travel

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As humans I guess we need comparison. So often Tim and I will say to each other how somewhere reminds us of Cape Town or how the pizza isn’t as good as in Naples. Particularly when we travel we compare places to other places we have been and lived. There is even a scale of comparison: Would we go there again? Would we live there?

And so I must compare Pula to Trieste, the city I now live in. This is done on the basis that although we spent three nights in the city I promptly got sick and therefore only really experienced a few hours of it.

In some ways they have a similar history. They are both part of the Istrian Peninsula, Trieste forming the northern reach and Pula the southern tip. They were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trieste its commercial harbour and Pula its military port, but had a large percentage of Italian speaking residents. After WWII Trieste (eventually) became part of Italy and Pula became part of Yugoslavia and then Croatia in 1991.

From my brief experience, Pula seems like Trieste’s slightly homelier and poorer relative. The buildings are a little more warn, the port is not as pomp and regal looking, the residential waste collection bins are more sporadic. But having realised this Pula got smart about attracting suitors and has built an excellent tourism industry for herself whereas Trieste seems to have sat down for apertivos to watch life amble along. I am sure that doesn’t seem very flattering to either city but I mean no offence.

Pula’s tourism office is definitely on the ball and the city is definitely a lot more lively than Trieste. When we walked around one evening after going to the very well maintained arena to watch a ‘gladiator fight’ the city was packed with people, the restaurants were busy and shops were open until about 11pm. In Trieste shops seem to be closed more than they are open. Honestly I think Trieste caters very well to its residents and it is a lovely city to live in but it could learn a little about tapping into it’s potential as a tourist destination.

I know I missed out on seeing a lot of things that Pula has to offer while I lay on the couch. My friends certainly seemed to have had grand adventures by bike around some beautiful coastline and had sightings of the world’s rarest mammal (they were beach companions of a monk seal for half a day). Next time I visit I trust I will get to experience more of that.

If you enjoyed this you might be interested in reading about more of my travels in Croatia and discover more about my local town, Trieste.

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We had our first summer visitor this week and we did a little bit of exploring. The weather put on a great show and we had to head to the beach. Now, when I say “beach” this is a bit different to what I grew up with at home, ie sand gradually giving way to sea, with waves either gentle or aggressive. The beaches here are cement stretches that turn to rocks with a drop into water where you can’t touch the ground. I have to say though, that even though the beaches themselves might not be as pretty to photograph I prefer the fact that I don’t get sand all over me when applying sunscreen and that there aren’t really waves which I am still kind of nervous of as an adult. Plus the water is much warmer than that in Cape Town.

We decided to take a little boat trip across the harbour to the fishing village of Muggia. I hadn’t yet visited so it was new for me too, which is always fun.

The beach is a strip that admittedly looks onto the industrial complex that stretches between Trieste and Muggia although the water itself is clear and lovely! It is the village itself that is quite lovely. We didn’t go into any of the churches (as we were in shorts) and ignored the sign for the medieval castle assuming it would probably just be a shell. After wondering around and snapping pictures for about 15 minutes we simply found somewhere to eat and settled down for about an hour in the heat of the day.

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We settled on ‘Trattoria Splendor’ which seemed like somewhere the locals headed and had a simple but delicious pasta with mushrooms. The lady (who we assumed was the owner) thought we were absolutely crazy for wanting to sit outside (in the shade) when it was so cool inside. After muttering a lot while taking our orders she promptly sent her husband out with our drinks and food. He was a delightful flirty old gent of the kind that you find quite endearing. I would recommend anyone to try it out if you just so happen to be in the area, the menu is predominantly meaty however.

I’m looking forward to heading back with other visitors in the coming months, and maybe I’ll duck inside one of the churches.

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In case you are packing your bags for Croatia this summer I thought I would share some spots that we enjoyed.

Staying

We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb which I could have happily lived in. The owners met us at the parking garage down the road and pointed out things along the way. The house used to belong to the lady’s grandparents who used to be bakers, which made the house even more charming to me. It is just above the old town and has an impressive view of one of the towers as well as a cute garden filled with lemon trees, orange trees and rose bushes. Just take a moment to image how amazing it smelled. There were lovely details around and lots of care had been taken in putting the house together. Unsurprising as the couple had only moved out of the apartment 10 days before to be in the countryside!

There are two double bedrooms but I would suggest that it is better for a family or group of non-couple friends as the room are only divided by a (frosted) glass door.

Eating

On our previous visit Tim and I had been disappointed by only ever seeming to have the option of grilled vegetables which were more like vegetables swimming in oil.

On this occasion we visited the vegetarian restaurant in town called Nishta. It is a pretty small restaurant with an ‘eclectic’ interior but the food was excellent. I tried a bit of everyone’s meal and there was a great variety of options. I went for a Thai noodle curry (not something you can find in Trieste) and we shared some puddings. The rice pudding was not to my taste but there was a traditional fig thing which was amazing.

Perhaps a rather eccentric choice being in Croatia, we went to a Bosnian restaurant called Taj Mahal which seemed to be Moroccan in decor than Indian. The food, however, was very good. Tim and I got a sort of smorgasbord of options with a spinach and cheese pie, mushrooms with a traditional cheese and (yes) grilled vegetables. I also got some extra cheese to have with the most amazing bread. Seriously, worth the visit just for that. Our friends had a traditional sausage dish called cevapcici which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Drinking

I’ve mentioned it before but the Wine Bar Razonoda is definitely worth a visit too. It only serves Croatian wines and the sommelier provided us with information about the wines we tried. They also had a small bar menu with local cheeses, olives, breads, etc which were very good.

