Istria, Croatia

Flying from London to the Istrian Coast was one of our better travel experiences. Croatian Airlines staff were refreshingly friendly and helpful. They made sure we boarded first, which helps so much when traveling with small children. The in-flight snack was fresh cheese in olive oil with fat green olives, accompanied by crisp white wine. That’s a great way to get in the mood for sunny Croatia and all it has to offer. Plus, how often are you served food in a tub of oil on an airplane? That’s a gutsy choice.

The airport in Rijeka was not air conditioned but the immigration line only took a few minutes and our luggage appeared quickly. I mention this because it is so unusual and such a TREAT when you travel as much as we do. Traveling would be so much easier if we could just cut out all the tedious lines.

The Rijeka Airport
I guess this sign is necessary at the Rijeka Airport.
I guess this sign is necessary at the Rijeka Airport.

The island where the Rijeka Airport is located was hot and dry. But as we drove on the mainland it got noticeably moister and cooler, with evidence of a recent rain. Mist steamed off the wet asphalt of the road.

First stop was Hum, the world’s smallest town. It is located in northwest Croatia, central Istria. Hum has a whopping 23 residents, according to Wikipedia. Tim thought it’d be fun to check it out and have a meal there on our way to Pula, where we’d stay for four days. Leave it to my husband to not only know about the world’s smallest town, but to take us there. It probably doesn’t need to be said that Tim is a gifted travel planner. As we parked, we saw a tour bus loading up school-age children but as we explored the town, it was nearly empty. It seemed like Hum gets lots of tourists but not many stay for dinner.

Hum
Hum

Hum was as darling of a place as could be imagined. Fruit trees and gardens lined the walkways. We had a delightful al fresco meal with local food and wine as the sun over the beautiful Istrian countryside. A sweet black kitty kept us company as we ate and we could see a horse happily grazing in a paddock below the restaurant.

Vanessa was entranced with all the fat shiny green June bugs buzzing around us. The ladies working at the restaurant couldn’t get enough of Zara. It reminded me once again that “babyese” is a universal language. Everyone is saying the same thing, “Aren’t you so cute? I could just gobble you up. What darling cheeks you have.” Right? These ladies were so lovely they even shared their cherries with our girls…

The restaurant in the town of Hum.
The restaurant in the town of Hum.
Kitty in Hum
Kitty in Hum.
Enjoying the evening in Hum.
Enjoying the evening in Hum.

Tim drove us to our apartment in Pješčana Uvala, located just outside of Pula, managing to find his way despite poor directions. We were warmly welcomed by the owner, a well-groomed young man with children of his own. He showed us the beach and pointed out the best place for swimming with the girls.

The beach near our apartment.
The beach near our apartment.

The next four days included a lot of time at the beach (a beach that didn’t seem to know cellulite or pale skin until I showed up), with some day trip explorations thrown in to keep things interesting. Each morning we’d head to a little bakery and get an assortment of pastries. Then we’d cross the street to an open air bar called Cacadu Caffe that had comfortable couches, a box of toys, and, most importantly, excellent cappuccinos.

  
One of our day trips was to downtown Pula. We braved the heat and saw the Pula Arena, a beautiful, amazingly intact amphitheater built between 27 BC-68 AD, the freestanding Arch of the Sergii built between 29-27 BC, and explored Pula’s  farmers’ market. And, of course, got some sladoled (ice cream). You know, because it was so hot.

The Arch of the Sergii in Pula.
The Arch of the Sergii in Pula.
Cheese on display at Pula's Farmers' Market.
Cheese on display at Pula’s Farmers’ Market.
Cherries at the Farmers' Market.
Cherries at the Farmers’ Market.

Miss Zara strutting her stuff in Pula.
Miss Zara strutting her stuff in Pula.

Tim wanted to visit the parish church of St. Blaise, in nearby Vodnjan. For a fee, you can see mummies of saints on display inside the church. Mummies are key. Vanessa is into them, or at least thinks she is, so we had to check them out. At the front of the church, we were greeted by an eccentric priest. After establishing that we spoke English, he proceeded to babble at us in Croatian before charging us a relatively pricy entrance fee and leading us into the mummy area. The mummies were encased in glass and a cloth tent was set up over them to decrease their exposure to light. Of course our girls decided to run around trying to touch things and generally make noise, so we didn’t stay long. As we were leaving, Tim pointed out that we were on camera the whole time. Good thing we didn’t play hanky panky in the dark.

The basilica.
The Church of St. Blaise.
Outside the basilica, wearing my jacket to respect the rules of the church.
Outside St. Blaise wearing my jacket to respect the rules of the church.

Another fun excursion involved attending a local folk music party in a nearby town called Vinkuran. A bunch of people of all ages gathered outside to hear an energetic, electronic folk band.  It was a classic small town summertime scene: as darkness settled, kids ran around playing, vendors sold drinks, popcorn, crepes and balloons, young adults stood together self-consciously on the periphery and older adults danced with abandon.

I had imagined an American-style folk band, some hirsute men quietly bent over their banjos and ukuleles with only one or two microphones set up. Boy was I wrong. This group was electrified, loud, clean-cut with snazzy suits, and professional. Vanessa danced enthusiastically (see video). At one point the guitarist was in the middle of a guitar solo when the electricity suddenly went out. The lead singer grabbed a bull horn and led the audience in songs while the electricity was quickly restored.


The beach in Pješčana Uvala was quite popular. There was a bar that provided drinks, sladoled, and a bathroom. I noticed that the babies went naked, there was lots of smoking, and some women went topless (but they seemed to be exclusively small breasted). Beach goers seemed intent on being as brown as possible. I could imagine dermatologists shuddering in horror. But with all the smoking, why not throw in a little sun, too?IMG_0760IMG_0690

Hanging out at the beach bar.
Hanging out at the beach bar.

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Istria is a region famous for its food. Truffles, fresh seafood, delicious pastas, fine wines. Our last night was spent at a great little restaurant–Konoba Istriana–that we found by accident. Vanessa fell asleep in the car, so we parked directly in front, left the windows down, and asked the waiter to seat us at the table nearest to our car. We feasted on a mixed seafood plate accompanied by white wine and Istrian bitters. Zara was in no mood for sitting, so one of us would eat while the other walked around with Zara and kept an eye on Vanessa. It was almost romantic, if only we could have sat together!

Fresh Istrian seafood.
Fresh Istrian seafood.
Zara running around at dinner. Notice the romantic couple on her right and lonely Tim on her left.

Istria treated us well. It’s obvious why the region is so popular, with its sunny beaches, delicious food, and friendly atmosphere. We had to move on but we’d be back to Croatia for the end of our trip.

Beautiful Vanessa.
Beautiful Vanessa with Goose. Ostrich stayed home because he’s afraid to fly.

Next up: the Vipava Valley in Slovenia. 

Istria
Istria
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