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September in Venice, Croatia, and Slovenia


Nov 23rd, 2017, 04:47 PM
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September in Venice, Croatia, and Slovenia

Tuesday, September 5—Los Angeles

Our fall trip to this beautiful part of Europe started with a drive from our apartment in San Francisco to southern California to visit with family and to leave our car in the driveway of friends with whom we would be traveling. We park on the street in San Francisco and have to move the car every few days because of city rules and street-cleaning requirements. Storing our car in the city while we away are on a long trip costs far more than it does to drive it south where we can park it for free. Thank goodness for friends with driveways.

Our flight from LAX was on Swiss Air to Zurich and left almost on schedule. The meals were bad, the seats were tiny, but the entertainment system was good and we each watched 3-4 movies. Managed to get a few hours of sleep as well.

Sept. 6-9--Venice

We arrived in Zurich a little late but had plenty of time to make our transfer to the onward flight to Venice on a Helvetia (Swiss Air Express?) flight across the Alps that arrived in Venice around 7 pm. We retrieved our bags, bought Alilaguna tickets at a kiosk, and marched quickly to the dock for the 7:30 boat to town, which we caught with just minutes to spare. We couldn’t see much—the windows were small and darkness had fallen--but it was exciting to be back in one of our favorite cities in the world.

It took about 70 minutes to reach the Arsenale stop, where we disembarked and were greeted by the excitable Denisa. We walked with her over two small bridges to broad Garibaldi Street (which becomes a canal a few hundred meters on) and onward to our lovely upstairs apartment, which we had reserved on VRBO for Є700 for three nights. It had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, a comfortable living room, and a small balcony overlooking the street. The place was charming, artsy, and comfortably furnished, and we loved the neighborhood. Only about a ten-minute walk from Piazza San Marco, Arsenale is one of those parts of Venice where many Venetians seem to still reside. Just outside the zone visited by most tourists, via Garibaldi boasts many small shops, bars, and restaurants. Denisa recommended Restaurante Il Giorgio, about 100 m up the street. There we shared a delicious late-evening spaghetti alla aglio, olio, e pepperoncini (pepper), simple, yet perfect, and very lightly breaded delicious fried calamari and langostines. Washed down by ½ liter of Friulano house wine and aqua frizzante, this meal under the umbrellas outside the restaurant was a great way to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary, which we remembered just in time, before the clock struck midnight.

We were sleep deprived but not ready for bed. Besides, our friends, who had flown a different route, through London, were due to arrive soon, so we decided to meet them at the Arsenale boat stop. Very romantic, waiting by the dock, almost alone, looking out on the lights sparkling around the lagoon! As soon as our friends were settled in the house, we all headed back out for drinks and (for them) a little food. We found a nearby bar that was still open and enjoyed Є3 glasses of prosecco while our friends snacked on sandwiches, beer, and wine. It was 1:30 am before we all turned in for the night, exhausted, but so excited to be in Venice again.

Not surprisingly, we slept in until 11:00 am. Hated to miss one of our two mornings in Venice, but we needed the sleep. Well rested, we headed out to the nearby Coop grocery to buy some supplies. Four people, each with different desires to fulfill, leads to a fair quantity of food! Back at the apartment, flooded intermittently with welcome sunshine, we had an indoor picnic of olive bread, baguettes, 3 kinds of cheese, red onion, tomato, fruit, and a local cabernet of the Veneto.

Thus fueled, we walked up Garibaldi past the Giardini to where it became a canal with a walkway on the side; when the walkway ended, we turned north toward the Arsenale, where the Biennale art festival was showing a huge number of international works. In the garden part of the Biennale (free entrance) the works ranged from mundane to provocative installation art. J (my husband) walked unknowingly through an exit of the Biennale gift shop and found himself inside the part of the exhibit that required a stiff entrance fee and proof of purchase. Perhaps he should have stayed a while, but we beckoned him back out. It turned out that to purchase an entrance ticket would have required us to go back to a side street very near where we were staying. Perhaps unwisely, we decided we just didn’t have time for that. Instead, we enjoyed wandering around the free section and its interesting artworks. In retrospect, I regret not spending the $$ and the time to take in more exhibits of the Bienniale.

Eventually we wandered back to the apartment for a little down time, as the weather turned threatening. Soon an intense rain storm was pelting passersby on Garibaldi, and handheld umbrellas popped up here and there. After dark the rain stopped, so we decided to walk over to Piazza San Marco, about fifteen minutes away. We were in luck, as the weather (and maybe the dinner hour) had left the square, and the usually busy streets that lead to it, much less busy than usual. The bands played to a scattering of paying customers and we got to immerse ourselves in this iconic square without having to dodge pigeons and people—just puddles. Eventually we headed for one of the San Marco vaparetto stops where we purchased a 2-day pass, knowing that we would be back on the boats several times during the next two days, and hopped a boat back to Arsenale.

Back in our neighborhood we returned to Il Giorgio for dinner. The restaurant was filled by a large party enjoying a celebration of some kind, but the waiter indicated that there was seating in the back room (none outside due to the rain). With a background of loud singing from the next room, we enjoyed another excellent meal, if not quite to the standard of our first one.

We headed out a little before 8 the next morning to catch a vaparetto to the nearby island of Certosa, where we would meet up with a guide from Kayak Venice for a morning of kayaking on the lagoon and among the canals. We landed at a long pier on Certosa, across the shipping channel from the Arsenale. The island seemed very quiet and largely deserted as we walked, on a perfect day, to the small hotel where we were meet our guide and other kayakers on the trip. Our guide was a young man from Denmark, and our fellow boaters were three young American women who were married to US Air Force personnel stationed in the Veneto. Together we walked out to the marina, listened to the safety talk, and got into our kayaks. We are experienced kayakers and strongly prefer single kayaks to doubles, but we knew the others had reserved the three available singles so we ended up in a double.

We started off in the quiet waters of the marina but quickly entered the hustle and bustle of the main shipping channel, which had some waves as a result of both the recent storm and the boat wakes. The idea was to cluster the boats together, wait until the coast was reasonably clear, and paddle quickly to the other side. Being in a double helped here--it gave us more power on the channel crossing. Once at the gates of the Arsenale, we entered the canals, passing several of the places we had visited the previous day, hugging the left side of the canal as instructed. We zigged and zagged and practiced our right-angle turns as we went from one canal to another. It was a great perspective to be on the water and under the laundry hanging over the canal between the buildings.

