Trieste: A City of Laurels and Inspiration

 

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Some friends and I visited the beautiful sea port city of Trieste in Italy yesterday, just a short ride from our home in the Istrian part of Croatia. As rustically charming as Istria is with its tiny hilltop stone villages and ubiquitous olive groves and vineyards, Trieste is charming in a whole different way.

Like most parts of Istria, Trieste was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire as well as part of Italy and those influences are seen all throughout the city. So many artistic and cultural details jump out at me every time I visit, and this time was no different.

For example, as we were sitting down for lunch at a waterfront restaurant on the Canal Grande, I noticed a few young people walking around with these large, leafy wreaths around their heads. Young men and women alike wore them, and the big glossy green leaves contrasted beautifully with the red ribbons that were woven throughout these wreaths. What could they be?

I asked the hostess who sat us at our table what these wreath crowns were for, and she explained “la laurea,” the graduation of the baccalaureate. They were graduates (laureatos) celebrating their big educational accomplishments! The tradition in Italy is that right after the graduation ceremony, students are given a laurel wreath to wear for the rest of the day.

One family celebrating their graduate was sitting at the restaurant near us, and I didn’t want to impose on their celebration, but when I saw them getting up to leave, I went over and asked the graduate if I could take her picture. I told her we didn’t commonly have this lovely tradition in the USA, and you could tell she was flattered and a little embarrassed, but said enthusiastically, “Of course.”

You could see how proud her family was of her accomplishment and her face is just radiant with happiness!

This tradition in Italy originated at the University of Padua two centuries ago and has since spread throughout the entire country’s universities. This particular wreath is made from the bay laurel tree and traces its roots back to Greek mythology.  Apparently Apollo immortalized the laurel tree after his beloved Daphne was changed into the tree while he was chasing her. Because of this he made its branches into sacred symbols to honor her and consequently,  victors throughout Greece began receiving the sacred laurel wreath for military triumphs, athletic competitions and for accomplishments in music and poetry.

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This incredible sculpture by Bernini captures the moment Apollo catches Daphne and she begins to transform into the laurel tree. I took this photo in the Borghese Gallery in Rome last year. If you like the statue, please read my blog post, “Falling in Love with Bernini.” He is my favorite sculptor of all time!

These beautiful wreathes were one of the many colorful and artistic details that caught my eyes and touched my soul in this poetic port city. Trieste is just a short hour and half drive from our home in Pula, so we have visited it before, but it always manages to inspire me in some way.  Because it is so close, we tend to take it for granted and kept pushing a visit out into the future until recently, when Carolyn and our new friend Tina from Australia decided it was time to head back.

Trieste is not as famous as it’s Italian siblings: Venice, Florence and even Bologna or Milan. But perhaps it’s because of this obscurity that the city is so refreshing and its poetic ambiance catches you by surprise. Because of its history, it has that strong Austro-Hungarian influence in its beautiful architecture and a lovely Viennese caffè culture. Of course, there are always some tourists meandering about (I mean, we were there),  but even in the middle of July, the city is not overwhelmed with them, so it seems more authentic and less touristy than other cities you visit in Italy.

Part of this authenticity emerged for us when we saw our waitress had four precious Italian girls following her around because they were bored sitting with their moms who were chatting away over their coffee. Carolyn and I asked them to come over with the waitress while we spoke to her, and they bounced over in their colorful tutus and flowered dresses acting very demure and shy. We asked if they spoke English and they said not much, but lo and behold, they knew quite enough to answer several of our questions specifically about their names and ages. They were 7 to 9 years old and their names were Flora, Sophia, Claudia and Gaia. They were perfectly charming acting like little ladies and the picture of poise, until we saw them later leaving the restaurant. Two of them were in tears crying dramatically and fussing (about what we don’t know ) and one was getting a stern talking to by her mother. Maybe they wanted gelato? But it seems kids are the same everywhere.

Walking around the city after a delicious lunch which included a caprese salad with genuine buffalo mozzarella, homemade gnocchi with pumpkin sauce and a clam linguine dish, (Oh, and yes, the food is as great as you get anywhere in Italy!) I was taken in by all the stunning architectural details everywhere you turn. Like this fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Borsa or the gorgeous mosaics covering this Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Spyridon.

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img_3294Even non-descript streets had buildings with charming old doors along with sculptures and busts of people dangling over the keystones of doorways or gracing window tops. Those types of details usually speak to me the most. Like this amazing carved wooden lion on this battered door.

I fell in love with this old door with the regal lion and the crusty, chipping paint. The lion’s brother on the door next to him unfortunately had a broken nose.

We strolled towards the Piazza Unità d’Italia, a beautiful square which is surrounded by large stately municipal buildings and faces the Adriatic Sea. It is known as the largest public square located next to a sea in Europe, and it is fantastic place to have a cup of coffee or an Aperol Spritz and absorb the beauty of the area.

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This beautiful statue and fountain sits on the edge of the Piazza Unitá d’Italia near the edge close to the Adriatic.

