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A Special Sendoff

It’s nearly two months since we left beautiful Croatia, and I’m finally getting around to wrapping up this series of posts.

It was sad to leave lovely Opatije. I could have stayed another week just walking the Promenade, taking the sun on the rocks and ducking out to visit the picturesque towns of the Istrian Riviera — not to mention devouring more white truffle pasta. But our final drive back to Venice was not without excitement.

Once back in Italy, we stopped for our farewell lunch at Agriturismo Lunardelli, a family wine-making enterprise. Luigi, patriarch of the family, greeted us warmly and poured glasses of the best moscato I’ve ever had: refreshing and not too sweet. We toured the winery before lunch, and Luigi treated us to an impromptu concert (scroll to the bottom).

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Roberta, Luigi’s daughter, is the chef, and what a delectable meal we had! Antipasti of cheeses and homemade salumi, a perfect Caprese salad and gnocchi with pumpkin, sage and a hint of Gorgonzola. I could have eaten that gnocchi all day and into the night.  After multiple desserts and coffee, we trundled back into the car and made our way to Marco Polo International Airport, where we said tearful goodbyes to Ivana and Livio, who took such good care of us this week.

What a satisfying trip this was: for Jama, her first visit to Venice, and for both of us our maiden voyage to Croatia, a place to which we’d love to return and explore. And here’s Luigi, who as a boy wanted to be an opera singer, but his father didn’t approve. So he uses the wonderful acoustics of the winery to make his magic.

And so to the next adventure. Watch this space in January… or before.

A Walk to Opatije

Our walk this morning began in Mošćenice, a tiny village perched on a hillside on the east coast of the peninsula, where we were greeted by the mayor’s wife, who runs a little shop. Wandering the narrow, winding streets, we came upon a shop selling grappa, and had ourselves a morning pick-me-up. But this wasn’t the fiery liquid we associate with the name; rather, these two varieties were flavored with lemon and honey.  Grappa for Breakfast

A small museum offered an interesting snapshot of long-ago life here.

This medieval village is in two parts: the old town commands the heights and was the original fortified city, while Mošćenice Draga, the lower town, overlooks a crystal clear, stony Adriatic beach.

Garden Corner in MosceniceMoscenice DoorwayMoscenice Sidewalk

Moscenice DragaBeach at Moscenice

After a brief exploration of the lower town, we picked up the Promenade, locally known as the Lungomare,  for our beautiful walk to Opatije, where we would spend the next two nights.

This area is known as the Croatian Riviera, and once you glimpse the clear teal waters of the Adriatic, the reason is clear. In the late 1800s Opatije was officially designated a climatic health resort, and many of the gracious villas were converted to sanitariums or guest houses.

Opatije VillaVilla Mosaic DetailYellow Villa

Clinging Tree   Stone Piles Along Promenade-2

Opatije ArchitectureRocky Cliff

Our walk to dinner afforded a lovely view back to Opatije and a stroll among fabulous graffiti portraits.

Looking Back on Harbor

Kažuns and Roman Ruins

In a rocky field along the highway, we stopped to  examine the ancient stone huts built by farmers and shepherds to provide shelter when they were in their fields. These structures, called kažuns, reminded me of similar huts, called bories, that I saw outside of Gordes, in Provence.

Next stop, Pula, and a walk through its well-preserved Roman arena from the 1st century. The city lies on the southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsula, and, like Rome, has seven hills.

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Our walk today is in the Brijuni Islands, so we took the short ferry over from Fažana. There are more than a dozen islands in this small archipelago, the largest  Veliki Brijun, famous as the summer residence of Marshal Josep Brož Tito, who ruled Yugoslavia post-World War II. He had a famous love for films, and hosted many movie stars of the era, like Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Gina Lollobrigida, as well as nearly 100 foreign heads of state. Though nominally a Communist leader, Tito was a maverick in his time, spurring the creation of the Non-Aligned Group, a collection of countries opposed to the Cold War. For over forty years the island was closed to the public, but now several hotels and restaurants welcome tourists.

The walk led us through a forested former stone quarry, giving out on a huge field, on one side of which was a 1st century Roman villa facing a tranquil Adriatic bay.

One indication of the wealth and stature of the villa owners is the Temple of Love, above left. Livio assured us sitting by the column would bring love for the rest of our lives, so I bought it.

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A short distance from the villa was an excavated village, some of the houses about the size of rooms in the villa.

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Saying farewell to Brijuni, we ferried off to meet Ivana and drive to our final stop of the day, the Meneghetti Wine Hotel, where Livio gave us a lesson on how to buy and taste olive oil, and even drink it for health. One is supposed to experience four flavors as the oil is sucked into the mouth and swallowed: first fruity, then green, then bitter, then spicy. Oh, and it must be purchased in small bottles of dark glass. While we didn’t taste Meneghetti’s wine, we did admire the lovely Relais & Chateau property.

By the time we returned from dinner we had walked about 9.5 miles….

Along the Railroad Trail

We started this morning’s walk in Završje, once a bustling town along the narrow-gauge railway running from Poreč to Trieste and now home to only about 40 souls. The railway, built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire period of Croatia’s history, stopped running in 1935, the tracks were pulled up and a walking trail, called the Parenzana, was created. The trail runs along a ridge, affording expansive views of olive groves and vineyards below and hilltop villages in the distance.

 

A 2 ½ hour walk led us to Grožnjan, once a Venetian fortress and now an important art colony. After lunch we browsed through the tiny shops perched on crooked cobblestone streets, appreciating both the 14th century architecture and the views from hidden corners.

