Buzet, Istra and home

We went over to another hill town, Buzet. It’s on a hill with a much broader top so the old town is larger and not as crowded. It’s also in better condition. There are small industries in the area and the modern town at the base of the hill is much larger. So it’s a real town where people live, while Motovun would have a hard time existing without the tourists. I would stay there rather than Motovun if I were doing it again.

We found the shop of a local artist, Hari Ivančić. Hari was there and we had a long discussion about his art. His early work was representative landscapes of the area, but over time he narrowed in on portions of the towns and their forms and now make pretty abstract representations of the landscape, the stone, and red soil, etc. We enjoyed all his work, but we really don’t have a place for anymore large pieces. (Or small pieces for that matter.)

A big reason for going to Buzet was local hiking trails. So after a little lunch we headed out on the Seven Falls Trail. It started flat and easy along the canal, but then headed up through a gap. In the hillside into a steep canyon and a very steep, rough trail. (The young woman in the tourist office volunteered that it was too steep for her, so she had never made it to the top.) We didn’t find all seven falls, but some nice flowers and plants and we did make it to the top, but the local stone is vey slippery when wet, so we took the long way back down using local roads for part of it.

In the evening we went for Damir & Ornella for dinner. It was one of the restaurants we had reserved far in advance. Since we are past the tourist season, it wasn’t really crowded, but still doing a good business. Their speciality is raw fish, prepared with only olive oil and a little lemon and salt and pepper. We had raw shrimp, sole and squid followed by scallops and a pasta with fish and white truffles (of course). It was all excellent. The fish and squid were prepared at the table.

We woke this morning to a golden sunrise and fog down in the valley. It’s impossible to get the full range of color and light in a photo though.

Today we we to a local winery to buy some of their wine, but they were closed on Saturday. It is amazing hard to buy the local wines. The stores in the towns will carry some, but principally the store owner’s own label. So you mostly have to go to the winery, which really aren’t set up for much retail either. Finding the winery is also a challenge. In the rural areas the addresses are not street addresses, but just a number in the small village, followed by the nearest larger town. So you know which village a place is in, or near, but no more than that. The mapping programs don’t get that at all, and assume some kind of street numbering system. So they will typically get you within a mile or two of the place.

After my wild goose chase, we turned and headed for Zagreb, as we leave for home in the morning.

Central Istra and Motovun

We left the coast for central Istra (Croatian), Istria (Italian). Before heading inland we stopped at the town of Poreč. We went there mainly for the basilica, but it’s actually a nice little coastal town. It too is quite old (basilicas were there in the 3rd and 4th century) but is not as closed in as some of the other towns. There were squares, parks, plazas and other open spaces. Rovinj was great, but the streets were narrow with four-story buildings on either side, making it a little claustrophobic.

The first basilica in Poreč was built in the 3rd century and has been rebuilt/replaced several times. The most famous was by St. Euphrasius in the 6th century, most of which still exists. Portions of mosaic floors from earlier buildings have been found and are exhibited in place or in the museum.

(That is one toothy fish!)

But the real glory of the basilica is the wall mosaics from St. Euphrasius’ construction. The semicircular apse is covered with golden mosaics. It’s the best we’ve seen outside Rome.

We finally headed inland without the sky clouding up and raining. But Istra is a peninsula and it’s got hills, not mountains. We are staying in Motovun, the most famous of the hilltop towns in this area. It’s visible for quite some distance.

The hill towns are typically rather small, and the portion inside the walls even smaller. I guess as long as the church and the nobles’ houses were protected, the rest didn’t matter much.

Istra is famous for its wine, olives and truffles. The wine and olives are not quite up to the Tuscany standard yet, but they are really big in truffles. Fall is the season for white truffles, so they are for sale and on all the menus. Some of the restaurants offer menus with truffles on every course. For me that is too much truffle. I like them and am enjoying the opportunity to have fresh white truffles, but I don’t think they are all that fantastic. That said, we had a couple of truffle dishes last night that were quite good and had an extravagant amount of truffles shaved on top.

The white truffles are definitely different from the black ones, they have a brighter scent to me. But they are more famous mainly because they are less common.

We had hoped to enjoy the variety of wineries and olive oil producers here. But they are quite a bit behind the Italians in marketing their goods. The percentage of the area under cultivation is a lot lower than Tuscany, wineries want a reservation for a tasting and there aren’t the kind of regional co-op tasting rooms we enjoyed in Italy. So we’ve tasted some olive oils at the producers and local wines in restaurants but not the variety we were hoping for.

We drove around a bit today and stopped at other small hill towns. They are pretty poor. Of course part of the problem is that this area was Italy until the end of WWII and then all the Italians left, leaving some towns empty. The Tito Yugoslavian goverment emphasized industrial development, so the towns weren’t resettled quickly. In fact some of them never were.

