The Southwestern Sights of Istria

Captain’s Log Day 1:

After our 5 day stay in Poreč (our longest stay in any one place), we were ready for some new sights.  As we headed out to sea, the winds were a bit higher than forecasted.  Unfortunately, it was right on our nose which meant no sailing.  Believe it or not, we have yet to actually sail!  We have either had no wind or the wind has been right on our nose.  The seas were quite choppy as well which meant a rough and bumpy two hour ride to our next port of call, Rovinj.  We arrived safely and tied up to the town wall.  It was our first truly sunny day in quite some time (at least until the rain came in the evening).  You definitely couldn’t beat the view from our new spot.  As we were finishing tying up, a tour group rushed over to talk to us.  Turns out they were Duke alumni on a cruise and were super excited to see our American flag.  These were the first Americans we have actually encountered in the last month that we have been in Europe.  Since the day was so nice, we enjoyed my birthday lunch out on the deck with an awesome bottle of the Prosecco that we had picked up in Italy.

Approaching the city of Rovinj
Tied to the city quay, with a mooring ball to help keep position
Birthday victuals for Robyn
Birthday girl!!!
Gorgeous city view

Captain’s Log Day 2:

We awoke to the constant drum of rain and pretty strong wind gusts.  I don’t recall that being forecasted!  I am about ready to change our website name to Two Trapped on a Boat :(. We also had a new problem….the wind had clocked around to the west causing a confusion of seas within the bay.  As I started making our breakfast, we surged to the wall and the dinghy hit.  As the rear of our boat came within inches of smashing against the wall, Dan and I scrambled!  Since cooking on a boat means propane and open flame, I quickly turned off the burner before heading out into the rain (in my pajamas) to try and secure our boat.  We quickly loosened the back lines and motored forward to tighten up our front lines.  We were now pitching around in a washing machine of 3 foot swells bashing us from all directions.  The questions soon became….do we ride it out and hope it passes soon or do we drop lines and attempt to tie up on a mooring ball in the middle of a different bay with more protection.  Neither option sounded overly great.  So, life on a boat….every day tasks become quite challenging when your are pitching around violently in every direction.  Imagine yourself in a 2’x3’ cubicle trying to take a shower….it’s quite the adventure!  Imagine trying to put clothes on while not loosing your balance.  Like I said, the mundane tasks of every day life take on a whole new meaning when living on a boat.  So here we are…..Two Trapped on a Boat :). My above question was soon answered about an hour later.  After spending 6 hours sitting in a horrendous whirlpool of waves and swell, 3 guys from the harbor master’s office came and said it was time to go….the situation was getting too dangerous.  They helped spring us free from the wall so we could escape the mess as quickly as possible.  We then headed around the bend to the mooring field.  We are still rolling around, but we are not getting the backlash of waves smashing into the wall and then back at us.  Things are much more comfortable, and our high level of anxiety has begun to subside.  We have also found ourselves plotting our next hole up as another wicked, winter storm is headed our way in the next few days.  This constant crappy weather is taking a serious toll on our marina budget!  We get charged about $115 per night (and that is on the cheap end) to be in a marina.  That is a pricey parking spot!  You can get a nice room for cheaper than that!

This is not fun anymore! Time to move…
Zoe in her new and much calmer digs

Captain’s Log Day 3:

