Friday, July 08, 2016

The Road Less Traveled

Friday, July 8th, Rijeka to Plitvica Lakes

After morning coffee, we go with Kate to visit Evan, her woodworker friend who we met last night. His workshop is impressive and he is renovating an immense stone farmhouse that has been in his family for generations.  Art is most interested in his tools and his projects and we take an extensive tour of the property, climbing ladders to the second floor and admiring the stacks of lumber he has milled for the renovation.

Stone farmhouse and workshop
Woodworker, Ivan Juretic Milano
Second story view

Milled and stacked lumber

From there we drive into Rijeka and visit Eva in her archival print studio where she repairs and archives important documents for the state.

Eva's Archival paper studio
Document storage

Eva's Archival paper studio

After dropping Kate off to pick up her car, new gas tank installed, we go to lunch in Rijeka. The restaurant is just off the waterfront and we eat piles of fried fish and sardines before saying our good byes and piloting our rental car towards the Plitvica Lake district. We find the toll road from Rijeka towards Zagreb and speed easily along the well signed and beautiful super highway. Unfortunately, we exit too soon and after much confusion and arguing choose the road that John and I believe will be a shortcut along back roads, through Ogulin and onto the lake district. We wind country roads, some of which feel little more than cow paths. The tension between us rises when the computer directions that Kate has printed fail to match our road map and we each have an opinion as to the correct route to the lakes. Happily, the scenery is so bucolic that we get caught up in the beauty of the countryside and we begin to enjoy the journey. Tidy farms and picturesque stone houses dot the countryside and families picnic in their gardens and farmers tend their land in the cool of the late afternoon.  Everything is lush and green and if I didn’t know better, I might think that we are driving through rural, Alpine Austria. When we arrive at the outskirts of Ogulin and stop at a small café for a cappuccino, I see a smile escape Arts scowl.

Ogulin Cafe
It is late afternoon when we enter the national park and we pull over at several view points amazed at the beauty of the lake below. Tomorrow, we will spend the day hiking the trails but this breathtaking, sneak preview view is all that we get today.

Late afternoon view of Plitvica Lakes

We don’t have hotel reservations for the night and we enter the national park from the back side. After inquiring at a few fully booked guest houses, we find a cluster of restaurants and family run inns a few miles from the park. A two story chalet has two rooms with a shared bath available for two nights and we pay the modest price of 100 kuna per person, about $45 for the three of us and settle into the immaculate rooms.  In broken English the owner recommends one of the two restaurants across the street for dinner and we walk the quarter mile down to the suggested one. Although we must wait for an outside table on their patio, the ambience is lovely and our dinners and the wine is good.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Rijeka to Kate's House

Thursday, July 7th, SKABE to Rijeka

After coffee and a morning tasting of snaps on the shaded terrace, we pay the reasonable bill of 225 Euros for our three night stay. The immaculate two room apartment had a tiny kitchenette, a private bath and an upstairs balcony overlooking the garden where I sat each morning to write. Breakfast has been simple but each morning, Mira made us coffee and provided us with freshly baked strudel or biscuits.

Later today we will rent a car in Rijeka and this morning we call our travel rewards credit card to double check on what insurance our card provides. After saying goodbye to our hosts we drive with Kate towards Rijeka where she has lived and worked for 8 years. On the way we stop in a tiny village and visit a new age friend of hers who is house sitting a lovely renovated three story stone house. We meet her in the village square and she wears a tight white dress and glides towards us in greeting. We stroll through the town’s historical castle fortress grounds before going to her home to drink mint lemonade and visit.
Village Castle
Lemonade with new friends

We arrive in Rijeka shortly after 1:00 P.M. just as the public organic market is closing. Kate gives us a brief tour of the city and buys a loaf of bread from a tiny sidewalk kiosk. We make another attempt to get Kuna from a PBZ ATM and after inquiring inside the bank, Art punches in a smaller transaction amount and we walk away with 3000 Kunas, not quite $500.

