Sunday, 25 September 2016

A walk through Gračišće

The summer tourist season is over, and September is always welcome for its calm and quiet, and  lingering summer-like weather. That said, there are still lots of foreign cars and camper vans on the roads, but the pre- and post-season tourist season brings fewer crowds and a different type of tourist. This is also the time when big tourist buses of mostly older travellers make their rounds around the Istrian peninsula, stopping in towns and villages on their way. Gračišće is also on this trail, and I regularly see groups of Austrian, German, Dutch, French, or Italian tourists traipsing around the village, following their guides who offer them facts and historical details along the way.

But luckily our little village in central Istria is still one of the less frequented of the peninsula's many charming hilltop villages and seaside towns. The tourists I've met who choose to stay here in Gračišće and use it as their base to visit Istria, tend to be people who like to move off the beaten track, and prefer a landscape of rolling hills to crowded coastlines. 

This is what the Lonely Planet says about Gračišće:

Gračišće, 7km southeast of Pazin, is a sleepy medieval town surrounded by rolling hills, and is one of Istria’s well-kept secrets. Its collection of ancient buildings includes the 15th-century Venetian-Gothic Salamon Palace, the Romanesque Church of St Euphemia, and the Church of St Mary from 1425.
Most of these buildings are unrestored (although some work is being done). You won’t need more than 30 minutes to circle the tiny town, but the ambience is truly lovely. There’s an 11.5km circular hiking trail that leads from here, which is well marked with signs.

This week I've been testing my new camera and taking a few shots around the village. Take a walk through Gračišće...

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Istria abecedary: S is for Samanj

Pazin's samanj dates back to 1574!

Samanj (sajam in Croatian) is the word for a fair or market, often held once a month. There are many such markets in towns across Istria, which I listed in this post on markets in IstriaPeople come to these monthly markets not only to trade and buy goods, but also to socialize, catch up with friends, and see what's happening.

The only time I've experienced traffic in Pazin, the closest town to us, is on market day. Pazin's samanj dates back to 1574, and has been held on the first Tuesday of the month ever since! This is said to be Istria's biggest traditional fair, but my father says that there used to be many more stalls and traders, so today's samanj must be just a fraction of what it used to be. People used to sell their agricultural produce here, as well as livestock. Today the number of stalls selling fruits and vegetables is limited, and there are a few selling agricultural tools. Most of the merchandise for sale is cheap clothes, shoes, and household items, as well as plants and flowers in the spring and summer. Some traders are local, but many come from other parts of Croatia. 

S is also for Salamon Palace, an old building here in Gračišće that never fails to intrigue visitors.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

An old postcard of Gračišće

Last week a neighbour lent me his collection of 300 postcards of towns and villages across Istria photographed in the early 1900s. I've been looking through this fascinating collection of images and scanning the ones I find interesting. 

I've decided to start a new series on old postcards and will be sharing a few of them here.

I'm starting with the village I live in first, but the old postcards I'm including in this post do not come from my neighbour's collection, but from a book!

The postcard above is of Gračišće's Salamon Palace, with a greeting written in Italian: un saluto de Gallignana (Gallignana being the name for Gračišće in Italian). This Gothic-style building was built almost 450 years ago, and always gets noticed by visitors to the village. Unfortunately, this historic building is crumbling away with time -- I told its story in this post. This is what it looks like today:

The date on the postcard below is 1900, and this time 'greetings from Gračišće' is written in Croatian. 

The photographer who took the top photo was standing in front of St. Mary's Church on the village square (famous for its 15th century frescoes), and looking south. In the centre of the photograph is a house that no longer exists. This is what the same view looks like today:

Meanwhile the bottom image in the postcard was taken next to St. Anthony's chapel and is looking towards the church of St. Euphemia. This is the same view today:

I hope you enjoyed this step back in time!

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Istria abecedary: R is for Rakija

After P comes R – because in the Croatian alphabet, there is no letter Q!

R is for Rakija

Rakija, similar to Italian grappa, is made by distilling the remains of grapes after they have been pressed for wine-making. If you visit Istria, you're bound to be offered a small glass of rakija before a meal, after a meal, or to celebrate a special occasion. It's also believed to have medicinal and disinfectant properties. Rakija is often mixed with different plants and fruits (like mistletoe, honey, green walnuts, cherries) to produce flavoured versions.

R is also for Roženice

This is a traditional Istrian wind instrument (also called sopele) similar to an oboe (and to the South Indian nadaswaram!). It's always played in pairs, with each musician playing one of a different size so that two different tones are produced, which is typical to the characteristic Istrian musical scale (Istarska ljestvica).

