Friday, April 1, 2016

Slovenia & Croatia (Part II of IV)

Sunday March 27-Saturday April 9

For our last big vacation as a family of 3 (well 3 1/2), we are spending 2 weeks in Slovenia & Croatia, staying 3 nights in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Part I); 3 nights in Rovinj, Istria, Croatia (Part II); 2 nights in Split, 2 nights on Hvar Island (Part III), 2 nights at Plitvice Lakes National Park, & 1 night in the Croatian capital Zagreb (Part IV).

Thursday March 31
We ate breakfast at our Airbnb apartment in Rovinj. We planned to drive down to Pula, big city in Istria, which is mainly an industrial port town, but has some of the top Roman ruins. First stop was Enterprise to exchange in our crappy rental car.  We were thankful for a clean, cruise-control equipped rental car. 
We pulled into Pula and parked right next to the stately Roman amphitheater (6th largest & best preserved), basically a fully intact mini-Colosseum. 
An "amphi-theater" is literally a double theater. It was completed around AD 80, about the same time as the Colosseum in Rome. It stayed in active use until the 5th century when gladiator battles were outlawed. Of the dozens of Roman amphitheaters remaining, Pula's is the 6th largest at 435 feet long by 345 feet wide for holding more than 25,000 fans and one of the best preserved anywhere. 
Daddy and Brooklyn at the Pula Amphitheater 
Selfie of Joe & Brooklyn outside the Pula amphitheater
Family selfie outside the Pula Amphitheater
The Pula Amphitheater was built into a gentle incline of a hill which saved on the amount of stone needed for seating. There were 4 rectangular towers that anchor the facade (2 gone). They once held wooden staircases for loading and unloading people. At the top of each tower was a water reservoir, used for powering fountains that sprayed refreshing scents over the crowd to mask the stench of blood. Stands were covered with sands to absorb blood and make an easier cleanup. The sand (harena) gave the amphitheater its nickname, arena. 
Peaking in at the Pula Amphitheater

Pula Amphitheater 

Inside the Pula Amphitheater from around A.D. 80

Serious selfie at Pula Amphitheater
Panoramic view inside the Pula Arena
Selfie in the Pula Amphitheater (Amfiteatar), a well-preserved Roman gladiator arena from around 80 A.D. 
Seating inside the Pula Amphitheater

Brooklyn and Joe selfie while enjoying the Pula Amphitheater seating
Pula Amphitheater 

Selfie, but this time without the crazy lady who's been following us
Those crazy two at Pula Amphitheater

Next we went to the museum exhibit underneath the amphitheater.
Beneath the Pula Amphitheater 

Amphorae, ceramic jug vessels used to transport goods (oil, wine, fish on long sea journeys) beneath Pula Amphitheater 

The 1999 film Titus (with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange) was filmed at the Pula Amphitheater. 
Pula window

Pula is also known for its other Roman ruins of temples, arches, and columns. Next we walked to Pula's Old Town. In the center is a big star-shaped fortress on the hill, Fort Kaštel. 
Next we grabbed some drinks in Pula's public square which was once the Roman forum. Brooklyn chased pigeons throughout the square. She picked up every rock and feather she found until she discovered fresh bird poop. 
Augustov hram (Temple of Augustus) of 1st-century A.D., sadly hit by an Allied bomb in WWII but rebuilt by these Allied occupiers. 
There were once 3 other such temples that lined the Roman forum.
Pula's medieval Town Hall (Gradska Palace) was once part of an adjacent temple on the once Roman Forum Square.
Roman Floor Mosaic (Rimski Mozaik) is a 3rd century floor carefully excavated and cleaned 
Arch of the Sergii (Slavoluk Sergijevaca) is a triumphal arch from the 1st century B.C. and was Michelangelo's favorite Roman artifact in Pula. 

Brooklyn pausing countless times on our walk to our next destination
We went to the Market Hall for lunch. We ended up eating some amazing burek from a nearby bakery. Burek is a savory cheese, meat or potato phyllo-dough pastry. 
We hadn't realized how much time had passed relaxing in the town square. Brooklyn was beyond overtired. It certainly was a challenge dragging this squirmy, whiny child back to our car. 
While Brooklyn finally napped on the drive, we detoured through the rolling interior of Istria, which is full of vineyards and picturesque hill towns. It is also known for its pungent truffles. 
Many try to compare it to Tuscany and Provence, but its not as quite idyllic and the towns are more sleepy and lacking vibrancy. 
Vista view of Istria vineyards and Motovun

We walked around the streets of Rovinj.
Tonight's dinner destination was a flop. We planned to eat at Maestral along the southern harbor but the place was closed up.
Rovinj from the southern harbor 
We readjusted our dinner plans. Instead we stopped at Neptun to pickup some pizza to-go for dinner 

Friday April 1 
We ate breakfast in Rovinj before departing from Croatia for the Slovenian Adriatic coast town of Piran. Upon crossing the border, we could see the Sečovlje Salina Nature Park (Krajinski Park Sečoveljske Soline) with their enormous salt pans used since Middle Ages. 
Piran (pronounced pee-RAHN) was named for the fires (pyr in Greek) that were lit at the tip of its peninsula to assist passing ships. It has a large parking garage on a hill south of town with a free shuttle bus connecting the parking to Tartini Square downtown. 
Marbled Tartini Square (Tartinijev trg) in Piran is watched over by bell tower and surrounded by Neoclassical buildings which was once part of a protected harbor but in 1894 it was filled in. 

