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Our Week-and-a-Half in Northern Croatia and Slovenia

Our Week-and-a-Half in Northern Croatia and Slovenia

Old Sep 17th, 2012, 08:50 AM
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We went to Groznjan a couple of years ago.....set off from Rovinj using our Garmin GPS. The drive into the town was on a gravel one lane road with multiple switchbacks and sheer drop-offs. I was truly dreading the trip down until we got up to the town, saw a parking lot, real streets and a very nice paved road down the other side of the hill! We still laugh about that daytrip.
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Old Sep 17th, 2012, 09:05 AM
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Judy: We actually had a little adventure of our own heading out of Groznjan, on our way toward Buje (which we ended up not stopping in). We took a wrong turn onto a road that started out paved, then became gravel and dirt, then became mostly grass... and finally turned out to be someone's driveway! Oops.
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Old Sep 17th, 2012, 09:09 AM
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funny story, mr_go! Did they invite u in????
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Old Sep 17th, 2012, 09:22 AM
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No, but I got the feeling from the guy out front that it happens fairly often.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 03:35 AM
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Thanks for the report. We may be going to northern Croatia for a long weekend in October so I am very interested in your descriptions. If not this trip, we certainly plan to spend time in Istria in the next few years.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 06:37 AM
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<b>Day 6: “Some of them are not wearing swim suits”</b>

This morning, we collected the car and took a leisurely drive north to the seaside resort of Porec, opting for the scenic route instead of the highway. It was a very easy drive, and equally easy to find parking on the outskirts of town. Despite the fact that it is a similarly sized resort town near Rovinj, and it is actually an older town, most of it feels decidedly newer.

We spent some time wandering around the streets of Porec, taking in the sights and sounds along the old Roman Decamanus that still serves as the main drag in town. But to be perfectly candid, from what we observed, there is one main reason to visit Porec… and that is to visit the old basilica. It is simply outstanding, especially the stunning, nearly 1500-year-old mosaics in apse. They are among the finest we’ve ever seen, anywhere!

We took some time to climb the bell tower at the basilica, and it offered some very nice views. And we finally had some bright, sunny weather with nearly unlimited visibility… so that helped, too.

After a while we drove back to Rovinj and bought tickets at the local tourist bureau for a 4-hour boat cruise to the Limska Draga fjord, located just north of town. Again, because of the improved weather, it was the perfect day for a cruise and we had had enough of driving around anyway.

Rovinj, when viewed from the water on a sunny day, is about as gorgeous as you can imagine (just wait till we get those pictures sorted out, folks!). On the ride up to the fjord, we passed several nice, sunny beaches populated by sunbathers. “It’s definitely a nice day for the beach!” we observed. Shortly thereafter, I mentioned to ms_go “You know, some of them are not wearing swim suits.”

“So?” replied ms_go, “I’m not wearing a swim suit under this, either.”

“Uh… I mean, they aren’t wearing anything else, either.” I said.

Ms_go squinted at the beach we were passing, and her eyebrows arched. “Oh.”

It should be noted, the beaches of western Istria shore are very friendly to naturists. And this would not be our last encounter with public nudity.

Anyway, on to the fjord. If you’ve been to Norway or New Zealand, you might not be too impressed; but the early fall colors brought out by a hot, dry summer did lend certain rugged beauty to the landscape. Along the way, we struck up a nice conversation with young American couple from Massachusetts. They reminded us of ourselves, 15-20 years ago.

At the far end of the fjord, we stopped at a spot with a couple of decent seafood restaurants. The Lonely Planet book recommended the Viking, so we made a beeline for their outdoor terrace. The food was fresh and good—fish salad and a mixed mussels plate; just right for a late lunch.

After returning from the cruise, we freshened up and took some time to unwind, catch up on emails, take some trip notes, and made arrangements for laundry service with the hotel staff. Later, we enjoyed a light dinner at Ulika, just up the street from hotel. It is a very small and very quirky spot turning out surprisingly fine dishes; the lemon risotto with scampi and burrata, scallops on the half-shell, and cod mousse with truffle were delightful, and so was the house wine.

