Croatia? Who goes to Croatia? Well, apparently this wanker. Like the trip to the arctic, this was instigated by knowing someone. For the arctic it was Damage who made it happen, but for Croatia it was the man previously known as Yams that shall now be referred to as Rosebud. I’m sure FruitCup will be glad he no longer has the most emasculating name.
Rosebud has been invaluable in my trip thus far in providing recommendations for where to go, such as his guidance for getting out of town on a bike from Amsterdam. Croatia being his home country, his advice should be even more valuable. In addition, the Patriarch chose to join me on this trip!
Day 1: arrival
So Croatlandia is a place that seems to play fast and loose with concocting their words. Sometimes they just do away with vowels altogether. Example: while I thought I was flying into Rijeka, the actual airport is a tiny affair on the island of Krk. Yep, no vowels. And you must roll the ‘r’ when you pronounce it, so you can’t just get away with seeming to address the captain of the Enterprise.
On Rosebud’s advice I acquired a car and drove in to Rijeka, and can attest that the countryside is absolutely beautiful. Now, even tough I’ve been doing this traveling thing for six months, it’s still a little worrying plopping down in a foreign place where you don’t speak the language at all. It’s more worrying piloting a vehicle through streets where you struggle to understand street names. From the airport it was easy enough; follow any sign that said Rijeka: –> thataway.
However, once in Rijeka, I noticed a few things:
- The town, like Spain, is all red-brick roofs and stately buildings. Beautiful.
- They see what Spain has done with making roads inscrutable and taken it a step further, hiding street names altogether in most instances.
I’m not sure if the street names were displayed in large signs it would have helped, honestly. The street names wouldn’t stick in my head. It was like trying to remember: “Left turn on SHRKERRWT, then straight as fflPRTTRDCH becomes ZGRABLDNA’ADAD.”
So: lost. I leave the car on a hill about 15 minutes out of downtown, and go on foot trying to find a wifi signal to help me locate the hostel.
Turns out wifi is required as there is only a poster advertising “Lounge Hostel Carnavale” above an imposing door and no number for the building or door, and upon entering the door, only a long, dark stone stairway up to more stairs. I second-guess myself multiple times, then walk three flights of dark stairs looking for any sign of a hostel, finally timidly venturing in a tiny white door off to the side and discovering a polished, clean, and beautiful place.
This is, by far, the nicest and most beautiful hostel I’ve been in. Ever. It has polished floors, immaculately clean, white gauzy fabric draping from the ceiling to diffuse the light, it’s just beautiful. I go to the desk and try to muster some of my Croatian gleaned from the phrase book I’ve been reading.
Me: “Dobar Dan” (good day).
She: “Dobar Dan.” she looks at me querulously.
Me: “Er… Gavorite Engleske?” (I think this means “do you speak English?”)
She: Ne… ne…
Me: “Oh, Um… reservu?” (this is my attempt to tell her I have a reservation, and I hold my passport out hopefully)
She: “Ah, gobbledygook. Gobbledy bobbleygood. Da.” She points to a print-out with the Patriarch’s name (since he made the reservation) followed by a line that says: “?????????”
I point to the line of “???”‘s to inform her that’s me. She leads me to a the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen in a hostel. This is no “8 bunk beds crammed in a hallway” affair, it’s a lovely room with a lovely bedspread on the single bed that sits in the-
Single bed? Err…
Me: “Um. Soba, dva?” (trying to say “room for two?”)
She: “Da, soba. Two.” Shows me the room.
Luckily at this point Rosebud lets me know he’s ready to meet up, and I enlist him to be my translator. In short order I have a separate room with my own bed, and know that the Patriarch and I will be moved to a shared room with two beds tomorrow. Bueno. Rosebud and I grab a drink, meet up with one of his friends, have another drink, etc. The day ends with the Patriarch meeting up with us (another drink). Eventually I use the men’s room and discover the worlds fanciest latrine, complete with it’s own water spigot.
Eventually Rosebud leaves and the we explore the town a bit before calling it a night.
Day 2 (or: how we learn to hate Rick Steves)
The following day we begin exploring in earnest. The Patriarch and I explore the open air fruit market and the fish market.
Eventually we head back into the main square to take in the sights there:
Rosebud meets up and takes over as tour director. He shows us the most excellent and historical sights, such as the church that has a cannonball still imbedded in the wall, a gift from a ship off the coast:
And the leaning tower of Rijeka (not the real name)
Eventually leading us up a flight of four billion stairs to the top of a hill where somebody put a castle over Rijeka to keep out the barbarian hordes. Rosebud explained all the wars and times that Croatia has changed hands under the boot of different invaders and it’s rather tumultuous to say the least. If I was Croatian I probably wouldn’t even want tourists for fear they’d suddenly claim this place as their own and overthrow the government. Regardless: cool castle.
After this Rosebud takes us to his father’s favorite restaurant where we have the best fish (fried sardines and monkfish) ever. And some great wine. Discussion over the meal includes the fact that Rick Steves, supposed tour guide extraordinaire, basically says in his Croatian tour book to bypass Rijeka as there’s nothing to see or do there. Rick is just plain wrong.
Day 3: Istra
Since I have a car, the Patriarch and I take out for Istra with a set of recommended locations from Rosebud. Since I’m the driver, there are less pictures than one might normally expect. However, I can relate that this is the path Rosebud outlined for us:
Opatija is a ridiculously cute little coastal town with red roofed housed marching down the hillside to the ocean. The entire coast is a winding road with spectacular views.
We stop for lunch at a restauraunt with a fabulous view:
Then hang out in our first recommended stop, which turns out to be a little town built right up on a cliff. Very cool.
After Plomin we hit up Labin, which I took no pictures of. Imagine a beautiful, old, Croatian town. That was it. Yep.
We ended our day in Pula, a bustling burg of nearly one million people with a very active port and a bunch of roman ruins. Good town to spend a few hours in, not sure I’d spend too much longer.
We checked into our hostel, and through some clerical mistake instead of being assigned two bunks in a 4-bunk room, we were placed in a 10-bunk dorm with a bunch of early-20 kids going to see a 4-day concert. Er. Ugly. That means they’ll be stumbling back in at 4am, probably off their gourd for a number of reasons. Sleep was not looking good for that night. We decided to take in the Kamenjak nature park to conclude our night. Turns out it was gorgeous.
We closed the night down with a highly mediocre fish platter and some odd wine. Not the culinary tour de force. After a brief word with the Hostel proprietor we were re-allocated to a room with four beds, but nobody else in it. Relief, and sleep.
Day 4 (Or: Rick Steves misses almost everything)
The morning we walk around the neighborhood (somewhat residential) and end up looking into some buildings and churches. A few highlights:
We stopped into a local grocery store to see how different it was from US stores. It’s mostly the same. Lots of pre-packaged stuff. Isles of sorted goods for you to throw in your cart. A few standouts:
On the way from Pula, we took the scenic route up to Pazin, Motovun and Buzet. Rick Steves missed all of these except for Motovun. Wanker.
In Pazin, I become unreasonably sick. Sore throat, phlegm generation, etc. I collapsed on a bench in the sun while the Patriarch toured a castle that he later raved about. I took one lone picture of the Pazin chasm, and then we moved on.
Below are a few pictures from a church we stopped at in Buzet.
And to finish this off: Montovun. Rosebud described this as basically straight out of a fairy tale. He’s not wrong.
Morale of the story:
- Istra is awesome, beautiful, and best explored by car (or bike!)
- Rick Steves doesn’t know Croatia