Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Trip Notes # 3: Croatia and Slovenia

May 1, 2018

All trips do not always lead to Rome. Some times, the roads lead to Pula! Where in the world is Pula? And, what is so unique about this place? Polynesian island? Tropical paradise? Not quite!

One Of Best Intact Arenas

Where are the gladiators?
                                        A special time ------>

Underneath the arena was a very large underground chamber carved out of solid rock. Part of the area was used to "cage beasts." There was a so-called locker room for the gladiators, a storage area for the weapons used for fighting and areas sets aside for shops and buying food. Today, the underground chamber is used more for exhibits.


Each amphora (regardless of the shape and purpose) had an imprint of the designer's (or manufacturer's) name: ----->

At the turn of the century - not the year 2000, but completed in  68 AD (the other century), Julius Caesar's nephew (Octavius and later known as Augustus Caesar and also is credited for the "Golden Age of Rome") turned this northwestern Croatian coastal area into a thriving economic center.

Pula is a unique town.  In such a small area, everywhere we walk there is something interesting and historical to see:

There are Roman temples, archways, statues, etc. This town (almost) looked like a Hollywood movie set.

Temple of Augustus

                  Roman Map of Pula showing roads and major points of the area. 

In a very well hidden place -  away from the major tourist spots (we found it) - was one of the finest 2000 year-old mosaic floors which is supposed to rival what is found in Rome!

This Is Only A Portion Of The Floor

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Our boutique Pula hotel is situated in a residential neighborhood, high on a hill and overlooking red, tile-topped roofs with pretty vegetation with the sea is off in the distance.

Jerry decided to try out the hotel pool. The manager indicated that the water temperature was "normal." Jerry is smiling for the picture. The water temperature was in the high 60's / low 70's! This was a quick, one-timer photo shoot!

Our dinner plans had a surprising twist. The two top restaurants were fully booked. We wandered down to the beach area and found two (very) local restaurants. One of the places had just opened for the season. We were probably the first foreign customers. Besides the fresh fish and local wine, the manager served us a "welcome treat" at the end of the meal: Some sort of berry liquor. Nice touch!

The second night was a really "up place." We met the owner's wife - had some great conversations - made the evening special. Yes, we had local fish and wine for dinner.

Obviously, this area is known for fish. We have had either Branzino or Dorada every night. Each restaurant, regardless of where we ate, approaches the meal the same way: The main entree (fish), steamed Swiss chard and boiled potatoes and a side salad of shredded cabbage with a light vinaigrette. We are (also) now experts when it comes to the local fish soup and local wine.

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Our next day plans were scheduled for touring two Croatian coastal towns before returning to Slovenia. At the last minute, we decided to take a chance and look for truffles. Jerry found a person on-line who offered insight into truffle hunting. So, off we went, over the hills and through the woods to a forest village located in the middle of nowhere.

Europe's highway system starts with "A" (meaning a freeway) and alphabetically works its way down to "D" and "E" for the smaller country roads. Driving to this village took us on a road that was labeled "Z 5242."

We met Nikola at Livade (which is near Motovun - a mountaintop village) 

                      Quite  By Chance - Written Up In The New York Times

Learning about truffle hunting was interesting. Nikola spoke about the mushroom quality, differences between the black and white ones, price variation, the black market, hunting dogs vs. pigs and the extreme difficulty of trying to find these things. 

Dogs (difficult to see in this picture) go into the thick underbrush sniffing for truffles. Okay for the dogs, not so much for us!

                                      Did the dogs find anything?

Our experience was cut short: There has been an infestation of mosquitoes and there were plenty of them - the "B-52" type.  

                                           Mosquitos On Dog's Back

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Our beautiful and easy country-side drive from the Livade forest area to our next stop - Izola came to an abrupt stop about 20 miles from the coast. It seems that May 1 is a major holiday (Labor Day) for this area as well as for the surrounding countries. Between crossing the borders (border control and passport checks), we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for about two hours. Yuck!

In any event, we crossed (again) back into Slovenia and finally reached our destination - ended up with a great room. Our hotel sits on a hill overlooking the Adriatic with a breathtaking view of the Izola town, its marina, the local mountains, snow capped alps in the distance and to add to the ambiance. a variety of birds were chirping away. 

By the way, a complete meal (entree, soup, salad) with wine and bottled water ranges between $45-$55. An ice cream cone costs about $1.50.
We have a brand new rental station wagon (started with 35 miles). Uses diesel. Fuel costs about $7.00/gallon. However, went abut 500 miles on 2/3 of a tank before filling it up. Our car, like others we have rented in European have engines that turn off when stopping at a signal. Car starts up immediately when the foot comes off the brake. Probably good for the environment and saves gas consumption. Takes a little getting use to this feature.

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We discovered a great alternative to olive oil: Pumpkin seed oil, Yum!

We got a little lazy - decided to eat at the hotel. Normally, this is not our style. We tend to take chances, have experiences but also look for good food and wine (or beer) at the same time.

Dinner was quite a culinary experience. As an appetizer, we went for "Muscles for two." The wine, butter and garlic sauce (with some sort of secret ingredient was delicious. But, more interesting was that the muscles came with normal clams and (somewhat) rare razor clams - an elongated clam about 1/2" x 4."

The entree was "Fish for two" - This fish is called St. Peters fish - essentially, no bones other than the back bone. This fish is part of a larger group of fish that includes John Dory and Tilapia.

We wanted wine. The manager steered us a way from the house wine and brought us a "good bottle" and told us that we would only be charged for what we drank. Okay! so, we drank the whole bottle! Price was very reasonable!

More soon!

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