At a Rijeka bank to get Kuna's


We go to pick up our Thrifty rental car and as usual, there are issues with the insurance. Liability insurance is included in the previously quoted price of the rental car but comprehensive is not. We explain to the agent that our credit card company will cover any damage or the loss of the car but the bottom line is that if we refuse their additional comprehensive insurance that we must agree to a $20,000 hold onto our credit card. If we buy their insurance for an additional $150 the hold on our credit card will be just $900. Art is angry and I only wish for peace and harmony and safe passage down to Dubrovnik. The rental car counter is inside the bus terminal and the price for bus tickets to Plitnvica Lakes and other parts of the Dalmatian Coast are reasonable. Art is anxious about driving and parking and we leave to discuss our options, eventually returning to rent a car. After accepting their insurance, considerable paperwork and a long walk to where the car is parked we drive away in a brand new white Toyota Corolla. We follow Kate out of Rijeka to an auto repair shop where she has arranged to have a new gas tank installed in her car. We take Kate from the auto repair shop to her rural home.

Appetizers at Kate's house
Chilling in Kate's courtyard

Hanging laundry
Kate's kitchen and living space

It is nearly 5:00 P.M. by the time we arrive at Kate’s stone house in the countryside. Her small apartment is comfortable and cool and Art and I will sleep in Kate’s bedroom. She and John will sleep on a corner couch in her tiny living room. Art naps in the hammock while I cut thick slices of bread and Kate cuts cheese and dishes up a spread of whitefish, seasonings and olive oil. We have not had lunch and the whitefish is delicious spread onto the hearty bread. Art drinks Campari Spritzer and Kate, John and I drink hearty local red wine. I do two loads of laundry which we hang to dry on a line in Kate’s quiet garden.
Waiting for the dinner guests.
Hammock time

Kate chops onions and potatoes and whips in some eggs to make a skillet top frittata for dinner. After picking lettuce from her garden she makes a garden salad and around eight, Evan, a woodworker and Eva a paper maker/restorer arrive for dinner. A few other of Kate’s friends stop by and we enjoy a simple and delicious dinner in her courtyard garden.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Day trip to Rovinj - Istria Peninsula

Wednesday, July 6th – SKABE – Tour the upper Istria Peninsula.

After a leisurely morning of coffee and conversation in the shade of the porch off of Mira’s kitchen, we follow Roberts suggested itinerary and drive towards the seaside town of Roving.

Relaxes morning at SKABE farmhouse
After several incorrect stops at shopping malls in search of the PBZ ATM that we believe has some affiliation with Bank of America, Art, who has forgotten his passport is still unable to withdraw Kuna. We drive towards Rovinj stopping first at a tiny village where we eat lunch in the shaded courtyard of a jazz café.
Village lunch, Art and Kate
When we arrive in Rovinj, Kate finds street parking, pays the meter via her phone, and we wander the old town, climbing cobbled streets uphill to the Cathedral and the park overlooking the harbor and the city below.



The afternoon is hot and humid and we find a shaded grassy spot in the park and Kate pulls a rattan mat from her rucksack, unfolds it and the three of us nap on the mat. John leans up against a tree and continues reading Snow Crash. I seldom nap but am exhausted from the heat and our busy itinerary and fall asleep immediately.
Rovinj park
Rovinj rocky beach

An hour later we stroll down towards the harbor where John swims off the rocks. There are many cafe bars with terraces overlooking the sea below. Art wants a gelato but a “Greek style” cliff side café beckons Kate and me. While Art wanders the old town, Kate and I sit propped on cushions in the cool shade of the cafe just steps from the water and order frothy mint lemonades. Thirty minutes later, I walk up to the top of the street to meet Art and to inform John of our whereabouts. Art joins us in the cafe and John swims up to the café and hauls himself onto the terrace, drips dry and orders a drink.