Eventually we entered the open water again and then abruptly reentered the canal system by passing under the first of a series of bridges. This brought us out of the Arsenale district and into the central part of Venice around San Marco. Here the canals were narrower and the water traffic began to increase, with many water taxis and small commercial boats at first and then an increasing number of gondolas. These other boats always had the right-of-way, so at canal intersections we spent a good deal of time waiting for them to pass. Very near San Marco, we had to wait for some 15 gondolas to pass by in succession before we could continue our paddle. It felt extra special to be seeing this area in our own kayak under our own control. Eventually we reached a small channel opposite the cemetery island of San Michele (Cemetario). We crossed over and hugged the shoreline for a while before striking out across the main shipping channel (we had been in it when we took the Alilaguna from the airport) to the shoreline of Certosa and then proceeded to the entrance to the marina and the end of a perfect trip. What a special morning! If you like kayaking at all, I highly recommend spending some time in Venice with Kayak Venice. It was one of the most memorable paddles we have ever experienced.

We had some well-deserved downtime back at the apartment and then, around 6 pm,, took a vaparetto from San Marco Zaccheria to Zattere on the Guidecca canal. We were looking for a place to eat and eventually ended up at the floating restaurant in front of Hotel La Calcina, where we had stayed, not too expensively, on our first trip to Venice. We had enjoyed a lovely lunch here on our second trip to Venice and thought it might be worth a try for dinner. And it was--we had an excellent meal in really enjoyable surroundings as the sun set over the canal. The four of us dined on braised veal liver with vegetables, perfect branzino with potatoes, gnocchi with scallops, and a Mediterranean-style Caprese (with olives, capers), which was delicious.

We eventually took a vaparetto back to the apartment. Great day!

September 9—Venice to Rovinj, Croatia

In the morning we sadly had to pack up for our departure later in the day. Around 10 am we crossed by vaparetto to the nearby island of San Giorgio to visit the eponymous church with a 360-degree view of crowded San Marco and the rest of Venice. The views required a climb up to the top of the church. From here we were able to get a clear sense of our kayak route through the canal system and of how long we actually spent in open water, especially on our return to Certosa. Down in the church proper there was an interesting art exhibit and impromptu singing by a talented soprano, which was an unexpected treat.

We returned to Arsenale and met up at the apartment with Denisa, who refunded our security deposit despite not looking at anything in the apartment—I guess she just assumed we didn’t abscond with any of the pottery. (She was right.) We then gathered our gear and walked to Giardini to take a very crowded vaparetto to San Basilio on the extension of the Giudecca canal, where we were to catch a ferry to Porec, Croatia, later in the afternoon. We left our luggage at the terminal for Croatia Ferries and then walked across a small canal where we found a place for lunch--pizza, salad, and wine at an outside table in a small square. We took a stroll around the quiet neighborhood and then returned to the terminal to board the mid-size Viking Prince.

The ship’s route took us out of the Guidecca to San Marco and around the Arsenale into the main shipping channel that we had crossed in our kayaks, and eventually out of the lagoon and into the Adriatic proper. The views of Venice were spectacular! Once in open waters, it became apparent that there were some stiff winds generating rough waves. Partway across there was an announcement that we would “reach port before the storm arrived.” Nice to know that the bumps weren't part of the storm. We soon disembarked, having totally forgotten our luggage, which we had stored on the boat upon embarking. Mental lapse! Fortunately our friends had been reminded about their luggage at the immigration desk and spotted ours as well.

Porec looked lovely, but we were heading south to Rovinj, where we had reservations. A driver we had arranged online a couple days before was waiting for us with a nice van, and he drove us 40 minutes to Rovinj to a spot near the Airbnb apartment we had reserved—the lodging was in a pedestrian-only zone, but the driver had called our hostess for us and she was waiting for us at the drop-off point and led us the short distance to our apartment. She claimed to speak many languages but couldn’t really understand any of the ones we tried. She showed us around the apartment: Ikea modern, with 2 bedrooms, a small eat-in kitchen/lounge, and an tiny bathroom. She also recommended a restaurant or two and gave us complimentary glasses of a homemade wine made from malvasia grapes. The reaction to the wine was uniformly negative, ranging from undrinkable to I’ll drink it only as a courtesy.

Thus fortified (or not) we headed down to the port area for an outdoor dinner at Sidro. Our waiter was fluent in English and very helpful. We shared the famous local spicy pork stew and some grape leaves and potatoes, along with steamed cabbage. Our kind waiter talked us out of ordering a large fish appetizer because what we had ordered already was more than enough. He was correct! We washed our meal down with a half liter each of red and white wine. The threatening weather held, and we enjoyed a nice walk home through the quiet streets.

Next: A couple days on the Istrian Peninsula
aprillilacs is offline  
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Nov 23rd, 2017, 11:33 PM
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Sounds like a nice trip.
Adelaidean is offline  
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Nov 24th, 2017, 06:24 AM
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Looking forward to reading more. Hoping to go to Croatia and Slovenia some day.
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Nov 24th, 2017, 12:54 PM
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Sept. 10--Rovinj, Croatia

On our first trip to Croatia—10 days along the Dalmatian coast and on Hvar in May 2006—the weather had been perfect, with nothing but sunshine. So a stormy and thundery night upon our arrival this time was a bit unexpected. The rain would plague us off and on for much of the time we were in Croatia, so we tried our best to ignore it and plowed ahead.

First thing in the morning we walked the few blocks into Rovinj’s center and found a lively market with good-looking local produce. I later read about price-gouging at this market, but to us the prices seemed fair for what we bought—chanterelles, local olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, arugula, parsley, lemon. We purchased handmade pasta at a shop nearby and now had all the makings for an excellent dinner to be made at the apartment later in the day.

We stopped at a coffee house just as the skies opened up in a real deluge. While the café began to fill with people trying to escape the storm, we enjoyed a second round of cappuccino and some cake with strawberries at our window table. Eventually we had to leave, but shortly after we stepped outside the rain largely stopped, to begin again right after we reached the covering of the market. There it poured hard one more time, accompanied by loud thunder. A lake developed in the street, stretching the length of the block--it might have offered good swimming in its lower reaches. No lines at the market stalls now, so we purchased a few more items to add to our upcoming meal.