Of course the smaller amount of land under cultivation means that there are more oak forests, and thus more truffles. So tonight we head to the next town over, Livade, and the restaurant most famous for truffles for one last go at them. They are even in the midst of a big annual truffle festival, but only on weekends.

Rovinj


Rovinj is the last of our ancient coastal towns. It’s a very nice little town, with a compact central area on what used to be an island, but is now connected to shore. It’s got quite a hill with a massive church on top, dwarfing the town. So the old stone streets march up the hill to the church.

But there is a long waterfront lined with cafés around a bay filled with boats. It’s a great place to sit and watch the sun go down.

The local museum has a Dali exhibition at present. We went in expecting the regular melting watches, etc. But what we found was water colors from two illustration series: Dante’s Inferno and the Bible. They really illustrated his range as an artist: from old world classic to avant garde Dali. We hadn’t ever heard of these works. At the time he would hand carve plates to print the works and these required an average of 30 colors, hence 30 plates for each illustration. Then there was a ruckus in Italy over the idea of a Spaniard illustrating Dante’s work. So with the huge costs and the political issues, few copies were ever printed.

Arriving on the Istrian penensula we have seen several changes. This was part of Italy until the end of WWII, so the Italian influences are still strong. Much more Italian is spoken here and the lions symbolizing Venice are still over the gates and on the clock tower. Further south they had been removed.

This is also a big agricultural area: wines and olive oil and truffles from the area are famous. We are now seeing a lot of truffles on the menus. We enjoyed some on oxtail-filled ravioli “turnovers” last night.

Back to the sun, again

We woke up this morning and the fog was thicker than yesterday plus the power was out at the B&B.

We can take a hint. Time to head for Rovinj and the coast!

Foggy Plitvice National Park

Today was supposed to be partly cloudy. We got the cloudy part, foggy in fact. We headed to the park after breakfast figuring it would burn off; it didn’t, in fact the fog got thicker throughout the day.

The park is famous for its lakes and waterfalls. They are fed by calcium-laden spring water. The water also has high CO2 levels. As the CO2 out-gasses the calcium becomes less soluble and precipitates out. This especially happens as the water goes over falls. So once a barrier forms calcium deposits will make it grow higher and higher, raising the barrier and forming a lake behind. Over the years a whole series of lakes and falls have formed. This is the same process that formed the pools at Havasupai in Arizona, which I visited a couple of years ago.

Croatia has been getting a lot of rain recently, so the water levels were all up, and a lot of the trails at the water lines were closed, including the whole lower lakes portion. So all we could do was to walk the upper trails and try to see the cascades through the fog. We got some views, but in other areas, there were just the ghost of falls.

Many of the trails at water level are on an extensive system of boardwalks that go across the lakes and from one level to another.

Most of the trails around the upper lakes were open, but by the time we got there we had to be pretty close to the falls to see them.

If the falls were across the lake we could hear the water, but not see anything but fog.

The woods were very atmospheric too.

It’s definitely fall here, the leaves are changing and falling, making the wet boardwalks even more slippery.

While it was disappointing to come this far and see so little, we had a good walk that lasted most of the day and we saw some of the features.

Some of the photos were so unclear it was better to just go with it and make them more abstract.

Plitvice

We left the coast yesterday and drove into the mountains to Plitvice National Park. As we headed up the clouds headed down. By the time we got here it was raining. Weather forecast for today, partly cloudy. We decided to wait until today for better weather.

At 8:00 this morning it looks like this, and is drizzling.

It’s supposed to be better later, we will see.

Gelato

In towns with a steady parade of tourists gelato shops and stalls are common and they will occasionally drizzle the gelato with a little chocolate or sculpt it into a mound to make it look interesting, but in Zadar they have taken it to a whole new level. These were in a shop on the main street, but others were doing it too.

Of course it wouldn’t have been polite to take a photo without buying a little.

Greeting to the Sun

Zadar

We spent two nights in Zadar, another coastal town with Roman roots and a medieval layout. The 20th Century was not kind to Zadar. It was held by the Italians in the first half and was heavily bombed by the allies in WWII. After the war it became part of Yugoslavia, and a lot of reconstruction was done in typical communist architecture, ugly blocks of dull buildings.

(I understand the communist architecture intention: cheap housing for the masses. It belies the “less is more” principal, as clearly less is less. But when occasionally they decided to make an architectural statement, it is usually terrible, making me want less again. Didn’t they teach architects any aesthetics?)

The town was also shelled during the Balkan wars in the early 1990’s. But in the aftermath there was a huge difference, in Zadar and most of Croatia we have seen. They quickly built and rebuilt and did it well, so except for that post-WWII construction the towns look great; a good mix of ancient and modern. As a result the old town has quite a mix of interesting building styles, although the surrounding town is one of the least appealing we’ve seen so far.

