A Travellerspoint blog

Rovinj and Pula

Day 11


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Our plan today was to visit Pula (POO-lah) in the morning and spend the afternoon and evening in Rovinj (roh-VEEN).

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF PULA

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF ROVINJ

We got up this morning and Jen didn't feel good after we grabbed breakfast. I went out and got her bread and some bubbly pop for her stomach. She told me to go hang out and come back in an hour and she would feel better. I wandered the town and climbed the bell tower.

View of the town
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Town gate with Venetian Lion, Istria was part of the Venetian Republic.
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Town Hall
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Clock
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Harbor
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Boatmaker
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This is a fisherman's town. Many of the town lanes end right in the water. Fishermen would pull their boats up directly to the end of the town streets.
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Homes on the water
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View of harbor from bell tower
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Twisty town lane
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After I returned, Jen said she was going to take a nap. After some arguing back and forth she insisted I drive to Pula, and that she would feel better by the time I return. I sent for the car.

Pula was not a very attractive town, but it has some really cool Roman ruins, as it was a important Roman town. It has one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world.
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They still have concerts in the amphitheater
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Buildings that were part of the old Roman forum
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Development is difficult in Pula. Frequently when vacant lots in Pula are excavated to put up new buildings, they find archeological ruins and construction stops.

A mosaic found under a parking lot.
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A mothballed construction site that was full of ancient Roman jugs
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Roman arch
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On the way back from Pula to Rovinj I planned to stop at an unusual church in the small town of Vodnjan. I didn’t know exactly where in town the church was, so I headed to the city center. Unfortunately the streets got extremely narrow and it made for nervous driving. So after I escaped the center I decided to skip the church and head back to Rovinj. But as I headed north and skirted the town I finally caught a glimpse of the church nearby, so I parked in a nearby lot and walked a couple blocks. The church did not seem very unique, so I originally thought that I was in the wrong church. Then after exploring the interior a bit, I saw an area roped off in the corner with a bunch of leaflets. Talking to a young person manning the area, he told me that it was the entrance to the museums and admission included an opportunity to view the mummies. The museum had interesting relics, like a supposed thorn from Jesus’ crown, and the bones of many saints. However, the most interesting and creepy part of my visit was actually stepping behind the curtain-draped alter to view the mummies. The docent left me alone with the mummies and played a tape describing what these holy people did while they were alive and how they died, which was usually gruesome. At the end of the tape it gave various scenarios of how such bodies could resist decomposing (certain poisonings, embalming, certain properties of the soil where they were buried, ect.). The recording then dismissed all the explanations it posed for preserving the bodies and suggested that there might be some things science can’t explain. This made me laugh as a scientist myself, because the tape was basically postulating hypotheses, then dismissing them based on evidence, which sounds like a scientific process to me.

Vodnjan church
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Returning to Rovinj I started feeling guilty for abandoning my wife. I showed up to the hotel reception so I could retrieve a second key and get into the room, but Jen was on the couch in the reception area reading and waiting for me. Turns out I had perfect timing, Jen woke up only a half hour ago and was feeling better. We made reservations for dinner at La Puntuleina.

Walking out to La Puntuleia
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We were shown to a table on a outdoor balcony overlooking the water. Below the restaurant balcony they had some tables set up on the rocks, which looked really cool until a boat wake came up on the rocks and almost drug a chair away from the table. The balcony tables had wonderful views, but the tables were cramped together. We were sitting right next to another group of people, who I could tell was asking the waitress if she could smoke. Unfortunately I must have done a poor job of hiding my displeasure. I was concerned Jen didn't feel good earlier in the day, and now she has to deal with potential asthma problems from smoke. They seemed concerned about my telling reaction, and I felt a little ashamed and embarrassed because I might have come off a little rude. I pointed to Jen and said 'asthma'. After this they were all then very apologetic, and the woman said something equivalent to no problem and got up to smoke elsewhere. We asked for a wine recommendation from the waitress, which resulted in us ordering the same bottle as the table next to us. Showing them the wine when it arrived, we all smiled and laughed.