Not ready to return to the apartment, we turned up the hill above town to visit the church and prominent landmark of Santa Eusenia. The winds were still howling and the views from the small plaza in front of the church were disappointing. We explored the 17th century tower and the 18th century church that contained the crypt where the saint’s remains are kept. From here we walked back down the cobbled streets to the center to find the tourist office, which turned out to be right across the street from our coffee house. Nearby was a museum with an enjoyable exhibit of works by Joan Miro.

Finally back at the apartment, we dined on our feast from the market. After dinner we took an uphill walk through a pretty residential area and then back down through twisting Venetian lanes to the center of town and along the length of the harbor, eventually stopping at a small bar for drinks. Overall, we were a little disappointed in Rovinj, but I’m sure that the weather had a lot to do with that.

Sept. 11--Motovun

In the morning two of us took a taxi a short way out of town to the Sixt office to pick up a car we had reserved for two weeks. The two of us were going to share the driving, but it turned out that our friend insisted on driving the whole time—I offered to spell him several times but he always turned me down, so I stopped offering. His wife confessed to me later that he hates being a passenger. I was mildly irritated at first since I enjoy driving too, but I quickly came to appreciate the luxury of looking around at the scenery without having to pay attention to the road.

By 10:15 we were on the road to our next destination, Motovun, via a circuitous route that would allow us to visit some sites on the way. The sun had come out and our spirits were lifted as we drove toward Monkodonja, a Bronze Age settlement atop a small hill, not far from the town of Bale. We had trouble locating the place where we were to park before walking to the site, so we stopped at a roadside restaurant to ask for directions. Lo and behold, the parking place was right across the street.

It was a nice 1 km walk through the countryside up a gently sloping gravel road (which, it turned out, we could have driven). The site itself was easy to find, set on a grassy hilltop with explanatory signs that helped us to understand what we were seeing. It was occupied from 1500 to 1200 BCE; what remained represented the acropolis, the upper town, and the lower town. Only the stone walls and position of gates were preserved, and the walls consisted of outer layers of boulders and large cobbles and inner fine layers of pebbles and small cobbles. There were nice views from the acropolis and the upper town over the countryside and to the sea beyond.

The people who had given us instructions at the roadside restaurant were so helpful that we decided to have lunch there. It was soup all around--amazing cream of mushroom soup, a super-rich truffled potato soup (it was truffle season, after all), and kind of insipid beef noodle soup. Good bread, a tasty cucumber-red pepper salad (sopska), and a less successful sour cream cucumber salad rounded out the meal—270 kuna ($40) for four people.

Next we drove on through Bale but decided not to stop as we had a more famous village on our radar. We did, however, stop at the Radovan Winery. where we joined a truly boisterous group of Austrians who were already tasting the wines available on that day. We tried a glass of the nice cabernet rose and a glass of the more serious cabernet sauvignon and purchased a bottle of each. If we had it to do over again, we would have purchased at least one more bottle of the cabernet sauvignon, as it turned out to develop beautifully with airing.

From the winery we drove through lovely country to hilltop Motovun. We reached the walls of the town where overnight guests can park below the cemetery, only to find that we needed to purchase a parking ticket back at the base of the hill. So back down we drove and then, ticket in hand, retraced our route back up to the parking lot with lots of smiling attendants at both places (we were not the first to have this adventure).

We had reserved an apartment on Airbnb, but earlier in the morning our host had emailed us to let us know that the storms had caused a big leak in the apartment roof that would require immediate repair. She had kindly arranged with proprietors up the street from her to lodge us at their place instead, if we agreed. Instead of sharing an apartment, we would now have two separate apartments (in one building), for the same price we were going to pay for one originally. We appreciated our host’s efforts to find us last-minute accommodations and hoped for the best. She met us at our car and drove us all in her own vehicle a little farther up the hill to our new location, the appropriately named Belavista. Both apartments were nice and had balconies. From ours we had a stupendous view over the gorgeous valley below for a distance of at least 10 km. The change in lodgings likely provided us with an upgrade!

It was a lovely day, so we immediately went out to explore the town. There were great old stone buildings and wonderful views from the path along the town wall. At the top of the town, we enjoyed aperol spritzes at a tiny bar on the wall. Back at the Belavista, we decided to take advantage of truffle season and reserve a place on a truffle hunt for the next day. We’d read about truffle hunting but never had a chance to do it, so this was a fun opportunity.

From our balcony we saw the valley below begin to fill with patchy fog so we opened a bottle of wine and relaxed as we enjoyed the lovely scene. Then J and I went off for another slow explore and to find a place to eat dinner, which our friends decided to skip. Our first choice was not yet open, so we ended up at the atmospheric Pod Voltum, located in the inner walls of the old town gate. The mushroom risotto, vegetables, and frites were all delicious, but an order of pork loin was very tough, more like a dry ham. With a couple of glasses of local terlan red, the bill was a reasonable 210 kuna ($33). After dinner we strolled slowly back through the largely deserted town to our cozy apartment.

Early the next morning puffy clouds filled the valley below. It was a very moving sight, reminiscent of scenes from the Pacific Northwest. We met up with one of our friends at 8 am (her husband was not feeling well so he stayed at the apartment for more rest), walked down to the cemetery for a look around, and picked up the car. Down the hill, not far off the main road, we pulled into the driveway of a yellow house and parked the car. The truffle hunt/brunch organizer Marianne greeted us warmly and introduced us to her husband Milo, who would be taking us with his two dogs, old Bela and young Nera, to hunt for truffles in the forest. Also there was Juliya, who works for them when she is not in their shop adjacent to our lodgings in town.

After this warm welcome, we were led to a shed where we put on socks and mud boots for the walk through the wet forest and piled into Milo’s car. The dogs, who had been penned up until now, were super excited as they jumped into their designated spot in the hatchback part of the car. Surprisingly, we didn't hear from them again until they were released from the car at the edge of the forest.

