This week I continued my travels by bus along the coast of Croatia – from the Dalmatia region into the Istria region. When I last wrote, I had just visited Ston and was headed to Sibenik.
I arrived in Sibenik on Sunday, October 9, after making a brief 30-minute stop in Trogir to drop off my sail bag. I had rented a newly remodeled apartment from Apartments Rialto, which I found fairly easily thanks to a screen shot of a map I had on my iPhone.
Remember, my housing has generally been apartments, not hotels. So there is not a big neon sign highlighting the location, or a drop-pin on map apps, like there might be for a hotel. I usually just have a street address. This can be a challenge since so many of these old towns don’t have street signs; in some cases, too, the name of the street changes after a few blocks. If I’m lucky, the street address has a small placard that says “XYZ Apartments.”
The town of Sibenik was nice, but I didn’t find myself in awe by anything in particular. A fortress. A wall. A church. A waterfront promenade. A café at sunset. Am I getting immune to the charm of these old towns??
The highlight for me was St. Michael’s fortress, one of the four fortresses in the area. This one had a modern amphitheater constructed within its walls that the town uses for concerts and shows. Must be quite spectacular. From the towers of St. Michael’s fortress, I had a great view of the three other fortresses amongst the hills and islands. Like so many other times on this trip, I found my thoughts drifting into the past, wondering what these historic walls might say.
I wasn’t really in Sibenik to see Sibenik itself; I used the town as a launching pad for exploring Krka National Park, about 30 minutes away by bus.
The Park is famous for its waterfalls, monastery, and fortress ruins. The waterfall portion of the Park only requires an hour or two, depending on how many pictures you take and whether you stop for lunch at the Park café. But the boat and bus schedules are just infrequent enough to cause logistic problems if you don’t plan ahead. I wasted a day because I tried to wing it.
There are two entrances to the Park, one in Skradin that involves a 30-minute boat ride, and one in Lozovac that involves an 800-meter walk. I opted for the boat ride, but I didn’t do enough research on arrival and departure times. On my first trip to the Park, I arrived in Skradin in the early afternoon, but that wasn’t enough time to do the boat ride, the hike, and the return boat ride. I would miss my bus back to Sibenik. Ugh. I sat in a cafe and waited for my bus back to Sibenik. I laughed to myself when it started raining, thinking that maybe it was a good thing I wasn't actually in the Park today.
The next day, I repeated the trip to Krka National Park, but this time I left Sibenik a couple of hours earlier.
Once I finally got into the Park, I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed. This is probably because I had visited Plitvice Lakes National Park earlier in my visit to Croatia. Plitvice, in my opinion, offered better scenery, bigger waterfalls, and more hiking trails. To be fair to Krka, though, I did not pay extra for the multi-hour boat excursion to the monastery on Visovac Island. That might have been cool. And the fortress ruins (which look *really* cool) require a car and detailed trail map to find. I had neither – but will add this to my itinerary on my next trip to Croatia. Again, my failure to plan ahead limited my options.
Tuesday night, I boarded an overnight bus to Rovinj, a small coastal town on the heart-shaped peninsula region of Croatia called Istria. I arrived in Rovinj at 7:00 am, just in time for the rising sun to cast an orange glow on this stunning town. The heart of the Old Town is the Church of St. Euphemia, which sits on top of a hill and towers above every other building.
After downing two coffees and an omelet at a waterfront café, I checked into my apartment, Villa Tuttorotto. In the afternoon, I walked south to Zlatni Rt Park (Golden Cape Park), that consisted of both forest trails and rocky coastline. The coastline, although rocky, had paved platforms built into it where I’m sure tons of sun-worshipping tourists flock to during the summer season.
Also in the Zlatni Rt Park is an ancient stone quarry, dating back to Roman times. History says that the seaside quarry was perfectly located, since stones could be cut and immediately loaded onto ships. Some huge rectangular blocks still sit on the coastline, frozen in time.
That evening, I had a great dinner at Rio Bar (not actually a bar): grilled sea bream filet with truffles. I couldn’t be in Istria without trying the locally grown truffles.
Over an after dinner drink, I met a gentleman by the name of Zvonko who heard my American accent and asked where I was from. He was excited when I said San Francisco, because he had done an exchange program in San Francisco. He is a lawyer, but also owns and operates a local high-end apartment complex – which is actually 10-12 stone houses all remodeled and interconnected - called Villa Valdibora. The impromptu party ended up in the reception area of the complex, where Zvonko offered us a bottle of wine, bread, and fresh olive oil. He gave us a tour and shared some history of Rovinj. It was a fun and memorable night hanging out with the locals.
The next morning, the staff at Villa Tuttorotto fixed me a full breakfast buffet, even though I was their only guest! It was a bit awkward sitting at the giant table smothered by a smorgasbord of cheese, meat, fish, bread, fruit, juice, yogurt, cereal, etc. I definitely got my money’s worth.
As much as I liked Rovinj, I decided to start heading back south. I had added Pula, near the southern end of the Istrian peninsula, as an additional stop on my journey.
Pula was only about an hour south. I checked into my apartment from D&A Apartments. I was tempted to lounge in the giant living room, or read a book in the glass-enclosed sitting room, or cook a meal in the modern kitchen. But instead, I went exploring. The weather was (sort of) nice, so I had to take advantage of it.
The highlight of this town (and one of the highlights of my entire trip to Croatia) is the Pula Arena – one of the six largest remaining arenas from Roman times. It’s truly amazing.
I also walked through the center of Old Town, stopping at Enoteca Istriana. Zvonko had texted me and suggested I stop there, since he knows the owner. I sipped wine and nibbled on olives and cheese while admiring the Temple of Augustus – another 2,000 year old structure in Pula.
The next day it rained again. I did some grocery shopping, made lunch, and caught up on email. In the late afternoon, with a break in the rain, I visited some other historic sites including the Arch of the Sergii, the Twin Gates, and the Gate of Hercules. I also wandered up the hill to a small Roman amphitheater that looks like it is going through renovations.
Saturday morning, the rain started again. I didn’t mind because I had planned to take the bus back to Zadar – a 7-hour journey. Fortunately, the bus was virtually empty. I thought I might sleep, but I found it impossible to take my eyes off the beautiful scenery we were passing. The curves, cliffs, ocean view, and small towns reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
I arrived in Zadar early Saturday evening. After touring Kotor, Ston, Sibenik, Rovinj, and Pula over the last couple of weeks, I felt relieved to be back in a familiar town. Without feeling the need to sight-see, I could just relax at a cafe or stroll along the waterfront.
This coming week, I'll head back to another familiar town, Trogir, for the final days of this Croatian adventure...