Monday, 15 May 2017

Cycling the Parenzana (Part 4): from Vižinada to Poreč

One reason I enjoyed spacing out my journey on the 123-km-long Parenzana trail over several months is that I was able to experience the different colours of each season as I cycled or walked through the different landscapes I came across.

I started out in Muggia in Italy in early October, cycling through this initial stage of the trail that crosses the border into Slovenia and follows the coast all the way to Buje in Croatia. There was a late summer feel to that October day and autumn hadn't yet fully started. It was a sunny day in November when I walked through Autumn landscapes from Buje to Livade on the second stage. And for the third leg from Livade to Vižinada, the rural scenery I walked through was painted in winter colours. 

On a day in early May that was threatening rain, I was on the final stretch of the trail from Vižinada to Poreč on my bicycle. Now the fields, forests and olive groves set in red earth I cycled past were painted in the brilliant green of the first days of Spring.

I started off in Vižinada where I took in the stunning view of Motovun in the distance. Hilltop Motovun was the ever present landmark of my previous walk, but now I turned my back on it and headed towards Vižinada. This section of the trail is on a slow and gradual decline so it was an easy ride. The route was pleasant and picturesque, but compared to the previous sections there were fewer 'wow' moments as the land got progressively flatter as I approached seaside Poreč. And there were no scary pitch dark tunnels!

I have now completed the 123-km Parenzana trail. Would I do it again? Yes! I would especially like to retrace the section in Slovenia by bicycle and the trail from Grožnjan to Livade on foot. Many people do the entire trail by bicycle in a single day, starting in Muggia, Italy and following the path of the former railway line all the way to Poreč, Croatia. Three countries in one day by bicycle? Yes, in Istria it's possible. The trail is dubbed 'the route of health and friendship' by the tourist office brochures because it links the three countries that make up geographical Istria.

Next I'll be writing a short and handy little guide on the trail with a few tips and recommendations. Coming soon!

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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Old postcards of Rovinj

Don't you love old postcards? I do!

A neighbour showed me his fascinating collection of 300 old postcards dating back to the early 1900s of Istrian towns and villages printed by an Italian publisher. I scanned the ones I found the most interesting and will be sharing some here. I had already shared a post on old postcards of Gračišće, the village I live in.

Today I'm taking you back in time to early 20th century Rovinj:

1918 -- a view of Rovinj from St Catherine Island

This photo was taken almost exactly 100 years ago. It looks like the tiny island of St Catherine was always a popular beach destination. Today it's also the site of a large hotel, Island Hotel Katarina. I imagine their rooms must have stunning views across the water of Rovinj's old town.

This shot of one of Rovinj's commercial streets in the old town was taken in 1902. The streets of the old town still look very similar today.

Taken in 1906, this is Rovinj's pier.

And last we have Rovinj's Piazza del Ponte (Trg na Mostu), captured in 1905.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Why spring is the best time to visit Istria

Yes, I'm back after my trip to India, and happy to be home. I had lovely spring weather to welcome me back and provide a soft landing after leaving the intense heat of India.

Autumn used to be my favourite season but since moving to Istria almost four years ago, spring is my favourite time of year. Why? Because in South India where I spent close to seven years, the weather was summer-like all the time and apart from the monsoon season, the seasons were not as marked as in northern climes. After spending my first winter in Istria, the arrival of spring was so welcome and so sweet: there's nothing like that first spring day when you can go outside without a coat, and sit in the sun and feel its rays warming your face.

Here's why – thanks to Istria – spring has become my favourite season and why it's the best time of the year to visit:

Everything is lush and green. Spring is when trees sprout new leaves and flowers bloom, so greenery is everywhere. But when Istria's spectacular landscapes are painted a brilliant spring green, it seems like the most beautiful place in the world.

Asparagus. A sure sign of spring is the wild asparagus that shoots out of the ground in Istria's forests. There's nothing like the taste of fresh asparagus and its burst of anti-oxidants. One of the first things I did was scavenge for wild asparagus in the forest on the edge of the village. And in Pula's market, I saw thick bunches of beautiful purple and green shoots on sale for next to nothing.

Outdoor cafes. There's nothing like the first day you can finally sit outside and enjoy a coffee or even a meal in the sun and fresh air. In spring, cafes and restaurants open their terraces and patios, and as soon as the sun comes out, they're crowded with people enjoying the good weather.

Fewer crowds. Spring is when tourists start to show up. Sometime around Easter I spot new faces wandering around the village, and foreign cars on the roads. But the usual tourist spots are far from crowded and this is when I like to explore them: when they're almost empty and before the mad rush of July and August.

Flower markets. Spring is all about flowers and planting. People are busy in their fields planting vegetables: onions, lettuce, and spinach are the first to appear, and very quickly there are strawberries and cherries to pick. People also love to decorate their homes and gardens with flowers and plants, and flower markets pop up in every town.