Cafe bar, Rovinj
Swim up cafe, Rovinj

Rovinj harbor

Robert has suggested The Viking Restaurant along the canal where we can eat especially fresh oysters and fish. Finding the restaurant is challenging but Art navigates and we eventually find the restaurant, order oysters, raw shrimp and other assorted platters of friend fish. Not being a fan of oysters, the food is not my favorite but it has been a lovely day of exploration and relaxation on the breathtakingly beautiful Istria Peninsula.
Viking Restaurant, Rovinj

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Istria Peninsula - Croatia

Tuesday, July 5th, SKABE – Istria

After two weeks of intense sightseeing in Italy, we are finally on vacation and I sleep until 9:00 A.M. After I wake I sit quietly outside on our bedroom’s terrace and write this journal allowing Art and John to continue to sleep. At 11:00 A.M. I urge my family to get moving  and we all  go downstairs for coffee off the kitchen terrace and meet Anjani, Robert’s wife. Surprisingly, Anjani is not only half Okinawa (as is my husband Art) but gracious, stunningly beautiful and was the vocalist and partner of Leonard Cohen for many years. Leonard Cohen is one of my all time favorite musicians and I feel tongue tied in Anjani's presence. It is obvious that she does not want to talk about her past life and she busies herself in the kitchen and sweeping the patio.

John is anxious to return to the beach Safari Bar and we leave at 2:00 drive the 45 minutes to the national park beach. We find a secluded table along the cliffside pathway of the bar, buy a bowl of Sangria and nibble on some snacks we packed. There is no sand at this beach but steep cliffs allow for good diving into the pristine ocean below. John immediately heads down to the cliffs, jumps into a deep pool and scrambles back up to do it all over again. He takes a dive and then does a back flip and his confidence and fearlessness frighten me, but I know cautioning him will only make him push the limits further. His athleticism surpasses most of the other swimmers and I see eyes watching this lean and muscled young man as he gets silently ranked and qualified to join the other alpha males swimming and diving.

John at the Safari Bar Cliffs
John at the Safari Bar Cliffs

Safari Bar Beach
Safari Bar Sangrias

Art and I wade cautiously into the ocean careful not to slip on the slabs of wet rock that form a gentle sloped ramp into the water. I swim parallel to the beach and watch the young people dive and jump into the water above me.
Sloped rocks into the ocean

We stay until nearly 8:00 P.M. pack up and drive into the nearby town. Friends of Kate’s have recently opened a new restaurant and we enjoy a fabulous dinner of truffle pasta, Mediterranean salad, Chautebrian in mushroom sauce and a filet of fish. We share our tastes of our various plates and all is exceptional including the bottle of local white wine. Dinner is extremely reasonable.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Venice to a Croatian Farmhouse

Monday, July 4th, Venice to Trieste to SKABE Farmhouse

Art leaves our Pension early to go to the ATM and returns empty handed. There seems to be a daily maximum withdrawal and 24 hours haven’t passed since we last took out money. We have some Euros but will be in Croatia this afternoon and I hoped to get more. We catch the vaporetto to the train terminal, arrive early and sit on the steps watching hurried travelers pass by. We find our train easily and settle in for the two hour trip to Trieste. It is a slow train that makes many stops but the time passes quickly as I catch up writing this blog. John reads his book, Snow Crash and Art jots notes in his journal and naps.

Our train arrives in Trieste at 12:15 and Kate, a long time friend from the states is waiting for us. She moved to Croatia nearly 10 years ago and because her grandmother was Croatian, was able to apply for Croatian citizenship and now has dual citizenship. After our excited initial greetings, we walk with her through the city to find a cafeteria that she recommends for lunch. (A cafeteria in Europe is more like a tapas bar.) On the way, Art is able to withdraw 500 Euros from the last Italian ATM that will be able to access and we are more relaxed with our pockets refilled. The sun is blindingly bright and the formal and expansive city square overlooks the waterfront. We keep to the shade and walk across town in the direction of the cafeteria but when we arrive, discover it is closed on Mondays. Kate inquires where there might be another similar style bistro/cafe and we retrace our path back to the main square and sit at the newly recommended outdoor café. Kate orders a steak tartar bruschetta, which they serve cut into four portions. Although, I am somewhat squeamish about eating raw meat, it is wonderfully fresh, well seasoned and delicious. Kate and I drink proscecco and we order salads and roasted vegetables and enjoy a wonderful lunch together.