My friend Tina who visits Trieste regularly recommended this beautiful historical cafe on the piazza called Caffè degli Specchi, which opened in 1839, and it was one of the highlights of the afternoon for me.

 

Why? Besides it being a beautiful historical building and having a great view, I love visiting places where famous writers have found inspiration and apparently Dublin’s James Joyce, the Italian novelist Italo Svevo and Prague’s Franz Kafka all frequented Caffè degli Specchi when they lived in Trieste. I try to imagine them sitting inside the glamorous building or outside looking to the Adriatic and each creating their own literary masterpieces. Next time I return I’ll bring my notebook.  Who knows what could happen?

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After a drink at the cafe, we walked further down the Piazza to the waterfront where there sat an incredible life-like bronze sculpture of two girls stitching the Italian national flag, even though someone decided to use part of it as an advertisement for a number of products. The top picture was the front of it and the bottom was the back of it. It was creative, I have to give them that. I guess the city inspired them as well.

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And look at this guy below hanging over this doorway, he looks pretty odious with that missing tooth and wicked mustache. Was he a real person? A character in a story? And who was commissioned to carve this and why? As I wander around, I think of these things.

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Below is a statue of the author James Joyce that stands along the Grand Canal. Joyce lived in Trieste for 15 years and wrote many of his famous novels there including Ulysses and A Portait of an Artist as a Young Man. He also spent time teaching English to mariners both in Trieste and in Pula.

And here is my old friend again….

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And another friendly guy hanging above a doorway….

 

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Anyway, if you happen to be visiting Croatia, or Slovenia or Italy, you might want to consider a visit to this inspiring city, as its airport connects you to all of the above destinations. Trieste’s  rich maritime history would please sailors and seaman alike, its literary history would interest the literary buffs like myself and for music lovers, the famous Guiseppi Verdi was inspired here in the city as well and has a beautiful opera theatre named after him.

 

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The Journey back ….it’s the little things

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Mike and I are a little jet lagged from our return back to Pula from the USA, but ready to be out on the water.

Just returned from a day sailing trip to Premantura with Mike. The day has been cool and sunny but an unexpected rainstorm has us tucked inside our new boat Rita.

We just got back to Croatia last Friday night from New Orleans, dropped off all but one of our suitcases and hightailed it to our favorite beachfront restaurant called Skužas. We ordered two giant brancines (sea bass) and some blitva (Swiss chard.) We were very, very tired, but feeling very satisfied with one of our favorite Pula dinners. It was topped off with the mandatory after-dinner rakija (strong brandy) from our waiter. It was blissful after a long journey, and all doubts from the previous day travels dissipated with the “dobradosli” (welcome) from the restaurant owner, who works out at the gym with Mike.

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But the next day was difficult for me. Jet lag and an overwhelming sense of everything I had left behind albeit temporarily brought a sense of loss and sadness. That accompanied with a suitcase misplaced by the airline brought doubt that maybe we should not have left for another year. The suitcase that was lost held a few very important things: my year’s worth of prescription medications, my favorite fluffy robe, a security blanket of sorts for my middle-aged cold-natured self, and some homemade pepper jelly from my mom. I had a serious sinus headache and guess where my allergy meds were?

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My dear mom’s spicy pepper jelly. 

My oldest daughter scolded me via FaceTime about how you should never pack your meds in anything but a carryon, but I was afraid of going through security looking like a walking pharmacy with all the Pepto Bismol, Sudafed, Alleve, Tylenol and prescription meds I had packed. I had found some of these things are hard to come by in Croatia.

So I brought a year’s worth.

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 I’m going to miss these two, my eldest Sarah and husband Jonathan, especially since they now have a cheese grater.

I also had something else in this suitcase. About 35 packets of Hidden Valley Ranch dip.

Okay, you can say it. That’s a little weird.

Maybe.

But in the expat community that lives in Istria, I had had a request for this particular item. One of the many kind people I had met in the expat group was a lady who was originally from Florida, had moved to Perth, then had met and married a Croatian in Australia and had moved to Istria.

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If you look in the bottom center of this picture, you’ll see the Ranch dip fest going on an an expat event in Rovinj.

She had somehow managed to do what most marketing experts can only dream of.

She had brought a tray of colorful vegetables to an expat event that included a large bowl of ranch dip she had made. The dip combined with the fresh Croatian vegetables were an instant hit, and the rest was history. She kept bringing the dish to more expat events and everyone had become hooked on its creamy, white spiced goodness.

But time was ticking by and her Ranch reserves were depleting. And there I was. Waiting in the wings. In the US with all the ranch dip a person could dream of. I decided I was going to be a hero and packed enough ranch dip in my suitcase to feed a small vegetarian army.

In the suitcase that was now missing.

Ok, I could live without the meds. And maybe I could live without the fuzzy robe, too, but the feeling that I was going to let everyone down was truly disappointing. And I had a really bad sinus headache.