What's your spring ritual?

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Where am I?

This blog has been quiet... that's because I've had a change of window and am travelling in India again this winter. I hope to get to publishing the posts I have in the pipeline soon... but in the meantime you can have a peek at my Instagram page to see what I'm up to!

Friday, 30 December 2016


Image courtesy of Čabeceda

While I was working on the last letters of my Istria abecedary, I came across Čabeceda on Facebook. This is a collection of super cute illustrations depicting images that describe a word in the Istrian dialect for every letter of the Croatian alphabet. 

Not only are the illustrations delightful, but the name of the collection is very clever. Ča is the word for 'what' in the Chakavian (Čakavski) dialect spoken in Istria, after which the dialect is named. Abeceda is the Croatian word for abecedary. And beceda sounds very similar to beseda, which means 'word' in the dialect.

Having completed my attempt at an A to Ž of Istria, I knew that it was a challenge to come up with ideas for some letters which are less used in the Istrian dialect like Đ, DŽ, and Lj. But the artist had the added challenge of coming up with words that could be easily illustrated. 

The artist of this labour of love is Tina Radosavljević from Šišan near Pula. She's a recent graduate of the Academy of Applied Arts at the University of Rijeka who came up with this idea for her final Masters thesis. 

She obviously put a lot of thought into her project: the colour palette she uses is inspired by the colours of Istrian traditional costumes, and the figures depicted in her drawings are even wearing Istrian folk costumes. She has also included the translation of each word in Croatian, English and Italian.

I met Tina when I went to a Christmas art bazaar in Rijeka recently. She was there displaying a book and poster of her Čabeceda drawings, as well as other fun products like a memory game created from the collection, and illustrated mugs, t-shirts and cloth bags with cute Istrian sayings. You can see these things here.

Čabeceda is not only Tina's final art school project (I hope she got top marks!) but also a fun way to preserve the Istrian dialect. Do check out the Čabeceda Facebook page or Instagram page to see the whole collection.

By the way, I have also created an Istria A to Ž page on this blog with a round-up of my now completed Istria abecedary! You can see it just under the header image above.

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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Walking the Parenzana (Part 3): from Livade to Vižinada

It was a crisp but sunny winter's day with clear blue skies when I set out to walk from Livade to Vižinada. I had cycled the first part of the Parenzana trail from Muggia in Italy through Slovenia to Buje in Croatia, and then walked from Buje to Livade. This would be the third leg of my trip following the entire 123-km-long trail, a former railway line.

From Livade the trail follows the main road, heading in a straight line towards the hill town of Motovun and over a short bridge. It then veers to the left where a sign points the direction through the woods. It was cold inside the dense forest, and puddles were frozen over with ice. It was also chilly enough for me to pull out my hat and gloves and put them on. Luckily the forest trail did not last long, and I was soon back out in the winter sun with Motovun looming ahead of me again. It felt quite warm for a mid-December day.

I came across a few fascinating pieces of old abandoned farm machinery on the way.

This stretch of the Parenzana trail makes a track around Motovun (which is perched at 277 metres) so I was able to observe this spectacular hill town painted in winter colours under different angles and from different perspectives as I made my way around the base of the village.

The 222m-long tunnel at Motovun is the longest tunnel on the Croatian section of the Parenzana trail. I spotted a solar panel at its entrance and hoped that meant the tunnel would be lighted. I stepped gingerly inside and turned on my flashlight waiting for the tunnel's lights to turn on. Nothing happened, and of course – Murphy's Law – my flashlight stopped working! The tunnel was pitch black and pretty creepy... I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel either because the tunnel curves. I was about to turn back... I didn't have the nerves to walk through a pitch black, damp tunnel alone... when miraculously the lights suddenly flickered on! I breathed a sigh of relief and walked as quickly as possible, praying they would not turn off as suddenly as they had come on. I was relieved to finally see the (proverbial?) light at the end of the tunnel and quickened my pace.

I soon had Motovun behind me and eventually saw Vižinada looming in the distance ahead. There were few people on the trail that day: one or two lone cyclists, and small groups of walkers covering parts of the trail only.

This leg of the trail from Livade to Vižinada took me about 3.5 hours to walk. I've now completed three quarters of the 123-km-long trail, and will do the last stretch by bicycle this spring.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Istria abecedary: Ž is for Županski stol

The županski stol in Gračišće

Županski stol can be translated as a municipal or public table. Often made of simple rectangular or circular stone slabs set on stone pillars, this is where important community decisions were taken by a town's decision makers. You can still see these old stone tables in many places across Istria.

I've now reached the last letter of the Croatian alphabet and the end of my Istria abecedary! I hope you enjoyed it and learned a little bit about Istria along the way.
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