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

Čabeceda

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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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.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Istria abecedary: Z is for Zvonik



There's no W, X, or Y in the Croatian alphabet, so today I'm jumping from V to Z. But this does not mean my abecedary is now complete -- because this is not the last letter...

Z is for Zvonik

Every Istrian town and village has at least one church, but most often several. Interestingly, the zvonik (bell tower) is often completely separate from the church building, like here in Gračišće.

The bell tower is always the highest point of the skyline, and in some places you can climb it and enjoy the stunning panoramic views. Highly recommended! You can see the view from Gračišće's bell tower here.

Z is also for Završje, a charming hilltop town which is well worth a visit.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Istria abecedary: V is for Vino



Istria is a wine-making region that's especially known for its white Malvazija (Malvasia) wine. Other grape varietals grown here include Muscat, Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Teran. Across Istria, signposted ‘wine roads’ lead visitors to small local producers where they can sample and buy locally produced wine. 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A walk through Grožnjan – the town of artists



Grožnjan is one of Istria's many hilltop towns and an absolute must-see. If you've been to Istria but haven't visited Grožnjan... you have to come back and explore this delightful place.

Grožnjan is firmly on the tourist map but compared to other popular tourist spots, it doesn't have a flashy commercial feel. I remember when I first visited in 1989, most houses were still abandoned and in a state of disrepair. Then with each visit I noticed how it was being transformed, and today the town is practically fully restored, with only a few derelict houses left.




Compared to other Istrian towns and villages where there are still many abandoned, crumbling houses, Grožnjan is an exception. Also striking is how all the houses have been beautifully and tastefully renovated, and the original character of the town has been preserved, including its charmingly uneven cobblestones. Unfortunately in many of Istria's old village and towns, the restoration process seems haphazard and inconsistent, even in places that are under heritage protection.

Maybe it's thanks to the many artists living here that the town has been so lovingly preserved. Many of the old stone houses have been transformed into studios and art galleries, and Grožnjan is known as a village of artists. I wondered when and how it was given this status and after a bit of research I found out that it was in 1965 (during the time of Yugoslavia) that Grožnjan was declared the Town of Arts. Houses were allocated to artists from Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, while others were entrusted to Jeunesses Musicales International in 1969 and transformed into an international cultural center where music workshops are held each summer.



Today there are at least two dozen art galleries and studios, as well as boutiques selling art and jewellery. There are also a few shops hawking the usual Istrian products sold in tourist spots like olive oil, truffle products, wine and lavender, but like I mentioned above, without the ugly souvenir shops and commercial overload of other places.



Grožnjan's affiliation with music is also very present here. If you wander its narrow streets during the summer months, you'll be accompanied by the dreamy sounds of piano or violin music wafting from the upstairs windows of the music studios where musicians rehearse and practice during the annual summer school. Also, Grožnjan is the host of a jazz festival held here every July, called Jazz is Back, and every September it's time for ExTempore, an art festival.




Another good reason to visit Grožnjan is for the winding drive up to the hilltop it occupies and the gorgeous views of rolling hills and a sliver of the sea. 

Take a walk through Grožnjan...





















Thursday, 20 October 2016

Cycling the Parenzana: From Muggia to Buje

For walkers, cyclists, and rollerbladers
Doing the Parenzana trail had been on my to-do list for a long time – the whole 123 kilometres of it! Though it's possible to cycle the whole length of the trail in one day (and many people do), I wanted to take things slow and enjoy the ride and the scenery along the way. So I planned to do the trail in several stages, partly on bicycle and partly on foot.

This walking and cycle trail runs along a former narrow gauge railway line built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire that operated from 1902 to 1935 and once linked the port city of Trieste (in Italy) to the coastal town of Poreč on Istria's western coast.

After a bit of research, I decided to cycle the first stage of the trail starting in Muggia, Italy, through a small part of Slovenia, and across the Croatian border to Buje. I read that this part of the Parenzana that runs through Slovenia is paved, and more or less flat, so ideal for cycling.

The start of the trail in Muggia next to the River Ospo




Though the railway line used to run all the way to Trieste, the section from Muggia to Trieste has not been converted into a trail. So on a warm October day I started my journey in Muggia (15 km from Trieste) where the Parenzana trail starts. A sign here marks the beginning of the trail, which is also part of a longer bicycle network called the Adria Bike route that begins in Ravenna, Italy and follows the Adriatic.

The trail started idyllically enough through a woody stretch along the Ospo River, and then over a bridge. But all of sudden we found ourselves on a traffic circle with no clear sign of which way to go. We followed a group of equally confused Italian cyclists and eventually found the path again after going up an incline and through a residential area. We continued along a wooded path and quickly came to the border with Slovenia which was simply marked with a sign.

The border with Slovenia!












Following the coastline from Koper to Izola
It was an easy ride to the port city of Koper on mostly flat roads. After a stop in the old town for coffee, we returned to the trail which followed the coastline along this stretch all the way to Izola. There's an original locomotive that was used on the Parenzana railway on display here with a few interesting facts: it was specially constructed for the railway, and could hold 3m3 of water and 2m3 of coal. We took a detour here to visit the charming old town, and came across the fruit and vegetable market on the way.

The vegetable market in Izola









Izola's old town
From Izola the Parenzana trail leaves the coast and climbs upwards to the hills of Jagodje, with plenty of olive groves and vineyards on the way and sweeping views of the sea and Izola's old town below. We soon came to the first tunnel on the trail at Šalet, and passed through more idyllic landscapes of vineyards and olive plantations with the seaside city of Piran visible in the distance. We quickly reached the second tunnel at Valeta: at 550 metres in length, it's one of the longest tunnels on the trail and was fortunately well-lit.  On exiting the tunnel we saw that we were in the hills above Portorož, another well-known Slovenian seaside town.

The second tunnel we encountered



Some of the stunning landscapes on the way




After descending the hill we came across a different landscape once again. Stretching towards the sea was marshland divided into rectangular ponds and painted in tones of rusty Autumn red. These are the Sečovlje salt pans where a saltworks has been in operation since the 13th century. Salt production continues here but on a smaller scale, and this is also the site of a nature park which is home to many bird species, and a museum of salt-making.

Sečovlje salt pans painted in Autumn colours







From here it was just a short ride to the Slovenian-Croatian border. This was my first time crossing a border on a bicycle! We showed our id cards to the officer and once over the border, we now faced the most difficult part of this stretch: the uphill climb towards Buje. A sign gave us two options: straight ahead, or a path off the road to the right. We continued on ahead, not knowing that the path to the right around a hairpin bend was the original path of the Parenzana train. Maybe that path was longer but easier, but it eventually merges with the main road on the top of the hill, which we followed on our way to Buje. Compared to the narrow paths we rode along in Slovenia, riding with traffic on a main road was definitely not as picturesque, but a sign soon pointed us to a secondary dirt road that ran parallel to the main road and eventually took us to the hilltop town of Buje. This is where the first stage of my trip on the Parenzana trail ended.

The green line indicates the path we followed from Muggia, Italy and through Slovenia to Buje, Croatia




Overall this stage of the Parenzana was an easy and enjoyable ride, and I would love to experience it again. The Parenzana trail through Slovenia is paved (except for a short stretch of maybe 400 metres during the climb towards Jagodje) and is well-maintained and sign-posted. There are also several rest areas along the way with picnic tables provided. At each place where there used to be a station, there are signs with information and facts about the railway, nearby sights, and the station buildings.

One of the many rest stops along the way


Next I'll be sharing my experience of the second stage of the trail from Buje to Livade. This section is the most scenic and the reason why I decided to continue on foot from here...

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