So I called my youngest daughter and boo-hooed to her a little. Maybe I shouldn’t have left her and my sweet puppy, my mom, my sisters, my nieces, my family and my dear friends that I love so much, I said. “But mom, you’re in Croatia,” she said incredulously, “you love it there. You can travel all around Europe.” I could hear it in her voice, “have you lost your freaking mind?” Možda. (Maybe).

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I already miss my youngest daughter Marina and husband Patrick so much.

Did I tell you what a wimp I am when I don’t feel good?

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I miss Madelyn in the middle, too. And of course, who could forget sweet Ranger.

So I woke up this morning to our apartment doors opening and closing and the sound of a large suitcase being wheeled into our apartment. I yawned and reached for my nonexistent fuzzy robe….Could it be?

I jumped out of bed and there it was…my robe, my medicine, and a huge box of Junior Mints! (Oh, I forgot about packing those. Score!)

IMG_1550And yes, YES! A really large quantity of ranch dip!

Apparently the ranch dip must have seemed suspicious as it was my only suitcase that had been searched by TSA. Of course, it couldn’t have been the pharmaceuticals.

I texted my daughter immediately. But it was only 1 am in New Orleans. I think she was probably asleep. But she knows how much the fluffy robe means. I heard from her later in the day.

Anyway, so today was a better day. My sinus headache is gone. Thanks, Sudafed. My jet lag is receding. The sun is out and warming up the beautiful water that mesmerizes me daily.fullsizeoutput_60e8

Traveling can be harrowing sometimes. Things you hold dear can slip away in an instant. Things that make leaving home more comfortable can be lost forever.  The loss can make you appreciate “the little things” more or realize that you have to suck it up sometimes. And you can’t always be a hero.

But at least I will be this time. 😉

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The Tides of Our Lives

IMG_7855In case you have been wondering where my blog has been, the last six or so months have been a whirlwind and I honestly could not keep up.

September and October were festival season in Istria and while most of the tourists had gone home from our happy place in Pješčana Uvala, the days have been busy ones with constant road trips to festivals, visiting several other countries, delving into our language lessons in Croatian and my new stint teaching ESL on a very part-time basis.

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The festival in Buzet was both charming and beautiful

We also did a sailing charter out of Split mid-September and visited several islands around the area including Hvar, Brać, and Vis. And had an intensely frightening experience driving home in a bura. I’ll have a complete blog post on that later.

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Leaving Split in a burn

Also my daughter Madelyn came to visit us in the first week of October. We met her in Rome and did a whirlwind tour of Italy stopping in Bologna, Florence and Venice and came back then and went to the little idyllic Croatian towns of Rovinj and Porec and explored the area around our home with her.

 

Soon after my niece Laura stopped in for a short visit right on the end of a trip she had made to Germany, and we went to Porec and Rovinj (again) and finally enjoyed a really memorable festival centered around Prsut (prosciutto) in a little Croatian village of Tinjan.

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My niece visited us in October after a vacation in Berlin.

 

 

Good times, great times, scary times, the best of times, nowhere near the worst of times, and each visit worthy of an incredibly long blog post or more which I will start writing after I finish this one. So please stay tuned.

 

 

 

But it doesn’t end there. At the end of October Mike and I along with Carolyn met my other daughter Sarah in Dubrovnik to celebrate her 30th birthday and toured parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina then drove northward to Kotor, Montenegro, another incredible journey shared with people I love.

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Mike and Sarah in Dubrovnik as we celebrated her 30th birthday!

And then more teaching, learning and friendships blossoming and a wonderfully warm Thanksgiving with our landlord and friend as well as some American expat friends. Oh, and in between all that, a visit to the tiny Croatian village of Kringa to watch, of all things, a Saints game with an an expat and his lovely Ukrainian wife complete with jambalaya, gumbo, hush puppies and pralines.

So then it was the end of November and we had scheduled a trip to Cologne, Heidelberg and Frankfurt, Germany for the Christmas markets. Such food, Christmas cheer, and festive moments! When we returned home to Pula, we were exhausted. It was almost the end of 2018, but we knew we hadn’t even touched upon all of the things we wanted to do when we planned to move to Europe for a year.

We lived steps from the Adriatic and my husband had only sailed for two weeks out of the ten months we had been here. How could he as we had been traveling so much? And speaking of traveling, I still wanted to visit the Netherlands, Hungary, Finland, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Norway, Spain, Portugal, the southern part of Italy, Poland, and many other places.fullsizeoutput_5941

We will only be in Croatia for a few more days before our visa expires. We have to leave for three months, which we will do, but have decided to come back in June and reapply to stay for another full year. Mike just purchased a boat here and we will be sailing a lot more when we return next year. We will still travel a lot but not at the breakneck speed at which we did this past year, so I will only whittle away a little at my list above, much to the relief of my travel weary husband.

I’m starting to think wanderlust is an addiction, folks. One that I’ll reluctantly cop to. I think I got it from from great grandfather from Bogota, Colombia who traveled all over the world via ships, and my daughter Sarah may have inherited it from me. Možda! (that means “maybe” in Croatian.)