A light rain was falling for much of the walk, but we had rain jackets so were well prepared. After parking, we walked into the forest to areas where truffles had been found previously. Bela, a beagle who took her responsibilities seriously, trotted around with her nose to the ground, while Nera, a rambunctious young black dog still learning the craft, mostly just wanted to play. Whenever Bela began to dig furiously, Milo quickly stepped in with a narrow spade and dug up a truffle every time. Each time, he rewarded both dogs, a training method designed to keep Nera’s interest up. It was white truffle season and we were rewarded with 3½ specimens in about forty minutes of walking. It was just nice to be out walking in the forest and really fun to be part of a truffle hunt. Milo’s father had been a truffle hunter, and Milo brought his craft to Motovun when he married Marianne.

Back at the yellow house, the truffles were soaked and cleaned to be used in the morning’s brunch. Marianne carefully explained their products and the feast she had prepared. We started with a platter of delicious, locally prepared salami, a mature and a younger local cheese, figs, bread spread with minced black truffle salsa, with white truffle butter, and with black truffle cream cheese, plus additional bread and salad. This alone was a feast indeed, and we did our best to create a dent in it as we sipped good local malvasia wine and two brandies, one with 14 herbs (delicious!) and the other with honey. Already sated, we were were then served the piece de resistance from Marianne’s outdoor kitchen--scrambled eggs prepared in olive oil with grated cheese and our own truffles, both grated and sliced. They were absolutely delicious and we ate them all, despite being full before we started. We finished with bites of a rich cake with truffled honey and grated black truffle--absolutely wonderful! Our other friend joined us near the end and was provided with a delicious truffled breakfast of his own. Hard though it is to believe, we went into the shop after this and purchased two bottles of black truffle salsa and a jar with two whole black truffles to take back home with us. What a special morning this had been!

Next: A few days in beautiful Slovenia, then a return to Croatia
aprillilacs is offline  
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Nov 24th, 2017, 12:54 PM
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Lovely, aprillilacs. I think you were brave to kayak.
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Nov 24th, 2017, 01:19 PM
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Nice report. I visited Istria in early May 2015. Weather was iffy for me too, though I was lucky to have some good weather in Rovinj, which I adored. I day tripped to Motovun and had to explore it in a light rain. I'm sure the views are breathtaking from the top in good weather - but as with you and Rovinj, my impression of Motovun was probably tainted by the weather.
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Nov 25th, 2017, 01:50 AM
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A great read, thanks for sharing. The truffle hunt sounds like a fun experience.

I'm glad to hear you made the most out of this year's odd September weather. It was almost as if it switched places with October as I don't remember having such consistently lovely weather in October and such a poor September since I moved to Ljubljana. That said, some rain is to be expected when visiting these parts. On the other hand, the landscape is much greener for it.
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Nov 25th, 2017, 07:32 PM
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Thanks for sharing. I am very much enjoying your report and look forward to continue to follow along. You bring back wonderful memories of Venice for me and reminded me that we need to go back soon. The truffle hunt sounds like a lot of fun.
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Nov 26th, 2017, 05:03 AM
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I love your trip report! The truffle hunt sounds like so much fun. Something very different to do on vacation.

I wonder if the cucumber salad with sour cream is similar to one that my grandmother used to make. She grew up in Poland and came to the U.S. as a teen-ager. She used to make a delicious cucumber salad with sour cream dressing, and it was always one of my favorites. I have made it,too, but misplaced the recipe. Now I am craving that salad, even though you were disappointed in the one you had.

I love the descriptions of your brunch after the truffle hunt. Sounds delicious!

Looking forward to reading more. I haven't been to Venice, either. Venice, Slovenia and Croatia sounds like a nice combination!
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Nov 26th, 2017, 12:37 PM
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Thanks! I'm glad you are making your way through this (overly) long report. Karen, I had high hopes for the cucumber salad but it was quite bland. I bet your grandmother's was much better!

Sept. 12--Lake Bled

After our huge brunch at the truffle shop we were on the road heading to Slovenia by the route recommended by our hosts. Our Sixt car rental agent in Rovinj had told us we would need a Vignette to drive in Slovenia and that we could purchase one at a gas station near the border. We weren’t completely certain about what it was for—our Slovenian adventure was a fairly last-minute add-on to Croatia so we didn’t spend much time on researching the country--but we dutifully pasted it on the inside of the front windshield and drove across the border. On the highway to Bled we had to make a choice: stay left, where the lanes confusingly seemed not to have any toll booths, or stay right, enter the toll booth, and pick up a ticket. We thought the latter would be wisest. At the unmanned booth our friend (who was regretting being the driver for a moment) had to get out of the car to reach the ticket that came out of the machine—why was it so high up? Oh well, off we went, ticket in hand. How much would we have to pay when we exited the highway?

Eventually we figured out that the Vignette was actually a prepaid highway pass, and the toll booth was only for trucks and other large vehicles. Duh! We had a good laugh about that one, especially having our entry ticket but not using it to exit. Did we just disappear from the highway? Nope—no ticket required to get off. Next time we’ll do better research.

We made good time on the well-maintained highway through increasingly beautiful countryside, reaching Bled by 2:45. We checked into our charming pine-clad, flower draped inn, the Garni Hotel Berc, and sipped some Radovan cabernet sauvignon before heading out to explore the lakeside town. A cold rain soon began to fall, so we returned to the hotel, piled into our car, and drove up to the famous Bled Grad (castle), perched on a hill overlooking the lake. We loved the castle and think it's a “must see” for anyone visiting Bled. There were exhibits throughout; we especially liked the ones on printing and on the history of the region that were accompanied by old maps and prints. The views from the castle were beautiful, and even more so as the clouds began to lift and the alps, covered with fresh snow, became visible. We so wished we could drive up into those mountains, but we had limited time and decided that that would have to wait for our next trip to area. I think there will be one!

We were hoping to have dinner at a well-regarded restaurant, but there was no inside seating available and it was too cold to sit outside, so we wandered around looking at other possibilities and finally came across a place called the Union. When we entered we saw a large fire in an equally large hearth with slabs of meat and sausages in various stages of being grilled. That clinched it, and we took seats in an adjoining room, which soon filled up with other diners. A platter of grilled meats, including delicious sausages, was accompanied by an excellent pot of beans, dumplings, potatoes and grilled vegetables. Real comfort food, much appreciated on a cold, wet day. Good draft beer and local red wine to wash it all down. Well fed but tired, we walked back to the hotel through the dark streets.

