Chapter Twenty Three – Daytripping in Istria

Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy

MOTIVIN 6Chapter Twenty Three – Daytripping in Istria

Day Twenty Five – Where’s That Hill Town, Chasing Andretti, Somebody’s Gotta Go Back And Get A Shitload Of Dimes, That Drop Off Fee Really Hertz, A Laker Fan In Poreč, Bus Stop And A Toni Restaurant

After another restless night’s sleep, we found some croissants and espresso and made  our way to the parking lot.  We had to return the car to Poreč, but before we hit that coastal town, we had decided to travel to one or two of the Istrian Peninsula’s hill towns.  Number one on our list was Motovun.

ROVINJ 13Before heading out of town…

DSC05041…we ran into another canine Croatia soccer fan.

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Lady Garmin was having a bit of problem in Croatia (perhaps all that recalculating had taken a toll on her brain), so we tried to rely on our map and road signs.  As we headed north, there was our sign to turn off for Motovun.  So far; so good.

We traveled for a short distance until we came upon a “T” in the road.  One small problem; there was no sign pointing us in the direction of Motovun.  There was only one way to decide.  Since we were all going to vote for Obama, we decided to head left.  We traveled on…and on…and on.  We whisked through a couple of villages that were not on the map and none of the road signs read “Motovun.”  Our official keeper of the map, Mary, said she was certain we were traveling in the correct direction; so on we went.

There were still no road signs, so at the next sign of humanity Tracy and Mary said we should ask someone for directions.  Even though we are guys and asking for directions is a no-no in the Official Guy Handbook, Kim and I reluctantly agreed.  Shortly, up ahead in the distance was a small parking lot congregated with a group of guys who looked like they were part of a construction crew or a group of felons.  It was hard to tell, but we stopped anyway being the confidently ignorant tourists that we are.

Before you could say, “Prison break,” Mary bolted from the car to ask them directions.  I asked Kim if he was going to go provide Mary protection.  “No,” he said, “by the time Mary gets through asking all her questions, if they’re prisoners, they’ll want to go back to jail.”

We saw the guys pointing and Mary nodding her head, so we all felt confident she had the information when she returned to the car.  Mary got in, and we asked if they had given her directions.  “Yes, we go to the next town and turn left at the first road we reach.  They said Motovun was near.”

Obviously “near” in Croatian is a little further than in English.  We quickly reached the town, made a left and drove for quite a distance through very scenic, town-less countryside.  Persevering, we finally came to a sign pointing us again to Motovun, and in a few minutes we were winding up a narrow road to this hill town.

Motovun is closed to cars (except for locals), so parking on the narrow road nearest to the town proved to be quite a challenge, but eventually we made it (park as close to the town as you can get because if you park in the allotted parking lot, it is quite a hike).

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We started the ten-minute walk up to Motovun.  About the only facts I knew about this place was it was the birthplace of Mario Andretti and it is the most visited of all the Istrian hill towns.  In the fall, they get 20,000 for a film festival (parking must be fun for that event).  On this particular day, it was pretty quiet.

DSC05052Walking past an old man who was working on some spectacular woodcarvings, we contemplated a purchase on the walk back.  After passing through the gateways, the panoramic views of the valley below were fantastic.

DSC05055Our first stop was going to be St. Stephen’s Church, but for some reason it was closed (maybe they couldn’t get a parking space).

MOTOVIN 3Then we took the 10 to 15-minute walk around the town ramparts.

MOTOVIN 5 We made a quick refreshment stop and started the walk back down to the car, stopping in a few of the very cute shops selling lavender, truffle oil and olio.  We also decided not to get the woodcarving, but it was beautiful. We also met a friendly dog, but she did not want to go with us, try as we might.

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As we continued our stroll down the narrow road out of town, suddenly, in a Blazing Saddles instant, a striped object swung down in front of us, impeding our walk for the moment.  It was if we had been transported to the Governor William J. Le Petomane Thruway.

MOTIVIN 6“What will that asshole think of next?” Kim said, right on cue. I added, “Somebody’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes.”

DSC05065 Only our respective spouses knew what we were doing and, for once, they were laughing with us and not at us.

DSC05057Other people in the vicinity, visitors and locals alike, just stood perplexed and bewildered, wondering what was wrong with these crazy Americans.  Mary then took a quick picture of Kim and me “stranded” at the “toll booth” until the gate went back up (to let a local driver go though, we assumed).

