After another delicious breakfast of salami and cheese (and the chocolate wafer cookies we smuggled out each day) we were on a train to Trieste, Italy connecting to a rather difficult to find bus to Rijeka, Croatia.
Since Hertz closes for siesta, we had time to kill in the rather industrial town of Rijeka eating pizza (wait, hadn't I said goodbye to pizza?) and sampling local beer. FYI, Tomislav is disgusting- like mud!
No wonder we had to wait for our car, it had to come from Zagreb (not close by) since they had no cars. We did ask the lovely Hertz guy why he had to come to work at a car rental agency that had no cars, but he said it is his job, hummmm? Funny enough, later I came across tour agencies that didn't run any tours- yes, odd!
Finally we were off to Opatija, the old resort town favored by the tubercular Viennese and the Austro-Hungarian Empire back in the day, complete with it's grand buildings. We didn't spend much time in Opatija, after Ed's brilliant maneuvering of the parking lot, if you could call it that, and our "light" meal of Istrian Turkey- an odd and delicious combo of turkey, spinach, ham (of course) covered in melted cheese.
After a good night sleep at the Astoria Hotel, where we became friendly with the snarky hotel manager (the Croats all seem very confident and snarky), we headed off for a day of wine tasting in Istria, the triangular peninsula that has been controlled by pretty much everyone at some point- the Romans, Venetians, Austrians, etc.
It was a bit of a challenge getting to the vineyards since the highway was randomly shut down, but amazingly we managed to find our way to Pazin and their tourist info center (they are my new favorite places!) via the winding country roads.
Wine tasting in Croatia is a different kind of affair. At the recommendation of the tourist office, we headed up to the beautiful hill town of Motovun (Mario Andretti was born here) for our first vineyard. Amazingly we found the tiny village outside of Motovun, but once there couldn't find the vineyard. Picture Ed and me roaming the village (during siesta, of course) looking for the winery. After trapsing through people's homes and gardens, an older man found someone that would give us a taste. Their wine was very good, but unfortunately you won't be trying any since it was confiscated at Heathrow :-(
After lunch, we stopped at a winery, which was basically someone's house where we sampled wine in their garage. On the plus side, they did let us try the wine pre bottling from the steel vats and dessert wine straight from the barrel.
That left Amman, where again we showed up at someone's house basically asking for wine. It was hard to decide which Amman to go to since there was another just next door- apparently the whole village has the same surname, but are NOT related. Go figure?
Time to head south to Pula, a town dating from 177 BC and featuring another well preserved Roman amphitheatre. Pula was also an important naval base during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Besides an amphitheatre, they also have a fortress where we attended the Pula Film Festival-- sitting atop a fortress wall watching a pretty good French film.
Yet again, we woke to a hearty breakfast buffet, this time upping the ante from cookies to full blown sandwiches for later since we were heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park and then Split, a 400km drive.
The drive was pretty long, with lots of tunnels and even more bad radio stations- when is the last time you heard Midnight Oil??
The park was beautiful, and crowded, with waterfall after waterfall. We were a little competitive perhaps trying to make the leisurely stroll into a workout, but did finish WAY faster than they said it would take.
With all that time saved, we unhappily used it getting majorly lost in Split. Our apartment was in the old town (aka pedestrian zone), which we didn't exactly realize and our Time Out map didn't clearly indicate. Up a hill, down a hill, dead end, so much reversing in tiny alleys I thought Ed was going to kill me-- it was our bad Amazing Race moment we'd both like to forget.
The next morning we did successfully make it to the absolutely beautiful island of Hvar. In Hvar Town we ignored local advise and in midday walked the 500 steps to the Citadel, built by the Venetians in 1550's with the help of Spanish engineers. The views were spectacular and I can see why everyone loves Hvar (even if we did miss out on seeing the lavender that they claim covers the island- perhaps our seasonality was off?). After a quick swim on one of the rocky beaches we were back off to Split for a yummy, cheap meal at Fifa where we met two fun couples from Laguna Beach and Scottsdale.
The following day we really wanted to go to Vis, but the ferry schedule didn't cooperate. Sure, people like Brac, but the guidebook's description as "family friendly" turned us off. Instead we opted for the "step back in time," "untouristy" island of Solta. It isn't in the guidebook, so we had NO idea what we were doing, and it was obvious. Thank god the locals were so helpful, because the tourist office that opened at 13:00 wasn't so helpful at 10:00.
The next bus at 12:45 took us to Maslinica. The town was adorable. Granted we had to wait until 13:00 for the restaurant to start serving food-- I guess the people of Solta don't like to do things before 13:00-- but that still left enough time for another good swim in the pristine blue water.
That evening we attended the Split Summer Festival's opera of Othello outside in a courtyard. Apparently the people in the hotel bordering the square didn't realize you could see them just as well as they could see the opera...
Despite Ed's wishes, I didn't really see the point of the overnight ferry and instead campaigned for the bus to Dubrovnik-- as it turned out, the bus from hell! Thank god Ed can handle heat better because I was near panic attack on the over sold bus, with almost no AC, the sun beating down on me and hot air blowing at my feet. The man behind me lit a cigarette and then fell asleep. All in all, it was horrible-- another moment to forget.
But once we arrived in Dubrovnik, Villa Sandra, our apartment for the remaining days in Croatia, was a delight. Although no AC, we did have a lovely garden from where we relaxed, tried to figure where I was going next (which changed every few minutes), barbecued, made tacos (I have been craving Mexican) and drank some of the wine purchased in Istria (plus some 2 liter plastic bottles of local beer- so trashy!) My favorite part- there was an ashtray built into the bathroom wall- gotta love the Croats!
After a fair bit of laziness, it was time to hit the city walls of Dubrovnik, again during the hottest part of the day, followed by a dip in the mega salty Adriatic from our concrete beach (if you haven't guessed, there are very few sandy beaches in Croatia).
For some reason a 17km kayak seemed like a good idea. It was a good idea, for at least the first 7-10km, then we had about enough. Sure, there was some snorkeling in the cave and more pizza for lunch (so much pizza, it is ridiculous!), but at the end it was just powering through to get the hell out of that kayak.
No time to waste, we needed to get to the Giacometti exhibit before it closed at 8pm, except that when we arrived we realized we had no Kuna- oops! No worries, we'll just check the guidebook for a place to get dinner-- until I accidentally dropped it down the cliff- double oops!
The next morning Ed was headed back to NYC and I was again solo traveler.