Sept. 13-16—Robanov Valley and the Kemnick-Savinya Alps

After breakfast in the morning we walked down to the lake, the sun blazing and the air crisp and clear. The high peaks were all covered in a snowy down. We took lots of photos as we slowly began to walk around the lake in a clockwise direction, considering whether to visit the small church on the island in the western part of the lake. It’s another landmark, less worthy of that status perhaps than the castle on the hill, but it has an unmistakable draw. Partway around the lake, we decided to take a boat to the island while our friends continued around the lake. While we waited for the boat to start moving, we talked to a nice couple from Perth, Australia, where we had traveled several years before. Western Australians are generally surprised to meet Americans who know about where they live!

Once the small boat had enough paying passengers, the hunky young oarsman rowed it across to the island, using long poles attached to the boat. On the island we climbed a good-sized stairway up to the church but the entrance fee put us off. Instead we walked around the base of the island, spotting many fish and interesting rock patterns in the clear turquoise waters. Despite not entering the church, we enjoyed the nice ride on the placid lake.

There was more we wanted to do in Bled, but our time was short and we had to bid it farewell. We had read on this forum and elsewhere that the Logarska Dolina to the east is a particularly beautiful valley, so we had fixed on it as our ultimate destination in Slovenia. But all the accommodations in that valley were either fully booked or a bit too pricey for us, so instead we reserved a place in the next valley over, the Robanov, from which we could easily drive the short distance into the Logarska Dolina.

To get there we drove generally east from Bled toward Ljubljana (unfortunately not on our itinerary this trip) and then north to the Kemnik-Savinya Alps, where we were to spend the next three nights. On the way we stopped in Kranj to shop at a Spar intermarket. Wine, beer, sausages, red cabbage, potatoes, ham, cheese, bread, and salad makings were among the purchases—we would be sure of a good dinner! We seemed to be the only tourists there, and the staff and other shoppers were very friendly.

The closer we got to our destination, the more beautiful the countryside became—deep green, dotted with farms, surrounded by mountains. As we approached the small town of Solcava, we found ourselves in a deep canyon alongside the river Sainya. We turned left just outside of town and headed up a narrow road with tight turns into the stunningly beautiful Robanov kot. We found our place (Mala Hisa; Є300/three nights) fairly quickly and parked on the hillside above. There were lovely, widely spaced farmsteads and coniferous forests nestled below the towering, snow-mantled peaks of the Kemnick-Savinya Alps (to 2400 m) that were partially obscured by wispy, drifting clouds. The house was divided into three or four apartments, and our part had an odd layout and few windows, but the setting was spectacular. Just below us, across an animal-filled green field, was a working tourist farm that we were to get to know better over the next couple of days.

Because rain was in the forecast for the next day, J and I decided to drive over to the Logarska Dolina to see it while the sun was still shining. Our friends passed on this, but I think they regretted it later, after we described how beautiful it was. The Logarska Dolina is a glacial valley, much wider than the other valleys in the region, with more in the way of services (and tour buses) than the Robanov. Once again there were many farms with sweeping green pastures in the lower valley and forests of conifers and birch trees, whose leaves were beginning to turn. We pretty much drove the length of the valley, taking photos in the late afternoon sun and scouting out places for the four of us to visit the next day. The alps at the head of the valley were majestic.

Back at Mala Hisa, we settled in and helped prepare a tasty dinner from the bounty we had purchased at the market. The evening ended with us completing a 200-piece jigsaw puzzle appropriately featuring a horse scene.

The next morning the Robanov was enshrouded in low, swirling clouds and mist which slowly began to clear. After breakfast we all drove back over to Logarska Dolina. The surrounding mountains had considerably more cloud cover that they had had the previous day, and it was threatening to rain at any time. We drove to the head of the valley with the intention of walking to Slap Rinka, a 90 m waterfall and the leading tourist attraction in the valley. We were hoping to hike to a mountain hut perched in a cirque below the highest peaks in the region. The walk to the falls was mostly up an old road and probably a little less than 1 km. At the end of the road, a short rock path took us to the falls (impressive, likely more so in the spring), and a steep stairway brought us up to a small wooden building that housed a coffee shop with an intimate view of the falls. It was a fairly cold day and we appreciated the excellent coffee and spice cookies served by the friendly proprietor. Afterward we walked down to the base of the falls for another vantage point. We were undecided about continuing up to the hut, but our minds were made up when two people coming down from it reported significant rain and very slippery conditions. So it was back to the car and a new plan of action.

Our friend, a genuinely curious person, was convinced that a farm with a famous view, whose name started with a K, was located somewhere on the hillside. She was determined to find the road or trail that would take us there. As we drove down the valley, she seemed to want to turn down every side road and take every trail in hopes of finding the K farm. Now in light rain, we went down one road and finally found a trail that led to a place that started with a K. Must take it! The walk was reasonably easy at first and quite enjoyable, but eventually the trail steepened. When we started rock scrambling, I decided I had had enough. Eventually we all decided to turn around and descend to the car. In our friend’s favor, it was a nice walk through lovely forests and wasn’t a bad side trip at all, just a little wet and a tad frustrating.

We decided to get more information on where we should go, so we drove on to the charming Pension Kemeka Hisa Ojstrica, located just up the valley from a large tourist hotel, the Plesnik. There were amazing smells coming from the kitchen, where the talkative cook was preparing a large batch of wild mushroom soup. Just what we needed for lunch! But it was a little early to eat, so we took a path along a small creek and through a tranquil forest about a kilometer to a second waterfall, Slap Palenk. It was a double waterfall and worth the short jaunt. But when we arrived back at the Ojstrica there was a large tour bus parked outside. Darn! The dining room was full of Austrians, and it was clear that it would be quite a while before we could get lunch as the staff were totally engaged in serving the large group. Determined to have some of the soup, we took seats at the bar and ordered draft beers. Our friends became immersed in conversation with a noisy group of Austrians at the bar and were treated to some schnapps before joining us at a table for the delicious soup. The whole bill, including drinks, crusty bread, and the filling soup was just Є26 for the four of us.

