Monday, 18 July 2016

Not-to-be-missed summer festivals in Istria

One of the best things about summer in Istria is all the festivals happening during the summer throughout the peninsula. Not only is there a variety of different cultural events on offer, but many of these festivals offer the opportunity to experience them in truly unique settings. So far this summer I had the chance to watch a film under the stars in Pula's Roman amphitheatre at the 63rd Pula Film Festival, and attend an open-air concert in a park during the TradInEtno festival of world music in Pazin. Both festivals wrapped up last weekend, but there are plenty more cultural events happening in the weeks to come. Here are a few not-to-be-missed events:

Labin Art Republika

When: July 2 to August 31, 2016

Where: Labin

Photo credit: Labin Art Republika

This two-month long festival is hosted by the city of Labin, one of Istria's many charming hilltop towns. This is probably the longest and the most eclectic festival, running all summer long, and featuring a variety of events, most of which happen in the open air. This includes live music, a jazz festival, documentary films, theatre, dance, plays for children, stand-up comedy, art exhibitions, and night walking tours of the old town. The full programme of events is available on the Labin Art Republika website.  

Jazz is back! 

When: July 12 to 30, 2016

Where: Grožnjan

Photo credit: Colours of Istria

Even if you you're not a fan of jazz, you should definitely go to Grožnjan during this annual summer festival. Grožnjan is high on my list of favourite Istrian hilltop destinations, and this delightful village of cobbled lanes and stone houses has a magical atmosphere during this festival. Come early so you can enjoy a drink while watching the sunset over the hills at Kaya, and wander through the maze of narrow streets to the sounds of jazz, while having a peek inside the many art galleries on the way. You can see the full programme here.  

Ulysses Theatre

When: July 18 to 28 August, 2016

Where: Brijuni Islands

This unique open-air theatre runs its season for six weeks on the islands of Brijuni, which are easily reached by ferry from the port town of Fažana. The ferry ride is included in the performance ticket price, and is a novel way to start the evening. This summer, the highlight of the 2016 season is the commemoration of 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, with the staging of King Lear and Richard III. Richard III is produced by Almeida Theatre and directed by Rupert Goold, with Ralph Fiennes starring as Richard III and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret. Tickets will sell out fast for this one, so be sure to book here!

Festival of dance and non-verbal theatre

When: July 22 to 25, 2016

Where: Svetvinčenat

Photo credit: Festival of dance and non-verbal theatre

Svetvinčenat (also known as Savičenta) is not located on a hilltop, but this town in central Istria has a special atmosphere. It has an impressive 16th church on a picturesque square with an old public well, and the town is dominated by the 13th century Grimani castle. The performances take place on the square itself, in the loggia, and in the unique setting of the castle. There are also plenty of little cafes, and a couple of pizzerias, for a pre- or post-performance drink or bite. You can check out what's happening at this festival of dance and non-verbal theatre on its website.  

Motovun Film Festival

When: July 26 to 30, 2016

Where: Motovun

Photo credit: Motovun Film Festival

Motovun is, yes – located on a hilltop, and is one of Istria's best-known, and most photographed towns. It also gets many tourists during the summer, but this doesn't mean it is not worth a visit. The best time to visit is in the early morning – or during this festival, one of Croatia's best-known film festivals. Some of the screenings take place in the open air on the town's scenic squares. To find out which films will be featured this year, visit the Motovun Film Festival website. 

Last Minute Open Jazz Festival

When: August 1 to 4, 2016

Where: Bale 

This festival is in its 10th year and is an initiative of Kamene Priče, a local tavern/bar in the pretty medieval town of Bale. This is another place where you'd want to come early to have time to explore its narrow lanes and old stone houses. The concerts take place outdoors on a charming square in front of the town's castle. The programme is available at this link.  

Enjoy the summer!

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Istria abecedary: N is for Nono

Above: My great-grandfather

Nono is the name for grandfather in Istrian dialect, from the Italian word nonno. Likewise, nona is the name for grandmother. This is what I used to call my grandparents.

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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Istria abecedary: M is for Maneštra

At the Maneštra Festival in Gračišće

Maneštra is a typical Istrian dish: this is a thick soup, similar to Italian minestrone. Here in the village, there's an annual festival dedicated to this local specialty.

M is also for Mirna

This is the name of Istria's longest river. It has its source at a spring near Buzet, and joins the Adriatic Sea near the city of Novigrad, 53 km away.

The Mirna River (Photo credit: Istria Tourist Board)

M is also for Marenda, a light meal eaten between breakfast and lunch. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Istria abecedary: Lj is for Ljestvica

A note on the Croatian letter 'Lj'. This is considered to be one letter in the Croatian alphabet, and is pronounced like the double L sound in 'million'. (Remember: the J is pronounced like a Y.)