After our three month stint in the USA, I will to continue to teach ESL and enjoy the beautiful country of Croatia. And put a little more effort into my blog, by catching up on the adventures of the last few months. It will be a pleasure to look back on those experiences with the savory warmth of time and not feel like I have to quickly rehash the experiences as they occur.

So please stay tuned.

Is the time right for you?

So how am I feeling about another year away from home? Honestly, it breaks my heart. I have hesitated telling people for fear they would be upset with me. My mom, my kids, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my friends, my aunts and uncles, are all so far away. My DOG! Omg, I want to cry just thinking of seeing him for three months and then leaving him again. He is now my daughter’s dog, and her and my son-in-law love him as much as we do. But how do I leave everything and everyone I love (except my husband and friends here, of course!) for another year. I think of people who have to do so due to circumstances they cannot control like soldiers going off to war and my heart hurts for them.

But sometimes you know that the time is ripe to do something. That it’s something you need to do. Have to do. A goal you put off your entire life because you didn’t have the means, had too many responsibilities, thought impossible, thought you didn’t deserve it…but I’m here to say, the time is now.

At least it is for me.

For you maybe, too.

Možda.

As we approach the autumn of our lives, we have to assess and decide where we invest our fleeting time and energy. For some it is their grandchildren, others a new career that inspires them or still others, a combination of the two. Some may need to care for an aging loved one or child that still hasn’t found their way in the world. Some may search for a new relationship that replaces the emptiness or heartache of one they left behind. And for others, it is visiting places that they have always wanted to see and embracing a new culture whole heartedly.

Each of us is on our own individual journey and one shouldn’t be seen as more important or “better” than others. The one that completes us, that nurtures our souls and makes our lives feel complete is the one we should move toward. And the journey will change with the tides of our lives. For example, if my mom got ill or my children needed me, I would drop everything without a moment’s hesitation because that is where I would need to be at that time in the depths of my heart, the echoes of my soul.

That said, I refuse to mark time out of habit and stay in a comfortable setting for fear of accomplishing my dreams, and neither should you.

Our bodies are not permanently strong and healthy, nor is the possibility of attaining our dreams a never ending prospect. And the winter of your years will be warmer if you have the fuel of a life well-lived and experiences that nourish your soul to reflect upon as you move towards your final days. It sounds a little morbid, but it’s true.

We only have so much time here on earth as people. (Unless, of course, you believe in reincarnation, but then you could come back as a dog or something.)

Seriously though, Dream big, love hard and make the most of these fleeting moments.

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If the time is right for you.

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The Beauty of Porec’s Euphrasian Basilica

It’s not everyday that you are able to visit a church that opened in 553 AD and then, on top of that, are astounded by the artistic talent you see inside.  That’s just what happened last weekend when we visited the Euphrasian Basilica (also known as the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Mary) in Poreč, a city on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia that has been around for over 2,000 years. The basilica has been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.

Our day began on a monumental note to begin with as we had traveled from our home in Pula to Dvigrad, the site of the ruins of a medieval castle, which were incredible in themselves, and that I will go into in a later post.   We had also stopped in Kafanar and visited another chapel from the 15th century.  How much better could our day get? Much, much, apparently.

Tucked away modestly on a street in the city of Poreč, the basilica has origins that go back to the late mid-4th century (That’s about 365 A.D.).  Inside the basilica complex there are portions of the mosaic floors from that period that will astound visitors if they really consider the age and the complexity of the mosaic artwork.  As someone who has dabbled in mosaic making, I was blown away.

First to create even the most rudimentary mosaic, you need materials. Stones, glass, grout, tools like tile cutters, pencils to sketch, rulers or some sort of plane to keep your pieces measured and in line. Today it is a quick trip to an art or hobby store for some supplies, then online for others as the materials can be difficult to come by.  For those artists over fifteen hundred years ago, they would laugh at the relative ease we have acquiring materials. They’d be in awe of how they pop up on your doorstop a few days after you pick them out on a “magic machine.” Materials then would have had to have been carried by ship or by horse or mule through the elements.  Or dug up from some remote quarry and transported to the city.

Then after the materials are acquired the artist can begin their work.  Some of the people that made these mosaics had to travel great distances, overcome weather, hardships, and illnesses. The Byzantine masters had to cross continents or countries to begin their work. I’m tired just thinking of the days and circumstances that must have had to have endured just to even begin their projects.

While the earlier mosaics are astounding in themselves, the ones from the 6th century are jaw-dropping.  When entered the church I felt a mixture of disbelief and awe. There is an arch of Christ with the inscription in Latin saying, “I am the true light” with all of the apostles around him. The one of Mary with Child sitting on a beautiful throne surrounded by angels is breathtaking. The gold tiles sparkled in the evening light and gave the basilica a glowing atmosphere.  If you have ever been to San Marco in Venice, you can appreciate the beauty of what I’m describing, but consider this work was done by Byzantine artists four hundred years earlier.  And in a small town in Croatia.

