Friday, July 22, 2016

Adriatic Exploration: Rovinj

Wednesday, June 22
After four nights in Venice, we took a GoOpti transfer to Rovinj. The driver arrived 10 minutes early, and we were off, stopping to pick up a family at the airport, whose luggage had not arrived! They were traveling from Norway to Slovenia because their son's favorite ski jumper is Slovenian. Their English was excellent. I drifted off to sleep, and just before the sunset we arrived in Rovinj, a coastal town on the Istria peninsula of Croatia. My parents' apartment was just a few doors down from ours. While our host gave an exhaustive explanation of all the features of the place as well as restaurant and sight recommendations, their host said everything is self-explanatory and ran off. Dan and I picked up a few things from the produce stand and bakery and had a light dinner before bed, as it was quite late.

Thursday, June 23
We picked up yogurt, milk, fruit, and pastries at the market and bakery, and had breakfast at the apartment before our host met us to accompany us to the car rental. He pointed out sights along the way, and several people greeted and chatted with him. After getting the car, he rode with us to show us the parking lot. Amazing service. After returning, we didn't hear back from my parents, and so I walked down to their apartment and knocked on their door. No answer. I was getting worried that I had lost them! We thought about leaving a note when they appeared. Hooray! We spent some time trying to figure out their mysterious electronic key system, then had lunch at Tipico: eggplant stuffed with rice on arugula and Istrian steak with pasta, and Istrian white wine. Yum. We got our bathing suits at the apartments and walked to the Golden Cape, stopping for ice cream at B052 on the way. Dan and I went swimming in the Adriatic Sea, while my mother waded in a bit (the rocks are slippery, and she thought the water was cold), and my father sat in the shade. Dan picked up a sea cucumber (or slug)! My parents said it looked like good eats. Dan and I read our books for a bit after swimming, then we headed back, stopping for another ice cream. And we saw a cardigan corgi!

Posing in Rovinj

Golden Cape

After showering and a rest, we set our for dinner. We enjoyed an alfresco meal of truffle tagliatelle and giant seafood platter at Scuba, so delicious. Dan was even able to convince my mother to take a photo (usually verboten). My parents were very impressed with the quantity and prices, no way one could eat that well for so little at home. The seafood platter was even larger than the menu photo. After dinner we took a walk and admired the sunset views. There was a salsa festival, so we watched some dancers for awhile, then walked around the town before returning. My parents were not sleeping well, so my father had a sleepover at our apartment (there was a cot in the living room).

Dinner at Scuba, Rovinj

Seafood plate at Scuba, Rovinj

Posing at dusk

Friday, June 24
After breakfast, we drove to Motovun, an Istrian hill town, stopping to see Limski Fjord. It was a very hot day. We sampled local honey, walked around the city walls, and I saw a cute dog. Then we had lunch outside, lots of truffle dishes, since they are foraged in the nearby forests. White truffles aren't in season until September, so we had pasta and carpaccio with black truffles. Panna cotta with local honey and truffles for dessert, which was...interesting (Dan liked it). After lunch we peeked into shops, sampling more truffle products, Dan enjoyed the truffle salami and spotted his dream meat slicer. There was also truffle cheese and even truffle chocolate. I saw a sign for a truffle hunting tour, with truffle dogs! I also tried some local wine. We bought some truffle products, and the young man at the shop told us about the Brexit. He was crestfallen. Dan wasn't surprised, but I had hoped it wouldn't pass.


Dan with giant strawman

Dan with beer

Post lunch in Motovun

After the drive back to Rovinj, Dan and I went for a swim in the Adriatic Sea, just outside the city wall, where there are ladders off the rocks, and we met a couple from San Francisco. I enjoyed a glass of wine with the view, then we met my parents for dinner at Maestral, there was a great view, but unfortunately the server messed up the order of one of the dishes (pasta with clams). Kind of disappointing. We walked around the city and enjoyed the sunset view after dinner. We passed a lady playing the accordion, and also heard what seemed like a local band playing.

Saturday, June 25
We took the ferry to Crveni Otok, also known as the red island although I don't know why. Saw many pheasants and bright green lizards on the island. We had lunch on a terrace with a lovely view of the sea. More truffle pasta, also a mixed grill of meat for Dan, Sachertorte for dessert.