Around 2:30 we left the valley to drive along the famous Solcava panoramic highway that hugs a ridge north of the three valleys below. We drove up the Savinja Valley before turning right toward the Austrian border. Another right turn took us onto the panoramic highway proper and magical views began to unfold, one after another. There were lush, green farmsteads and patches of coniferous forest with amazing views up the valleys to the south and the high alps beyond. The first views were up the westernmost valley, the Matkov kot, with the mountains shrouded in mist. Finally, quite by accident, we came upon the much photographed Klemensek, the proverbial “K” tourist farm set on a green hillside that we had been looking for in the Logarska Dolina! Even with the darkened skies and light rain, the scene was stunning. Even more beautiful was the scene that unfolded a short time later when a narrow ray of sunshine penetrated the gloom over the Logarska Dolina and rapidly moved down the valley like the coming of an angel.

We navigated safely down to Solcava and drove back to our place after a day that, given the weather, was amazingly enjoyable. We decided to try dinner at the tourist farm next door, the Govc-Vrsnik, and a couple of us walked over to inquire about reservations. We were invited to return at 7:30 for a family-style dinner. It was a really neat place, featuring old photographs on the walls and a large combination cooking stove/heating unit in the entry room. The friendly staff—all family--served us a huge meal of roast pork, roast potatoes, dumplings stuffed with ground beef, sausage and sauerkraut, beef in a sauce, and cheese strudel. Everything except the too dry dumplings was delicious. We didn’t order, but I was intrigued by, the “plate of 5 dairy products”—curd, cream, butter, sir…. We really enjoyed this farm and will likely stay there if we ever return to the area.

The next morning was again showery as we walked up to the head of our valley to explore it further. We were well dressed for the weather and it was a beautiful walk through woods and open pasture areas. The woods were full of colorful fungi. The leaves on the birches were definitely turning as we gained elevation (nearly 300 m in all). We passed a picturesque farm building set in open green pastures that made for some nice photos. In fact it is one of the most photographed places in the region and graces several brochures we saw later. After a couple of hours we reached our destination, the Robanova planina, a small dairy that serves in the summer months as a hut for hikers going to or returning from the high alps. It was mostly locked up for the season, but the porch on the small main building provided shelter from the rain so we dried out a bit, munched on some snacks, and watched horses graze on the hillside above. After a while we rambled back down the beautiful valley to Mala Hisa.

Back at the house, we relaxed and then drove down the Savinya Valley to the town of Luce to do some shopping for dinner--scrambled eggs with mushrooms, peppers, leeks, bacon and cheese to go with bread, and salad that allowed us to use up most of our supplies. Red wine of course to wash it all down. Sadly, we would have to leave these idyllic mountains and valleys the next morning. Yes, we needed more time in Slovenia!

Next: back to Croatia and the waterfall parks.
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Nov 26th, 2017, 09:28 PM
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aprillilacs, thank you so much for your report, especially about the area around Logarska Dolina. I'm visiting next year so can I ask you a couple questions please? I believe that there is a supermarket in Solcava - is that right? Somewhere to buy food and especially fresh bread? If I stay near Solcava rather than in Logarska Dolina itself, am I doing myself a disservice? Is Logarska more beautiful than other valleys in the area? I won't have a car so will use the (infrequent) bus to get around, plus walking of course.
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Nov 26th, 2017, 11:27 PM
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Such an interesting read, thank you. I'd love to do a road trip, but the driving terrifies me, so a vicarious trip will have to do
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Nov 27th, 2017, 12:18 AM
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Wonderful report aprillilacs! I was in Venice during that storm of September 10. It was an intense storm there as well and I am not surprised it colored your experience in Rovinj. I would not have wanted to be out in that weather there, not with all those slippery stones in the street.

Looking forward to reading the rest.
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Nov 27th, 2017, 03:52 AM
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I've never been to Slovenia but your description sounds very picturesque. I imagine bits of Switzerland and Austria.
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Nov 27th, 2017, 09:02 AM
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Yes, this part of Slovenia reminded us of Austria and Switzerland, though we have been to only a small part of each. It also reminiscent of parts of Oregon--especially the coast range--but with higher mountains. It's beautiful!

dreamon--There is a small market in Solcava where you can buy supplies for meals, though the selection is not vast (they do have bread. meat, etc.). There's a bigger market in Luce, a few km away. We thought Logarska was especially beautiful because of its wider, sun-splashed valley, but the other valleys were also nice. Solcava is a small town and has a tourist office/activity center (Center Rinka) that I am sure would be helpful if you stayed there. There is also bus service into Logarska. It really depends on what you want--a busier, town-based experience, or a rural valley and easier access to walking/hiking. There are no markets in Logarska that we saw. If we went again, we would likely book at one of the farms that provides full or half-board.

I will get back to this report later today, I hope.
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Nov 27th, 2017, 09:10 PM
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September 16-17—Korenica, near Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Before leaving the valley (and, sadly, Slovenia) we had a filling breakfast at the farm next door (8 euros each). Good coffee accompanied a meat and cheese plate with ham, two types of salami, and two cheeses, all produced at the farm. In addition there were farm-fresh eggs, homemade bread, jam, and honey. Locavores would have found themselves in heaven.

We bid good-bye to the farm family and drove south and east toward the Croatian border. Our route took us through more nice country (but not as lovely as what we were leaving) on local roads and the main highway and through flatter, more built-up countryside to the border crossing. We stopped at the Slovenian exit kiosk and then at the Croatian entrance kiosk to have our passports stamped, required by the fact that Slovenia is in the Schengen zone but Croatia is not.

From there our trip south through Croatia was uneventful, and by late afternoon we reached our destination for two nights, the semi-rural area of Korenica, about 10 km south of Plitvice National Park. We were given a friendly welcome at our comfortable two-bedroom, three-bathroom house called Rustico, part of a little group of properties owned by the same family (100 euros per night for the four of us). We wanted to do some laundry and were pleased to see a washing machine, but the friendly proprietor offered to do a load for us, on the premise that she had to do lots of laundry anyway and had a dryer (which our cottage did not). The laundry was delivered, dry and folded, that evening.

We took a short walk around the neighborhood and found the nearby restaurant also owned by the family. We returned there in the early evening and enjoyed delicious, fall-off-the bone roast suckling pig, a somewhat less successful lamb on a spit, spaghetti marinara, and a chicken salad. Sopka salad and wild mushrooms for all, and of course beer and red wine. This meal was good enough that we would gladly return the next night.

