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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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...

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).

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?

Monday, 25 July 2016

Istria abecedary: Nj is for Njoki

Image source: Wikimedia

Continuing with this abecedary of all things Istrian, we come to the letter 'nj'. Nj is considered to be one letter of the Croatian alphabet because it makes one sound, which sounds like the 'ny' sound in onion.

Njoki is pronounced the same way as gnocchi in Italian [n(y)ok-ee]. This is an Italian speciality, and also a staple of Istrian cuisine. They're made with potatoes and flour, and served with different accompanying sauces.

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 century 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!
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