Dan wth beer

Sachertorte on Crveni Otok

Lunch on Crveni Otok, the red island

After lunch Dan and I went swimming off the rocks, and we saw a huge jellyfish! And fishies. We walked over to the sandy area, where my mother went for a swim. I went in too and saw what looked like giant mussels standing on their ends, and big sea cucumbers or sea slugs. After the boat ride back, we saw a wedding party accompanied by musicians coming out of a hotel. Then we had ice cream. My mother and I each got a new dress, supposedly made in Italy (no China, the lady said repeatedly).


Ice cream

After showering and a rest, we had pizza for dinner at San Giacomo, as Dan watched the Scotland-Northern Ireland EuroCup soccer match. I like the pizza plates in Croatia. The pizza was pretty good, my parents thought better than in Venice. Then we took a last walk around town, where many people were decked out in Croatian colors, jerseys, flags, and such for the soccer match later that night. Back at the apartment, Dan Facetimed his parents, and watched the Croatia-Portugal soccer match, while I wrote postcards and read my book. Croatia lost, so it was a quiet night.

Pizza in Rovinj

Dreamy Rovinj

Sunday, June 26
We packed up after breakfast, and our host helped us load our luggage. He was so kind, and I wish I had taken a photo with him. Then it was off to Lake Bled, Slovenia. We loved Istria and would love to return...doviđenja, Rovinj!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Adriatic Exploration: Venice

Dan and I are back from exploring the Adriatic coastline. My parents joined us for our annual summer vacation this year. My sister also joined for the last part.

Saturday, June 18
After a long journey, we finally arrived in Venice, a few hours later than planned. [Our flight from SFO was delayed, we missed our connecting flight in Frankfurt, then the next flight to Marco Polo was delayed due to weather. I did yoga at the airport and ate a pretzel.] I saw a corgi when exiting Marco Polo airport, first sighting on the continent! Dan also spotted a rabbit at the airport. We took the Alilaguna boat, arrived at Fondamente Nuove, and found our b&b. We were in Venice!


Our host had left a map of restaurant recommendations, and we wandered around looking for a resto, but the lack of addresses and darkness made it challenging. We finally settled on a spot that seemed promising and had a late dinner of eggplant Parmigiano and grilled calamari, then tiramisu for dessert. I also had my first spritz.

Sunday, June 19
We fell asleep right away, but were up quite early. After breakfast, we met up with my parents at their place and saw a beagle!

Morning coffee art

We headed for Piazza San Marco, but when we reached Basilica de San Giovanni, I realized I forgot the tickets for the clock tower tour that afternoon. Oops.

Basilica de San Giovanni
So we walked back to b&b, where the owner Mattia pointed out some neighborhoods to check out (he seemed horrified we were going to Piazza San Marco). We took some photos of Ponte Chiodo, the last remaining bridge in Venice without rails.

Ponte Chiodo

Then we walked to the Jewish Ghetto, and spotted another beagle on the way. We had lunch on the terrace at 40 Ladroni...a spritz for me...then scallops, polenta with squid ink, spaghetti with anchovies, and gnocchi with crab for all. The spaghetti was delicious. Tiramisu and semifreddo amaretto for dessert. We made our way toward Piazza San Marco again, stopping at a chocolate shop for samples and to watch the gondoliers. My mother observed there wasn't any singing like when she first visited in 2000. Piazza San Marco was very crowded.

Piazza San Marco

I had reserved tickets for the Torre dell'Orologio tour. We climbed up the clock tower, saw the (former) living quarters, and observed the mechanisms in action. There was a great view of Basilica San Marco from the top. Unfortunately my parents had trouble understanding the tour guide's English.

Torre dell'Orologio
Basilica San Marco

Atop Torre dell'Orologio

The moors

Our tour tickets included entrance to the Correr Museum, so we checked out the emperor's apartments and the museum's collection. Then it was time for gelato. According to Eat Venice, Alaska is the best gelateria in Venice, so off we went for an amuse-bouche. I got gianduja (choco hazelnut) and pistachio, yum. Even my parents liked it. We sat by the water and enjoyed the view in the evening light.

Wine jugs

Then we walked to Paradiso Perduto for dinner. We ate a lot of seafood and even yummier spaghetti than lunch, with sparkling wine. I forgot to take pictures. Pretty good first full day, and we walked over 30,000 steps!

Monday, June 20
After breakfast we picked up my parents; unfortunately they had slept very poorly due to jet lag. We walked to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) for the Secret Itineraries tour, passing the Bridge of Sighs.