Knowing that Plitvice is one of the most visited places in Croatia, we really wanted to be first in line at the park entrance the next morning. But there were severe thunderstorms overnight and it was still raining in the morning, so reluctantly we spent a quiet morning waiting for the weather to improve, as it was expected to do. We made sandwiches to take with us to the park and by 11:30 saw that the weather was clearing, so we drove in increasing sunshine to the north entrance, parked easily in the large lot across from the entrance, purchased the fairly pricey tickets, and entered the park shortly before noon. Lots of other people were milling about the entrance, but many of the tour buses had come earlier in the morning despite the rain, and others probably waited out the rain longer than we did. Nonetheless, despite it being mid-September, some of the trails in the park were crowded.

We followed route C after entering the park and were greeted by impressive views from an overlook down to the biggest waterfall, consisting of multiple streams that fall 90 m (300 ft) over limestone cliffs. From here we walked down to the base of the falls for another view. A single path took people into and out from the bottom of the falls, so there were some bottlenecks. But it was hugely rewarding, with large-volume cascades dropping down the cliff face and many smaller streams issuing from the surrounding walls. Really like nothing we’ve seen before!

From the falls we continued on what was accurately estimated as a 5-hour walk through a fairyland of blue water and white limestone, periodically marked by small cascades over travertine terraces that separated a string of small ponds and lakes. We were like kids in the proverbial candy store. More walking, along the shore of a larger lake, brought us to a large picnic area adjacent to a boat launch, where we had a picnic at one of the tables in bright sunshine.

After lunch we boarded an electric boat for a slow but short journey across the lake to the second of two stops. When we disembarked we began the southern leg of our walk. For the next hour or so we walked moderately uphill through an area marked by small ponds and lakes, separated by streams with small to moderate-sized cascades, surrounded by a forest in which the leaves were beginning to turn. Eventually I was ready to stop walking but the others wanted to go on, so we split up, not understanding exactly where we were. I followed the sign south toward the “train” (really a bus) that I assumed would take me back to the start; the rest of the group walked back to the north. We planned to meet up at the gate where we had all started, but my route actually took me farther afield than planned, and I walked farther than the others. The rest of the group finished their walk and returned to the entrance, where they had cold drinks while they waited for me. When I still didn’t show, they began to worry. But finally I appeared and we all headed home to relax before going to dinner at our nearby restaurant.

That night we stayed up for a while, reviewing the rewarding day and talking about where we were going for the next few days: off the beaten tourist track to the island of Dugi Otok, about an hour by boat from Zadar.
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Nov 28th, 2017, 03:02 AM
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We have paddled around Venice a couple of times, loved it.
Venicekayak.com finds them.

And our experienence also

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Nov 28th, 2017, 05:41 AM
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An enjoyable report; thank you for sharing!

The "insipid beef noodle soup" is a staple across Central and the former Eastern Europe as well as the Slavic States; I ate more than my fair share growing up. Here in Austria it is called, "Suppentopf," but is no less uninspiring.

The cucumber salad, if made without a sour cream dressing but rather, larger pieces of cucumber and peppers (and tomatoes and white cheese) is called Shopska. There are numerous variations throughout Central Europe and the Balkans, and I am excited whenever our local Turkish market has the fresh cheese so that I can make the salad. Sorry to read yours was not to your liking.

The cucumber salad with sour cream is Mezeria, another childhood favorite. I think I could eat the salad all by itself as a meal!
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Nov 28th, 2017, 09:25 AM
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Peter, thanks for the link to your report and for giving the correct order for the name (Venice Kayak, not Kayak Venice). I hadn't seen your report previously--found the company through an article I read somewhere. Our paddle was about 3+ hours, and our guide decided on a slightly different route from the one you took. Sounds like we both had wonderful experiences. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

foufortravel, we did love the Shopksa, which we ate more than once--delicious! The Mezeria had nice big chunks of cucumber, but the sour cream dressing was too bland for my taste. Glad you like it though!
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 10:09 AM
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So, here's more from our trip to Croatia.

Sept. 18-21—Dugi Otok

After a lengthy drive south from Plitvice, mostly on toll roads, our GPS brought us safely to the ferry terminal in Zadar with time to spare--or so we thought. We were supposed to catch a car ferry to the island of Dugi Otok (Long Island, the longest in Croatia) but been unable to reserve tickets in advance. We were assured that there would be no problem, given that high season was over. Just as we were about to join a line of cars to board the ferry I decided to make sure we were in the correct place. I knocked on the window of the car ahead of us and asked, Is this the car ferry to Dugi Otok? The driver smiled and explained that this was the passenger ferry terminal and that a new terminal for car ferries (obviously not known to our GPS) had been opened south of the city. Had we stayed in that line, it would have taken some real effort to extract ourselves.

With the new information in hand, we drove south to the new terminal, which is part of a massive development area on the outskirts of Zadar--clearly too new for the GPS. We secured a place near the head of the line--indeed, no longer high season--parked the car, and walked back to a nearby cafe for coffee and croissants at an outdoor table with a view of the harbor, happy that we had avoided a big hassle.

Dugi Otok is not well-known to most tourists, and our visit came about in a serendipitous way. A few years ago, our friend had met a very distant acquaintance--his cousin’s sister-in-law’s sister’s Croatian American husband (or something like that), Ivan--at a wedding a family wedding, and they had had a great time together. This had resulted in an invitation to our friends to stay at Ivan's family home on a Croatian island if they ever had a chance to visit the country. When the four of us were trying to decide where to travel to this fall, our friend pulled the offer from his memory and reached out to Ivan to probe whether it was serious. Well, it didn’t really pan out, but by the time we realized that we had already decided on a trip to Croatia that would include some time on Dugi Otok, even if there wasn’t free lodging involved. We were all intrigued by the descriptions of a somewhat barren island not overrun by people where we could relax and explore for a few days.

While we waited for the ferry to arrive, lo and behold, Ivan himself walked up to our car. He knew we were going to be coming to the island and had been staying there himself for a few weeks. He lives in the New York City area but had been on Dugi Otok fixing up his house and seeing the few friends who still live there. He had come to Zadar for the day and would be on the short ferry ride to the island with us. He turned out to be quite a character and an excellent storyteller. We arrived at Brbinj on the island about 3:20 pm and agreed to meet up with him for lunch at Konoba Roko in the harbor town of Zaglov the next day.