When I walked in, I heard a strange sound that seemed otherworldly. Then I realized it was a woman whispering her prayers as she sat on a pew in the church as she looked at the altar surrounded by the sixth century mosaics.  I was moved in a deeply spiritual way that I can’t describe.  That people’s faith in God so long ago had inspired them to create such beauty brought tears to my eyes.  That someone today had such a intense spiritual connection to the church was inspiring as well to me as a non-practicing Catholic.

Croatia never ceases to amaze and surprise me. Knowing it was once a Roman colony, it shouldn’t really surprise me as much, but it does because the history here is so mind- boggling.  And the prehistory as well.

I am constantly fascinated here by the places we stumble upon.

And glad I am lucky enough to call it my home for a brief time in my life.

On Pašte and Patience

fullsizeoutput_55b8What a difference a week makes! School started this week in Pula, the tourist crowd is dwindling down to a enjoyable amount, and there is a hint of autumn in the air with the temperatures hovering in the mid-to-high 70s.  The rocky beaches that were swarming with people from all over Europe are now dotted with a few here and there, and we are not getting mowed down on our street by speedy German, Italian, Slovenian and Austrian drivers in a race to find the closest beachside parking spots.

With harvest season on the horizon, it’s fast becoming the popular food festival time here in Istria.  Istria is the peninsula we live on by the northwest side of Croatia just next to Italy and Slovenia.  Olive oil, truffles, wine, grapes, sir (cheese), prosciutto, and of course, the infamous Istrian truffles, are all celebrated in the fall months in Croatia. However, one food festival held mid-summer was all about another well-loved food here in Istria, “pašte” (pronounced “pash-tah”), or as we know it,  pasta.

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Fuži is the popular pasta handmade in Istria by the locals.  The spindle shaped delicacy can be found in restaurants and konobas (small homestyle taverns which cook food over an open fire) all over the peninsula.

Although in the U.S. pasta is primarily known as an Italian food, many people don’t realize that the Istrian peninsula was once a part of Italy.  Rome built the city of Pula, Venice ruled the peninsula in the 1500s, and most of the area went back to Italy after World War I for a period of time.  Because of this, many people in the area speak Italian or a mixture of Croatian and Italian. This language melting pot can be really confusing if you are trying out the few words you know in Croatian, and they look at you like you are crazy.  I speak from experience.  Anyway, this mixture of cultures also makes their Istarski fuži pasta quite delicious as a result.

We attended the Istarski Festival Pašte in July held in the courtyard of the beautiful village of Zminj with its small castle walls that were built in medieval times. The village is typical of many in Istria with its old town center sitting on top of a hill filled with beautiful stone buildings amidst cobblestone streets and topped with a bell tower from the Church of St. Michael. One of the amazing things about Croatia is that many of the festivities here are held among ancient buildings and structures that give ordinary events a priceless ambience. (For example, they hold pop concerts in the ancient Roman arena in Pula.)

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The view from the castle walls in Žminj where the Istarski Festival Pašte was held. Families from all over Istria attended the event. 

 

Traditions, traditions

My daughter Sarah and her husband Jonathan visited us mid-summer, and we had quite a good time on the old Kaštel (castle) grounds at the festival sipping Istrian wine, sampling craft beer, and eating the pasta. That is, once we got it.  It was quite an ordeal to achieve this and had to do with another little known fact about Croatians. They don’t have a lot of respect for the line, or queue as its known in the UK. This means they cut ahead sometimes.

“Ah, yes, this is Croatian tradition,” says my tongue-in-cheek landlord Edvard.

We saw this tradition in full effect at the festival as the line for the pasta buffet turned into just a mass of people just surrounding each other waiting and talking as more Croatians joined in to make the mass even larger.

Line Jumping Classifications

On a side note, I’ve noticed there are several type of line jumpers here:

First is the “here is my friend I haven’t seen in ages, let me talk to her and bring my whole family to join in the line in front of these people who have been waiting forever” line cutters.   Then there is the one person in line who is holding a spot for 10 other people who show up at various times in front of you, much to your surprise. Of course there is always “the meander in front of you pretending not to know how far the line goes back” cutter. The list goes on.

“Ah, yes, this is Croatian tradition,” says my tongue-in-cheek landlord Edvard.

When we waited at the police office for our visa applications, we found another type of line jumper. And there they even printed out numbers to avoid people skipping the queue. This type was the “I just have one small question for the clerk” line cutter. Needless to say, everyone in line had just one small question for the clerk. That’s why we had the numbers. But these people didn’t feel like waiting when they saw how long the line was and were so sincere in their pleas that the clerk often waited on them to the detriment of everyone else in line. Carolyn, James, Mike and I got pretty good at standing shoulder to shoulder and nose to back to block your garden variety line cutters when the ticket machine was broken at the station, which happened several times. Ah, those were trying days. Not really though.  It’s nothing we haven’t experienced waiting for a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, so I guess line jumpers are a universal problem. But I digress.