Bridge of Sighs

Dan and I enjoyed the tour very much, but unfortunately my mother did not as she could not follow the tour guide. We learned about the history of the palace, saw the prison cells [including Casanova's, and heard the story of his escape], also went up the the attic of the palace. The floor of the secret service room was mesmerizing.

Dan in the secret service room

After the tour Dan and I saw the rest of the palace, but my parents were tired so they went back to their b&b to rest. We saw the armory and many rooms with grand paintings. I particularly like the Venetian glass windows and pink-and-white color scheme. The flooding was surprising. It was also interesting to see cleaning/restoration in progress.

From the armor room

Pink stripes

Lion of Venice


I foolishly didn't bring snacks, and it was past lunchtime. We found the frieze of the woman with a mortar that we learned about during the tour. We saw a beagle, and I followed it into a cafe. We had mediocre pizza around the corner, but the house wine was delicious. And inexpensive. The server said it was Chianti. Delicious.

After lunch we picked up some sweets, then met my parents and went exploring; they felt better after a rest. My mother bought some tiny strawberries from the produce stand, maybe they were wild strawberries. Dan checked out a fabric store on Strada Nova, and I saw two more corgis! One was a cardigan corgi named Watson who likes the ladies, the men not so much. (That's three corgis in Venice for those keeping track.) Also saw a beagle, who Dan said was a repeat sighting from the previous day. We stopped at Grom for my parents to try gelato, but they didn't care for it. I had strawberry and lemon granita, which I shared with Dan. We walked toward Scuola Grande di San Rocco in San Polo, stopping for my mother to peruse the knockoff handbags from various street vendors, despite my discouragement. It was closed when we arrived, so we wandered around Dorsoduro, listened to a street musician, went inside a shop where marbled paper is made, another shop where masks are painted, and finally an antiques dealer where Dan liked a Flemish painting from the 1700s. (It was a bit over our budget.)


Dan checks out the mask shop

Dad & Dan

Dan and Carol in Venice

We walked to the Ponte dell'Accademia and admired the view of Santa Maria della Salute in the fading sunlight. There was a camera crew on the bridge filming a gentleman in a gondola. They all clapped and cheered when they got their shot. We couldn't figure out what it was for, maybe an Italian celebrity was in the gondola?

View from Ponte dell' Accademia

We walked to Schiavi, a wine bar to check out the chicetti (tapas), but there were no tables. People were standing at the counter inside the tiny space or sitting along the banks of the canal. We decided to try another resto, and had delicious sardines with onions and pine nuts, grilled veggies, seafood risotto, and spaghetti with clams at Osteria Ai Carmini. The risotto was delicious, but the pasta not as good as the previous night. Tiramisu and caramel panna cotta for dessert. Then we walked to Piazza San Marco to see the cathedral lit up at night, but it wasn't! Also seemed like it was high tide because there were huge pools of water surrounding the drains. Yikes. We walked back to the b&b, getting lost along the way. Another 30,000+ step day! 


Moon over Venice

Flooding at Basilica San Marco

Tuesday, June 21
Our last full day in Venice! Very sunny and warm. After picking up my parents, we walked to Piazza San Marco without getting lost...third time a charm. My mother bought some salad mix and grapes at a produce stand along the way. I had reserved skip the line tickets for the basilica, where Dan viewed the mosaics with his binoculars. They were impressive when illuminated, so much glittering gold. I found the depiction of San Marco being smuggled in a barrel of pork fat amusing, and loved the stone tile patterns on the floors. We saw Pala d'Oro, the golden alterpiece encrusted with thousands of jewels; I liked the baubles and Dan liked the saints in cloisonné, but my parents skipped it (2€); they also declined the terrace and museum on the upper level (5€). Dan and I enjoyed the upper level very much, where we could see the mosaics up close, and some tapestries, the bronze horses, and walk along the roof of the basilica, with spectacular views of the Palazzo Ducale and Piazza San Marco. [Also saw a former student in the basilica, whose mother asked if I was her friend, which was pretty exciting for me.]