Finally!  A beautiful day of sunshine and calm seas!  Since we still had some time before the bad weather was due in, we decided to stay another night on the mooring ball and go explore the town of Rovinj.  We took the dinghy and found a spot to tie up that didn’t require the usual acrobatics (other than climbing around a steel girder and some glass walls surrounding a seaside restaurant we traipsed through :). We headed straight for the basilica and bell tower.  As we entered yet another beautiful church, we were treated to a group of people singing.  We don’t know if they were there to practice or a random tour group that just decided to sing for everyone.  Needless to say, the combination of acoustics in the church and their voices actually gave me chills.  I’ve included a brief clip to give you an idea.  Our next stop was to climb the bell tower (you actually pay to do this!).  So up we climbed 150 very steep and winding stairs made from 2×4 planks of wood.  Some steps had a downward pitch, some were worn into slickness, and all had big open gaps just waiting to catch a foot!  It is also very narrow in the tower, so your goal is to make it to a small landing before the next group of people starts coming down.  The final ascent to the bell tower is basically a ladder with a handrail on one side only and nothing to assist you when you reach the landing.  We had some beautiful views of the Adriatic and Rovinj.  After taking some pictures, I decided to start down.  I am not a fan of heights or confined spaces filled with people, and I knew at some point others would be coming up the steps.  Dan decided to stay behind and take a few more pictures.  I had just reached the second set of steps when I heard the bells begin to chime!  My first reaction was “Oh no!”  My next reaction was to laugh hysterically picturing poor Dan up there standing under those giant bells.  Did I mention it was noon?  Yep, that means twelve giant gongs that can be heard throughout the city.  When Dan finally came down, he said that the clicking of the bell gears gave him warning that the bells were about to go which allowed him time to shove his earlobes and fingers into his ears to prevent him from going deaf.  On the downside, he wasn’t able to capture any pictures or video of this since his hands were otherwise occupied 🙂 We enjoyed wandering around the cobblestone streets before heading back to the boat.

Up up up we will go
Rovinj views from top of bell tower
Thats our girl in the distance, in the mooring field

Captain’s Log Day 4:

We awoke earlier than usual since we wanted to get underway to our next destination, Pula.  This would be about a 2 1/2 hour trip south where we would pull into the marina for the next 4 days to ride out the storm.  Weather was predicted to begin tonight, and we wanted to be safely in place before this happened.  As we headed out to sea, the skies were overcast and the wind had already picked up.  Once again, it was right on our nose so still no sailing.  We arrived in Pula as scheduled and made our way to the marina.  We had stayed in this marina last season to ride out a storm as we made our way North to Venice for the winter.  There is a a beautiful colosseum that rises up very close to the marina.  The wind was beginning to pick up and dark, menacing clouds were beginning to form.  This created some challenges for docking.  The marina had given us a spot on the inside of one of the pontoons lined with large boats and a narrow channel.  On top of that, we had a fairly strong cross wind.  Because our boat is a catamaran, it has very high sides which the wind loves to take advantage of and push us where we don’t want to go.  It took us 3 attempts to get Zoe docked and tied up!  But hey, any time you can dock without hitting another boat or the dock is a score, and we will take as many attempts as necessary to ensure success.  Since the rain had not yet started, we decided to take the opportunity to get off the boat and wander into the old town for a nice walk.  We stumbled onto a fun little concert happening in the square, so we stopped for a drink and a listen.  We then decided to head back to the boat.  On our way, a wedding procession was driving down the road.  They definitely know how to do a car procession here!  The lead car had two gigantic flags waving out of the windows on each side of the car.  The second car was waving these very bright flares.  All the cars were honking and waving.  It was quite the spectacle to witness.  As predicted, the rain began and increased in intensity.  

ACI Marina Pula….getting close!
Sampling local olive oils at the Pula Olive Oil museum

Captain’s Log Day 5:

We awoke this morning to heavy rain and gusty wind.  We were happy to be tucked safely in our marina.  Once again….we are “Two Trapped on a Boat.”  The rain has been relentless, and the really big winds are slated to start tonight and through the next two days 🙁 

The feared Bura wind is named after the Greek god of Wind – Boreas
When stuck in a Bura…what should you do?

Captain’s Log Day 6, 7, 8:

Needless to say, we ended up staying a little longer than expected.  The weather was horrible, as predicted, so most of our time was again spent trapped on the boat.  On day 7, the wind gusts were particularly bad, and the stern of our boat banged into the dock.  Dan and I immediately scrambled out on deck to pull us up tighter on our front lines.  In these kinds of winds and with the boat weighing about 15 tons, this required us to use the motors to help keep the pressure off the lines while pulling them tighter.  Unfortunately, Dan decided superhuman strength was needed and tweaked his back.  This was not overly apparent until the next day.  The weather finally cleared, and it was time for us to make our way north on the eastern side of the Istrian peninsula since Dan’s mom and son would be arriving soon.

