Sunday, September 1, 2013
Rovinj to Pula to Korenica (Plitvice Lakes)

For breakfast we had leftover pizza and mixed meat from last night. Then we both took cold showers, deciding it must have slipped the owner's mind to turn on the hot water for us. But shortly before we left, I found a switch in the front entranceway of the apartment that didn't activate any lights and discovered that it turns on the water heater. Good to know! Too bad we didn't learn this earlier. Anyway, now we'll know what to look for at the next place.

At 10:00 we drove back toward the Old Town to take a photo of Rovinj in the daylight. What a beautiful place! The coast here is a popular destination for nudists, but we didn't see any. I was disappointed at first, but as we traveled along for the next week and a half and saw all the fat, hairy men in their Speedos, my disappointment turned to relief.

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Rovinj by day

This morning we got gas for the first time since arriving in Europe. Our little Toledo car takes the lowest octane gas they sell here, 95, which is higher than the highest octane we have at home. It cost 10.51 kuna per liter, over $7 per gallon! It was $92 to fill up our little rental car, and we weren't even on empty. Gag.

It was an hour to Pula, on the southern tip of the peninsula, where we spent a couple of hours checking out the Old Town, known for its many surviving ancient Roman buildings. The Pula Colosseum, also called the Amphitheater or the Arena, was built between 27 B.C. and 68 A.D. It's the sixth largest remaining Roman ruin in the world and one of the best preserved. They still hold concerts here (we just missed Joe Cocker), though recently they've had to limit the decibel level due to damage to the rocks.

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Pula Arena

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Inside the Arena

Walking around the Old Town, one of the first things we saw was a partially excavated Roman ruin behind a chain-link fence, in front of some ugly apartments. Here someone was trying to build a parking garage and discovered a bunch of darn historical artifacts on their property. Now construction is halted pending excavation. Happens all the time. I don't know how they ever get anything built.

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Progress halted

In the Forum, or main square, is the Temple of Augustus, built in the 1st century A.D. to honor Augustus Caesar. During World War II, the temple was damaged by a direct hit from an Allied bomb. After the war, the Allies patched it back up. You can see the patchwork on the side of the building. I walked up the steps onto the portico to look at a sculpture, but I quickly hurried on, because the whole thing seemed like it could come tumbling down at any moment.

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Temple of Augustus

A 2nd century Rimski Mozaik (Roman Mosaic) was uncovered in the Old Town during cleanup from a WWII Allied bombing. Now it's on display behind a protective metal grill at the rear of an apartment block, just off the main pedestrian drag. Very ornate. Remember, this was someone's floor!

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Rimski Mozaik

The Arch of the Sergii, built around 29-27 B.C., is the last old thing of note we saw in Pula. The triumphal arch used to be a city gate and honors three brothers with the last name Sergii who were victorious in the Battle of Actium, which apparently was super important or something. An inscription indicates that the honored brothers' sister paid for the arch, so I wonder how important the battle was, really.

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Arch of Sergii

Not everything in Pula is old and cool. This is Istria's biggest city (population 62,000) and an industrial port town, and it's got plenty of congestion, grime, sex shops, and tacky souvenirs. We liked it!

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Possible trademark infringement?

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Tom, before changing into a superhero!

In the early afternoon we headed toward Plitvice Lakes National Park, which we'll be visiting tomorrow. I drove part of the way on the Ipsilon Highway, a four-lane (sometimes more) toll road that we took northeast off the Istrian Peninsula. All the interstate-type highways in Croatia are expensive toll roads, so there's usually not much traffic. It's 40 kuna per 100 kilometers, plus an extra fee for some of the longer tunnels. That's a little over 7 bucks per 60 miles. Expensive, but you can really save some time if you need to.

The scenery when we emerged from the tunnel near Opatija, just off the peninsula, was dramatic but not really photogenic. We had a panoramic view of the dry, rocky, Dalmatian Mountains to our left and the Adriatic Sea to our right. We went around the huge industrial city of Rijeka and then left the toll road for the D8 coastal road, passing through many little resort towns along the way.

At Senj we turned away from the coast onto D23, a steep, twisty road from hell. I took a Dramamine and managed not to get sick, but I did get a little woozy. We stopped at the high point of the road so I could get some air and found a random little abandoned castle of a one-time aspiring dictator that we were able to explore. It was very windy up there, and the temperature had dropped dramatically since we'd left the coast.

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Scenic overlook

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Seat of an abandoned mini-kingdom

From D23, we turned onto D50 and then D52. All along these roads there were roadside stands with people selling wheels of cheese, jars of honey, and bottles of local mead and honey-based liqueurs. Yes, of course we stopped! I didn't know what we'd do with an entire wheel of cheese or jar of honey while on vacation, so we were forced to buy the liqueur. We got a liter of pear, a half liter of walnut, and a half liter of mead. All of it was good, but it was waaaaaay too sweet. Naturally, we drank it anyway.

The area around Plitvice Lakes saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Croatian War of Independence, fought from 1991 to 1995. In fact, the first shots of the war were fired at Plitvice. In the village of Zaluznica we passed several war-damaged homes and a small memorial to those lost. We ended up seeing a lot more war damage and many, many more memorials during the rest of our travels throughout the region.

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War damage, Zaluznica

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War memorial

At 5:30 we arrived at House Mara, outside Korenica, situated in a very lovely countryside setting near Plitvice Lakes. Our hostess, Bojana, greeted us at the door, showed us to our room, and then helped us plan our day at the national park tomorrow. She is a wealth of information! Our room had a balcony with a very nice view of the Croatian countryside and some beautiful mountains.

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From our balcony in Korenica

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Also from our balcony

Bojana recommended a couple of local restaurants, but the first one we tried had a screaming baby, and the second one was packed, so we wound up at a place we chose randomly on our own, Bistro Pljesevica. At first I wrote down that the name of the restaurant was “Jelovnik,” but then I decided that means “menu.” The Croatian language isn't even slightly familiar! I had spaghetti bolognese, and Tom had a ham sandwich. Again we were served a very mediocre beer, Karlovacko this time. The food was fine. We especially enjoyed the mixed salads.

Upon return to our soba, Bojana offered us each a shot of slivovitsa, or homemade plum liqueur. Wowza! Now, Bojana speaks English about as well as we do, but we did teach her one new word: “moonshine.” It was fun to try, and it sure warmed our bellies!

We visited with Bojana in the lobby for a while. It was interesting to get the thoughts of a local on Croatia's recent entry into the EU. They've got a lot of freedom in Croatia, for example, the freedom to make and share moonshine. I hope they can keep those freedoms now that the EU is calling a lot of the shots. Time will tell.

Continue to September 2, 2013

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