June 29, 2017 Rovinj

Rovinj Lion

Rovinj Street

Rovinj Decorative Doors

Rovinj – Art from recycled objects

Rovinj – Local language on the wine bottle

Rovinj Sundial Mosaic

Last evening, we had a large rain storm with thunder and lightning but the morning was much cooler and the sky was clear.

Dario, the owner of our hotel, spoke to us on this morning about how he came to Rovinj about 18 years ago and began to buy and renovate old buildings that were mostly inhabited by refugees from the 1991war. Many of the buildings at that time had been left vacant for decades and in many cases abandoned since the 1940’s by Italian families. Dario now owns and operates several buildings and rents rooms out to visitors like a hotel. Every room is different and has its own unique style depending on how large the rooms were in the past. They have all been beautifully restored and furnished with modern baths, hardwood floors, air conditioning and modern electricity.

Our lecture this morning by Erla was about the symbol of Venice being found all over the Istrian peninsula. The lion with wings is the symbol of St Mark which is the patron saint of Venice. Most often shown with the front paws on land and the rear legs on the sea. It is also depicted with an open book in its paw.

The afternoon was free to explore town on your own. Some folks took walks while other chose to swim in the sea. Kent and I had a late lunch at a small restaurant called Neptune in a back alleyway out of the afternoon sun. Kent had a large plate of a “Weiner chicken” something like a Weiner schnitzel. Pounded chicken battered and deep fried and served with French fries. Mark had a plate of cheese ravioli in a white cream sauce and a side green salad.

At 6:00pm we met up for another wine tasting class where we tasted three local red wines. The wines we tasted are made from local grapes and are not aged at all. The varieties of wines were called Teran and Mozaik as in Mosaic. They are only from the 2015 and 2016 harvests and are considered fresh wines. Along with the wines they served up a platter of cheese with truffles, polenta, a sliced sausage that was excellent and another spreadable cheese with truffles on small bread crisps. All very good.

After the wine class we spent some time along the waterfront watching the world go by before retiring to bed early. Kent is still recovering from his chest cold and was not feeling up to walking much.

June 28, 2017 Rovinj

Mini Pear served at breakfast next to a sugar packet

Old town of Rovinj

St. Euphemia Sarcophagus

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting snacks

Wine Bar Signage

This morning breakfast was served in our hotel from 8:00 until 10:00am. At 11:00am Erla lectured for a couple of hours about the items that were exported from Croatia to Venice. There were many other ports around the country of Italy but the port of Venice was the farthest north and the most convenient to transport goods further north into the Alps and Europe. Erla discussed items like wool, stone and salt.

In the early afternoon a local guide by the name of Tamara took us on a two-and-a-half-hour tour of the old town of Rovinj. She showed us where the old city walls were when Rovinj was just an island and where the original canal and draw bridge were that were used to access the island. She took us to the top of the hill where the church of St. Euphemia is located.

It is believed that in the time of the Tsar of Diokletian many Christians were captured, persecuted and killed. Among them was a young 15-year-old girl by the name of Euphenia from Chalcedon in Asia Minor (Turkey). Euphemia was arrested by Diocletian soldiers and thrown into an arena with lions because she would not give up her Christian beliefs. They believe that she died in the year 304 and that her body was placed in a church in Constantinople, built in her honor. By the year 800 the Iconclasts came to power and the Christians were forced to remove the relics of St. Euphemia.

What happened next is difficult to say but legend has it that a marble sarcophagus came floating to the coast of Rovinj in a large storm of July 13, 800. Many people tried to haul the sarcophagus to St. Georges church on the hill but were unsuccessful. Finally, a small boy with two small cows managed to haul the sarcophagus up the hill and it was considered a miracle. The city proclaimed St. Euphemia the patron-saint of Rovinj. Every year on September 16th St. Euphemia Day is celebrated with a grandiose celebration in the main square of town. The locals eat mutton with sauerkraut and a fritule dessert, something like a deep fried doughnut hole.

At 6:00pm we had a wine tasting class at a local restaurant. They served three varieties of local white wines. Two of the three are wines that should be drunk within the first year of being bottled. They were very light and refreshing. The third wine they served is called an orange wine because of it amber or orange like color. The grapes skins are macerated causing the wine to be tinted. It was a bit heavier and full bodied wine and people had very distinct opinions about whether they liked it or not. Along with the wine they served trays of cheese and crackers, fresh white figs, prosciutto and olives.