We made it!

We finally made it closer to the pasta buffet when a lady from the festival decided that the mob should be separated in half, and one half was brought to the other end of the buffet line. Then it was just mayhem and people were cutting like crazy. Mike and I have discussed many times that Croatia could really use some outside help in setting up more efficient processes. They were definitely needed here.

Finally we fought our way up to the unfortunate folks (I think it was three) that had the monumental task of serving all the different pastas to a hundred or so people and got our dishes. Of course the pasta was incredibly delicious (I’ve yet to have a bad pasta dish in Croatia), and it was served on really nice plates for festival fare, but next time we won’t come hungry. Or we’ll come after we try some Istarski pašte at a konoba first. Konobas are family run restaurants that cook a lot of their food over open fires in stone ovens. Rustic and quaint, they are an interesting and cozy experience all in themselves.

Anyway, Jonathan was really hungry and went back for second go in the line (he’s a brave soul) and accidentally ordered a ravioli that turned out to be a dessert. He thought it was shrimp ravioli because, of course, the signs were in Croatian.

He was very disappointed and almost considered a third attempt in the line, but alas, went and got a Croatian craft beer instead. Yes, they had that, too, at the festival. They had a whole section set up for a variety of craft beers with catchy names which the beer lovers in our group enjoyed immensely. And most importantly for my husband in that section was that they were playing an incredible selection of vintage rock music from English and American musicians, as well some really unique renditions, that made us feel right at home.

Back to the Pašte…

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What was really fun there was watching the ladies hand roll the different types of pašte. It was a beautiful process and was interesting to watch them roll out the dough and cut it, then shape it into what looked like tiny canollis to me. For one type, they just pulled off little pieces of dough from their dough ball and rolled them by hand. They had simple ingredients and they worked very fast. The festival offered their creations served with truffles, mushrooms,  meat and gravy, or vegetables and olive oil and cheese. Delicious!

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I know I’ve been complaining about the line cutters, but Croatians are extremely kind people, especially to foreigners in their country, and I don’t want to give the impression that they are not in any way. They really have been nothing but kind to us and part of the reason we like it here so much is the friendly nature of the people here. Croatians are also very loving, devoted parents, and their kids seem happy and carefree everywhere we go. At the festival they had tables set up for the children to make their own pasta with machines, and they were having a blast.

Croatian children got a chance to try their hand at making their own pasta at the Žminj Istarski Feste Pašte. They took their jobs very seriously.

So the moral of the story is to not go to the pašte fest hungry and have a little patience. Go with an open mind and an open heart.  Good advice for any visit to a festival!

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Here is a picture of my lovely daughter Sarah in front of some Roman ruins that were found during the construction of a building in Pula. The bench has a quote from US author Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

Trading Beautiful for Beautiful

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It’s May 12th and we are on our way to Bologna, Italy by car from Croatia. It’s a symphony of red poppies as they are blooming everywhere along the roadside in our new hometown of Pula.  I’ve never seen red poppies blooming outside of photographs, and the landscape doesn’t seem quite real dotted with these red circular flowers growing in the wild.

The barren twisted brown grapevines that we passed just a few weeks ago are now bursting with leaves and reaching for the skies.

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They naturally know the right direction, and as we head off to Italy, I wonder, do we? Why are we leaving one beautiful place for another?

And it truly is a beautiful sight as we pass through the rugged Croatian countryside on the way to Italy.  You pass through olive orchards full of trees with gnarled branches of sage and silver leaves. The fertile ground that they are planted in is full of white stones covered with the ubiquitous rusty red soil of Istria.

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The dirt here seems to be filled with nature’s own Miracle-Gro as the plants here don’t just seem to bloom, they seem to burst forth with colorful flowers and bright green leaves at a rate which I have never seen.

 

Little circular stone houses can be seen from the highway sitting to the side of vineyard and olive groves.fullsizeoutput_48c4 The unique huts, known as “kažuni,” were traditionally used as shelters for farmers and shepherds as they worked the land. The huts gave them respite from the weather as they worked the land.  Their geometric shapes give a semi-primitive and uniform aspect to land, which also has stone walls blocking off farms and tracts of land. Farmers had to clear the rocky land from stones and in doing so built fences and kažuni from the cleared stones.

Why are we leaving one beautiful place for another?

As you drive down the highway throughout the Istrian peninsula in Croatia, you can see medieval villages on hills in the distance with their pointed bell towers and red terra-cotta roofed homes circling the hilly countryside. They all seem to bear a striking resemblance to one another and again, the uniformity gives the landscape a calm, peaceful feel. Historically the villages were built on hills with protective stone walls to keep out invaders, but now they just add to the beauty of this rugged, hilly terrain.

