On a frustratingly sunny Sunday morning, we bid farewell to our hosts and their delightful puppy and began our drive to the Croatia’s Istria peninsula.
The start of our route stayed mostly off the highway and passed through wooded mountains and lush green farmland. Like before, the towns along the way were modest and sometimes dying. At least every town had a few abandoned buildings.
Our approximate route from east to west.
We drove northwest up to Skrad, stopping a few times to enjoy the views of the old hill towns and river valleys. We cut west on the smaller road that crisscrossed the path of the mighty Autocesta toll highway. Entering the city of Riejka, we got the first view of the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. A tree-lined coastal road on the hillside took us through town and to the entrance of the toll highway.
Abandoned and forgotten.
Waterway near a fish hatchery.
Latin is an abandoned station.
Large manmade lake.
Immediately, we entered the 5km long Učka Tunnel. It’s the longest tunnel I’ve ever been in, and it was a little unnerving to be underground for that long. We exited to the first smaller highway, paid a steep 31HRK($4.5) toll, and continued on our way to the top of the Istrian coast.
At Umag, we turned south and took the main road the followed the coast.
The earth was the color of red velvet cake; the water was Ice Blue Gatorade.
Armada’s turf is unused bus stops.
Me and my ŠKODA.
Another hill town.
Red velvet earth.
While the landscape was naturally beautiful, the development often felt like coastal Italy, Florida, and Thailand were put in a blender. There were old stone farm estates between go cart tracks and massive trailer campsites. Empty roadside restaurants had whole animals on their rotisseries. A large, new, waterpark with colorful slides was surrounded by farms. There was new construction, abandoned construction, brand new roads, and traffic circles with exits to nowhere.
After two more hours, we pulled into Rovinj and tried our best to get through the maze of one-way or pedestrian-only streets to a parking spot closest to the AirBnB. We found a spot near the marina, and I got change from the meter man to feed the machine.
Total driving time was around six hours.
Rovinj/Rovigno is a city in Croatia situated on the north Adriatic Sea. It’s a popular tourist resort and an active fishing port. The town is officially bilingual in Italian and Croatian, though almost everyone working there spoke English and even a little German.
Originally the peninsula on which the old city lies was an island, separated from the mainland by a channel. That area was filled in hundreds of years ago.
Without the signage or people talking, it would be hard to tell you weren’t on the coast of Italy.
We lugged our bags around the marina and up the slippery marble street to our apartment. The place was spotless, with new furniture and fixtures and some of the speediest internet yet. Despite being across the street from the water, our front windows only had a view of a building. The pleasant sounds of old tourists, lapping waves, seagulls, and an endlessly looping Amelie theme drifted in.
Our host showed us where to park for free: a gravel lot by the soccer stadium. It was a fifteen minute walk back, and we left our car there for the whole stay.
No argument here.
The slipperiest cobbles.
That evening, we walked up the hill to S. Eufemia Church and down the cobbled streets on the other side. We spotted a group of young kittens eating cat food from a hole in a gate. The bravest kittens got the most food, and the mother tried her best to paw them to safety.
Dinner was served at an excellent restaurant called Tipico. We had a cold starter platter of cheeses and pickles. I ordered a rump steak with vegetables, and J got a turkey breast stuffed with farmer’s cheese and arugula served on gnocchi. To drink, house red and Leffe brown ale. It was one of the best meals of the trip so far.
The bravest kitten.
On Monday, we had a lazy day exploring the small former island of old town, getting cherries at the farmer’s market, and getting groceries.
We made lunch and dinner at home to save some money and social energy. Lunch was a snack platter of cheese, cured meat, and cherry tomatoes. Dinner was pesto with zucchini and gnocchi. I dropped the jar with the remaining sauce and made a dangerous green mess on the floor.
After dinner, we walked to the rocky swimming platforms and watched the sun set golden over the sea.
Onions and sea.
Sea view between buildings.
J and her new sandals.
Windows in a row.
Cross-eyed pisser on patrol.
Archway to water.
The metal door.
The little stone bench.
Steps to the rocky swimming holes.
Another set of steps.
J watched the water.
On Tuesday morning, we walked along the shore to check out the beaches south of town. After passing two large resorts, we entered forest parkland with numerous biking and walking trails along the water. The coast was mostly rocky (and even had the remains of an old stone quarry that people were climbing on), but full of little coves perfect for sunbathing and swimming. We scoped out the whole 6km/4mi edge from town to Pt. Konstantini.
Most of the other people on the trail were bikers of the grey-haired German and French variety.
A variety of boobs and unappealing packages could be seen on the beaches.
We turned back and stopped for a quick snack of beer and french fries at casual outdoor restaurant.
On the return, we stopped at a fairly secluded stretch of flat rocks and decided to sunbath in the European style. I really wanted to dip in the water, but it was a little windy and the water was too cold.
After our long walk and day of sun exposure, we were tired enough to spend the rest of the evening at home.
Security level: dappled pink.
Pirate ship style.
Too many boats.
Me and the old town.
A nice little swimming beach.
Under the cyprus.
More swimming beach.
Wednesday, we bought tickets for the “panoramic” boat tour around part of the Rovinj Archipelago (70HRK/$10 each). The boat didn’t leave until 1:30, so we walked around town, bought more cherries, and tried to find cats to pat.
Our wooden, top-heavy boat was overloaded with two groups of German students. The lower level had all male college students with a boombox and beers. The upper level had a mixed-sex group of high school aged students. It was crowded, though everyone had a seat.
I was nervous to be on the water, as it was windier and wavier than before.
Our boat enjoyed bobbing on the trip that took us around the edge of the old town and three of the other islands. The islands off the coast weren’t all that interesting to look at, so the main appeal was just being on the boat. And the crowd actually made the ride more festive than annoying.
For lunch, J and I shared four(!) cheap but delicious sandwiches from a bakery. We ate them on a bench by the Marina while noting the variety of boats docked there.
Pink wall and archway.
J on a stroll.
The narrow house.
Another empty street.
Guardian of the doorway.
Pink and green.
The daily untangling.
View from the water.
Old town seen from farther out to see.
The tower on an otherwise empty rock.
There wasn’t much of a sunset that evening due to overcast weather. It started raining soon after it got dark.
We walked back to Tipico for dinner. It was a thirty minute wait for a table, so we went to see if the kittens were still there.
They were being fed by a gypsy-like man with a trail of adult cats behind him. As we stood in the drizzle, we had a fifteen minute conversation with him about cats, Croatia, and his homeland of Hungary. I wondered what he did for a living, and I almost offered him some money to go towards purchasing more cat food.
After dinner, we sat on the rocky shore and listened to the stormier water lapping against the shore. In the darkness, we saw the ghost of a massive silver fish moving below us. We couldn’t get out the flashlight in time to get a better look.
Tagliatelle pasta with truffles and veal.
The stuffed turkey breast delight.
Night church is filmed in front of a damp studio audience.
Trying not to slip or crunch snails on the night walk.
On Thursday, the weather was mostly sunny again. We checked out of the hotel and I went to grab the car while J waited with the bags near the marina.
Our car was unmolested.
I found a winding route through the narrowest streets yet to get to J. We loaded our bags in the idling car. At the bank next to us, armed guards loaded their bags of cash into their vehicle too.
Our time in Rovinj was perfect.
But with more time and hotter weather, I could imagine spending an eternity at the beach turning my pale ale six pack into a hearty golden brown.