Monday, 22 August 2016

Istria abecedary: P is for Parenzana

Photo credit: Istria Tourist Board

Parenzana was the name of a narrow gauge railway that used to run from the Istrian coastal city of Poreč up to the port city of Trieste in Italy. Built in 1902 during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this railway was 123 km long with 35 stations and a steam locomotive that used to transport passengers as well as freight.

The railway got its name from Parenzo, the Italian name for Poreč.

One of the towns with a station along this train line was Završje, a once flourishing commercial centre which went through a decline once the railway was discontinued in 1935 during Italian rule, and eventually almost completely abandoned.

Today this former railway line has been transformed into a popular and very scenic cycling and hiking route that winds its way from Croatia through Slovenia and on to Trieste, just like the steam locomotive once used to.

P is also for pomalo!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Animal life in the village

Animals used to be a big part of life here in Istria, where farming was a way of life for a long time. During childhood visits, I loved spending time on my grandparents' farm where there were cows, chickens, and pigs. But today few people keep farm animals. A few old ladies here in the village have chickens, while one family living just outside the village has sheep, goats, a pig, and a horse.

But there are several dogs and cats. Many of our neighbours have dogs trained for truffle hunting, but unfortunately when they're not out in the forests searching for these rare (and expensive!) truffles, they're locked up because they're considered more valuable than other dogs. As for cats, they roam free and there are quite a few resident cats here in Gračišće, as well as a few strays.

Točka loves to climb the olive tree
If you follow this blog, then you know that our cat Squeaky moved with us from India. And if you follow my Instagram page (or Squeaky's Instagram page!) then you'll also know that a kitten moved into our home recently. About two months ago, a little black and white kitten showed up on the courtyard wall and has been here ever since. Needless to say, Squeaky, who famously hates all other cats, is not very happy about this new development and has tried her best to chase this unwanted intruder away. Točka (meaning 'dot' or 'spot'), however, is very persistent and not easily deterred, and has since moved in and made herself very comfortable. Space is still being negotiated with Squeaky, who vacillates between total indifference and extreme opposition to Točka. Some days I think we're making progress, only to have to witness another screaming feline stand-off.

I'm not sure where Točka came from... is she the offspring of Lola, a long-time resident stray? Or was she abandoned? Unfortunately, we've come across quite a few abandoned animals... Earlier this month, a cardboard box had been left in the loža just inside the village gateway with two eight-week-old kittens inside and their date of birth written on the box. I was surprised they were males, because it's usually the females people try to get rid of. My friend and neighbour M adopted one, introducing him to her cat Luna – who is also adjusting to the new addition to her household. As for the other kitten, it seems to have disappeared, the sorry fate of many abandoned animals.

MiMoon gets a new home but his brother disappears

In related news, just a week after the box of abandoned kittens incident, my neighbour L introduced me to a dog who suddenly turned up in the village. Another unwanted and abandoned pet? The dog quickly won L's affection: he was calm, quiet, and obedient, but had 'a certain sadness about him', L said. He had a slight limp, and spent a lot of time licking his paws. We deduced that his paws were sore because he had probably spent a long time walking. Otherwise, he looked healthy, clean and well cared for, and wore a nice collar. L took it off to see if anything was written on it – maybe a phone number... but found nothing. I suggested a trip to the vet to check for a microchip – someone had obviously taken good care of this dog and there was a good chance he may be micro-chipped.

Bongor goes home after his big adventure
I was holding my breath while the vet scanned the back of the dog's neck, and was thrilled when the scanner registered a number. He disappeared into his office to look it up and came back with a printout of the dog's details. This is how we learned that his name was Bongor, and that he was three years old. He had been microchipped only about ten days before, and his home was in Lovran on the east coast – 50 kilometres away by road! The most direct route overland covers half this distance but would involve crossing the Učka mountain and some very rugged terrain – is this how Bongor got to Gračišće? And is this why his paws were so sore? Why would he set out on such a journey so far from home? Or was he intentionally abandoned? Only Bongor knows the answers – but later that day he was on his way home with his owner and both seemed genuinely happy to be reunited. A happy end!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Istria abecedary: O is for Otok

A view of Sveta Katarina island from Rovinj's bell tower

Otok means island in Croatian, and Croatia is a country of islands, with over a thousand dotted around its Adriatic coastline. As for Istria, it has 58 islands.

The largest is the Brijuni archipelago, just off the coast of Fažana, which itself is made up of fourteen islands, the biggest being Veliki Brijun. This is also the site of a national park

O is also for Oprtalj. Have you been there?

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