We travel for about an hour or so until we come up to the border crossing for Slovenia, as you have to pass through a small portion of Slovenia to get to Italy from Croatia. Cars are lined up for at least a mile already, and one car has overheated during its wait. Its distraught occupants are all crowded around the hood like surgeons around an operating table.  Their journey has been temporarily halted, like many of ours in life. It’s a minor aggravation that will hopefully push them forward and make them appreciate their journey more once it has resumed.

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Onward we travel, through the Italian countryside which provides a contrast to the Croatian one. The trees turn tall and pointy, or short and spherical, the soil changes to a light brown color, and the grassy fields become more manicured. Still you can watch miles and miles of  incredibly beautiful vineyards and olive orchards, although they are on much larger plots of land. In fact, I start to spy more and more tractors, which aren’t a common sight on the Croatian landscape, and more luxurious villas as we move closer to Venice.  It’s trading one type of scenery for another, both of which are lovely in their own way.

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Photo by Roland Dumke on Pexels.com

 

As we journey onward, I reflect back on the beauty of Southern Louisiana with its cypress-kneed swamps, bright fuchsia azaleas and mossy oak trees, and of my friends and family there who are gathering eating spicy crawfish and drinking cold beer that I have traded temporarily for fresh olive oil, whole grilled sea bass, wild asparagus with Istrian wine. Both are delicious and exotic and yet are so different.

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Why do we search for places that are beautiful and different from our own? What is this wanderlust that is so strong in some people’s natures and not others? As I travel onward to Bologna, I only know one thing: The journey is breathtaking, but what I leave behind is equally so.

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And yet… this wanderlust I feel is stronger and it carries me forward like the tide….. I will continue to move with it until I can no longer.

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The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

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Many times when we are traveling we have expectations of what we want to see and do and how to pack the most into the little time we do have. We sometimes deviate, but it’s hard to do if you’ve set an itinerary in stone. Planning is good, but a little spontaneity can give us our most lasting memories. And sometimes these memories are of our shared humanity on the bus of life. 

Take our recent trip to France. It was our last day in France and we were back where we had started in Nice after 11 days of driving through the beautiful cities of Provence. We were ready to stay put and just meander through the streets of Nice, but the clerk at our hotel had recommended a scenic public bus ride to Monaco as one of the most beautiful bus rides you will ever take.

Since Monaco had been a place that I had wanted to visit, but had I felt like it was just too much after all the running around we had been doing throughout the South of France, it was put back on the list. So we laced up our tennis shoes and decided to venture out on the Bus 100 from Nice to Monaco/Menton.

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Round and Round

The night before we went on the bus, I put my planning cap back on and researched a little about this ride. Bus 100 starts at the port in Nice and takes you all the way to the beautiful city of Monaco and the ritzy casino of Monte Carlo and ends in the city of Menton, stopping at many quaint little towns and villages along the way.

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One website I found recommended that you sit on the right side of the bus as you’ll get the best views of the dramatic scenery, and to let a bus pass you by if you see it doesn’t have any seats to offer as the next one will be coming in just 15 minutes and you will then be first in line for your choice of a prime seat. So we had a plan, we’d be prepared to get the most out of this little deviation.

We walked to the bus stop and prepared to get on the bus. There was no line so we tried to board and realized we didn’t have enough change for the ride (a whopping 1.50 Euros per person), but we only had large bills. I walked through the bus as Mike dug for change and realized there was no line because everyone was already on board and there were no seats. We took the advice from the website and hopped off the bus and waited for the next one in 15 minutes. Mike went to go get change, and I waited in the line. We had a plan.

The next bus comes by and we hop on and get our choice of the seats on the scenic “right” side. I am so proud that I did my research and smug that we are going to have a great view.

And view we had. It truly was one of the most breathtaking bus rides I have been on.  Even though the day was overcast, the bus meandered through the mountains and cliffs of the Nice countryside and offered dramatic views of small villages that perched on the sides of the Mediterranean Sea.

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We passed small towns like Le Port, Petite Afrique and Pont Saint-Jean. Ah, this is the life, we thought.

All Through the Town

We arrive in Monaco and walk around through the infamous city of Monte Carlo. IMG_1977We see the workers setting up bleachers for the 2018 Grand Prix that will take place in just a few days and fixing up some of the buildings. We decide the Monte Carlo casino might be nice to see even though we are not big gamblers. The beautiful people are walking around dressed up to the nines and the tourists like us are gawking and checking out their designer attire and expensive cars.

 

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Next we walk up the steep stone pathway to the Prince of Monaco’s castle and look down at the city below and marvel that Princess Grace had lived in such a beautiful place with gorgeous exotic gardens that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.

IMG_2040Then we decide we have had enough of the rich and famous and decide to catch the 100 Bus back to one of the smaller towns we had seen along the bus ride and have a coffee and relax.  It takes a minute to find the bus stop but we find it, hop it and stop in a city called Le Port and start looking around.

An hour or so later, we head back to the bus stop of Le Port. We sit down to wait for the next bus and two teenage French girls walk up and are waiting with us. One has a black T-shirt on that says New York and the other sports another black T-shirt and has earphones in her ears. They are staring at their iPhones and waiting along with us although they don’t acknowledge us.