Dan & replica horses at Basilica San Marco

Palazzo Ducale

Panorama view from Basilica San Marco

We had lunch along the canal at Banco Giro, just across the Rialto bridge. It was quite fancy. We had two appetizers: burrata, tomatoes with anchovies, and duck pate, atop beans. Then squid ink pasta, which I thought was delicious, but my mother said tasted raw. (It's a fine line between al dente and raw, I guess.) They also ordered a tagliatelle with asparagus and scallops. Dan ordered salt baked sea bass with eggplant, we all shared tiramisu for dessert. Picked up 24-hour vaporetto passes (20€), then rode the vaporetto along the Grand Canal to San Zaccaria, and looked inside the Hotel Danieli, then transferred vaporetto to Murano.

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

Santa Maria della Salute

My mother and I were not terribly impressed with the island, although Dan enjoyed the little church and seeing the glass. After returning to Venice, we walked to Alaska for more gelato. My father got one scoop of hazelnut, and my mother got a double scoop of hazelnut and gianduja. Then they both got a second scoop of hazelnut, my mother requesting the nut portion, so the gentleman gave her a few extra hazelnuts, which I thought was a nice gesture.

Gelato with dad

Then we crossed the canal and on the way back to our b&b passed a wine bar that was showing the Germany soccer match in the EuroCup; my parents departed and we stayed so Dan could watch the match. The bartender asked where we were from, and called us "San Francisco" during the rest of our stay. He served a platter of prosciutto and cheese, delicious with Prosecco.

We stopped in a Coop grocery store to see the local provisions, and picked up a few items for our journey to Croatia the following day, then admired the canal views at dusk. We saw a female gondolier, and wondered if she was the one Mattia had told us about that morning. No beagle sightings, but two Westies. Also a golden retriever on the vaporetto back from Murano, it was all wet so I think it went swimming. I took photos of our canal view and tried not to scratch my mosquito bites.

Wednesday, June 22
The power was out, so no fancy coffee drinks at breakfast. We left our luggage at the b&b and took the vaporetto (since we had 24-hour passes) to see the "Sistine Chapel" of the artist Tintoretto at Scuola Grande di San Rocco. I especially liked the stone floor tile patterns, again. After the art and relics, we wandered around looking for a pizza resto, stopping in a sweet shop for some hazelnut and almond brittle. Finally we found Refolo Pizza! We sat outside by the canal, and the pizza was better than on Monday, though still not as good as in Rome. I don't think Venice is known for pizza though. We were near Alaska, so we got one last gelato before departing. Then back on the vaporetto to pick up our luggage at the b&b, and then back on the vaporetto to Piazzale Roma bus station to wait for our transfer to Croatia. We were more than an hour early for our pickup time so we waited awhile. Dan was quite anxious. The driver arrived 10 minutes early, and we were off. Arrivederci, Venezia!

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Tropical Getaway

Aloha! Dan and I have returned from the Big Island of Hawaii, after our first visit six years ago. He went for a work meeting, and convinced me to take a couple days off for a long weekend. I flew in after work on Thursday. The flight was long and unpleasant, during which time I was regretting the trip. Landed after dark, then had to negotiate the car rental situation, which took far too long...then the drive....finally, I arrived at the resort where his meeting was ending. I had a mai tai before bed, and the next morning...

Morning view

Definitely a good idea! Went for a morning snorkel, saw lots of fish...and sea turtles! Then relaxed on the lounge chairs on the beach, under the umbrella for Dan since he burns easily. I went for another swim and saw a couple more turtles...or maybe the same ones...

Morning snorkel spot

We drove by the port and had lunch at Kohala Burger & Taco, fish tacos for me and an ahi burger for Dan, then shared our first shave ice of the trip with lilokoi cheesecake ice cream. We continued north and stopped at Lapakahi State Historical Park.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

After walking the trail and checking out the ruins, we continued up the coast to a viewpoint of Pololu Valley. There was a very steep trail to a black sand beach, which we did not attempt as I didn't have the proper footwear. Next time, says Dan.

Panorama Pololu Valley

We stopped at a beach park where several teams were preparing for an outrigger race to Maui! Dan chatted with them for awhile. Canoe talk. Then we sampled many flavors of macadamia nuts at Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company...including Spam and Kona coffee, but ended up buying just lightly salted nuts. We walked to the neighboring resort for dinner and saw a couple of nene, native Hawaiian geese on the golf course, and passed many fancy homes that looked empty. There was a beautiful sunset at dinner, although trees obscured the view. And then! We saw giant manta rays feeding after dark! At night the resort turns on lights over the ocean, which attracts plankton, and the manta rays come eat the plankton. They were huuuuge! It was amazing. We took the shuttle back to and enjoyed a drink by the pool. It was a great first day.