Dinner boats below us
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View of the town on the way back to bed.
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Posted by get2will 23:37 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Day 10


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Our plan today was take an early drive to Plitvice (PLEET-veet-seh) Lakes to hike the lakes, and then take a long drive to Rovinj and stay the night.

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF PLITVICE LAKES

Day 10 Plitvice

Spent a lot of time driving today, which means we listened to a lot of Croatian radio. When we rode to Mostar, some of the radio stations seemed strait out of the US. The one I listened to today was also very American, but also threw in some wildcards to my delight (Monty Python’s the ‘Bright Side of Life’ from the movie Life of Brian) and to my dismay (the Baywatch theme, yes the WHOLE song).

When we arrived to hike at the lakes I notice another widespread case of unpractical fashion (probably by other Europeans, many of these people were tourist like me). Many of these people like to hike in crocs with socks. I had to laugh.

The lakes were beautiful, as were the waterfalls and rock formations. However, living near the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, I'm not as impressed by these things as others might initially be. What makes this landscape unique to me is the incredible blue of the water against the white limestone background of the rocks, and how seamlessly the boardwalk has been incorporated into the landscape.

Funny restrictions on our ticket. I guess no matter what language you speak you can understand these.
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Aerial view of the lower lakes.
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Reflections
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Upper Lakes
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On our way driving out to Rovinj we briefly visited in a couple of Istrian towns. The first was Pazin and the Pazin Chasm. Pictures of the chasm were seen by Jules Verne and inspired him to write ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, and as a result they have a celebration of Verne every year.
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What looked really fun is that they had a zipline set up that flew people over the chasm. If I ever get back here I’m definitely doing the zipline.
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The second stop was at nearby Beram, a small cute, quiet, but nondescript hilltown. Just outside of town there is a church that contains unique 15th Century gothic frescos of the dance of death, the style of which is only found in one other church. To view the frescos, you had to ask around town to find the lady with the key to the church. It’s a small town, so the first person we asked immediately knew the woman we should talk to. The key keeper spoke Croatian, German, and a little Italian. We spoke English, Jen a little French, myself a little Spanish, so we had all Europe covered but still couldn’t talk to each other. Even so, she got in our car and we drove out for about a minute on a little dirt road to this small, plain-looking old church in a forest. As we entered the church we saw amazing frescos covering the walls. The frescos were preserved because they were covered in plaster until the early 1900’s, when they were rediscovered. It is amazing that despite the language barrier, we could understand much of the woman's descriptions of each biblical fresco scene (annunciation, last supper, ect.). Also interesting is on a couple of frescoes there is ‘graffiti’ written in Glagolitic text, an ancient Slavic alphabet used before the adoption of the Roman alphabet. I believe we were told the text said something like “hit him” in response to the action in the fresco it was written on it, kind of an ancient ‘take your medicine!’. Ultimately we hit a language roadblock as we were leaving this incredible place. The woman told us than once in May and August, everyone in town makes a procession down to the Church in celebration, and it only took literally 10 minutes for us to understand what she was saying. While the hand signals were flying and we were talking back and forth in vain, a man who had been at the church when we arrived, and I thought was some kind of security guard was laughing at us. As we went to get in the car he began trying to sell us infused olive oils and homemade brandy, which lucky for us everyone seems to make in Croatia. We had a couple of small tastes of different types: grape, carob, walnut, pear. . . we felt so bad that this was probably his only way to earn a living out here, so we settled on the cherry brandy and bought it even though there is no way we could come close to drink even half of it before we leave the country. Then we got in the car and tried to back it up. The reverse on this stickshift is in an unusual spot. Thinking it was in reverse, I looked backward and went forward a foot. The man and the woman teased me saying ‘too much brandy’ a couple of times. We all laughed together for awhile, I recalibrated, and we were off. By the time we returned the woman to the town there was another tourist couple looking for the woman with the key.

