options advertised).

We sat outside, just under the funicular, a blue tram that runs from the newer (Victorian) square to the old town.

Since we slept in, this was around noon, and as I put my next spoonful of gluten free cake into my mouth, the entire ground shakes and a huge boom reverberates off the buildings. My eyes dart from one person to another, gauging reactions, looking for people to start running and screaming. I say to myself, "God damn it, my mother is going to be right! Her note about European conflicts that I laughed at is going to come true - we are going to be in the middle of a firefight!"
That actually wasn't too far from the truth, but the firefight is fireless, and happens at noon everyday. Apparently, holding with tradition, the bell tower right above the funicular, right above us, shoots of "the noon cannon" everyday as a way of setting the towns clocks all to the same time.
Bloody hell.
Thank god Bill had read about it the night before, otherwise I would have started crying.

If I had only read that before too: Or this post (where I borrowed the above picture from as well).

After I changed my pants, we headed to the Museum of Broken Relationships (fitting to get that out of the way before the rest of our honeymoon), to see Saint Marks cathedral and eat some of the best food in our whole Croatian adventure.

Sitting, enjoying our lunch at (at least my) favorite restaurant in all of Croatia. 

(For those of you who can't read that - its a toaster and the caption reads "When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That'll show you. How are you going to toast anything now!?")

Our favorite 'exhibit' from the Museum of Broken Relationships, which was a collection of 'artifacts' from past relationships and the stories they told.  

 What you do when you are in Zagreb - sit, drink kava and people watch. Bill was in heaven. 

Next up was Motovun, in the heart of Istria. But before I move on, let me introduce you to a very special someone, our travel partner, Cherry Bomb... 

She's a Skoda, 3-cylinder, diesel babe. She took us over 1000 km on our trip and, while we were a little unsure at first she would get us 1 km, she was pretty awesome. 
Chh, chhh, chhh, chhh, CHERRY BOMB! (For those of you who have no idea what I am referencing) 

So the first place she took us was the medieval, hill town of Motovun. Its right in the middle of Istria, Croatia's Tuscany or Umbria. Its a hilly, green wonderland of vineyards, truffle forests and olive orchards. In fact, the first place Cherry took us was Karlic Tartufi, a family-run truffle hunting business that was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. This super kind family of 4 (and 9 dogs!) runs a hunting and truffle plantation that also hosts guests as they gorge on truffles and take part in the hunt. Our two hostesses, mother and daughter, filled us in on everything one can know about black and white truffles, and then sat us down with a bottle of wine and fed us several courses of truffle-infused dishes. We even got to watch her make our omelette! 
After we were about to pop, we laced up our sneaks and followed 3 adorable and well-trained hunting dogs down into the forests where we (ok, the dogs...) found 5 truffles! 


After our truffle hunting adventure (aka eating a lot of truffles), we cleaned off in our gorgeous room in Motovun. 

 This was hands down our favorite place to stay. Stuccoed white cement, stone and reclaimed wood everywhere. The host even had a nice music selection so we got to chill out for a while to Nina Simone and Thievery Corporation. Bliss!


Motovun itself was pretty breathtaking. Its a pedestrian-only hilltop town that winds up the hill in a spiral, with steep stone streets and some stunning views at the top.

After having another truffle rich dinner at the top and then our morning coffee, we headed off the the Istrian coast town of Rovinj (the j is like a g. Like "Roving").

When doing research, I assumed Rovinj would be my favorite spot on the whole journey. Everyone I was reading referred to it as "romantic" and "old world". Its interesting peninsula shape and striking bell tower looked glorious in the pictures.

But you know what happens when you hype something up in your head. It always disappoints.

Rovinj was romantic in spots and certainly old world in those same places, but it was the first place we hit the tourists. Lots of them.

And with hoards of tourist apparently comes crappy t-shirt shops and kiosks filled with stuff - magnets, mugs, etc. Empty and without those shops, it would have probably been a charming town, but the romanticism was quickly drained of this city.

We did get to climb up the bell tower, though. Some rickety wood 'stairs' got us up there.

 The view from the top 

There were a few restaurants/bars along the coastal towns that allowed people to sit out on the rocks and sip their drinks. This was the first one we went to, which went all out with ambiance, but I am pretty sure my drink was water w/ food coloring. Oh anything for the tourists! 

The next morning we decided to take a quick ferry ride over to a neighboring island, Katarina, were we heard there might be some swimming spots for Bill to take a dip.

We found them! But they were surrounded by cedar trees and the abundance of lizards that come with them. It wasn't quite the breakdown that happened in Yosemite (for those of you who haven't heard that story, lets just say it was the emotional breakdown that almost caused Bill to leave me. Semi-kidding!). I freaked out a little, and then uncomfortably sat on a rock on the beach for the next hour while Bill took a chilly dip.

Then Cherry Bomb drove us down to Pula - the tip of Istria that juts into an Adriatic bay. We assumed Pula wasn't going to be much to look at, which was true. Its a very small town with a limited old town. However, its spot on the map is marked for the Roman amphitheater in remarkably good condition. The very large and well kept Roman ruin sadly was filled with the modern remnants of a recent concert but the following should give you an idea of the magnitude of the structure...

And Bill got to play Maximus for a few moments. 

A few other spots in the forum were left but otherwise our time in Pula was spent eating and drinking in the forum (not unlike James Joyce, apparently, who lived and worked here with his wife while writing/rewriting Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man


For Part II we head to Plitvice Lakes, Zadar, Krka National Park, Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik (aka Kings Landing)....

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