Main square, Trieste
Kate, John, Steak tartar, Trieste Italy

The toll road from Trieste into Croatia passes through Slovenia. Two weeks ago, when we landed in Rome, our passports were never stamped and the border officials here are distressed that we have no point or date of entry into Europe. For a few anxious minutes, they hold onto our passports and I pull out a copy of our airline itinerary. Although I have thrown away my boarding pass, Art has his and the officers are satisfied and allow us to pass out of Slovenia and into Croatia. Our route is down along the Istria Peninsula and Kate drives the winding back roads to the SKABE Farmhouse where we will stay for three nights. The village lanes are narrow and after a few wrong turns she pulls into the gates of the stone farmhouse.
Kate, Skabe Farmhouse Courtyard
Marty, Skabe Farmhouse

This farmhouse has been passed down through many generations and is now the home of Mira, a woman my age, her husband and the part time home of her daughter, Maya and her son Robert and his new wife Angelika. Maya is a friend of Kate’s. The afternoon is brutally hot and we sit and visit in the shaded courtyard and tour their organic garden before being shown to our beautiful upstairs two bedroom apartment. John takes the front room with a tiny kitchenette and bathroom and Art and I take the more private adjoining room with a terrace. We check e-mail, relax and read.

Organic farm garden
Beautiful lettuce

It is after six before we leave to drive to the coast and to the national beach park. Kate makes several wrong turns before she finds the correct dirt road leading to the Safari Bar and it is close to eight when we make our way down towards the beach through brush and bamboo and find the quirky and secluded tables of the beach bar. A few remaining guests sit at rough hewn tables enjoying their drinks and children play on hand made slides and merry-go-rounds. John walks a slack line before we make our way down to the water. Kate and John go swimming and although the evening is still hot, the rocky shore is now shaded and I am not tempted to swim.

Safari Bar kids area

Safari Bar slack line

Evening time at the beach - too late to swim
Returning to the nearby village we have dinner on the terrace of an ambient restaurant. I order a vegetarian risotto which is excellent and we share pastas, fresh fish and a Greek salad. This dinner far surpasses the meals that we have eaten in Italy and the bill is reasonable.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Venice in a Day

Sunday, July 3rd, Venice in a Day.

Considering our intense itinerary, today we allow ourselves to sleep until 7:30 and after an 8:00 A.M. breakfast at our pension, we walk to San Marco Square. It is nearly 9:00 A.M. when we purchase our tickets to the Dodge Palace and enter the palatial courtyard. Although the Palace opened at 8:30 we have beat the majority of the tourists and after checking John’s backpack and my purse, we follow the arrows through the ornate rooms of the Palace. The baroque frescoed ceilings and walls are iced and sculpted in a gilded froth and reproductions of Roman sculptures sit on pedestals along the walls. Having seen the real thing, these reproductions are bland. Glass displays showcase Roman coins, ornate jewelry and fragments of pottery. It is the immensity of the Palace where the governing of Venice took place, not the collections housed within that is of interest.

Dodge Palace Courtyard
Dodge Palace Ballroom
View from within the Dodge Palace

 We follow the numbered arrows across the Bridge of Sighs where ill fated prisoners took their last look at freedom before going to the dungeons below. We wind through several floors of dungeon cells; impregnable and depressing with heavy steel bar mounted securely into the blocks of stone before being granted our freedom to exit into the bright sunlight of San Marco Square.

