Sunday, 16 October 2016

Istria abecedary: U is for Učka

The Učka is Istria's highest mountain and its best-known physical landmark. It's part of the Ćićarija mountain range, which is the northeasternly geographical boundary where Istria meets continental Croatia. At a height of 1401 metres, it can be seen from most parts of Istria. Locals here say that if the Učka is wearing a 'hat' (in the form of cloud cover), then it's going to rain!

U is also for Ulika, the Istrian word for olive. Olive trees grow across the peninsula, and Istrian olive oil has a delightful fruity taste.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Istria abedecary: T is for Tovar

Tovar is the Istrian word for donkey. Donkeys used to be a common sight here when they were used as working animals to carry and transport goods, especially up and down hilly terrain.

T is also for Tartufi, or truffle. Istria is one of the few regions in Europe where black truffles and the highly-prized white truffle can be found.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Istria abecedary: Š is for Šparoga

Šparoga is asparagus (Š is pronounced 'sh'). This is one of the many gastronomic delights that grow here in Istria. Asparagus  shoots make their appearance in the early spring, growing in forests. They have a strong and distinctive flavour, and are most commonly eaten scrambled with eggs, in risotto or with pasta and a drizzle of olive oil.

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).

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