They have preserved the 10th century church of Saint Donats (the pre-sainthood local bishop when construction started) who I refer to as St. Donuts, which seems apropo considering he built a round church. (I also noticed the coffee shop next door was one of the few places we’ve seen donuts for sale.)

The church was built in the Roman forum using much existing masonry, so old Roman stones are clearly visible in the construction, especially in the foundation where pieces of old columns are visible.

Other than St. Donats and the adjacent cathedral, the rest of the forum space has been kept open and other salvaged stones are on display.

There are several top quality museums including ones for Roman Glass, Archeology, and Sacred Items.

The Roman Glass Museum has a wonderful collection of different Roman Glass vessels, exhibits on how they were used, and how and where they were made. It really is amazing how advanced glass manufacturing was during this period. Considering that all the items on display are 2,000 years old and that certainly most of the glass was broken long ago, the true range and volume of glass in use at the time must have been huge.

One use for glass was as cremation urns. They also used the same type of urn in the kitchen. I don’t know if they just grabbed an urn from the kitchen or got a new one. Small glass vials that held scent were thrown into the pyre to improve the odor. (Boy does that sound like a good idea!) I had seen melted Roman glass vials, but never knew how they got that way.

The Archeology Museum has well-done exhibits and some innovative features. My favorite was their electronic exhibit guide. Rather than handing out portable devices, they make use of the ones that almost all visitors already have: their phones! If you connect to their WiFi, the entire museum guide is accessible from the login page. You don’t actually log in, but rather page through the information with text, photos and audio. So all they need is the WiFi and a server for the information; no audio guides to hand out, collect, recharge, repair and replace. It seems like a great idea.
There were lots of fibulae on display. These are the ancient version of safety pins, working exactly the same. But since they were needed to hold the robes together, they were common and visible, so they came in many styles, some with beads, etc.

As part of post-war reconstruction, the city walls on the ocean side of town were largely replaced with a broad promenade. At the north end of the promenade there is a great public space created by two art works: the Sea Organ, and the Greeting to the Sun.

For me the better of the two is the Sea Organ. Under steps along the waterfront are pipes and chambers. Waves force air through these, so they resonate like the lower register of a pipe organ. Of course the notes are relatively random, so it sounds like something between whale song and a John Cage concert. People will sit on the steps for long periods watching the water and passing boats, and listening to the resulting music.

Nearby the Greeting to the Sun is nice, but with a more limited appeal. There is a large circular area for glass tiles with solar cells and LEDs embedded. Throughout the day the sun charges the system and after sunset the LEDs light up in a variety of patterns. But it’s really only active after dark, and people don’t stay as long, needing patience to wait until any lights are noticeable. Of course there are glitches with the lights so some tiles don’t work at all and others just stay on, breaking up the patterns of the lights that are working. But it’s still pretty cool, and children love to run around as the patterns change.

I tried taking movies of the moving lights and people at the Sea Organ, but after my camera was repaired, a lot of settings got changed including changing it to recording movies in iFrame format, which I could do nothing with. (But Cathie got one on her phone! See separate posting.)

I’m pretty frustrated with the photography this trip in general. Both the camera and I have had vision issues this year. The camera was repaired and I had retina surgery but neither of us are working 100%. The camera frequently fails to autofocus, and I can’t see the screen or viewfinder well enough to see that until I get it on the iPad later that evening. Plus I am still finding strange camera settings after the fact. So I’m deleting a lot of failed photos. I may need to replace the camera and then learn to better deal with my vision. In the mean time, I get really grumpy about it.

Trogir

Our next stop along the coast was Trogir. It sits on a small island between the coast and a larger island. Bridges connect the coast and the two islands. It is another medieval walled city, but it has a great cathedral, and the rest of the town would have been more interesting a few medieval cities ago.

The front door of the cathedral is surrounded by fantastic sculpture.

Each of the rings has a different theme, starting with Adam and Eve standing on the backs of lions. The outer ring is bible stories, but more interesting were the rings showing daily life, like this guy drinking wine and cooking sausages,

or the mythical animals here.

The interior was also interesting.

Although there were a lot of these cherubs peeking out doors carrying torches, which seemed suspicious,

And this priest looked really creepy.

Archeological Museum - Split

On our last day in Split we visited the Archeological Museum. They have a good collection from prehistoric through the Renaissance. It is interesting to see the development of technology and art through the Romans, the decline and then development again with the Renaissance. It was clearly visible in the coins they issued. Here is a few of the gold coins starting in the 300’s AD in the upper left and ending in the 700’s in the lower right.

There were some great examples of sculpture like this Roman sarcophagus.

