From Croatia to Italy & Slovenia
14th 2004 - Mid Morning
As we moved north the past few weeks, we really moved into motorboat territory. Go fast zoom-zooms rocked us awake and to sleep as we worked our way through the northern islands of Croatia and to the Istrian Peninsula, which is composed of northern Croatia, and a tiny little bit of Slovenia, topped by Trieste, Italy.
We took a day to explore the Paklenica National Park behind the city of Zadar (with another old walled city at its center) and had a peek at the rugged geography of inland Croatia. A wonderful hike on a magnificent day surrounded by granite cliffs, introduced us (as spectators) to rock climbing.
Lithe young women in bikini tops and shorts clung hundreds of feet above us; families teaching tiny ones were practicing on little boulders. We stayed firmly on the trail. The day ended as it always does for a cruiser with a rented car, at a big supermarket to stock up on beer, wine and the heavy things that are hard to hand carry.
With a full larder, we headed
to the island of Krk (they are short of vowels in Croatia), to meet
up with an Israeli friend presently in Belgrade, doing research on war
resisters in Serbia for her doctorate on conflict resolution. She needed
a break from her very serious work and in three days we introduced Orli
to sailing, the cruising life and other cruisers. Her enthusiasm and
appreciation for what we, obviously, relish were energizing for us.
Even considering the hours she spent trying to help us understand the
history and politics of the Balkans, we think she returned to her work
in Belgrade refreshed.
We followed the channel as it turned left, to go south along the inner coast of the barrier island, the Lido, and then, there it was, the Grand Canal opening up to starboard. The afternoon sun was shining down on a glistening body of waterway curving to the northwest and softly highlighting the glorious palaces and churches lining its shores. Sorry for the cliché, but it was an absolutely magical moment and an indelible image.
We dodged the ferries and vaporettos (waterbuses) that roiled the water and motored five miles south, far away from the crowds, to anchor in an unused channel behind the tiny island of Poveglia. And here we are, ready to experience Venice.
We explored medieval Venice and found that we could easily get away from the hoards and hoards of tourists if we stayed away from St. Marks Square and the Doges Palace and the Realto Bridge. The architecture is wonderful. And the history of this tiny island empire is enmeshed with the sea. The extensive Naval Museum in the Arsenale, where thousands of boats were built and repaired for hundreds of year, was a fascinating history lesson for us.
We spent days wandering the narrow streets and alleys of Venice, exploring some of the plethora of museums, crossing the numerous bridges that tie together the many, many little island neighborhoods between the canals. We wandered through the old ghetto and chanced upon an open house for the three synagogues which still stand as empty monuments to the Nazi death camps.
We found the old wooden building and yard where gondolas were built for hundreds of years and we sat in cafes in small campos (Venetian squares) just watching the passersby. And then we would go "home" to DOVKA, sometimes stopping to shop in Ricco's, a Venetian Zabar's in S.M. Elisabetta on the Lido, and other times having to have a few glasses of Prosecco with our friends at the sailing club before we got into the dinghy.
DOVKA stayed in Venice while we visited Falls Church friends in a magnificent villa outside of Florence. Once again we found traveling in Europe so easy compared with traveling in the States. Public transportation is efficient and goes everywhere. And we have been making use of it quite comfortably.
After our return to Venice from Florence, it was difficult to break away from our new Venetian friends and other cruisers who had arrived at our anchorage. We did not leave Venice for another week. At the end of August we hopped over to Hannibal Marina in Monfalcone, just west of Trieste.
A week later, we turned around and took the train back to Venice to attend the annual Historical Regatta. People were crowded along the Grand Canal where there were walkways, leaning out of windows and ensconced in powerboats, clustered at certain spots in the Grand Canal. All afternoon there was a parade of gondolas and many other kinds of boats all propelled by men or women standing with oars.
There were people in medieval costumes royally gliding down the Canal; boats decorated according to the trades of the villages from which they came: fishing, lace making, farming. There were boats with huge baskets of aubergines, peppers and tomatoes that looked like sets for the paintings in the palaces they were passing. And then there were the races of boats oared by two and then four and then six women or men. Loudspeakers were set up along the Canal to broadcast appropriate music and the announcements.
It was a very festive and exciting day shared with sailing friends on whose boat we spent the night in our old anchorage. We took the train out of Venice knowing that we definitely want to return next spring.
This time we were helping Australian friends celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary with about thirty other of their friends from around the world. It was another opportunity to experience the art of Florence, explore the Tuscan countryside, imbibe the wonderful wine and enjoy stimulating company in the fantastic setting of a converted monastery.
We took time to perform overdue chores, fix the broken head port, overhaul the toilet, clean the carpets and arrange for haul out and winter storage. We are several miles from the center of town so our bikes have become our main mode of transportation. There are bike paths throughout the city and they are always busy with young mothers with children, as well as old men and women like us. Some people are taking bike rides, but most are actually using their bikes to get from one place to another. It is a very civilized way to travel.
We also mananged to explore the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia area, which surrounds Trieste, a bit by sail and by land. The wine country here rivals Tuscany. But the villages often look more Austrian with an overlay of Venetian influence. We discovered Aquilea, now a small village, but billed as the second most important ancient Roman city with its extensive forum, ruins and a spectacular 8th century church.
Trieste, the Adriatic port city which was the maritime outlet for the Hapsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a delightful faded star with a mix of Latin, Slavic and Germanic influences effecting its architecture, cuisine and culture. We ventured into Slovenia to experience the Julian Alps, which were absolutely spectacular. This is another area to which we must return next spring to do some alpine hiking. And the joy for us everywhere we went was the dirth of other tourists in this relatively undiscovered region.
And now these last few days we have focused all our energies only on DOVKA. We turned-to and have managed to get everything done to put her to bed for the winter. Whew! She was hauled yesterday afternoon and is now sitting on a nice steel cradle poised to withstand the fierce winter winds of the North Adriatic, so we fervently hope.
We have been in five countries over the past five months and have covered 1,800 miles by sea. We have made some good new sailing friends and reconnected with old ones. We have experienced five different cultures in a leisurely and comfortable way.
We have met an interesting and diverse number of people from these cultures. The one thing they all have in common is consternation at the United States of America and the Bush foreign policy. And they ask us about it immediately. Interestingly, many have more faith in the American people than we do. They consider that Bush is president, not by election, but by an error, and that the American people will rectify this mistake in November and America will once again be a place they can look to for leadership. We certainly hope so too.
And now, as autumn approaches, the bora (the strong northeast wind) begins to blow more often and the nights are getting cold. It is time for us to go home for the winter (and to vote).