Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Croatia - part 1

At last some constant nice weather and the beginning of our camping. Starting at the top end of Istria, Umag was our first foray into very 'basic' camping - given the last time we did this in Brisbane, we had the camper trailer, fridge, esky, double bed, shade covers and much more. This time we have a small tent, 2 chairs and a coolie bag. But, so long as the weather holds, we will be fine. Campgrounds over here range from 300 person to 7000 - yes, thousand capacity. So we have tried to stay with the smaller ones, and follow the coastline South all the way to Montenegro.

Umag was our first stop - great facilities, very clean, plenty of hot water even for washing dishes. Restaurant on the premises serving a good range of local food and reasonable prices so we are there every evening. Being right on the coast, we had a waterfront spot with views across to Slovenia and Italy. Lazy days spent reading and relaxing, and swimming with gritted teeth when we were hot. Water temperature about 18 degrees and we can only hope it warms up as we head further south. 

                          The view from our tent in Umag - our little tent 1/4 the size of this one.

With the afternoon sun really intensifying, our aim was to spend time outside before lunch, then venture into shade or a road trip in the hot afternoons. One day we drove to Motorvun, a small walled town perched high on what looked like a volcanic plug with valley floor surrounding it. Views from the top over vineyards and olive groves, paddocks of hay and the odd cluster of homes that form a tiny village. Istria is a relatively small region so nowhere is very far, including moving from one camp ground to the next.

                   Enjoying a beer with a view over the surrounding countryside around Motovun


                                                           The village of Motovun

Porec was our next stop. Much more touristy than Umag and set around a pretty harbour, a hive of activity with ferries crossing to outer islands as well as day trips across to Italy. We spent the afternoon wandering around the port, looking at boats (funny how we always seem to do that) and a good dinner of cheeses, meats and local wine is a courtyard with grape vines hanging overhead. We had opted to take a hotel here so we could leave the car safely and walk to the ferry that would take us on our day long excursion to Venice tomorrow.

                                The harbour village of Porec - half way down the Istrian Coast


                 Venetian masks stalls everywhere                        Cobble stone alleyways of Porec

A city I was looking forward to seeing again, having celebrated my 21st here long ago. A glorious day and temperature in the low 30's, we had just over a 2 hour trip on a comfortable fast catamaran and we were arriving at Venezia San Basilio. Once we had cleared immigration, we opted to follow one of the boats guides walking to St Marks square (pinning all our twists and turns on the iPad so we could find our way back to port), it was a 40 minute stroll and the famous square opened up in front of us. Already packed with tourists and pigeons feeding, the memories came right back to 1980 (apparently up to 100,000 people per day visit the square in peak season). We wandered up and down the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Bridge of Sighs for a couple of hours before meeting back at St Marks Square where we had booked a taxi boat for a 40 minute cruise through the narrow canals seeing everything from a different perspective. After lunch, we continued our perusing of the arcades and laneways with high fashion stores galore and all the big names, Murano glass and lace outlets before getting out the iPad and retracing our steps back to port for our return trip to Croatia. A great day was had in Venice.

                         St Marks Square Venice - up to 100,00 visitors per day in peak season 


                     Beautiful buildings of Venice.                             Cruising the canals


                                   Looking back to St Marks Square from our water taxi ride


                                         Our happy serenading gondoliers waiting for a fare 

An hours trip down the coast was our next stop of Rovinj. The best reviews we had read for camping here was one of the large sites - 6,000 people so with a little trepidation we ventured in. Wow, these guys know how to set up camp grounds. The reception area was like checking in to a hotel, where guests could then choose from apartments, bungalows, mobile home or camping lots. The facilities were abundant, never having to be far from anywhere, super clean with automatic lighting when you enter, and piped music in the toilet block!! (This impressed Pete). There was a grocery store, fresh fruit and vegetables stall, clothes and beach equipment shop, fitness rooms, sauna, hair salon, kiosk, and even a pharmacy as well as 6 restaurants and a pizzeria. They even brewed their local beer on the premises. The area seems to go on forever so you didn't feel cramped or right next door to anyone - an amazing camping experience. We found a plot looking out over the crystal clear blue water under some shade of a olive tree and thoroughly enjoyed the next 3 days, venturing into Rovinj only once for a walk around the old cobbled alleys in the Old Town, still untouched by modern urbanism.

                                      Our camp ground in Rovinj - more like a resort


                  Sunset from our tent in Rovinj                 Delightful hidden bars/cafes in Rovinj old town 

Having been on mainland Croatia since arriving, we decided to head across and see some of the many islands that make up the Dalmation Coast. So we followed the coast road south and around to the island of Krk - joined to the mainland by a toll bridge. First impressions of the island were of pinky white coloured rather barren looking hills, but spectacular in their own way. We headed the length of the island to the most southern point of Baska which was a small picturesque fishing village, now a popular tourist destination. Another tiered campground with views across the water to those rugged hills we had seen driving in. No such thing as sand here but smooth round pebbled beaches, and tessellated rocks with steps built in for access in and out of the water. Despite the number of visitors, we enjoyed this spot very much, it's beautiful turquoise crystal clear water and surrounding hills a breathtaking panorama. And the water temperature was getting warmer, not by much but noticeable!


                     Sunset on our campground at Baska - the southern end of the island Krk


                 Our tiny tent set under the pine trees - probably the smallest tent in the camp!                           


                                                      Beautiful scenery by day 

                                                         ....... and spectacular by night


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