Leaving Grožnjan, we made our way to Livio’s friend Nicola, a truffle hunter in a nearby town. Meeting and loving up on his three truffle-hunting dogs, Nero, Donna and Hruna, we trekked into the forest to see what they might find.

Back in Rovinja, we returned to the port in time for the sunset, and twisted our way through the streets of Old Town to a wonderful restaurant perched on the cliffside overlooking the sea, Puntulina.

Welcome to Croatia!

The road from Venice to the Istrian Peninsula winds through tiny Slovenia, and during a coffee break Livio pointed out where First Lady Melania comes from. Jama, aka Vanna, helpfully shows us.JuXs5eyqRfK9gkn7ntNHcQ

But enough about politics. Once through the border checkpoint (Slovenia is part of the EU, Croatia is not a full member yet — complicated), a short drive took us to the Kozlovic Winery for a grand tasting of Valle, Malvasia, Teran and Muskat on a terrace overlooking the vineyards and a castle ruin.

 

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Malvasia became my new favorite white wine, and the Teran was a delicious red.

A short walk took us to the restaurant Stari Podrum, snuggled amid olive trees, where we had amazing pasta with white truffles for lunch — the first of many truffle dishes we would have during our time in Istria. I can still smell its unmistakable earthiness, and the flavor lingers in my memory.

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Today’s history lesson came at Poreč, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Euphrasius Basilica. The original parts of the building date from the 6th century, but additions and modifications were made up through the 18th. The mosaics are stunning, especially at the entrance.

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Inside there are well-preserved remnants of mosaics, and the apse in the church is a stunning masterpiece depicting the Annunciation and the Visitation.

 

 

 

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I always have a hard time getting my head around 1500 year-old pieces of art, regardless of the medium.

In the old town there are ancient Roman ruins and the remains of the city wall.

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By late afternoon we had reached Rovinj and the marvelous Hotel Lone, our base for the next three nights. We’ve immediately taken to Livio, who is from Istria himself and is eager to reveal his country to us. We arranged this walking trip through Classic Journeys, and learned a couple of months before we left that, despite there usually being 12-14 people on this itinerary, Jama and I would be the only travelers. So we essentially have a private guide and driver (the wonderful Ivana) for the next six days!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

We walked into old town Rovinj to enjoy dinner overlooking the busy harbor.fullsizeoutput_262f

After walking a total of 24 miles in the three days before we started our walking trip, today’s 5 miles seemed like a stroll.

 

 

Last Images of Venice

On Sunday we met up with Livio, our guide for our walking tour of the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia. But before we say goodbye to Venice, here are a few images from our walks through the city.

San Giorgio Maggiore on its own island… A gigantic pizza in a shop window

 

 

A mask shop…

And rush hour at the Bridge of Sighs…

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More Bridges…

Our second day in Venice began with a hearty breakfast outdoors in a little campo near our apartment, then back we went to San Marco. A little tip for anyone wanting to tour the Doges Palace: your ticket also admits you to the Correr Museum on the other side of the piazza, so if you buy your ticket there you can skip the long line at the Doges.

The Correr was having an interesting exhibition on the evolution of printing from the 16th century onward, and it was fascinating to see just how much information was circulating in the known world at that time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther permanent exhibits include 15th and 16th century armaments, as well as the usual paintings and sculpture.

As planned, we bypassed the long line and began our self-guided tour of the Doges Palace, with the very helpful Rick Steves’ Pocket Venice. The palace, adjacent and connected to the basilica, served as the residence of each doge and the center of Venetian government. A doge was a noble elected by other nobles to serve as the highest office-holder of the Republic of Venice, and the basilica was actually designated the doge’s chapel. As you enter the courtyard, you see the long ceremonial staircase, flanked at the top by statues of Mars and Jupiter (Photo below is Mars from the rear; I don’t seem to have one from the front, hmmm.) Visitors would have to climb the steps to greet the doge.


The Mouth of Truth served as a sort of mailbox for busybodies wanting to report on their neighbors. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInside, the magnificent 24-karat Golden Staircase led to the doge’s apartments and government function rooms, all adorned with paintings by nearly every Renaissance artist you could name: Tiepolo, Veronese, and  most notably Tintoretto, whose Il Paradiso is the largest oil painting in the world. The sheer volume of art is staggering. The last doge abdicated in 1797, when Napoleon conquered Venice.

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After wandering through the grandiose halls of state, we were sobered by a walk through the stark prison section of the palace, with bare stone dungeons for torturing political prisoners. On their way to be executed, prisoners crossed the small canal via the Bridge of Sighs, so named because supposedly one could hear the sad sighs of the doomed as they caught their last glimpse of the beautiful city.

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This afternoon we hopped on a ferry to the islands of Murano, Torcello and Burano. Murano, of course, is where the famed glass is made, and we watched a demonstration before being ushered into the large store with its vast array of decorative as well as functional glassware (all tours end at the gift shop). There’s really nothing else to see or do here.

On to quiet and less touristy Torcello, where the main attractions are mosaics in the church and simply walking around this quiet island of twenty inhabitants.

Approaching Burano, you notice the brightly colored houses, painted so the fishermen who lived here could quickly identify their own homes as they sailed home. The main street boasts many shops, most of them selling lace (some authentic, some made elsewhere, so buyer beware). At the best-known shop, we watched the lady purported to be the last hand lacemaker in the town. The craft, once handed down through the generations, is becoming a lost art, and competition with machine-made pieces dictates prices that don’t reflect the many hours of painstaking work required to fashion even small pieces (for example, ten hours to make a coaster that sells for €8).

The town’s leaning tower can be seen from the water even before the colorful houses and shops come into view.

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Dusk was coming on as we returned to Venice and found our way back to Cannaregio…

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