Sunday, August 14, 2016

Adriatic Exploration: Pltivice Lakes

After three days in Slovenia, we returned to Croatia. Our b&b host asked us not to take all the sun with us. [My interpretation = sunnier weather in Croatia.]

Wednesday, June 29
It was a long drive to the Plitvice Lakes National Park area in Croatia, with another border crossing. The landscape was very different from the coastal views and mountain villages of Istria. We finally arrived at the b&b, which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. But there was a party of six visiting from Taiwan! So my parents chatted with them. There were chickens on the property, a garden, and lots of chairs for relaxing. Our host got us beers from the "natural refrigerator," aka the steam nearby. Dan and I explored a bit around. We had dinner at the b&b, fresh bread, vegetable soup, grilled meats and peppers, and crepes for dessert, with a bottle of Istrian red wine. Everything was delicious.

House Izvor

Dinner view at House Izvor

Thursday, June 30
We had eggs for breakfast, from the chickens on the property. Dan had his own personalized coffee cup. Then we drove a few km to the national park. We started at the upper lakes, and hiked along one of them down to the lower lakes. The trail was muddy, but it was shaded and not too crowded. I think there are 16 lakes in all, connected by waterfalls. It was crazy crowded down by the lower lakes.

Dan Cafe at House Izvor

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

Posing at Pltivice Lakes

My parents had seen a more spectacular version of cascading waterfalls in China that may not have an English name. Dan and I were reminded of Semuc Champey in Guatemala, where you could swim in the pools. But it was still very pretty and we saw tons of fish in the clear waters. Also blue dragonflies. And my mother spotted a cool salamander.

After returning to the b&b, we relaxed with a stream-chilled beer. Dinner was corn soup with croutons, grilled trout, and chard cooked with potatoes, that was very tasty. Plus salad, wine, and stream-chilled watermelon for dessert.

Friday, July 1
The next morning we set off for Zadar, on the Dalmatian coast, driving through many, many mountain tunnels. Back to the Adriatic coast!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Adriatic Exploration: Lake Bled

After four days of seafood, truffles, and swimming in the Adriatic, we took a detour to Slovenia. It would have made more sense to go directly from Venice, but I had not planned to visit until after reading about the beekeeping culture, since Dan has two beehives. We are glad we did!

Sunday, June 26
Despite the weekend, the border crossing was quick, and we noticed a change in the landscape right away. Verdant valleys, little villages, church steeples, and soon the Alps came into view. We stopped for a snack, then arrived in Lake Bled. We dropped my parents off at their lakeside hotel, then checked into our b&b. We walked down the steps to see the view of Bled Castle from their room.

Bled Castle

We decided to walk around the lake and saw people eating ice cream, who pointed us to a stand. After ice cream, we walked through a sort of food festival, where we sampled posmodulja, a pizza-like cheesy garlic bread baked to order in an oven. Mmm. Lots of ducks, geese, and hydrangeas around the lake. My mother wanted to feed the birds. We stopped at a lakeside cafe and tried our first kremna rezina, aka Lake Bled cake. Yum.

Lake Bled hydrageas

Lake Bled cake!

Lake Bled

Walk around Lake Bled

After our walk around the lake, we had dinner on the patio at Penzion Berc, with piano accompaniment. It started to sprinkle, which turned into rain near the end of the meal, but luckily we were protected by the awning. The trout starter was delicious. My mother was not impressed with the venison, but I thought it was tasty. It was dark when we finished dinner, and later I saw lightning. Thunderstorms woke me up a few times during the night, but Dan slept through it.

Monday, June 27
We had breakfast in the dining room, where Dan was impressed by the large selection of nuts and seed toppings for cereal. Many condiments were available, including turkey and liver spreads that Dan tried. We met a couple from Iowa on their honeymoon. The wife is a medical anthropology professor, and she met her husband when he installed her cable. We were planning to go to the apiculture museum, since it was rainy and gray, but they told us it was closed on Monday. After breafkast, we walked to my parents' hotel. Their breakfast at the lakeside hotel offered even more items, including smoked salmon, make-your-own-waffles, and sparkling wine. Unfortunately they had slept very little, so couldn't enjoy the meal. It was windy with rain on and off, so we decided against boating. We walked along the lake and went inside Vila Bled, Tito's former residence, to see the socialist murals. From their dock we took a boat ride to the island and went inside the church and clock tower. Ladies in a tour group were taking turns photographing each other ringing the bell inside the church. I noticed a couple asking about the scaffolding (some frescoes were being restored), I think they were getting married at the church. We tried the special yeasted cake on the island that is reminiscent of babka. After the boat ride back, my mother returned to the hotel to rest, and we continued walking along the lake until it started raining. So we ducked into a campground resto where my father and I had soup and salad, and Dan got ćevapčići, the regional sausage. Then we walked back to our b&b to pick up the car, and drove past some farms and hay fields to our appointment to meet a local beekeeper. Beekeeping in apiaries began in Slovenia, and the Carniolan honey bee originated from the area. He showed us his apiaries, and a hive he extracted from a tree. We sampled some honeys, tried "apitherapy," where one lies next to the hives for therapeutic effects, and bought some honey.