Laundry day means deciphering directions in Croatian…

Captain’s Log Day 9:

The day was calm and the seas were flat (which still meant no sailing).  Our plan was to find a nice anchorage for a few days before arriving at the next marina.  Following our pilot book, we pulled into several different anchorages that no longer looked anything like the pictures we saw in the book.  After repeated failed attempts to find the right spot, we threw up our hands and decided to head to the quaint seaside village of Rabac where we would tie up to the town quay.  After 8 hours of cruising from our last home to this new one, we were finally tied up.  Unfortunately, we were handed a few more lessons on this excursion as well.  By now, Dan’s back is giving him a lot of trouble, and he is in a tremendous amount of pain.  The bay we are tied up in turns out to be very bouncy which requires a great deal of line adjustment to avoid smacking our boat on the stone wall.  This has now fallen squarely on my shoulders since Dan is down for the count doing anything strenuous with his back.  The other piece of fun is that the town wall is super high and uneven which means our plank is very precarious (a steep angle and very wobbly) to walk across.  We pay for 2 nights and settle in.

Captain’s Log Day 10:

Well, things have gone from bad to worse.  Dan’s back goes completely out, and he is frozen in place down in the hallway of our hull.  He can’t move, turn, walk….nothing.  This goes on for 45 minutes before we can finally get him up to the main floor of the boat.  This is bad….really, really bad.  We are also continuing to pitch around and on alert to avoid hitting the wall.  He finally agrees that it’s time to see a doctor.  I am slightly panicked because I cannot undock and dock this boat alone.  After making some phone calls, he gets set up with an appointment for the next day in the city of Rijeka, about a 1/2 hour drive from where we are scheduled to tie up 3 days later.  We decide it’s time to go despite having paid for 2 nights (one of those lessons I mentioned earlier….never pre-pay more than one day on a town quay).  I quickly drop lines and we begin our journey further north.  We are both a little stressed because we have not yet received confirmation that the marina we are headed to can accommodate us coming in 3 days earlier than planned.  It is a 2 hour cruise to the marina and if they can’t take us, the only other marina that might be able to accommodate us is 4 hours back south to the island of Cres (where I lived last spring).  Eventually we hear from the marina and all is good…..whew!  Dan was at least able to drive us in, but fully muscling the lines was all on me now (along with any other physically strenuous task!)  We walked along the beautiful seaside boardwalk to go pick up our rental car.  This would be our next great challenge.  Dan can barely get into and out of the car, and I have to be his neck in watching for oncoming traffic since he can’t twist his body.  He also requires a lot of assistance to get up from sitting and getting dressed.  This has gotten really bad, and we are now both strategizing on what we will do if this becomes the end of our sailing season.  Adding insult to injury, we MUST have our boat in Montenegro by September in order to avoid paying a 25% VAT (tax) on her.  We also have the Schengen dance that we are doing (a fun bit of country hopping that we have to do in order to be in this part of the world legally).

Beautiful views heading up the Croatian coast of Istria
Next ACI Marina- this one in Opatija. 80% premium for catamarans. Ouch!