We had a late lunch around 4:00pm in a local pizza restaurant so we were not particularly hungry after the wine tasting but we did have room for a little gelato.

The weather on this day was very windy and the evening was filled with showers on and off as well as lightning and thunder.

June 27, 2017 Rovinj

Rovinj Beach

Rovinj Rock Quarry

Rovinj Stacked Rocks

Tuna Tartar

Pork Medallions Entree

Croatia has a population of about 4.2 million people, 90% of which are Croat and mostly Roman Catholic in faith. In addition to the Croat’s there are minorities of Serbian, Bosnian, Hungarian and Italians. The official language of Croatia is Croatian which is written in Latin Script.

Arriving from present day Poland, Slavic Croatian tribes settled in the area in the early 7th Century. Christianity was accepted about 800AD and by 925 Croatia became a kingdom under the rule of King Tomislav. In 1102 the country together with Hungary formed a union which lasted until 1918. Yugoslavia was formed after World War I when Croatia joined with Serbia. This relationship lasted until 1991 when Croatia declared its independence, prompting a Serbian invasion which lasted five years. Today the country is a parliamentary democracy and is a member of NATO as well as a member of the EU since July 1, 2013.

Breakfast was served on the ground floor of our hotel between 8:00 and 10:00am. There was a generous selection to choose from including eggs, potato pancakes, potato salad, French toast, fresh fruits, cereals, baked breads, cheeses, deli meats, and individual coffees brewed to your taste.

At 11:00am we had our first lecture by Erla Zwingle who has written for dozens of magazines over the past 30 years, primarily National Geographic, to which she has contributed 25 articles as well as writing its Guide to Venice. Erla had a slide presentation to accompany her lecture where she discussed the early years of the area and it relationship to Venice. After an hour we had a break to celebrate a fellow traveler’s birthday with a delicious hazelnut cake. We finished the lecture by 1:00pm and it was time for lunch.

Kent was under the weather with a cold that he picked up from our friend Carlos before we left home so he retreated to our room to rest. Mark has lunch at one of the local restaurants with David and Jan. We all had tuna salads with an assortment of vegetables, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Olive trees are plentiful in the region so you see many places where they are selling olive oil products.

At 3:00pm Kent Zimmerman lead those who were interested on a five mile walk around the harbor and out onto a peninsula where there are many rocky beaches, enormous hotels, fancy patios along the shore with teak chaises with mattresses and lots of hiking trails. There is an old rock quarry from years ago where stone was exported to Venice to build bridges and construct buildings. It was very warm in the sun and the entire walk took about two and a half hours. It was tiring but very beautiful and scenic. Tons of vacationers from the hotels who were out at the beaches, biking and enjoying the water. Kent was still under the weather with his cold so he stayed in the room and rested.

At 6:30pm we met up with the group at a Croatian restaurant very close to our hotel called Ulika. The restaurant located in the lower level of an old residence was very charming with white linen table cloths, a variety of hanging chandeliers, some working and some not. The walls were lined with small mirrors, framed pieces of art and kitchen cups, saucers and dishes.

The first course consisted of fresh grilled octopus’ pieces with a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a basil leaf. The second course was a tuna tartar with quail egg, black and red caviar, pureed avocado, diced beets and saffron threads. The third course consisted of fresh made gnocchi in a shrimp sauce with fresh shrimp, grapes and a sprig of fresh fennel. The fourth and main course was pork tenderloin medallions with pureed carrots, prosciutto wrapped wild asparagus and a fresh basil leaf. Lastly we enjoyed a vanilla bourbon ice cream with pumpkin seed oil and a variety of roasted seeds including pumpkin seeds. Everything was absolutely delicious and was accompanied with all the red and white wine you could drink and plenty of bottled sparkling and still water. The entire presentation of dinner took about three hours. Wonderful!