Ljestvica means 'musical scale', and Istarska ljestvica refers to the musical scale unique to Istria. It's characterized by two-part singing which involves two singers singing together, but an octave apart, and using a technique of 'partial' nasal singing, ending with the two singers singing in unison. The second voice can be replaced by an instrument like sopele (a traditional woodwind instrument) or bagpipes.

This is difficult to describe in words, but this short video provides a useful demonstration:

This unique tradition of two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale is recognized by UNESCO and was inscribed on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.


Friday, 10 June 2016

The pomalo way of life

Come to Istria, and you're bound to hear the word 'pomalo' sooner or later. Pomalo literally means 'slowly' but it seems to mean a lot more. 

It's a standard reply to many questions here. Ask someone how they are. The answer will be pomalo. How's work going? Pomalo. How's your mother? Pomalo. What's for dinner? Pomalo. Would you like a coffee? Pomalo.

Pomalo is practically a way of life. Italy has la dolce vita. We have pomalo

Indeed life has its own rhythm here, and you can only give in to it. Things can take time. Locals often ask me how I can put up with things here. Tedious things like the administration, paperwork, waiting for repairmen, expecting a letter (the post is so slow!)... All of these things go very pomalo

But what locals don't understand is what I went through while living in India for 6.5 years. Those long years taught me patience. I learned there's no point getting upset about things you can't control. You just have to give in and things just somehow work out in the end. So the small daily challenges here are nothing compared to daily power cuts, water problems, impossible traffic... I learned how to 'adjust' in India and it was a valuable life skill. So I can deal with all these pomalo issues.

An example of a current pomalo issue is our electric oven. Months ago, the thermostat stopped working, so the oven overheats and then turns off. We bought it at Ikea in Trieste along with the rest of our kitchen two years ago. Ikea Italy was quick to reply to our email inquiry with the helpful information that the warranty is valid across the EU and that we can contact Ikea in Zagreb to get it repaired. In true pomalo fashion, it took a few calls to Ikea in Zagreb until they finally got back to us with the phone number for the Whirlpool service centre. 

I've lost count how many calls we made to Whirlpool, but after four months and still no phone call from them as promised with details of the nearest certified Whirlpool serviceman, I called them again and used a tactic I had learned in India... No use getting angry, just tell them how difficult your life is without a functioning oven and make it sound much, much worse that it really is. 

We haven't been able to use our oven in months! It's been broken since before Christmas! There were no Christmas cakes or cookies for us! It's a really dire situation after all these months and still no call from your service centre. We've been living on only boiled vegetables all this time! How much longer do you think it will take??

The man at the Whirlpool service centre promised to get back to me that very day. I hung up with low expectations – but lo and behold, the sob story tactic seemed to have worked! He actually called back an hour later with the name and number of a qualified Whirlpool serviceman in Pazin, just a few kilometres away, and the news that he would come check out our oven on Monday. 

The repairman really did show up on Monday (after a call from me to make sure he was coming). He chatted away while poking the thermostat dial with his multimeter. He asked me how I enjoyed living in Istria, and told me that life is different here, that everything goes pomalo. I told him that I knew all about pomalo... that I had been waiting for months to hear back from Whirlpool so we could get the oven repaired. “You should have called me first,” he proffered, “I would have come immediately.” He then announced that the thermostat was kaput, and that it would take seven to ten days to get a new one from Germany. 

This was promising news. What's seven to ten days after waiting four months? Surely if the thermostat is coming from Germany, it'll be here in no time at all? 

It's now been seven weeks since Mr Whirlpool came by. In the meantime I've called him twice. No new thermostat from Germany. He promised to look into it and get back to me. He's getting another call from me next week...

My neighbour joked that they're just waiting for our warranty to run out! There are three years left...  I'll surely have a functioning oven again soon?

In the meantime, I will adjust.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Istria abecedary: L is for Lavanda

Lavanda is lavender, which grows abundantly in Istria.

L is also for Loža. 

The Italian word is loggia, a covered gallery similar to a veranda or porch. This is a typical architectural feature in many towns and villages across Istria which dates back to Venetian times. You can see more examples in a previous post.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Istria abecedary: K is for Koza

Koza is the Croatian word for goat. The goat is the symbol of Istria, and is represented on the Istrian flag (above). Istria's goat is also found on the Croatian flag representing the region of Istria: it's on one of the five shields making up a crown above the central red and white checkered shield. 

K is also for Krasna zemljo

Krasna zemljo (beautiful land) is a hymn that was adopted in 2002 as the official anthem of the Istrian Region. The lyrics were written by Ivan Cukon in 1912, while the music was composed by Matko Brajša Rašan. The Croatian lyrics and their translation are available here

And here's a beautiful musical and visual representation of Krasna zemljo by the Croatian tourist office:

K is also for Konoba

A konoba is a tavern which is often family-run and serves traditional local dishes. The konoba is also the name for the cellar in a house where wine and other food is stored.

K is also for Kažun

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