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Circling the Adriatic Croatia: Rovinj and Istria

Once in Croatia, we were again flying half-blind because I didn't yet have a Croatian SIM. Upon arrival in Rovinj, our first order of business was to buy the SIM which ended up being an enormously difficult task. The mobile phone store in the center of town was closed all afternoon for the Mediterranean siesta, which we learned was as popular on the Croatian coast as it was in Spain and Italy. It took us almost half an hour to find the other store, after we had seemingly explored every one way street and roundabout in Rovinj. Eventually, though, we achieved connectivity and proceeded to our Airbnb. At least, that's what we thought we were going to do. Google Maps just couldn't seem to figure out where the place was, even when I entered the correct address. I'd get close, and then find that the road I was supposed to take was a pedestrian street. We'd go around to the other side of town and the same thing would happen. I think we passed the town center four or five times. Eventually, I parked and walked down the pedestrian street to discover that our apartment was deep inside the old town which was entirely a pedestrian zone. Our host hadn't bothered to mention that even though she knew we were arriving by car. Furthermore, the travel agency where she had left the key was closed for the afternoon and wouldn't re-open for another hour. I collected Mei Ling and the kids and we strolled around the old town and the harbor for a little while. Rovinj was like a larger, more touristy version of Piran with Croatians instead of Slovenians. The market mostly consisted of vendors selling truffle oils and other preserved substances to tourists disembarking from the cruise ships in the harbor.

Eventually someone showed up at the travel agency to give us our key and helped us find the apartment. It was a pleasant two-level place but the wifi didn't work, which wasn't much of a surprise at that point. We wandered back down to eat at restaurant Veli Joze near the travel agency. It was good seafood and a pleasant atmosphere, but not top ten material like Pri Mari in Piran the previous night. Our main discovery from our first meal in Croatia was the variety of mussel called mušule. This was an unusually shaped mussel with something like a latch holding the two halves of the shell together, and the flavor was much more intense than the regular mussels (which were usually called dagnje). Later, we were to find that these words were often used interchangeably, and we had to be sure we were really getting mušule if we ordered them. After dinner, we took a pleasant evening stroll around the harbor and called it a night.

The next day we walked to the top of the hill that the old town was perched on. We strapped the kids on our backs and began exploring the maze of narrow cobblestone pedestrian streets. Eventually we arrived at the pretty Church of St. Euphemia, with a tall white belltower almost reminiscent of a minaret. There were good views of the harbor and nearby areas from the hill.

From here we wandered back down to our apartment, gathered our bags, and made our way back to the car.

Our lunch destination was a seafood restaurant called Viking next to the Limska Draga Fjord a few miles from Rovinj. According to the Lonely Planet, the setting was dramatically beautiful and the seafood extremely fresh. Google Maps couldn't find the restaurant at first and performed its favorite trick of guiding us down smaller and smaller dirt roads until reversing direction was practically impossible. Once I got back to the main road I took it to the end which terminated at the entrance to a nudist camp. The kind lady at the entrance (fully clothed) told me the restaurants were on the other side of the fjord and I would have to return all the way to Rovinj to go around. Aaargh. Once we had overcome our initial misdirection, however, I found the restaurant fairly easily with less than an hour lost. We were able to get our new favorite, mušule, once again but they weren't as good as they had been at Veli Joze. Overall, the place was sunny and pleasant but nothing special in terms of food. We made our way down to the bank of the fjord where a group of motorcycle hobbyists had parked their three-wheelers.

Our next stop was the ancient town of Bale, a few miles inland. Bale's medieval core is so well-hidden that when we first arrived in town we thought that Lonely Planet had sent us there to see the run down sheds and dumpsters of the unattractive modern village. After driving around the perimeter of the city, we found a small parking lot clearly intended for tourists although none were parked there. We assembled the gondola, found a path between two houses, and walked through a time portal into the 15th century. In many ways, Bale reminded us of Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy. The pleasant differences were that Bale was still a living city, and that there were no tour groups or other tourists there at all to interrupt the quiet beauty of the ancient buildings.

We then drove to Pazin in the very center of Istria. Pazin's main draw is the Pazin chasm, a canyon formed by the Pazincica river as it dives underground. We took a long walk and went over the footbridge that traversed the chasm, but since we had the gondola with us taking the path down to the bottom of the gorge wasn't an option.

I had hoped to stop over in a town called Labin in southern Istria which was famous for its picturesque old town and excellent restaurants, but I was worried about how long it would take us to get from Labin to Rijeka. If we ever return to Croatia to experience the Dalmatian coast in high season, I'm sure Labin will be in our itinerary.

Posted by zzlangerhans 08:02 Archived in Croatia Tagged istria rovinj pazin bale

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