June 26, 2017 Rovinj, Croatia

Rovinj Harbor

Rovinj Hotel

Rovinj Hotel Room

Rovinj Hotel Room Bath

After a quiet relaxing morning at leisure we departed Trieste, Italy by private coach bound for Rovinj, Croatia. We had to cross into Slovenia and from Slovenia into Croatia. The weather has been very warm with what the locals called a heat wave. With the humidity the temperature felt like 103 degrees. The border of Slovenia was just a ten-minute drive from our hotel in Trieste. With both countries being a part of the European Union, there was no border control, we just drove across the border.

About an hour after leaving Trieste we arrived at the Croatian border where there was a fairly long line of cars waiting to enter the country. The lines moved fairly quickly and it did not take long for the border patrol agent to collect our passports, stamp them and send us on our way.
We arrived at our destination Rovinj within two hours of leaving Trieste. A smooth and easy drive on a toll road constructed about four years ago. Along the highway there were many grape vines and fruit trees growing including beautiful looking figs plums. Once in Rovinj we had to disembark the bus and walk into the old town where our hotel was located. The tiny narrow streets and alley ways are not large enough to accommodate a bus so our luggage was transported by car to our hotels. Even with a car there are very few streets within the old town that a car can get down.

Kent and Christine directed us to a local bar and restaurant where we ordered lunch and drinks of our choice. Mark had a pasta with a prosciutto and Kent had a Greek salad. After lunch we checked into our hotel rooms around the old town. Due to the small hotels within the old town, our group was scattered between three hotels and six different buildings; each hotel room within an historic old building and each room unique to the next. Our room was a third floor walk up a steep staircase to a very large room on the top floor of a small building. Our room was quite large with an antique bed with head and foot boards. A pair of antique night stands with marble tops, a small desk with a chair, a sofa and an armoire for hanging clothes. The floors were hardwood, the walls stenciled with light blue flowers on a peach background, and natural rustic beamed ceiling. A small bathroom with a small modern corner shower, sink and a toilet. Not fancy, but very manageable.

After lunch Kent and I explored a bit of town including the old church at the top of the hill. The narrow winding streets in the old town are paved in cobble stones that are well worn and many of the alley ways have many steps to climb the hill of the town. Charming art galleries, shops and restaurants line many of the streets and alleys along the way. The narrow streets and tall buildings create shade from the afternoon heat.

At 7:30 we met up with Kent and Christine and the rest of our group for a short orientation of the old town and drinks at a waterfront bar and restaurant. It was Salsa night at the waterfront so they had a DJ playing Salsa music and many of the locals and tourists were dancing the night away. The waterfront is lined with small gelato shops, restaurants and bars all filled to capacity with tourists. Ferry boats bring passengers to town from nearby cities, including Venice. They may come for a day, a week or a month but the streets are very busy.

After drinks we found a small pizza restaurant on a narrow alleyway where we had a mixed green salad and a pizza. The Kuna is the local currency and the current conversion rate is about 7 Kuna to one US Dollar. Our pizza, salad and soft drinks cost 115 Kuna.

Located on the Adriatic Sea and the Istrian peninsula, this Croatian city of about 15,000 is a popular tourist town. The town is officially bilingual with Italian and Croatian being equal.

Rovinj was once an island just off the coast called Mons Albanus, with the first archaeological traces of Rovinj dating back to the Bronze Age, while the old city started developing around the 3rd century. In the 18th century, the city began to expand towards the mainland and the channel between the island and the mainland was filled in creating a peninsula out of the island. The limited space caused the city to build narrow streets with narrow homes and small town squares.

Kent and I were here in 2008 and found it to be a charming town then and now.

June 25, 2017 Trieste, Italy

Trieste Harbor


Trieste Map of our walking tour

Trieste Museum

Trieste – Kent and Mark at the Castle

Trieste – James Joyce Statue

Trieste – Sunset

Trieste, with about 240,000 inhabitants, is located on the Adriatic Sea in the north-east portion of Italy, near the borders of Slovenia and Croatia. During the 19th century Trieste was the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after Vienna, Budapest and Prague. By the end of the 19th century it emerged as an important hub for literature and music. In the 1930’s Trieste underwent an economic revival and was an important spot in the struggle between the Eastern and Western blocs after the second world war. Today Trieste is one of the richest regions of Italy and is a center of shipping, ship building and financial services.