Captain’s Log Day 11:  

We painfully arrived at a specialized hospital to see a neurosurgeon about Dan’s back.  We will forever be grateful to Dan’s distant cousin Kristian for arranging all of this for us.  This turned out to be a remarkable experience.  Not only did Dan get seen 20 minutes early, but they immediately did an MRI and had us back in the doctor’s office reviewing the images instantly.  It turns out he has a bulging disc and some compressed nerves.  The doctor gives him a shot and a couple of prescriptions for pain relief, and books him an appointment to return in 2 days.  Here is the amazing part….we did not need to fill out any paperwork and our entire bill for this experience (keep in mind, we are not using insurance) was $250!!!  Are you kidding me?  Our out of pocket with insurance would’ve been a great deal more in the US.  The doctor (and us) are hoping that with time and rest, his back will heal itself.  In the meantime, the poor guy struggles to stand up, drive, or even bend over.  We are hoping for the best, and praying that our sailing season is not coming to an abrupt end.  Fortunately, we are safely tied up in a beautiful marina in the town of Ićići.  Unfortunately, it is very expensive and once again killing our marina budget.  Oh well, what are you going to do?

Captain’s Log Day 12:

Today we welcomed our first visitors of the year onto Zoe. We had the pleasure of meeting the man who was our broker when we bought Zoe. Up to this point, our contact had only been via email and phone. We were excited to finally meet him in person. He and his wife and child joined us on board before heading to a lovely little fishing village called Volosko. He has also been a huge source of help and guidance whenever we have needed it. We definitely feel blessed for the friends and family we have in this part of the world! Tomorrow, we will drive 2 hours to the capital city of Zagreb to pick up Dan’s mom and son. This should be an adventure in and of itself given Dan is still in a lot of pain and can’t sit for very long. Our next post should entail more sights and adventures…..I hope. But hey! This is life on a boat, right?

Zvonimir and his family came by for a visit….our first time meeting!

Welcome to Northern Istria….

For those who do not know, Istria is home to some of the most amazing olive oil, wine, and truffles.  I am a complete truffle addict (you thought I was going to say wine, didn’t you?). It is definitely one of my all time favorite treats here.  So far I have made pasta in a truffle sauce, truffle polenta, and truffle smashed potatoes.  The last two were new experiments and a definite hit!  I had one other, out of the ordinary, culinary adventure the other day.  I made stuffed zucchini blossoms.  Now mind you, I have never eaten a zucchini blossom, much less prepared one.  A friend offered up a suggestion, and I ran with it.  They came out quite tasty.  Definitely something I will play with in the kitchen again.

So, enough of the culinary adventure, let’s get back to the adventures of life on a boat and hanging out in medieval towns.  After our unpleasant experience with the harbor police, things got much better.  We spent two nights in Umag on the mooring ball, and it was very enjoyable (although our first night came with some heavy boat bouncing….talk about getting your sea legs fast!). Our last day was May 1st (Labor Day) and a big holiday in Croatia.  As we made our way out of Umag, a marching band was busy playing tunes in the town square, and many people were out and about.  We chose to move our way down the coast to the city of Novigrad…..another quaint seaside village resort.  This town was beautiful as well.  A big church tower sat at one entrance to the bay and a big, green park at the other side of the bay.  There were lots of restaurants on the water surrounding the bay, and the holiday was in full swing here as well.  As we tied up the boat, we could hear the music from several different bands drifting out over the water.  This town was very lively and full of people as well.  It was finally a gloriously sunny day, and everyone was out enjoying the holiday.  We ventured into the town to do some exploring.  The one major downside that I have with these quaint little towns is that there are absolutely NO dinghy docks.  Because of this, we have had to get very creative with where we pull in because the seaside walls are so much higher than our dinghy.  This town was no exception.  In the last town, we tied up near stone steps that came down to the water.  The problem here is that our dinghy would get thrashed on all the sharp shelled mussels and other shelled organisms growing along the wall.  The other problem is that the lower steps are so often submerged that they are like trying to climb ice due to the algae growth.  As we pondered where to tie up in Novigrad, we found a number of areas with ladders going down to the water.  Hmmm, that seemed like a little better option.  We tied up and climbed out….perfect….I can handle this.  Unfortunately, the climb down looked like it was going to be nightmare since the ladder did not reach up above the wall (needless to say….I fretted over the acrobatic moves that would be required of me throughout our stroll of the town).

Finally a ladder that doesn’t require acrobatics!