It was a beautiful evening, so we strolled. And we held hands under the moonlight. But I ended up sleeping in the other bedroom that night because I’d had a bit too much drink and was snoring like a broken vacuum cleaner.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 07:49 AM
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What an image---the broken vacuum cleaner that is.

The lemon risotto con scampi sounds like a good reason to go.

Still waiting for the pics. I need to live vicariously since my recent pics are so lousy.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 08:02 AM
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I'm afraid that sorting and editing the 2230 pix we took is going to take some time. As in, we haven't really started yet. Sorry.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 11:25 AM
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<b>Day 7: “Are we off the beaten track yet?”</b>

It was a week into our trip, and we had yet to push the boundaries and get ourselves off the ‘tourist track’. So we decided to take a daytrip out to Cres Island, off the southwest coast of Istria. To get there we drove the long, scenic route to the ferry station at Brestova, heading first to the easternmost town on the peninsula: Opatija. It’s a very different feel on that side of Istria, more like Ligurian coast, not unlike driving from Umbria or Tuscany to Liguria in Italy.

We arrived at Brestova a good 30 minutes before the scheduled ferry departure, but there were already dozens of cars lined up. Dozens more arrived after us, too… but it’s a large boat, and could easily handle the traffic. After a quick crossing, perhaps 20 minutes or so, we were off on our quest to get “off the beaten track”.

Along with a few hundred of our closest friends.

Seriously, there is only one road leading away from the ferry landing, and so the cars must form a long, slow parade for the next 30 minutes or so, at least until we all reached Cres town, a small coastal resort town on the north half of the island. But while most of our fellow travelers peeled off the main road to head into Cres, we detoured about 5 km south to find a rustic <i>konoba</i> (or ‘family restaurant’) called Bucaleta, recommended by the LP book and noted for its locally sourced lamb. To get there, you have to turn off the main road and drive to a tiny hamlet, go to the far side of the village, and keep going until the road stops (but before you plunge over the cliff into the sea).

We were off the beaten track, at long last! By the time we arrived, it was just us and a small party of Germans (and more than a few bees) hanging out on the back patio. I’ll cut to the chase: it was the finest lamb I’ve ever tasted. Slow-roasted, juicy, flavorful, copious, and served with delicious roasted potatoes. Ms_go was equally pleased with her grilled calamari.

After a long and enjoyable meal, we resumed our journey. It’s a beautiful drive with interesting terrain, green forests and lots of rock walls along the roads. If the west and central parts of Istria are like Umbria and the eastern shore is like Liguria, then I’d say the northern part of Cres island is somewhat like the Peloponnesian mainland of Greece. We headed to the small seaside village of Valun, parked the car and walked down a very steep hill into town and hung out for a while in a nice relaxing area by the beach (and again, not everyone was, er, completely attired).

From there it was on to the nearly abandoned village of Lubinece (pop. 17), high on a dramatic cliff overlooking the deep blue Adriatic. It’s an amazingly scenic place, one of those towns where it’s hard to tell where the rocks end and where the buildings begin. Be advised: the road leading into and out of town is very narrow with few turnouts, and rock walls on either side. Not for the faint of heart, nor scant of skill.

We headed back north and made the evening ferry with plenty of time to spare. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to have caught the earliest ferry to the island, so we could have more time to explore… but I do feel like we caught the flavor of the place.

On the ride back to Rovinj we FINALLY found some great radio to listen to (playing modern rock acts like the Black Keys, Jack White, Gun Club, Nick Cave, etc.). Dinner that evening was at Veli Joze, a restaurant near the apartment with a quirky interior plus outdoor seating. It’s a tad touristy and bustling, but the food is decent. Neither of us was very hungry after our big lunch, so we ate lightly.

And then we took one last walk through town, went back in and packed, and prepared to say our goodbyes to Rovinj.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 12:53 PM
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Am taking copius notes and living vicariously until next September. Can NOT wait to "do" Istria.

So.....and this is a personal question......How much weight did you each gain??????? The food sounds wonderful....but we can ONLY manage lunch OR dinner....the con being, we do NOT get to try as many establishments. (sigh)

Plitvice report next????????

Thanks a billion for your time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 06:40 PM
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Keep it coming! It's really good reading. Also need photos, but willing to wait!
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Old Sep 19th, 2012, 06:37 AM
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Trust me folks, the photos will be better than the travelogue.