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Dance of Death mural
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We got incredibly good customer service from the place we stayed at in Rovinj, Casa Garzotto. Rovinj is a traffic free town, only locals are allowed to drive cars in town. So over the phone, the host and hostess tells us to park at the side of the roundabout near the town square, the farthest into the town non-locals can drive. There we will meet Matteo to show us where in the tangled web of narrow Rovinj streets Casa Garzotto is. As we check in, Matteo will park the car in their special parking place. Jen and I arrive at their lobby and they promptly offer us drinks while we check in. Time flies as we chat and relax with the staff and other guests for what seems like a long time now. After the hostess offers to make us dinner reservations, she gets a call from Matteo, who had been parking our car. He wants to know if we want our wine taken up to our room also. I respond, “where is the car parked so we can get our bags.” Matteo has already parked the car just outside of town and has taken your bags to you room. Poor Mateo, I feel guilty at this point. Our bags were very light, but as soon as we rented the car we started buying wine, souvenirs, and presents, so now the bags are very heavy. Many of these items could have been left in the car if I had known what was going on. Matteo finally returns to show us to our room and says “I only ask because you might want it, it is very good wine”, like he ‘appreciated’ our wine enough to be nice and drag it a half mile for us. I think it made me appreciate the wine even more, if that was possible.

Stairs
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Our room
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View from our room.
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Upon arrival in Rovinj we really felt the Italian influence with everyone using Ciao as a greeting all of the time instead of Dobar Dan. We grabbed dinner and walked around town.

Cuttlefish risotto and Chicken with spices
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Our room was a little off the beaten track, up some windy streets and just outside of the touristy base of the town. We returned to our room to get some much needed sleep. The door to the building was on a small square at the foot of a church, and this night a small group of locals were playing music in the square. We went upstairs and opened our window so we could listen to the music while we settled into bed. Meanwhile we had a small glass of the wine from a bottle that we purchased on the Peljesac Peninsula, and Jen read her book. Finally they played a song I recognized, a laughter filled version of ‘lullaby’. Afterwards the locals went their separate ways, I closed our window, and we went to sleep.

Posted by get2will 20:16 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Split and Trogir

Day 9


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Our plan today was to take an early morning ferry from Hvar to Split. After walking around Split for the morning and afternoon we planned to pick up our rental car and visit and stay in Trogir (troh-GEER).

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF SPLIT

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF TROGIR

This morning we took the passenger ferry from Hvar to Split, the second biggest city in Croatia.

Ferry
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First we visited a few small art galleries featuring sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, one of Croatia's most famous artist. He actually lived quite a while in the US. Disagreements with the communist Croatian government after World War II spurred him to take a professorship at Syracuse University. He was offered US citizenship, and the ceremony was presided over by President Eisenhower.

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Adam and Eve, too bad Jen's photo is fuzzy
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The most impressive thing to me was the biblical woodcuts. You have to carve it like a 3-D sculpture, but use perspective like a 2-D painting. Tough.
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Grabbed lunch in a cafe on Republic Square.
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We then met our guide Milka for our tour of Diocletian Palace (the Roman emperor). Split is unusual because the 'old town' is actually the palace. Settlers incorporated the palace into the town after it was abandoned.

'Riva' oceanfront cafes in front of the palace wall.
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Houses built into the front of the palace.
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Palace basement
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Above the old basement of the palace you can see the floor of a few houses
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Roof of the entry to the peristyle
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Peristyle (open columned porch at the center of a Roman residence)
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Climbed the bell tower on the peristyle
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Here is a 12 century container used to submerse people for baptism. On it shows the social order of the day, the ruler on the right, and the worshiper under the foot of the bishop on the left.
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We grabbed a drink at a cafe in the palace.
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Windy and claustrophobic streets
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We then walked around the perimeter of the palace.

Mestrovic statue
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Peoples square
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The city is both old and modern, so the architecture is an interesting mix of old and new.
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One of the defensive towers set up around Diocletian Palace by Venetians (1400s) after they took over Split. These towers are mixed into the more modern city.
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Then we took the bus to the Split airport to pick up our rental car. There we witnessed a cool moment. A guy walked up and spoke to our car rental agent in Croatian. He then turned and spoke so hopefully to his son in a perfect British accent, asking his 7 year old son what he remembers about Croatia. All the son said was that he remembered how to say things like excuse me and hello, nothing specific about the place itself. Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time that he wanted to reintroduce his home country to a son that probably remembers very little of it.