At this point, Dan and I were actively monitoring 5 different weather reports since another big storm was headed our way.  We were debating whether to spend 3 or more nights in this lively little town before heading for shelter.  Well, that was quickly decided for us when we were told how much they wanted for us to be on the mooring ball.  They charged us extra for being a catamaran.  I understand this when we are in a marina or tied to the town quay (we basically fill the width of what two monohull sailboats would occupy), but we were on a ball in the bay with no other boats, and the balls were spaced far enough apart that we did not impede anyone using a ball beside us.  I think Dan very seriously thought about leaving and going elsewhere.  Anyway, we sucked it up and continued our adventure (but decided that two days would be the max here).  After wandering around town, we decided to rent a scooter and go explore an ancient hilltop fortress known for their truffles.  We headed out of town on our little scooter (yes, I say little for a reason) and descended into a beautiful, green valley which followed along a winding river.  The sun was out (for the first time in a number of days), and we were happily drinking in the sights.  As we began approaching the winding road 750 feet up to the town, our scooter got slower and slower.  We are talking 12%+ of uphill grade.  With two of us on this little 50cc scooter, it was having none of this.  I jumped off the back and began to walk up the hill (so not fun).  I walked for the beginning, and then Dan decided I should drive the scooter, and he would hike.  I have never driven a scooter before.  Yes, I know it’s not that difficult!  But after struggling to navigate the turns while going uphill, I eventually gave up (for fear of plummeting over the side of the mountain).  Luckily by now, we had made it to the top.  We explored the town which was extremely busy with tourists, and when we finished we took a much kinder route home.  Yes, it was downhill from the fortress, but remember…we descended into that beautiful valley.  Three hours later, we made it back to town and headed back to the boat.  Tomorrow, we would head for the medieval city of Poreč where we would tie up to the town quay to ride out the storm.

First time on a scooter! And learning while on a steep uphill grade too!
View of the Adriatic in the distance from the hilltop artist colony of Groznjan
Wandering the streets of Umag

The rain had arrived during the night and was still around when we cut lines the next morning.  Fortunately, it was a short one hour blast to our next stop.  This would be our first time tying our boat to a town quay.  This is it’s own bit of fun and stress.  These town quays are lined with many restaurants and bars guaranteeing a large audience to watch you as you pull in.  There was no exception on this day.  As a matter of fact, the many people strolling the promenade made it a point to stop and watch as we brought our boat in and tied up.  Here is how this bit of fun goes:  Dan backs down to the wall where I have to hook a line that is held up by the harbor master and toss him my stern line.  I then have to drag this wet, dirty line (it’s been lying on the floor of the sea) to the front of the boat to pull up the thick mooring line and then cleat it off to the front of the boat.  We then repeat this process on the other side of the boat.  This is all done while Dan ensures that we don’t back into the wall or pivot in any direction into neighboring boats.  We managed to get tied up with minimal fuss.  Since we are tied to a wall, no dinghy needed….Yay!  Well, not so much.  As I said, the town walls are very high.  We are very high as well which is normally not a problem, but there are very big tidal swings here which meant the plank we set up from our boat to the wall was at an incline I was not comfortable with (not to mention there were only a couple of inches on either end of the plank supported on the boat or the wall and the boat was pitching around….so not good).  We did a lot of fiddling with the lines to try and get us as close to the wall as possible while still being safe when the storm arrived.  As I’ve said before, in calm weather, navigating the plank is not a big deal.  However, when the boat pitches around….so does the plank (a sure fire recipe for ending up in the very cold water in front of many witnesses!)

Tied up on the city wall of Porec, waiting out the storm
One of my most memorable steak BBQ’s ever!