On the subject of weight-gain... I believe I put on a few pounds. But perhaps not as many as I could have since we did walk quite a bit on this trip, and both of us tend to walk briskly. Also, we tended to eat lightly (or not at all) for lunch on most days to save our appetites for dinner (Day 7 being a very notable exception).

<i>Thanks a billion for your time!</i>

Our pleasure. I've said it many times before, but thanks are never necessary. We have gained at least as much from this community over the years as we have contributed. We can never pay back the members of this forum for their valuable information and experience, so we pay it forward.

Anyway...
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Old Sep 19th, 2012, 06:41 AM
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<b>Day 8: “Every trip needs a down-time day”</b>

It was our last morning in Rovinj, so we said bid farewell to Ditka and Alex the driver and the rest of the Garzotto staff and we headed out in the direction of the Plitvice Lakes… about 160 miles ESE, in the heartland of Croatia. Frankly, it’s a long boring drive, mostly on the motorway, so I broke out the portable desktop speaker for the iPhone and ran it on battery power.

We stopped for lunch at Grill Gloria, just off the motorway at Otocac. It’s an unassuming roadside stand where we ordered in a mish-mash of German, Croatian, Italian, English and improvised sign language. We both had cevapci, a traditional Bosnian sausage dish, with fries. It was sodium overload, and we were thirsty for the rest of the day.

We had reserved a cabin from a small B&B operator outside the tiny village of Grabovac, about 7 km north of the Plitvice Jezero national park. There are literally hundreds of places to stay in the area, most of them closer to the park than this one, but it looked pretty comfortable online, had some decent Trip Advisor recommendations, and promised free wi-fi.

We checked in around 3:00pm, and were met by “Metallica”. That’s not his real name, but we were having trouble pronouncing his name and I’m definitely not going to try to spell it here, and he was wearing a Metallica shirt… so I asked him if I could call him that. Apparently, he’s a huge fan of the band and was more than happy with that arrangement. Btw, he speaks incredible English for someone who has never been outside of Croatia.

Since we had arrived fairly late in the afternoon, we decided to save our trip to the lakes until the next day. So we asked Metallica what else there was to do around his neck of the woods. He hemmed and hawed a bit about some caves somewhere nearby, but ultimately told us that the best thing for us to do, in his honest opinion, was “Relax”.

We opted instead for a drive to Bihac, just over the border in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I mean, if we’re this close, we might as well get the stamp on our passports, right? Well, we got there but realized we had no local currency for the parking machine, and then realized that there wasn’t much we really wanted to park and see anyway, so we headed back. Thus ended our one-hour trip to Bosnia.

Bottom line: Metallica was right. Relaxing was the most intelligent option available. So we returned to our little cabin, opened a bottle of vino and took advantage of the free wi-fi. (Note: if you go to the “How many countries have you visited?” thread, you can find my post from the cabin’s front porch, claiming Bosnia for my list.)

We went to dinner that night at a local spot with outdoor seating and caught up on football scores on our smart phones. The food was ok, with better than average pizza for ms_go, but the discovery of the night came when I asked the waitress whether she had any limoncello for a nightcap. “Of course,” she replied, “and we also have sljivovica…”

Wait, what? Shlee-bo-veet-sa?

“Oh yes, why don’t you try that instead? It is a local specialty.” Well, we did try it. Apparently, it’s a clear brandy made from plumbs. And you know what? It’s everything that grappa should be, but isn’t.

"Not exactly a banner day for the trip" I said to ms_go between sips. "That's OK," she replied. "Every trip needs a down-time day. I'm happy just to relax."

As usual, she was right. We slept well that night.
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Old Sep 19th, 2012, 06:58 AM
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"It was sodium overload"...

I am so going to use this phrase (I promise to give you credit!). That's the worst feeling, when you feel like you've ingested the same amount of water in Lake Michigan and your still thirsty. That happened to me with an "Italian" salad at a cafe in Reims, France, which was loaded with all kinds of cured meats.
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Old Sep 20th, 2012, 07:17 AM
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<b>Day 9: A great day Plitvice Lakes</b>

Throughout the first week of this trip, when it was pouring rain in Ljubljana; when it was drizzly in Pula; when it was cloudy the first couple days in Rovinj; when it was windy in the fjord… every step of the way, we said to each other “that’s OK, as long as we get decent weather in Plitvice.”