Brooklyn strolling around Tartini Square in Piran, Slovenia
Piran window

We climbed up to the landmark bell tower of Cathedral of St. George (Stolna Cerkev Sv. Jurija), a stout 14th century Venetian-style church and campanile decorated in 17th century Baroque, which dominates the town from the hilltop just above Tartini Square. The reason for its size, is would-be invaders when surveying Piran from the sea, would spot a huge church and assume it marked a big city, not worth the risk or hassle to plunder. 
Tartini Square from the Cathedral of St. George 

Piran from the Cathedral of St. George

Panoramic view of Piran, Slovenia
Selfie in coastal town Piran, Slovenia with Brooklyn rockin' Mom's sunglasses 
Cathedral of St. George from the grassy view terrace 
Cathedral of St. George interior (IMG_3615)
Piran, Slovenia coast

Sv. Klement (Church of St. Klement) and lighthouse on Piran, Slovenia coast

Brooklyn and Dad selfie on the Piran, Slovenia Adriatic coast 
May 1 Square (Trg 1 Maja) is a square, deep in a warren of cobbled lanes in the middle of the Old Town’s peninsula, which marks the center of medieval Piran, where its main streets converged. 
The best part of Piran was that it was not overrun with Americans or Asians. It was mainly just Slovenes and Italians.
Ginormous Slovenian lunch of Bosnian grilled meats at Sarajevo 84
We rode the shuttle bus back to the parking garage and got Brooklyn down for her afternoon nap in the car. 
We debated stopping at Sečovlje Salina Nature Park (Krajinski Park Sečoveljske Soline)to buy some salt but one of us would have had to pay the entrance fee just to go to the shop.
Instead we continued back into Croatia to the hill towns of the artists colony of Grožnjan and the popular Motovun with its best-known, colorful old church, and vista's across the entire region. The hill towns of the Istria interior is full of wineries, olive oil producers, truffle shops, and agroturizams. 
Grožnjan is a trapped-in-time-warp Istrian hill town. It has a strong artist colony keeping its Old World charm. While Brooklyn continued to nap, Joe walked a little through the town. He picked up some olive oil as a souvenir. 

Grožnjan window

The views from Grožnjan

The GPS took us down some crazy steep dirt road. Somehow Jackie always seems to navigate Joe to crazy remote routes that do not truly feel like real roads. We eventually journeyed through Završje, a nearly deserted hill town by the Italians after WWII. It seems to have more truffle-hunting dogs than people. This is a possible up-and-coming location if invested well. Next we drove down into the valley along the Mirna River to Livade. Livade, home of the Zigante company, is across the valley from Motovun. Livade is the heart of all the truffle commerce. In 1999, Giancarlo Zigante discovered a nearly 3 pound white truffle! Istria is now giving France's Provence and Italy's Piedmont a run for their money in truffle production. The Motovun Forest is damp, oak-tree-filled terrain surrounding Motovun, Livade and Buzet. The truffle tuber grows entirely underground usually 8" deep near the roots of oak trees. Specially trained dogs are most productive at night. May-November is black truffle season. Mid-September-January is white truffle season. Joe popped in Zigante Tartufi shop to buy some truffle oil while Brooklyn began to wake from her nap. 
Motovun, population 531, with rampart walk with the best vistas in the Istrian interior. 
We parked out car down the hill from the main upper entrance and hiked up to the town. Hotel Kaštel is the main industry in town. 
Motovun cat in window
We tried some truffle oil. The town is overrun by dogs, most likely because many are trained to hunt for truffles in the surrounding forest. 
Motovun window
Mama and Brooklyn checking out the rocks of Motovun, Croatia

Motovun's second defensive gateway
Mario Andretti was born in Motovun, Istria, Croatia.

Motovun door 
St. Stephen's, yellow town church with a crenellated tower, a reminder of when this hilltop town needed to be defended. 

The church interior is based on the design by the famous Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.
The sweeping views north toward Livade from Motovun

Daddy and Brooklyn taking in the view from Motovun
Momma and baby boy in Motovun, Istria, Croatia
The ramparts of Motovun
Cat in Motovun relaxing peacefully until Miss Brooklyn came along
We enjoyed some coffees and the sweeping views from Motovun. They even served Brooklyn some warm milk with a small spoon in the cup: her favorite part to steal from us! I hope we haven't just set a precedent here letting her have it this one time...
On the way home we stopped at the grocery store for a few things for dinner. We had a quiet evening at home as we prepared for our long drive south in the morning to our next destination: Split, on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. 

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