The next day, we rented a car to go do some exploring of the nearby sights.  We started at a nearby Karst cave which we toured.  We went down, down, down into 5 different chambers.  The final chamber (open to the public) was 160 meters underground and allowed us to see some albino salamanders that live in these depths.  The formations within the cave were amazing to see….some of which were over 100,000 years old.  The experience did not disappoint.  Of course, what goes down must come up :). The climb out was slick and steep but pretty quick.  We were definitely sucking wind by the time we emerged from the entrance.  Our next stop was a local winery that was highly reviewed.  The grounds were beautiful, and we sat and enjoyed a tasting of 8 different wines produced on sight (and of course we purchased a couple of our favorites).  We are literally beginning to create a wine cellar on board with all the fun and fabulous wines we have discovered!  After, we took a drive to a viewpoint of a local fjord.  The view was amazing, and the wildflowers surrounding the cliffs were incredible.  We also took some time to hunt for some wild asparagus.  We did not find any :(. At least, we don’t think we did…haha.  I think we need to see one up close and personal before we risk picking something that might just be a fancy weed!  We had a little bit of a reprieve in the weather today….the rain came and went throughout our excursion.  Tonight, heavier rain would begin and the high winds would arrive by tomorrow (near gale force).  We were fully prepared for a day stuck on board to ride out the storm.

Depths of the Baredine Cave
Turns out stalagmites look like alien baby pods when lit up
Rare subterranean albino salamander….can breath in water or air. Only lives deep in the cave depths.
Wine tasting at Matosovic Winery in Istria. YUM
Gotta love when they give you a scorecard to keep track!

As I mentioned before, there are many restaurants and bars about 50 feet behind our boat (picture a narrow street and we are backed up to one side and the restaurants and bars line the other side).  On this night, the bar directly behind us was doing some sort of disco night with colorful flashing lights and very loud music.  It was looking to be a long night.  I think I finally put earplugs in around 1 a.m. and could still hear the music!  That is one of the downsides of tying up to the town quay.  The other downside is that you are in a fishbowl.  Many, many people walk by and stop at our boat to check it out, and some even take pictures.  As a catamaran, we are a little bit unusual in this northernmost part, and our American flag with hailing port of Phoenix, AZ definitely makes us an oddity.  You definitely have to get used to the lack of privacy when you are on the wall.  As predicted, the rain arrived very late in the night and by morning, the wind was howling with gusts up to 30 knots.  We spent the day on board taking the opportunity to do some chores and work around the boat.  It’s been a whopping 54 degrees today and the rain has not let up.  In the week that we have been underway, we have only had one nice day of sunshine :(. We are really hoping that changes soon.  We are ready for the sunshine!!!

Rain, rain and more rain. We have had only a handful of true sunny days since arriving. Bring on summer!
Life on a city wall…welcome to the fishbowl

We ended up growing very fond of Poreč, and decided to stay a few days longer than we had originally planned (gotta love not having to sail a schedule!). We tried to rent a car for our last day in town, but they emailed us that morning telling us they had nothing available.  That limited our explorations, but we made the most of it.  As a matter of fact, our first adventure was to explore a 6th century Euphrasian Basilica that had been built over top of the original 4th century Basilica.  This was one of the earliest churches ever built and is famous for it’s frescos and mosaics.  The wall mosaics were constructed by Byzantian masters.  There is a mosaic of a fish on the floor that dates back to the 2nd half of the 4th century.  The fish symbol was significant because it had become the secret symbol of Christianity during a time when the practice of Christianity was illegal.  This basilica had been built after the Roman persecution of early Christians.  We have included several pictures and a very brief background in this post.  I am hoping to create a post later that is solely dedicated to touring the basilica for those who might be interested. After, we walked to a place for wine, olive oil, and cheese tasting.  We had read really good things about this tour and were excited….especially since it was quite a long walk to get there.  Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment, so I will leave it at that :). We have really enjoyed our 5 nights in this city, but we are ready to explore some new sights.  Tomorrow we will set sail for the city of Rovinj and some new adventures!

Amongst the first Christian churches ever built
The fish mosaic harkens back to a time when it was a secret symbol during the Christian prosecution by the Romans.
Famous fresco dating back to 6th century
Want to ring this soooo bad….
See you next post….thanks for reading!