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.
Shhhhh
Famous fresco dating back to 6th century
Want to ring this soooo bad….
See you next post….thanks for reading!
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HARRIET JO Hickman
HARRIET JO Hickman
1 year ago

Love the pictures and the eloquent writing. Have fun and keep the blog coming.

Darcy Estrada
Darcy Estrada
1 year ago

I enjoy reading about your travels, Robyn! The pictures are amazing!

Tom Strebel
Tom Strebel
1 year ago

I hope Dan is OK. Back pain is the worst, and it takes so long to heal. All my best, and keep blogging!