We drove our rental car to Trogir and unfortunately got to our accommodations, Palaca Stafileo, late. Feeling guilty, we apologized repeatedly to the owner. No time for that-he makes a phone call confirming our arrival, then of course out comes the homemade brandy. This time the glass was filled so high it was impossible not to spill. I take a couple of sips and then shoot it. I think it is walnut brandy. Meanwhile Jen takes a sip, “I can’t do this, it’s too much, drink some of mine while he is not looking.” I drank a little of her’s, but it was too much for me also. It remained unfinished.

Our top floor room was small, cute, and had great views of the windy streets.
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View from our room
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The town is on a small island.
The town harborfront
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Kamerlengo Fortress
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Old buildings
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Windy street
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Earlier I wrote that one of the goals I set was not to rush around too much, and until today we’ve been moving at a relaxed pace. Well, we packed way too much stuff into today. After we rented the car at the airport and got to Trogir all we wanted to do was walk around a little bit, get a quick bite to eat, and turn in early. The stairs in Hvar shredded our feet and we need some more recovery time. Plus we planned to leave Trogir very early tomorrow morning so we could make it to the Plitvice Lake hike before it is flooded with tour groups.
Didn’t happen. Let me back up and explain why. When we first booked this trip and found out Croatia was joining the EU on July 1st while we were here, I figured there would be a massive celebration, so I did some looking around to try to find one. The only one I could find was in the capital, Zagreb, where we would not be going. Finally I gave up. Early in our trip it seemed like the local reaction to joining the EU ranged from a cautious “We’ll see” to “This is a very bad idea”. Maybe people are not excited, hence no celebrations. The current state of the EU is much poorer now than it was when they applied to join over ten years ago. However, when we arrived in Split earlier in the day they were erecting a stage with an EU banner on the Riva.

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When our local Split guide, Milka, first saw the stage, she was surprised and had no idea there was any celebration planned. Split is the second biggest city in Croatia, so I guess it makes sense there was going to be a celebration, but I was surprised that few people seemed to know about it beforehand. Unfortunately we were staying in Trogir. When we started walking through the main square in Trogir, some people started moving café tables out of the way.

Main Square in Trogir
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Church on the square
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Carved doors on the church
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Then we saw lighting equipment erected on the square.
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We checked in later and an orchestra was being seated. Locals were gathering in the square and the crowd was slowly building and building. We decided to find seats and watch the growing spectacle because this was a unique event that could never be experienced again. I think regardless of the mixed feelings some Croatians had about joining the EU, all of them realized that this is a threshold, a special and unique historic moment for their young country. And it showed . . . there was great dancing in traditional outfits, music, and singers belting out songs that the whole crowd knew the words to (except us!). We even shared a moment of laughter with a mother. In the crowd we were sandwiched between her stroller bound 2 year old and a woman who was wearing a hood. The toddler kept leaning out of his stroller to look around us and try to see underneath that mysterious hood. We were giggling at this kid, and finally he got so curious and leaned so far out of his stroller he almost fell out!! We all laughed. Finally after the festivities we trudged back to our room tired, but happy.

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Unveiling of the EU flag
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Posted by get2will 18:46 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Vis Island, scratch that Hvar Island

Day 8


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Today we planned to take a boat tour from Hvar harbor to some beaches and towns on Vis Island, and to some sea caves on small islands just offshore of Vis.
Didn't happen. We had our 3 caves tour to Vis Island cancelled today due to weather, so we improvised by renting a car and exploring some of the other little towns on the island.

A little photo op over a town called Velo Grablje near the highest point of the island. We could see the other islands offshore.
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Limestone walls
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Next stop was a town called Vrboska, which had a quaint little canal. We grabbed pizza next to the canal.
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Next we walked the harbor of a town called Jelsa.
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These towns were very pleasant, but I think our favorite was our next stop, Stari Grad (old town).

Stari Grad harbor
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This is one of the oldest towns in Europe. In fact, the flat agricultural plain just outside Stari Grad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The layout of these fields implemented by Greeks in the 4th century BC remain in use, because the same stone walls used to split the field into parcels have been maintained since then.

