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Sat Aug 23 2014: Beautiful Istria

Neda's been keeping track of our motorcycles while they've been making the slow journey across the Atlantic, and our bikes are now in Hamburg! The shipping agent told us it would be another week until they would arrive in Zagreb for us to pick up. So excited! It's been so long since we've been on two wheels. Thankfully we are staying right in the heart of Pula, and family and all the conveniences are within walking distances, but it still would be nice to have some transportation.

In the meantime, Iva and Tajana have taken it upon themselves to be our official tour guides, ferrying us all over the Istrian peninsula to show us just how beautiful the region is.


Motovun in the distance

One of the more popular places to visit in Istria is Motovun, which is right in the centre of the peninsula. Situated on top of a hill, you can see it from quite a distance. It's got incredible medieval architecture, reflecting many different styles throughout its different periods of rule, and they say you can see all four corners of Istria from the top of the city walls.


The city gates in the background at the top of the hill. I imagined a thick portcullis
keeping invaders out back in the middle ages.

We came right in the middle of the Motovun film festival, which is attended by people all over Europe. There was a huge screen being set up in the courtyard and lots of makeshift outdoor conferences and round table discussions held in the patios of the restaurants and coffee shops.


Shots on the wall of the castle! Except for Iva, the Designated Driver. :(

From the top, you can see a beautiful view of the terra-cotta roofed buildings that are so typical of the region, as well as the valley below. The weather was kind of damp and rainy (what else is new?), so not many good photo ops that day.


Church of St Stephens

Tuffles are very popular here since being discovered in the Motovun forest 80 years ago.
They use special dogs to sniff them out. Expensive delicacy.

Late night, cobblestone streets of Grožnjan

Ever summer, there's a jazz festival that's held in the town of Grožnjan, which is located just a few kms north-west of Motovun. Another town with medieval architecture, its primary claim to fame these days is being an artists colony. We piled into Iva's car once again to see some live music, but got sidetracked with good company and conversation during a nice late evening dinner and only got to see the last few minutes of a Croatian jazz trio.


The sound of someone practicing on a saxophone drifted through the air
as we walked the pretty streets after the concert.

This weird-looking lump is actually a French poodle sniffing around the cobblestones

Croangels in Galizana

West coast resort town of Vrsar

We've been invited to a gathering of Croatian travelers! Iva is an avid traveler just like us, and she belongs to a network of friends all over Istria who get together every once in a while to share stories and experiences. Tonight, we're visiting a horse farm just outside of the tourist resort of Vrsar, but we arrive a bit early to poke around the city.


Following a cyclist through the narrow streets

Looking through all the photos I've taken of Istria, I've noticed that most of them are in portrait-mode, even though I consciously try to shoot in landscape-mode, because it fills the the screen better. But the narrow streets of all these Istrian towns just beg to be shown all the way from its cobblestone feet to its terra-cotta caps. All my landscape shots just seem to show a lot of blank walls...


Just off the coast are 18 unpopulated islets

More portrait-mode goodness

Tourist traps in Vrsar

Campfire stories with Croatian travelers

I was fortunate that most everyone spoke English to some degree. We exchanged stories of all the places we had been to and lived in, and we were excited to hear about all the places on the continent that we'd like to travel to since we were here. The farm is owned by one of Iva's friend, Gaspar. His English wasn't as strong but surprisingly, our common language turned out to be Spanish! Who knew it could come in handy? :) Gaspar is a horse enthusiast and has traveled all over the world. When I told him of our Alaska to South America trip, he told me that he wanted to do the exact same route, but by horse! The Americas on one horsepower!

After that evening, Iva arranged for the travelers to meet at her place the next time, because she had told everyone that we were going to do a slideshow presentation for them. Our second presentation this trip!


Dropping into Iva's grandmother's house

One of the things that Iva and Tajana had been trying to plan for the last couple of months is some kind of hiking trip, but due to Neda's mom's passing, the first outing was cancelled. We were all set to go again a few weeks ago, but then the jeep that was supposed to be taking us and our equipment caught on fire! So this is the third time, and nothing, not even the threat of rain (again) was going to stop us!

We drop into Iva's granmother's place to run some last minute errands. I loved the look of her place, it had a very recent old-world European look to it, if you catch my drift.


Melissa (Lemon Balm) plants are native to Istria, its leaves can be used to ward off mosquitoes
Neda stocks up for the weekend...

We are now exploring the east coast of Istria. Our hike was supposed to start in the old Roman settlement of Labin and climb up the ridge of the mountains that skirt the south-east coast of the peninsula, ending up in the tiny summit town of Skitača, about 13 kms away. But due to the rains, we decided to drive to the top of the mountain and then hike back down to Labin the next day.


Inside the mountaineering lodge. We made dinner over this fire.

Thinking of taking up wedding photography to pay the bills

There was a church besides the mountaineering lodge and a wedding was being held the day we arrived. Later on, after all the guests had left, the catering staff dropped off the leftover cake and pastries which we gorged on during dinner. Thank you, random Croatian bride and groom!


Starting out from the top of the mountain in Skitača, clouds obscure the horizon
creating a seamless sky blue Adriatic sea in the background - Photo courtesy of Iva

Towards the end of our hike, the town of Rabac comes into view in the distance

Labin

More narrow cobblestone streets in Labin

Iva's friend's family owns a vineyard in Vižinada, just outside of Motovun

Everyone is familiar with Italian wines, and Istria was once part of Italy and shares much of the same climate and soil as most of the northern Italian vineyards. On another social outing, Iva organized a tour of her friend Ines' vineyard to sample some of the vintages from this region.


We went on a small tour of the vineyard and saw how they made the different types of wines

Since this was the old world, I expected a huge wooden vat with barefoot peasants stamping the grapes and a little spigot at the bottom of the vat where you could pour out a glass of fresh-squeeze wine. Apparently my knowledge of vintners fell a bit short...

During the tour, we learned that Istria is known for its Malvazija white wine, due to the conditions in the area. I'm not a big white wine drinker, but I do like saying the word Malvazija (Mal-Vah-Zee-Uh). I'm just disappointed that there'll be very little opportunity to use that word in ordinary conversation. :(


Ines pours another glass of white wine

Mal-Vah-Zee-Uh!

We really want to thank Iva and Tajana so much for taking us all over Istria and showing us just how awesome this corner of the world is!

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