This day, our patience was rewarded. You literally could not have dialed in better weather on a thermostat… highs in the mid-70s F with crisp, clear air and nearly cloudless skies. It was glorious.

We got up early and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before setting out. We arrived at the park a little after 8:00am, parked the car and made our way to the information desk. They described the different routes one can take inside the park, and how they are marked by letter-coded signs along the paths. It was also helpful that our tickets included useful little maps of the park on the back.

So we picked out our route, studied our maps for a bit… and promptly lost our way at the first available opportunity. Guess what, it didn’t matter a bit, since we covered most of the ground anyway over the next nine hours.

It’s hard to describe the place. Be prepared for throngs of tourists, even that early in the morning, and most of them clustered in tour groups. The narrow boardwalk trails around the smaller lakes and the regular ferry-boat crossings tend to reinforce this clustering effect. Our advice: get off at the first ferry crossing, and wait a good 4 minutes at the dock before proceeding if you can. That way the tour groups will trudge off in front of you, and you can enjoy the scenery and take pictures at your leisure (at least, until the next group comes along).

The beautiful lakes, with their iridescent aquamarine waters and unusual limestone formations, and the many scenic waterfalls are clearly the stars of this park. But if you have all day to enjoy the place, like we did, I encourage you to get off the boardwalks and set out on the forest trails. The woods are absolutely gorgeous there, and can be far less crowded.

Random observations, experiences, etc…
* Baby strollers on the boardwalks, an inherently bad idea
* Poor Italian fellow realizing he had to carry a stroller up several hundred steps after a day of visiting the park
* Purse dogs; in one instance, two for one owner
* Lady holding her mobile phone to her ear in one hand, having a loud and animated conversation, while trying to take pictures of waterfalls with other hand
* Ms_go accidentally startled a large, unleashed dog that growled menacingly at her
* Loud and pushy tour groups from all over
* Our (cheap) tripod broke and later thrown in trash; so no ‘velvety’ waterfall photos were possible
* One big waterfall in particular, Veliki Slap, is worth lingering over… we probably took 40 pictures or more

We rested from our lengthy hikes in the mid-afternoon and enjoyed some refreshments and a nice, extended conversation with a friendly couple from Dortmund. They spoke excellent English and were travelers like us, so we compared notes on different sites in Croatia and around the world. Nice folks.

We ended with an hour-long rowboat ride around the largest lake (Kojak) in the late afternoon, which was an excellent way to wrap up our visit (even if it was a little taxing on the shoulder muscles).
Rowboat ride was a nice way to end the visit, if not a little taxing on the shoulders.

We walked back to the car park around 5:00pm, tired but pleased. It really was a beautiful day, and one we won’t soon forget. We drove back to the cabin and rested up, then returned to same restaurant as the night before for dinner. This time, we celebrated with the house special, the grill platter for two. It included veal, chicken, pork, sausages, vegetables, a mushroom-rice dish and more… not health food, but satisfying after walking over 10 miles. And, of course, more local wine and spirits.
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Old Sep 20th, 2012, 06:17 PM
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Just in case anyone's hungry...a few photos from the best meal of our trip, at Bukaleta on Cres Island:

Part 1, the lamb:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p...6e48#h43dc6e48

Part 2, the calamari:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p...6e48#h43dc6e5c

Otherwise, posting photos is going verrryyyy slowly.
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Old Sep 21st, 2012, 06:48 AM
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<b>Day 10: On to Zagreb!</b>

After breakfast, we proceeded to the office (i.e. the living room) of the proprietors’ B&B/house to check out. I offered my MasterCard, and was politely told this would not do… cash only, please. This, of course, was news to us and we did not have sufficient Croatian kuna for the transaction. To make matters worse, the nearest ATM was back at the Hotel Bellevue by the park, a fair distance away.

We started to scrape together all the kuna and euro we had when a thought dawned on me. “Would you take dollars?” I asked.