Dan with apiary

Apiary in Lake Bled 

Apiary in Lake Bled

Untitled

Untitled

After touring the apiary, we returned to the hotel to find my mother. She had taken a nap and gone for a swim, and was feeling better. The weather was clearing up, and we drove to Bled Castle, which overlooks the lake with beautiful views. I had made a reservation at the castle restaurant, thus free admission to the museum! After touring the museum, we had dinner at the resto, next to floor-to-ceiling windows. Amazing view. The tasting menu portions were huge, and included pasta with truffles, and foie gras on filet mignon, yum. Our server was a sweet young fellow, and my mother took a photo with him, and asked him to write his name. [Not weird at all.]

Taking a panoramic shot

Posing at Bled Castle

View from Bled Castle

Bled Castle restaurant

Filet mignon with foie gras

Tuesday, June 28
A clear, sunny day, hooray! My parents had slept better too. After breakfast Dan rowed us in the pletna boat (the hotel includes an hour of boating), and was able to row all the way to the island! We saw some big fish in the lake. There was a wedding on the island, I think the same couple from the previous day.

Boating on Lake Bled

After he rowed us back to the hotel, we drove to Vintgar Gorge for a hike. It was very picturesque. From a bridge over the river, we saw a beagle (maybe) in the distance, but it was on a trail below us.

Rock layers at Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

It took awhile to find our way back to Bled, but eventually we made it. We dropped my parents at their hotel, and Dan and I biked around the lake to a swimming spot, first stopping for kremna rezina at Vila Bled. Delicious, and what a view! After a swim in the supposedly restorative waters of the lake, we biked the rest of the way around the lake, then tried the kremna rezina at the Park Hotel, where the cake originated. Yum again. The cake was shorter though. Dan also got some cash at the bee bank.

Fancy bike rack, Villa Bled

 Lake Bled cake at Villa Bled
Lake Bled cake

Bee bank in Slovenia

We biked back to our b&b to shower. It was too late for dinner for my father, so my parents didn't join us. Dan and I had dinner on the terrace at Pension Mayer, near our b&b. What a lovely setting. Dan had the daily menu, which was kohlrabi soup, mixed meat grill (also featured the regional sausages), and crepes stuffed with raisins and cheese for dessert. I had the big salad and buckwheat doughnut that turned out to be giant dumplings stuffed with cheese and covered in mushrooms. We had cvičeka, described by our server as a strange local wine and tasted kind of like fruit punch, in a good way. After dinner he served a house-made liquor that was quite tasty. We were going to walk around the lake after dinner, but there were too many mosquitos. Dan facetimed with his parents and relatives, and I read my book.

Big salad

Buckwheat doughnut = ravioli with mushrooms

Mixed grill

Wednesday, June 29
Departure day. After checking out, we stopped in Radovljica, a small town just a few km away, to visit the apicultural museum. Just a few rooms, but lots of interesting history about beekeeping, and a large collection of old painted panels that were used in the front of beehives. My father did calisthenics in the foyer of the building (up and down the stairs, and laps), while my mother admired the alpine views from town. Then we walked around town. The church was closed, but we saw a WWII-era bunker that has been turned into a chapel dedicated to Edith Stein, a Polish Jew who became a Carmelite nun, was killed at Auschwitz, and became a saint. We also went inside the basement of a resto where traditional gingerbread is made and decorated. [That I later learned is not meant for eating. Apparently they are souvenirs/keepsakes. So weird.] We also had a slice of gibanica, a strudel-esque cake of Slovenia, but my mother didn't want to try it. We walked by a building with a pretty bee motif mosaic, that used to be a bank. Then it was off to Plitvice Lakes, Croatia...zbogom, Slovenia! We hope to return.

Painted beehive panels, Radovljica

Beekeeping equipment, Radovljica

Dan with beehive guards, Radovljica 

Radovljica, Slovenia

View from Radovljica

Edith Stein chapel in Radovljica

Gingerbread apiary, Radovljica 

Beehive mosaic in Radovljica

Bee mosaic, Radovljica

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.

Motovun

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).

Rovinj

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!

Rovinj