Sunday, 31 August 2014

Adventures of a South Indian cat in Istria

Our cat Squeaky is a minor celebrity in the village as the cat who travelled here all the way from India. Squeaky has adapted to her new home but it did take some time. A neighbour calls her Squeakić so she now has a local name.

I have this feeling I'm not in Bangalore anymore.
Back in her natural habitat, the streets of Bangalore, Squeaky was an avid hunter. She would turn her nose up at the Whiskas I would lay out for her and go outside to the terrace, climb onto the roof, and catch a squirrel instead. She would also hunt mice and rats on a daily basis. Then there were the five small rabbits she brought home (not all at the same time) – and my special birthday surprise: a bat under the bed.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much wildlife in the village. Or maybe there are enough stray cats to make sure there are no rodents around. 

So Squeaky has been relegated to chasing flies and other insects, and is very good at locating scorpion intruders in the middle of the night. 

I've also managed to find a brand of cat food she likes. But too bad there's no 'rat-flavoured' pet food. I think she'd prefer that. 
Yay! A sunny spot! Time for a nap!

In Bangalore Squeaky would spend most of the night wandering around the neighbourhood and catch up on sleep during the long, hot days. Here she is a lot less nocturnal and spends the days looking for sunny spots to doze in or observing the goings-on from the veranda. She does go off on regular explorations around the village but has been sticking close to home ever since she got into a fight with a brawny tom cat. Squeakić thinks she’s a Bengal tiger you see, and not a little street cat from New Thippasandra. I guess she thought she’d show this tom (who we’ve nicknamed ‘the thug’) who’s the boss... After watching her growl ferociously and puff up her tail for a while, the unimpressed tom pounced. She bolted across the square – but the tom easily caught up to her. The two felines somersaulted in a flurry of flying fur and hysterical shrieking before we managed to chase the thug off. Squeaky ran inside to lick her wounds, and has been keeping a low profile ever since.

There's so much to explore...

Since the renovation work on the ground floor is not complete, we’ve made a cat ladder for kitty so she can descend into the courtyard. However, the curious village strays have also discovered the ladder leading to our window on the upper floor. One night we woke to a commotion coming from the hallway. I was horrified to see a cat stuck in the window and desperately trying to free itself. (Our windows tilt inwards vertically, leaving a gap at the top so that we can let in air without having the window wide open.) It was the thug! That brawny tom cat (who clearly is not so brainy) thought he’d try to jump through the gap but got his head lodged between the window and the frame. With some difficulty, he was freed and survived the ordeal. The (badly scratched up) window now stays firmly closed at night and when we're not home!

Check out my cat ladder!

Squeaky the South Indian cat has also had to adapt to a different climate. She spent the winter curled up next to the radiator, but she’s been enjoying the hot summer days which remind her of her native Bangalore. 

I miss those fat rats -- but not the firecrackers during Diwali!

No rats, but good food, a cat ladder, peace and quiet. Life is good for the South Indian cat!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

How to travel to Istria from Italy

Beautiful Rovinj is just a ferry ride away across the Adriatic Sea from Venice

It’s now the height of the tourist season in Istria. Most of the cars I see on the roads have foreign licence plates, every day there are tourist groups arriving by bus in the village, and I see many people walking around with cameras and an enchanted look in their eyes.

This is also the time when friends and family come to visit. Since I often get asked how to travel to Istria from Italy, I’ve decided to write an informational post describing how to travel here and get around by car, bus, train, boat and plane.

Travelling from Italy to Istria by car

Istria is easily reached from Trieste, Italy by car, a drive which takes 1 to 1.5 hours depending on your destination. The route goes through a small part of Slovenia, where a toll sticker (vignette) is required to use the highway. Compared to other EU countries, the vignette is quite expensive at 15 EUR for a period of 7 days. (For example, in Austria it only costs 8.50 EUR for a period of 10 days.) However, an alternative is to take the secondary roads and avoid the highway altogether, which is what most locals do. The stretch along the Slovenian highway only runs for about 8km from Trieste to Koper anyway, so it’s not worth paying for the vignette if you’ll only be driving this short stretch. It can be tricky though to navigate the labyrinth of roads and overpasses when leaving Trieste. This handy link outlines the route to take. Head towards Buzet if you’re going to central or eastern Istria and towards Koper if you’re heading to the west coast or southern Istria.

Though Croatia is part of the EU, it is not yet part of the Schengen Area, which means there are checkpoints at the Slovenian-Croatian border at Plovanija-Sečovlje, Kaštel-Dragonja and Požane-Sočerga. Kaštel-Dragonja is usually the busiest of the three during the summer season. Make sure you travel with your national ID card (if you’re a EU citizen) or passport.

Getting around Istria by car:

Most visitors travel to Istria by car and this is definitely the most convenient way to get around because public transportation is very limited. Roads are well maintained and since the Istrian peninsula is quite small, no destination is more than a 30- or 40-minute drive away. The highway in Istria (called ‘Ypsilon’ because of its Y-shape) is a toll road.

Car rental agencies are located mostly in the tourist centres of Poreč, Rovinj, Umag and Pula. It’s a good idea to book a rental car in advance.

Travelling from Italy to Istria by bus

There are daily bus connections between the cities of Padova, Venice and Trieste in Italy to several towns and cities in Istria. Some don’t run on Sundays, especially outside the tourist season.

Brioni offers the following connections:
Padova / Venice to Bale, Buje, Pula, Rovinj, Vodnjan
Trieste to Bale, Buje, Poreč, Pula, Rovinj, Vodnjan (and other destinations in Istria)

Fils has daily services (except Sundays) running from Venice and Trieste to Buzet, Pazin and Pula.
During the summer there’s a daily direct non-stop bus between Trieste and Pula (Sundays included).

Getting around Istria by bus:

Bus services in Istria are not very frequent and are mostly limited to major centres like Pula, Poreč, Rovinj, Pazin and Umag. For details and timetables, check the websites of the 3 bus companies: Autotrans, Brioni and Fils.

Travelling from Italy to Istria by train

There are no direct train services between Italy and destinations in Istria. The best option would be to arrive in Trieste by train and then catch a bus to Istria (see above). The bus station in Trieste is located right next to the train station.

Getting around Istria by train:

There is a frequent daily train which links Pula and Buzet and several towns on the way, including Pazin. During the summer this train continues on to Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. Timetables are available on the Croatian Railways website.

Travelling from Italy to Istria by boat

Sailing across the Adriatic Sea from Venice to Rovinj is probably the most romantic introduction to Istria. There are regular ferry services linking Venice and Trieste in Italy to the Istrian port towns of Poreč, Rovinj, Umag, Pula and Rabac. Ferries only run between June and September with more frequent services in July and August.

This link on the Istria Tourist Office website lists the ferry companies operating between Italy and Istria.

Airports in Istria

Of course more and more tourists are flying directly to Istria. Pula airport is one of Croatia’s busiest airports during the tourist season. This page on the Istria Tourist Office website has some useful information on scheduled and chartered flights to Pula.

Rijeka and Trieste are other nearby airports.

Sretan put! Bon voyage!

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