MOTOVIN 2We were supposed to drop off the car by noon in Poreč, but our longer-than-we-thought drive (plus that damned toll booth) had put us behind schedule.  We arrived at the outskirts of Poreč, and since Kim and I had already broken the “Guy Code” once, we decided to stop at the TI to get exact directions to Hertz.  After getting a lecture about saying petrol and gas being two separate entities, we were on our way.

The directions were perfect.  I parked the car, ran inside and looked for the Hertz guy.  A woman (who did not work for Hertz, but seemed to be having a bad day judging from the tone she was using in a phone conversation), looked up at me after getting off her call and basically said, “What do you want?”

“I am returning our rental car to Hertz.  I’m about an hour late.”

“Well,” she said.  “The man from Hertz has left, and he is not coming back today.  You should have thought of this before returning the car late.  You will just have to keep the car until tomorrow.  Since we were taking a ferry from Rovinj to Venice the next morning that was not exactly the answer I needed to hear.

Fortunately, before I had to listen to any more of her shrill voice (I think she might have been my fourth grade teacher reincarnated), a young guy walked in and asked, “Are you Late Returning Tom?”

“Yes, I am very sorry.”

He said, “Hey, no problem, I just went out and got something to eat, but I do have to charge you for an extra day.”  I had no problem with that.

It was about 1:30 when we walked over to the nearby bus station to see what time the bus from Poreč to Rovinj left.  The next bus left at 3:10, and it was fortunate we got here in time for it because the next bus after that didn’t leave until 9:30 p.m.

DSC05066Poreč is a cute, seaside town, but not nearly as charming as Rovinj.  We ate lunch at a restaurant not too far from the bus station called Istria.  It was quite good. After ordering a fuzzi stew (a traditional Istrian dish with pasta), the waiter asked where we were from.  When I said Los Angeles, the waiter’s eyes lit up and he said, “The Lakers won last night against the Celtics.  Kobe made some big shots.”  It is definitely a small world.

The gang hurried back to the bus stop, and the air-conditioned bus ride cost 27kn, took about 50 minutes. Soon we were back at the apartment.

DSC05078Now for a little bit more on the Porta Antica Apartments.  The building is a short 5-10 minute walk to the car park.  If you are taking the ferry to Rovinj, the dock is only 200 yards from the entrance of your apartments.

ROVINJ 2 ALLEYThe steps are a little steep to the rooms, so if mobility is a problem, that could cause difficulty.  Both our rooms (we had Room 3) looked out onto the harbor.  They had kitchenettes, a television and very hot water.  There is also a Bank-in-the-Box directly across the street.  The apartments don’t have phones, but there is an internet café a couple of doors down.

DSC05040After a little nap of about three minutes (no rest for the weary), we all took a little walk and headed back to the Piassa Granda for more wine.  Our favorite on this night was a Rosé sparkling wine from the Istria region.  If you are in Rovinj, stop in and see Helen at this place.  She even let me pick out the tunes.  I was in the mood for a little Dean, Frank, Sammy and the gang, and she had the right mix for us.

DSC05071Helen had told us about her restaurant in town named Trattoria da Toni.   She even called and made reservations for us.

Although Toni has a patio on one of the squares in Rovinj, we decided to eat inside in the charming yellow dining room with pastel-striped curtains and family photos adorning all the walls.

There was only one waiter, but this young man was the James Brown of waiters (the hardest working man in the serving business).

ROVINJ 15 BLACK RISOTTOFood here was very good from my beefsteak with truffles and homemade pasta to Kim’s ravioli with truffles and Mary’s Greek salad with Mussels.

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Tracy went outside her comfort zone and after having a delicious arugula salad, decided to try the black risotto with seafood, which temporarily caused her lips to turn blue.  Luckily, they turned back to their normal color before we called paramedics.  I would definitely recommend this restaurant if visiting Rovinj, and I would definitely Rovinj as a wonderful spot to spend a few days.

ROVINJ 3 ALLEY COLORFUL We had after-dinner drinks with Kim and Mary at our harbor side bar, and then went upstairs and made a quick call home.  Cupid was still laboring, but had eaten that day, so we had a slight glimmer of hope.  Since we had a very early morning trip to Venice, Tracy and I packed for the long day ahead.  At the time, we didn’t know just how long a day it would really be.

Next: Day Twenty Six – Vortex Of Sorrow, The Coffee Comedy Caper, Bella Venezia, Cupid Lends A Helping Paw, It’s The Big One Elizabeth, Wine On A Rooftop, She’s Got Panna Cotta Thighs And Cupid Shines From Above

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