This well head came from a monastery. It doesn’t seem designed to keep the monks focused though.

Split

We took the ferry back to the mainland and the city of Split.

It’s the largest city we’ve been to yet and one with an interesting history. It started when the emperor Diocletian retired in 305AD and built himself a retirement palace here. The palace was 200 x 240 meters or about a half a million square feet on the ground level. With the fall of the Roman Empire the palace was eventually abandoned, but by the 600’s squatters moved in and started rearranging walls and such. That’s been going on ever since. So today in one spot you can see different architecture reflecting almost 2000 years of construction.

The outer walls are still pretty much intact and formed the defensive walls of the town for a long time. The walls, being of a palace had windows, so buildings have been built, not just against them but through them.

Being an emperor, and god-like, he included his own mausoleum/temple in the center of the palace, which seems a little weird to me. Of course it was later converted to the local cathedral, which is interesting, if small. It’s buried into the city so well that it’s hard to get a photo of the outside and none are allowed inside.

The most interesting thing to me, the engineer, was that the layering of the brickwork for the dome was visible on the inside. So I had to sneak a few illicit pictures.

Note the small arcs of brick allowing them to build in layers in them the edge.

And the detail on the column capitals protected from the elements.

Because Split is a much larger town and the center is still used by the locals for shopping, dining and gathering, it feels more like a real town, not just a tourist spot.

We went to a cheese and wine bar for dinner outside of the palace area, but still the old town. Sitting on the terrace was great for people watching; a few tourists, but lots of locals: families, couples, teens, groups of pre-teens all out walking, shopping, talking or playing. It really makes it feel like a nice place.

Hvar Hills

Today we decided we needed some exercise, so we went hiking in the hills behind the B&B. from the top we could see Hvar town and across the island to the next one.

I am continually amazed at the amount of ancient infrastructure in the area. There are stone walls everywhere. In parts of Ireland we were amazed at all the stone walls, but at least there were fields between the walls. Here the space between the walls can be less than the thickness of the walls. And if the walls are further apart there are piles of stones in the middle. Obviously people have been piling stones for thousands of years, and there are plenty more to go as the ground between the walls was still rocky. But most of the areas have been abandoned. It doesn’t make sense to farm that way any more.

The trail up the hill was a roadway track, easy to follow, but we decided to take a different trail down. Some demented person had designated the trail as a bike route! Even the most adventurous mountain biker wouldn’t use this trail. Before we got down to the valley floor my shins looked like I had walked through a cat fight, from pushing through the undergrowth.

We were closer to Stari Grad than the hotel when we got to the bottom, so we walked there for lunch. Stari Grad means old town, and most of the business moved to Hvar Town a few centuries ago, but I wasn’t prepared for just how deserted Stari Grad would be. There were only a few dozen tourists visible in town.

Sunday afternoon in Stari Grad there was a group of old guys playing bocce, and a few more at the cafés. Today there were almost no locals visible. The back streets, away from the harbor were almost post-apocalypticly empty. For block after block there was no one there. It felt very strange.

We walked back past several local vineyards. It’s been a bad year for farmers. After a warm winter they had a wet summer. Many olive trees didn’t set fruit. The grapes didn’t ripen in a wet September, but just rotted on the vine. We saw many fields of grapes the farmers hadn’t even bothered to pick. It’s very sad, and devastating for the local economy.

Hvar Sunrise

Tučepi to Hvar

Tučepi would be a good place to spend a week or two. It has a pleasant beachfront, a variety of restaurants and apartments to rent. It’s an hour or so north of Dubrovnik and less than an hour south of Split, so you could make either of them a day trip. Besides sipping a drink on the beach there is hiking and biking in the mountains behind. You could also visit Hvar for the day by taking the ferry from either Split or Drvenik. We just had a single night there, but still got a beautiful sunset.

This morning we drove to Drvenik and took the ferry across to the south end of Hvar and drove to near the north end to the small village of Dol. (Actually two small adjacent villages both called Dol.)

From the water we had a good view of the Dalmatian coast. There are small villages on the water connected by a coastal road and the mountains behind coming right to the water. It’s pretty dramatic. There isn’t a lot of arable land between the water and the mountain tops.

As we drove the length of the island stone walls were everywhere. Sometimes there were just tiny patches a few dozen feet across between the walls. Even then the ground between the walls was covered with stones. There really isn’t much soil, like the famous turtles, I think it’s stones all the way down.

The local agriculture is mainly wine grapes and olive trees, with the occasional fig or pomegranate tree in the mix. Family gardens of tomatoes and such round it out.

We relaxed for the afternoon, sitting on a balcony overlooking the valley across to the other Dol and over to the mainland coast, and did a brief walk up to a hillside church, working up an appetite for dinner.