We had a leisurely morning after our long trip arriving yesterday. A wonderful breakfast was served at the hotel between 7:00 and 10:30am. The hotel dining room is an old world style room with large glass windows overlooking the main square of Trieste. They served fresh fruit, assorted pastries, cheeses, cold meats, eggs, bacon, coffee and juice.

At 11:00am we met up with Kent and Christine, along with the rest of our group, to get a brief update on the agenda for today and our trip to Rovinj, Croatia tomorrow. We were given audio devices for the day with a self guided walking tour map of Trieste. The tour took Mark and Kent all around the central part of Trieste with selected stops where we could listen to the audio device for the history of the stops. Along the way, we picked up another member of our group, Nancy, and stopped at a museum with many artifacts brought to Trieste from Egypt, including a variety of mummies in beautifully ornate sarcophagus. The three of us stopped at several churches and explored those along the way. There is a triangular shaped castle at the top of the hill where we got great views out over the city. The castle had an armory museum as well as a lapidary museum where we saw many artifacts from previous civilizations. There were many mosaics floor remnants, busts, statues, pillars, and carved remnants from local buildings. We visited the old Jewish quarter where some 6,000 lived in times gone by and now only 700 reside in this area of town. The Irish writer James Joyce once lived in Trieste and so there are many statues and references to places that he frequented around town. There are still remains from a Roman amphitheater that seated about 3,500 people. The night that Giuseppe Verdi died in 1901, the city counsel convened a meeting and re-named the local opera house in his name.

We stopped along the way to have a small bite to eat and drink before proceeding on our way around town. By late afternoon the sky had turned a dark gray and it began to rain. We returned to the hotel for a short nap as the rain and wind strengthened and an electrical storm passed overhead.

Kent and Christine had planned a roof top dinner for us this evening at a local restaurant on a pier not far from our hotel. After the rain and wind had stopped we were still able to enjoy a wonderful evening on the pier. With the warm weather things dried out quickly and all of the sidewalk cafes were busy serving dinner outside. There was a DJ playing music from the 60’s and 70’s and people were dancing.

For dinner they brought us pitchers of Mojito’s with potato chips followed by small squares of pizza as an appetizer. Then came a very large bowl of black and white rice mixed with carrots, peas and corn. Next they served an octopus ceviche with olives and small bits of potatoes. For the entrée they served bowls of lightly battered and deep fried squid and sardines. Not exactly our favorite but plenty of food for all.

The large town square was sealed off for the evening concert and people waited for hours in the pouring rain to get into the square for the free concert. Back at the hotel we enjoyed the remainder of the concert on the square from our hotel room just by opening the window.

June 23 – 24, 2017 Leave San Diego Bound for Trieste

Italian Aperol Spritz

It was a long travel day. We left home for the airport about 10:30am. Our first flight was from San Diego to Los Angeles where we caught a flight to Rome, Italy. The flight was about twelve hours and the Alitalia plane was not very comfortable. There were ten seats across the plane and there was little leg room. Mark was seated next to two large young men with broad shoulders and you couldn’t help but rub shoulders the entire time. Our last flight was from Rome to Trieste, Italy where we landed about 5:00pm and were picked up by Kent Zimmerman, one of our program mangers. The drive from the airport to our hotel was about 30 minutes.

Our hotel is the Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta which has 55 rooms and dates back to the year 1873. It is located just off the coast on a lovely town square of stunning majestic buildings of carved stone. Our room is very charming with high ceilings, faux finished walls, a gold ornate mirror, an antique desk and bedside tables, an easy chair and some old world style oil paintings. The colors are red carpets and light green walls and printed draperies. The good thing is that there are modern conveniences of a large flat screen TV, a modern bathroom and internet service included.

After checking in we had a nap for 90 minutes or so before heading out to find an ATM to get some local Euro currency and a gelato. At 7:30 we met up with the others in the group (28 in all) for a welcome drink on the square. Kent recognized several of the folks in our group from other trips that he has taken with our program managers Kent and Christine. The local popular drink is an orange colored spritzer called an Italian Aperol Spritz. Although it is a wine based drink, it is a very brightly colored orange and comes in a wine glass with ice and a slice of orange. They served olives, potato chips, Doritos, and small squares of pizza as snacks. By 10:00pm we were ready for bed.