Mauna Kea sunset

On Saturday morning we went to a farmers market south of the resort, picked up some papayas, apple bananas, and dragon fruit. Then we drove to Kealakekua Bay, where we had kayaked on our last trip in search of dolphins, and did not find, much to my disappointment. This time we skipped the kayak and went swimming in the bay. The entry is a bit tricky, and we swam really, really far. We passed a couple who were floating on boogie boards (smart idea). I asked if they had seen dolphins, and they said yes and pointed farther out. So we kept swimming. Then we saw a couple kayaking who had seen dolphins earlier that morning. At this point I thought we'd never see them, AND I was getting stung by tiny jellyfish, so I was feeling somewhat dejected. But then! I saw them in the distance! I was so excited! We swam toward them, and there was a group on stand-up paddleboards. A gentleman let us hang onto his board to rest while we waited for the dolphins to approach. It was very nice of him since we had been swimming for a long time.The dolphins swam around and underneath us, it was so amazing! We even saw baby dolphins. It was incredible. After hanging out with them for awhile, we swam back to shore. Both of us were abuzz with excitement from the experience. And quite tired from swimming!

We passed Big Island Bees and stopped in to learn about their beekeeping and sample the honeys. There were some cool honeycomb sculptures in the tasting room too. And we saw a cute green gecko. I got a plumeria lei from a roadside stand by a plumeria orchard. It smelled soooo good. Then we sampled many Kona coffees at Greenwell Farms and went on their farm a tour, and it was an employee's birthday so we had cake with our coffee! I also spotted a giant hibiscus flower, in a color I had not seen before. Then it was time for lunch at the old Manago Hotel. We had eaten dinner there on our last trip. The dining room feels like it hasn't changed much in the last century, which is reassuring.

Hibiscus at Greenwell Farms

After lunch we headed back north, and drove on a super bumpy, curvy, partially paved road through lava fields to Kekaha Kai State Park. Finally we reached the end, an oasis of palm trees and sandy beach after all that lava rock. We found an entry point to get in the water and saw a couple sea turtles sunning on the rocks. There was one in the water too, who swam by Dan. We continued swimming along the rocks, looking at the schools of fish, until I saw a sleeping shark! We watched it for awhile, and then Dan said we should probably not continue in that direction. So we got out and checked out the tide pools in the rocks. And then! Dan saw a fish stuck in a little tide pool. He was able to remove the rock it was wedged under, and threw the fish back in the ocean. It was the Hawaii state fish! The humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa! Such excitement.

On the way back to the resort we stopped for hot malasadas by the roadside. I had mine with lilokoi jam. Yum. Back at the resort, we relaxed by the pool, enjoying a piña colada with the sunset and  Hawaiian music. It was very pleasant. Such a wonderful day!

Hapuna Beach sunset

Sunday morning was super windy! We walked to the other resort to see if the protected cove there was calmer. The beach is lovely, but it was just as windy. No stand-up paddle boarding for me. We went for a swim and saw lots of fish, but no sea turtles. Then relaxed in the shade (Dan's idea of sunbathing), drank the fancy water, and checked out the resort macaws.

Mauna Kea Beach

Hawaii 2016
Mauna Kea Beach 

Resort macaws

Then it was time for lunch! We shared a giant poke plate from Da Poke Shack, then went on the brewery tour at Kona Brewing Company. I saw another beautiful hibiscus at the pub, and we learned all their bottled beer is brewed on the mainland, in partnership with Widmer Brothers and Redhook. We sampled four tasty beers that are only available on the island at the end of the tour. Then walked across the street for shave ice at One Aloha Shave Ice. Yum!

Kona Brewing Company


Lilikoi, guava & mango shave ice

The Original Kona Mudslide

Then it was time for another swim, this time at Waikoloa, where we saw some fish but the visibility was not great. Relaxed on the beach for bit, then Dan spotted a fish jumping in the lagoon, so we walked around it, then along the coast, on a trail of lava and coral. Saw lots of fancy houses and enjoyed the sunset. Last dinner on the beach at Lava Lava Beach Club.
Hawaii 2016

Monday morning we went for one last snorkel, and bid goodbye to the sea turtles, and saw a pufferfish too! Packed up, and it was time to go! Airport tip: There's a case of Tropical Dreams ice creams at the news stand! I had mango and chocolate coconut macadamia nut while waiting in line to board the plane. Hope we return again someday soon...