Friday, September 29, 2006

Inland Istria

We got home yesterday (Sept. 28, 2006). I have been pretty bad at updating the blogs but I will try to finish now where it is easier. Maybe not quite the same as on the road though. I'll take this post as a chance to add some general though.

I mentioned how we have not stayed very long at each place. I got to thinking about why I travel at all. I suppose for the reason I do anything, that is, that I enjoy it, but what makes me enjoy it? One commonly given reason to travel is to "get away from it all". We certainly have been doing that. I hardly though about home at all the whole trip and Wynette said she didn't either. When you travel you are busy figuring out where you will eat and sleep and what to see and where to go next. This keeps you busy and can be a little stressful but I actually like it. I enjoy planning a trip in the future but when you are there it is even better, you can decide to go somewhere to see something and be there the next day. Not that my regular, retired life is something I need to get away from but doing something new is always fun.

Sometimes people say they travel or go on vacation is relax and "take it easy". I don't do that. I like to rest some of the time but I keep fairly busy when I am at home and I like to be busy and doing things when I travel too. So taking it easy is good for some people but not for me.

They say that travel "broadens" you and I think that is the major reason I like to travel. I like to see how other people do things and see things I haven't seen before. Wynette and I generally look for things that seem to be done better than at home. It gives us ideas for how we might change the way we do things at home. And it leads to a generally positive attitude about what you are experiencing that makes the trip more fun.

Related to that is figuring things out. That is another thing I like about travel. I like to go into a new place and figure out where things are and how to get around and generally how things work. It is a puzzle.

We have noticed that some things seem more modern that we typically see in the US. I was thinking about that. I read some years ago, when everyone was hysterical about how Japan was surpassing us, that they had an advantage in steel production because they had been so far behind before. They upgraded with the latest equipment but the US steel plants were still functional and it was not cost-effective to upgrade them. It seems like a similar thing might have happened in Slovenia and Croatia. They were pretty far behind under Communism and now they are upgrading everything and things are pretty new.

Except the music. We have noticed this strange phenomenon that we hear 80's music everywhere, David Bowie, Supertramp, etc. etc. This seems to happen almost every place we go. Often it is a radio station. I don't know if everyone is listening to 80's oldies stations or what.

An update on soft-boiled eggs. For a while the breakfasts have only had hard-boiled eggs, but now they all have egg cups. This seems to be a symptom of people who are unclear on the concept. Or maybe people here eat hard-boiled eggs on an egg cup. I find the usual technique of just cracking and peeling them works fine and an egg cup a rather awkward way to handle it. Something to think about.

Every hotel provides breakfast, which I think is a good thing. And they are all fairly similar, there seems to be a convention about it. Except for the tourist farms which all seem to provide: coffee (of course), sliced meat, usually sausage and ham, sliced cheese, bread, butter and jam of some sort. I surmise this is what the natives eat for breakfast. The hotel breakfasts though seem to be a union of the breakfast habits of many nations. Typically they have: scrambled eggs and hot-dog looking things (this is common but not universal), hard-boiled eggs (see above), cereal of usually four types: muesli, chocolate flakes or balls, corn flakes, and sometimes one other. They often have them mixed, like corn flakes in the muesli. We always have cereal with milk. They also have the sliced meat and cheese. And always lots of kinds of bread and rolls. Usually something sweet like a croissant or pastry or one place had what clearly was the leftover dessert from the night before. We started running into these cappuccino machine where you push a button and it mixes it right in your cup. People often complained that there were not as good but they seemed okay to us. The often provide chocolate mix and Wynette started using chocolate instead of sugar to sweeten her coffee. It is pretty good.

Istria is a peninsula in the west of Croatia with a lot of seaside resorts. We had originally planned to go to one of these but we were running out of time and we thought it would be a lot like Piran so we decided to visit inland Istria. One draw was that this is much less touristy than the coastal towns. The Croatia coast is getting very popular and is said to be the "new Riviera", or maybe it was the "new black", anyway it is popular. The southern coast near Dbrovnik mostly but Istria too. Inland Istria is filled with little hill towns, fortified towns with walls, very much like in Tuscany. In fact, inland Istria one book said it was the "new Tuscany" where people are buying houses.

Curiously, the Croatians call it Istra. It seems close enough that we could have just gone with Istra, it was probably the Brits (not to stereotype or anything). The whole area has been losing population for many years. A lot of the Italians left in the 50's for some political reason that I forget now. And of course there was the war in the 1990s. More on the evidence we saw of that in the next post. Anyway, these hill towns were becoming ghost towns and so the Croatian government sold real estate there very cheaply to artists. The strategy worked and now the towns are booming again, and they have a lot of artist's studios and little galleries.

We visiting three of these hill towns, Buje, Graznjan and Motovun, in that order because that was the order we came to them, but each was better than the previous one. Buje (first picture) was nice but nothing to write home about, so I won't. Graznjan, on the other hand, was very nice. It was exactly what you think of as a hill town, with little winding alleys, great views, old houses, artist studios. We walked around and came to a gallery where the artist was sitting in front playing beautiful guitar music. We were looking at the views and feeling that this was as good as it gets. We had lunch in their little square (second picture).

We had made a reservation at Motovun which we heard was the nicest town. I don't see how it could have been any better. It was even more picturesque that Graznjan. It was built on the highest hill in the area. The old town had a wall all around it with amazing views (first and second pictures). Our hotel was in the highest spot and we were in a corner room on the top floor and had amazing views also (third picture). Motovun has a film festival in the summer and the books say you should not try to go then. But if you want to buy there check out the fourth picture, a fixer-upper.

We walked all around the wall and the town, which spills out below the wall. The same narrow alley streets and old buildings. We ate at an excellent restaurant. We talked to the "honey lady", a young woman from a nearby town whose family has hives and she comes each day to sell honey products: honey, honey liquers, beeswax things, etc. She was very friendly.

And then there were the truffles. This is the BIG thing in Istria. It is starting to rival France as a truffle producing place. All the restaurants feature truffle dishes. We had never had them before but we had them several times. They were interesting but I would not normally pay the prices you have to pay for them. A dish that normally cast about $8 would be like $25 with truffles, and they are cheaper here than most anywhere I think.


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