About 10 minutes later we see a bus in the distance as it winds down the road toward us.  We stand up and get ready to board. Then one of the teenagers gets a look of horror on her face and says, “Oh, Complet!” and falls dramatically back on the bench like only a teenager can do. Mike and I look at each other with question marks in our eyes and see the bus zoom by us with the word “Complet” at the top of the lighted panel.

Oh, it’s full, now I get it. Yikes. It’s about 4 pm and now I’m starting to realize why it’s “complet.” Ouch, maybe we shouldn’t have stayed so long at Le Port, and I’m visualizing us having to take a taxi back to the city as I know the buses stop running at around 8 pm. Both of our phones are almost dead, too. So much for planning.

At 4:30 another bus goes by. Yep, you guessed it, it’s “Complet.” Another 15 minutes goes by.  Another bus in the distance. It looks like it …is…going….to…..stop and it does. Thank God.

Move on Back

The teenagers go in before us and then we are in, but it is standing room only, and it seems pretty “complet” to me. We are literally jammed into one another. Still, I’m thankful the bus stopped, and we are on our way.

It’s funny the things you notice when you are standing up in a crowded bus as compared to sitting down comfortably in a seat. Like, where do I put my hands so I don’t fall when the bus stops short or takes a sharp turn fast like buses are known to do?

I have a choice between holding on to the little plastic handles that hang down, but I’m fairly short and the things are fairly high up, so they don’t give me the support I need to brace myself. But if I hang on to the seat handles below, I feel like I’m invading the person sitting down’s personal space.

I opt for the latter because the man sitting down smiles kindly at me. He’s an elderly gentleman who is so well-dressed and dapper, yet has a look of sadness in his eyes. He has a brown felt top hat sitting on his lap, sports a brown tweed jacket and a cranberry tie, and he looks like he walked straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel and landed in the 21st century. I feel comforted by his presence, so I hold on to the handle by his seat, separate my legs into a yoga warrior pose, and I’m ready to go.

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The bus true to form speeds around the curves, but the warrior pose and the seat handle work well, as I move back and forth in time to the rhythms of the bus. And I’m still enjoying the incredible scenery as the clouds have lifted and the cliffs look even more  beautiful. I can do this, I think to myself.

Then the bus comes to a stop at a bus stop in another small town. Wait, aren’t we full? Apparently not. Geez, how many people can this bus hold?

Apparently about 10 more people because that’s how many jam onto the already crowded bus. At this point I get pushed further in right next to a tall young man who lucky for him can reach the plastic handles, but unfortunately for me, because of my diminished height, my head is rather close to his rather fragrant armpit. The teenage girls are sandwiched in front of him, and so I lean over to a lovely French lady who just boarded and fortunately smells very good, like French soap and fresh floral perfume.

Before I can get my bearing and find a new handle to hold on to, the 10 people who just got on the bus start jockeying around the ticket machine trying to get their tickets cards validated. They are all locals who apparently must ride this bus when they get off of work each day.  The bus crowd becomes a living organism with the bus cards being passed back and forth between riders to reach the ticket machine. Everyone helps out and soon all the cards are validated and everyone is all smiles at the team effort. Mission accomplished. And we are on our way.

I notice with amazement that the teenage girls are able to stare at their iPhones and balance in the bus without any problem, and I admire their youthful abilities. I wish I had such good balance, I think, until the bus takes another turn sharply and one of the teenagers falls right into me.

“Pardon,” she says and laughs with embarrassment. “It’s okay,” I say.

A few minutes later the bus takes another turn and it is the French lady falling into me and another more profuse, “Pardon” heads my way.  The elderly gentleman smiles at me but looks a little concerned.

All Day Long

Through all of this, there is one passenger (and her owner) that is unruffled and sleeping without a bit of concern about the passengers packed in like sardines around her.  It’s a little white puppy dozing comfortably in a basket who sits on an elderly lady’s lap. She is the picture of bliss. (Either that or she has motion sickness and is trying to sleep it off.) You can see a hint of the puppy on her owner’s lap in the photo above, next to the elderly gentleman.

The bus comes to another bus stop but we zoom by it.  Our bus now has the “Complet” sign on, and I imagine more teenagers rolling their eyes and plopping onto benches at the bus stop, or people silently cursing the tourists like me who invade their bus each day at rush hour.

We finally make it back to Nice and everyone disembarks.

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I feel like I’ve gotten to know the people here in a much more intimate way than on the journey over where I had a prime seat and the best views.  Maybe traveling isn’t all about the views and the buildings and the scenery. Maybe it’s about total strangers acting together in perfect synchronicity to help each other board a bus. Maybe it’s about the shared humanity and the individual journeys that collide and separate in ways that change us for the better or the worse.

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After a long nap on Bus 100 from Nice to Menton, this little pup is bright eyed and ready to walk the streets of Nice. 

Until we are all “complet.”