“American dollars?” replied the wife of the owner, who was away. I nodded furiously, and together we looked up the current conversion rate on the internet and arrived at an amount that we just happened to have tucked away (in case of emergency). Good ol’ Ben Franklin and U.S. Grant saved the day!

We anticipated a long-ish drive back up the main road to Zagreb, but it turned out to be easier and quicker than expected. Having already been to the airport once, we were able to find it and the rental-car return with no trouble, and before we knew it we were in a taxi and headed for the heart of old town Zagreb.

We checked into our hotel (the Jagerhorn Hotel, right on the main east-west street of the old city, about 2-3 blocks west of the town square), but our room was not quite ready so we decided to have a beverage or two at one of the nearby cafes. Our only problem… which one?

If you’re the sort of person who likes to relax at a comfortable outdoor café-bar and do some people-watching, have I got a city for you! We have never before seen such a density of sidewalk cafes in a city, and every one of them seemed to be doing fairly brisk business. We sat down at the very first one we encountered, just across the street from the hotel, and immediately felt like we were at home.

We went back to the room and took our bags up to the (now ready) room on the top floor, sent went to ride the shortest funicular we’ve ever seen. It starts about a half-block away from the hotel and rises up a steep hill for about 100 feet or so. We rode it mostly for the novelty of it; fortunately, it’s cheap. At the top of the hill stands an old lookout tower, which offers pretty nice views of the city from the top.

From there, we took the short walk to St. Mark’s church, with its iconic, vibrant and colorful tile roof. It was another clear and sunny day, which made the colors all the more vibrant (and photogenic). We proceeded on to Zagreb’s charming pub street, Tkalciceva, and wandered slowly past the dozens of restaurants, bars, cafes, etc. It was a warm and sunny day, so our thirst soon returned. This time, we tried the lemon-beer that we’d seen many of the locals drinking. Note: it’s refreshing, but tastes nothing like a beer.

It was at this point that we both started to feel the fatigue of 10 straight days of traveling catch up with us. Ms_go, in particular, hit the “wall” and needed a nap. I escorted her back to the room for a nap, and went back out to take a few more pictures on my own.

Dinner that night was at Kerempuh, next to the central market. It offered very good traditional Croatian dishes, and I really enjoyed their homestyle roasted veal and potatoes. Ms_go had a decent fettucine with shrimp, and we split a Caprese salad plus mixed grilled veggies and liter of very good house white wine. It was one of the better dinners on our trip, and a relative bargain at 279 Kuna (under $50). About halfway through the meal, some live entertainment livened up the outdoor bar/restaurant next door, about 30 yards away from us. It was just a couple of young women and a guy with a guitar playing traditional Croatian melodies, but they were extremely popular with the local crowd that gathered around.

Again, we strolled all over the Old City after dinner, getting a feel of the place and making notes of sites to visit the next day. But our legs began to weigh heavy, and before long we were happy to call it a night.
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Old Sep 21st, 2012, 09:47 AM
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KUDOS to you for a description of Plitvice that NOW makes me want to go, even if we have been to both sides of Iguazu!!!

Those lamb and calamari photos......YUM!

Do you have a site for the place you stayed at in Grabovac??????
Restaurant name????????

Here's to traveling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old Sep 21st, 2012, 10:07 AM
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Thanks so much, mw. The place where we stayed in Grabovac is called House Tina. Here's the Trip Advisor link:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...l_Croatia.html

It's a decent place, nice breakfast, friendly people, excellent English... but there were a few little quirks. As I mentioned, there are many, many places closer to the park. And you won't find soap in the bathroom, or a glass to drink from (although they did let us borrow a couple from their kitchen). And the whole cash thing was a bit of a surprise.

As for the restaurant, it was really nothing too special... probably a dozen places just like it within a few miles. I'm not even sure I knew the name of the place while I was there!
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Old Sep 24th, 2012, 05:45 AM
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OK... as promised, here are some of the <b>pictures</b> we took. This batch is solely from the daytrips we took while staying in Istria.

Cres Island:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p390799187

Porec and the Limska Draga fjord:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p406190438

Pazin, Motovun and Groznjan:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p499326334

Bale, Vodnjan and Pula:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p231612379


Many more still to come, so stay tuned.
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