Have you been to Dubrovnik? Any suggestions? Or are you planning on heading there soon?

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On our road trip to Dubrovnik last weekend we stopped in the little village of Vinjerac for the night. We arrived late but stayed for a few hours in the morning to enjoy a coffee, took a wonder around the village and picked up a slice of cheese borack from the little village market.

The village is one of those places that I don’t think ever had a ‘hey day’. Poor farm lands, a fishing community, the road in only being paved in the 1980s, emigration to the larger towns with bigger possibilities.

But it is these little places inbetween where you get to breath. Greet the other patron of the single coffee shop/bar with a curt nod. This is probably what he does every morning. Have a local resident communicate with hand signals that you can photograph her flowers too. Look through windows where people don’t live, and haven’t for decades. Stand on the stony shore and look out to sea. Joke with friends, wonder at the history of a place, wonder if you will find asparagus in the ‘wild’, toy with the idea of coming back, or never leaving.

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Last Saturday a friend mentioned she was maybe going to Croatia over the next weekend and invited us along. On Wednesday we confirmed and booked the trip, leaving the next day. I think that is the most last minute holiday I have ever taken. I thought I would do the ‘in numbers‘ post.

1,297| Approximate kilometres travelled.

3 | Times we stopped to look for wild asparagus on the roadside (after spotting locals walking with it).

0 | Number of asparagus spears found.

35,000 | Estimated number of Christian Youths who descended on Dubrovnik Old Town the only full day we had in the city (the old town is pretty small!). Along with torrential rain. It did mean that we didn’t feel guilty lazing around until 11am in the beautiful house we stayed in and then we promptly headed to a restaurant for lunch.

1,940 | Metres of Dubrovnik’s city walls we walked around (that is all of it). If you go to Dubrovnik this is the one thing that you must do, it gives a great overview of the city and the chance to look in locals windows.

1 | Pretend band created – known as the Sea Shanties. The rest of the weekend involved creating album covers, solo album spin-offs, song titles, etc (sometimes it is good to just be a little bit silly).

2 | Times we visited the Wine Bar Razonoda. If you find yourself in Dubrovnik I’d definitely suggest going here, it has a relaxed atmosphere and is pretty stylish but the best part is the manager/sommelier Hrvoje.

246 | Estimated number of times “In your face” (a form of insult – according to Google – used by the Croatian’s) was used by the group plus the one time it was used by the Hrvoje wine bar, thus confirming Google’s accuracy (I guess).

36 | Estimated times I commented on the amazing smell of the neroli trees.

23 | Estimated times that Game of Thrones was mentioned. If you don’t know, part of the series is shot in the city. Actually we didn’t see any mention of tours or much reference to the series except for a mention in a tourist newspaper.

Mostly our weekend involved eating and driving and it was pretty darn good despite not always amazing weather.

Check out more iphone pictures on my Facebook page. I’ll share some more ‘real’ pictures later, although with the downpour of rain I didn’t take too many!

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0855 On the train to Venice. Out of the window picture number one.

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0932 From sunshine in Trieste it had become slightly foggy. Hopeful that it would clear! Out of the window picture number two (it is a two hour ride to Venice). I like to pretend which rambling, falling down farmhouse I will buy when travelling on the train through the countryside.

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1015 Coming into Venice – still foggy (iphone pic)

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1151 First on the itinerary (after a cornetto) was a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. I loved spending the day with this guy. He loved staring intently at Pollacks. I suppose this is a place that will always be busy. At this time of year when there are slightly fewer tourists it was pretty packed with school groups. But it is an amazing collection with Picasso, Pollack, Twombly, Miro and many more.

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1222 The blue sky made an appearance. The rest of the day was weather perfection.

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1320 On the search for some food. We passed through St Mark’s Square but for this trip I was keen to explore the quieter parts of the island city so we continued on to the Castello area. It is incredibly hard to find vegetarian food in Venice that isn’t in one of the tourist restaurants (and thus not really great food anyway). I did some research to find a vegetarian friendly lunch at a little cafe called Le Spighe. It is pay by weight for a variety of options of salads, pies, etc. The food was good but it was pricey for what it was (€27 for 2 plates of food – not piled high – and a shared cola).

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1428 After lunch we headed to a greenhouse which has been restored and turned into a nursery/coffee shop. We had an afternoon spritz and some biscuits. Weird combo but that’s allowed on your birthday. Right?

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1536 This park at the end of the islands was perfect for a wander and a relax.

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1600 Walking around the quiet neighbourhoods there is lots of washing hanging up. If I lived in Venice I would live in this area just because the streets are wider and houses must get more light inside. The little warrens around the more central areas must lead to very dark apartments.

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1734 Gelato time! This is from Il Doge. A bit too cold but the Crema del Doge flavour is awesome – cream with chocolate drizzle and candied orange.

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1854 More walking. I forgot how much distance there is between places and how if you don’t want to take a waterbus (which costs €7 a trip) it can take a long time to get around. The places I wanted to try out were pretty far apart. Too far apart as it turned out because by the time we found the little bar where I wanted to get an evening apertivo it was too late and we had to head to the station to catch our train home. Trying to find the place in the maze of streets which we passed did mean that I captured this beautiful light though.

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1936 Farewell Venezia. Until next time.