Our lodging was a short drive from the ferry in the tiny village of Savar. It was located on a quiet bay at the bottom of a winding, downhill drive. Our host and her two children, who knew what ferry we planned to take, were waiting for us along the little road to lead us down to the place and show us where to park. The two-story apartment had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, including a whirlpool tub with a fine view, a small kitchen, living room/dining room, and a wonderful covered terrace with a table and another perfect view, where we spent most of our time when the weather permitted. It was a much nicer place than we had expected. We were to be the final guests of the season, so our host invited us to stay an extra day for free. Unfortunately we couldn’t take her up on the offer, but it was very generous.

After settling in, we headed south to the waterside town of Sali because it had an ATM and shops to buy supplies. We brought some basic groceries for the next few days and then drove to nearby Zaglov to look around and find a place for an early dinner. We asked a young man who looked local to recommend a place to eat. He pointed to a place a short distance away, where he worked, but when we got there it turned out to be closed for a private party. Instead we wandered to the heart of the small harbor area and found Konoba Roko, Ivan's recommendation, where we had one of the better meals of the trip--superb calamari risotto with ink and delicious langoustines in a red sauce. Roko ended up being our “go to” for the remainder of our stay on the island. Back in Savar, we sat on the terrace, drinks in hand, happy that we had arrived in this little piece of heaven.

Rain arrived during the night--it seemed like Croatia was going to give us rain wherever we went. We enjoyed a leisurely morning in our beautiful setting before heading out to meet Ivan at Roko in Zaglev. The “old man,” Mr. Roko himself, was out and about, watering his plants (some in old concrete containers once used to make olive oil or to cure olives). He greeted Ivan and then told us stories (with Ivan translating) about the history of the place, a fifteenth-century mill that had fallen into disrepair. The building was torn down and the old man and his son (who now runs the restaurant) built the new building over a period of two years. Its setting, right at the head of the bay, is perfect. Ivan and the old man lamented the depopulation of the island while we sipped cold beers at a table on the front porch. When the rain intensified, we moved inside for another delicious meal--fresh baked bread, ivar (pepper paste), salad, breaded octopus, fried calamari, and mussels that we watched the cook gather from a net suspended in the waters of the bay. Before we left, the owner kindly made reservations for us for a boat trip to the southern coast of Dugi Otok and the islands beyond, which are part of a natural reserve.

After lunch we drove with Ivan to his home in Dragove, which was on a hill above the water. Ivan proudly showed us around his ancestral home, one of the few in the village that is still semi-occupied. It was fascinating to get inside this traditional house with four simple bedrooms on two floors, a dark kitchen, a bathroom, and a little sitting room decorated with photos of family members. Drinking water is collected in a cistern. Ivan clearly loves the house and the island and regrets its current depopulation.

After the tour we bid Ivan farewell and drove to the northern end of the island to explore some more. We stopped at Veli to see the lighthouse dramatically situated next to a beach on the windward side of the island. The winds were blowing at 30 knots as a result of the departing storm, and the surf pounding the rocky shore and the beach was wild and beautiful. From here we drove to Veranic on the lee side of the island. It was the antithesis of our experience elsewhere on the island, with a yacht club and some upscale (if still informal) businesses, but very quiet this late in the year. We ended the day with delicious soup we made back at the apartment from local ingredients.

We were up and out early the next morning to drive to Sali, where we would be boarding the boat for a trip to the southern part of Dugi Otok and the natural reserve beyond. The boat turned out to be a small fishing boat with a concrete hull that had been used in the sardine fishing industry. It weighed ten tons and had a top speed that reflected this clearly--I have never been on such a slow boat. The other passengers were an Indian couple who live in Zurich and a Hungarian couple. The boat left the harbor and slowly cruised south along the western end of the island, then around to the western side with spectacular of views of the cliffs of the Telascica Peninsula. Striking out across open seas, we passed a lighthouse where one can stay for Є500/night, on the way to our lunch spot on a small island in the Kornati Islands National Park. There fishermen served us a simple lunch of grilled mackerel, cabbage salad, bread, and dry malvasia wine. The fish was excellent; the rest was mundane. The setting, however, on the patio of a small house, was charming.

After lunch we cruised south through increasingly barren limestone islands before disembarking on one of the islands and walking a short distance to the pebble beach. Later we had drinks at a rustic bar above the dock before reboarding for the exceedingly slow trip back to Sali. On the bright side, this gave us time for excellent conversations with our fellow travelers. By the time we got back we were ravenous so, naturally enough, we headed for Konoba Roko. It was a proven winner, so why not? They were glad to see us again, and we enjoyed yet another fine meal--smoked tuna carpaccio, shrimp, anchovies, and sardines, our favorite fried octopus, and malvasia wine.

Our rental came with free sit-on-top double kayaks, so in the morning the four of us walked down to the bay to give them a try. It was a gorgeous, windless morning, but the experience turned out to be the worst kayak paddle we’ve ever had—we dislike doubles and sit-on-tops, and J couldn’t manage to sit up straight and paddle at the same time. As a result, our progress across the bay was slow, as we zigzagged across it like first-time paddlers. So we ended up back on shore earlier than we had anticipated, despite the slow speed at which we had paddled.

Back in the apartment we had breakfast and then drove down to the Telascica Peninsula to do a short hike to a well-advertised “dry lake.” It was our second disappointment of the day: a shoreline paved in concrete, many restaurants and gift shops, large boats, and a crowd of people who had appeared out of nowhere (by boat from the mainland for the day?). I had skipped part of the walk, deciding instead to stop a a spot with a particularly beautiful view of the water and to do a little painting (I had my watercolor supplies with me). Good choice, I think!

Back at the house, we packed up and drove to Brbinj to catch the 5:15 ferry back to Zadar. While waiting for the ferry we enjoyed a drink in the garden of the small restaurant that serves ferry traffic. It was a very pleasant way to say farewell to Dugi Otok, an island we had become quite fond of. Would love to return for a longer stay sometime. We disembarked in Zadar at 6:40 pm and began the drive to Skradin, where we would be staying the next two nights while visiting Krka National Park.
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