View of Stari Grad and the plain.
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Here we decided to make more than just a pit stop. The old town is very twisty and windy, and very fun to get lost in.
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It was pleasantly devoid of tourists like us. If you wanted an atmospheric place to get away from it all and hang out with locals, this would be the place. When the light rain started it sent the locals scattering. Being Pacific Northwesterners we just carried on and enjoyed how the light rain made the limestone streets and buildings shine.

Wet, twisted lanes
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Hidden and isolated courtyards
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We returned and when I checked in the car they offered me a beer while I wait. Ply customers with drink, a customer service technique rarely explored in the US.

I usually try to stay more than one night at each place we visit to minimize the amount time we pack and unpack stuff. However, as great as the stay at the Ivanovic was, it was quite a steep walk up the hill. Sobes can be limited and expensive near the Hvar harbor. Because I got a killer deal right off the harbor for only the second night at the Rosso apartment, and I was concerned about the condition of Jen's foot after hiking up all those stairs, we made exception and moved over there for the second night. Now instead of navigating an ungodly amount of steps to reach our room, we just need to scamper up ‘too many’ steps.

However this place probably has the best view of any accommodation in the town, so we count ourselves as fortunate. It makes me not even want to leave the room. The man who rents the room said that in the winter when he doesn’t rent the place, he likes to come up to the room, sit on the balcony, and pretend he’s a captain directing the movement of all the ships down on the harbor. There was a small washer/dryer, 2 bedrooms, and a very nice kitchen that of course I didn't take a picture of.
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We did our only load of wash for the trip we had some drinks on the deck. Later we couldn't get the washing machine to spin the water out of the clothes so we had to hoof them down to the laundromat for an industrial strength dry anyways.

View from the deck
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Posted by get2will 21:22 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Hvar and the Pakleni Islands

Day 7


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Our plan today was to take an early morning ferry to Hvar and explore the town, and in the later afternoon catch a water taxi to the Palenki Islands for some beach time.

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF HVAR

LINK TO WEB IMAGES OF PALENKI ISLANDS

We arrived on the ferry at the Hvar harbor waterfront.
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And walked down to the main square.
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The harborfront and square were full of cafes.
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From the square Mrs. Ivanovic drove us up the hill to her home. Our nice room had a balcony. Up on a hill is where most of the reasonably price places to stay are in this town.
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After resting a bit we headed back into town.

View of town, town walls, and hilltop fortress.
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Except for the harbor and square, Hvar has LOTS of stairs.
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We took a ferry to Palmizana beach on the offshore Pakleni Islands.

View of Pakleni Islands from the Hvar fortress
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Jen relaxing on the ferry.
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Lunch at the beach. Vegetarian risotto and prsut.
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Jen at the beach. 4 hours of swimming and sunbathing.
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We caught the next ferry back to Hvar, grabbed a drink, and people watched.
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Swanky Hvar. Since Hvar is supposedly where the ‘beautiful’ people hang out in Croatia, I can’t help but notice and laugh at some of the fashion here. It’s like Tosh.0 (TV show) here with all the men wearing scoop neck shirts along with their man jean capris and bags (a.k.a. purses). Also here in Hvar, even more than in Dubrovnik, there are a bunch of women walking on slick limestone cobbles with 3 inch heels. Instead of watching their glamorous outfits I find myself staring at their wobbling ankles and waiting for their next injury. They must have a lot of practice because that never happened. My fashion sense is non-existent, so it is pretty hypocritical for me to crack jokes. They’re probably laughing at me too.

Then we got dinner at Konoba Menego. When we got there the host was carving prsut (a type of cured pork, like prosciutto) off a leg at the entrance. I had a good feeling about this place! Konoba Menego serves only traditional Croatian food. The sign at the front said "no pizza, no rice, no coca-cola!. The waiter was the best. We were fussing about what to eat, describing to him what interested us. In the most relaxing voice, he said "this is what we are going to do." We ended up with a cheese plate, beef pasticada with gnocchi, and a mild pepper stuffed with some minced meat. In retrospect, I think it was the best place we ate on our trip. Excellent!
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We headed back to our room, sat on our deck and had a glass of our Dingac wine, then bed.

Posted by get2will 21:29 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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