Dungeon doors and window bars
Detail of dungeon bars

John looking out from the Bridge of Sighs
Detail of stone window

Retracing yesterday’s route, we walk to the Zaha Hadid exhibit, get both a senior discount and a student discount and enter the elegant museum. This gorgeous Venetian style building is elegant and airy. Refined and delicate decorative paintings cover the walls and ceilings and when we reach the galleries, enormous and elaborate Murano Glass chandeliers decorate each room.

Staircase to the Zaha Hadid exhibit
Looking out the window

Murano Glass Chandelier

The building and the chandeliers are in great contrast to Zaha Hadid’s work. The exhibit is an excellent retrospective into her design, architecture and painting and we rest our feet and watch a video about her design process and her struggle to be acknowledged as a woman in her field.  After all the classical Roman and Renaissance Art we have consumed over the past two weeks, this exhibit is a refreshing glimpse of a contemporary genius.

Zaha Hadid Sculpture
Zaha Hadid Painting

Airport design
Architectural model for an airport

Zaha Hadid exhibit
John, Zaha Hadid paintings

We stumble upon a back street Cafeteria Bar, the Bacaro da Fiore on Calle De Le Botteghe. We are finally beginning to understand the system of pricing and levels of cuisine in Italy. These Cafeterias are not like our cafeterias but tiny delis with platters of appetizers behind glass that we can point to. They are all made in house, fresh and inexpensive and the Campari, prosecco, wine and beer are affordable. In addition, it is much more fun to be in this environment than at a tourist café where location determines the price and the quality of food is disappointing. There are just 3 stools and two tiny tables and a couple is just leaving one of the tables and the three of us squeeze and sit togetherorder our drinks and a platter of Italian tapas and enjoy the ambience of back street Venice.

Bistro cafeteria bar
We eat grilled eggplant, fried sardines and a various assortment of croquettes stuffed with mysterious meats and fillings. The sardines are not my favorite but the other tapas are delicious and I hesitate to give up our table but we have other museums to visit and walk to the Correr Museum, included in our Doge Palace ticket. After the world class art and museums we have recently visited, this museum is disappointing and after an hour we leave to brave the line to visit the interior of Saint Marks Basilica. After 30 minutes in the sweltering sun we reach the entrance to the Basilica and are told that we must go check our back pack and purse. We walk down a nearby street to the bag check and return to the head of the line and enter this fabulous Basilica. No photos are allowed inside but the tiny mosaic tiles glitter in the dim interior and we circumnavigate the uneven and ornately tiled floors. Aside from Notre Dame in Paris, this is my favorite cathedral/basilica by far. Wanting to memorize and absorb the magic of this Basilica, we circle back around and find the stairs to the terrace above. There are less than 200 steps up to the terrace and we pay our 5 Euros each and circumnavigate the platform that overlooks Saint Marks square and the Canal beyond.

Art, Marty and John, St Marks Basilica
View from terrace of St Marks.

Forbidden photo of interior

According to the Rick Steve’s guidebook, Cathedral Madonna dell ‘Orto is a hidden jewel and we make our way towards this out of the way church. John feeds the pigeons in the square before we pay our entry of 5 Euros each and turn on the Rick Steve’s audio guide and circumnavigate the airy Cathedral admiring the many Tintoretto’s, the airy architecture and Tintoretto’s elaborate tomb guarded by exquisite lions.

John feeding pigeons
Lion guarded tomb, Madonna dell 'Orto

Interior, Madonna dell 'Orto Cathedral
We wander back towards our hotel stopping at a back street café where the timing is perfect and we are allowed to sit and order Campari Spritzers before the prime dinner crowd. A very gregarious British couple gives up their seat for us and when another tired family arrives looking for seating, we slide down and enjoy our game of musical chairs and conversation.
Campari Spritzers, Venice

Happy hour, Campari Spritzers
Fun with olives:)

We wander off in search of dinner and are fortunate to find a not too touristy restaurant where John orders a whole fish and the food is tasty and reasonably good.

Whole fish

Gone fish