Europe’s borderless country zone called the Schengen allows 90 days for Americans to legally enjoy an extended trip to Europe. In order to spend five months across the pond we had to exit the Schengen zone for two months, and stamp our passports to prove it.
Enter Croatia to the East of Italy across the Adriatic Sea. (Not part of Schengen but in the process of applying.) We first considered Croatia after hearing stories from our cruising amigos on the sailboats Sarita and Tramp.
From Venice, Italy we took a catamaran ferry aboard Venezia Lines straight across the Adriatic Sea to our next stop in Rovinj Croatia. On the day of our departure it was raining like crazy. It felt as if we were leaving Europe as we queued for the customs/immigration dance. The Adriatic was a bit angry with lightening and thunderstorms. The ferry however wasn’t going to give up its schedule.
Traveling at 20 knots across the sea in 6 ft waves, the ferry provided a very uncomfortable ride. Many passengers found relief clutching the paper bags from the back of the seats in front of them. A few times the ferry caught air off one wave before slamming into the next one. We chuckled to ourselves thinking back to passages that were much more stomach-churning. This one was fun!
Three hours later we had made our crossing. At the ferry docked in Pula, customs agents boarded. Showing off their efficiency, they collected all of our passports, then returned 20 minutes later with our entrance stamp. Some passengers disembarked while the rest of us stayed aboard for the 15 minute ride to Rovinj.
Exiting into unfamiliar surroundings we found ourselves once again standing in the rain, but this time in a new country! The dark night was disorienting. We loitered near the dock, trying to determine where the center of town was. With no internet or cell connection, not even a smidgen of the basics (hello, please, thank you etc.) of the Croatian language, we were forced to use a forgotten navigation technique – looking around with our eyes. Finally we found our apartment. Exhausted we met our new host, threw our packs on the chair, and fell asleep.
The next day we awoke to a bustling, romantic little village with a cute local restaurant steps from our apartment. Rovinj has characteristic narrow streets that create a fairy-tale atmosphere. Each winding path seemed to end with a well-placed establishment overlooking the Adriatic.
The city, stretching all the way back to the Bronze age was a bustling little port town by the 3rd century. By the 7th century it was fortified by walls and gates – 3 of which still stand: the Gate of St. Benedict, the Portia, and the Gate of the Holy Cross.
Stunning islands and protected natural areas surround the city. Grisia street in the old town center is full of unique shopping experiences. Art galleries, crafts, and local foods to name a few. Cascading stone stairs winding through the street encourage exploration.
Golden Cape Forest park is a significant nature park with a wide variety of indigenous plant species. An afternoon walk through the bayside forest makes for a great escape. Pine trees are everywhere. Looking out, you see the anchorage. In the distance is the city itself.
St. Euphemia: Patron of Rovinj
Watching over the hilltop is the Venetian Baroque Church of St. Euphemia whose bell tower was designed by the Milanese architect Allessandro Monopola.
In the year 800, the sarcophagus of the martyr Euphemia was found floating in the Adriatic near shore. It was brought to the church in Rovinj. Euphemia was the daughter of Senator Philophronos and his wife Theodosia, born in Chalcedon, a city in Asia Minor which was a Roman province under Diocletian (284-305). Diocletian launched some of the worst persecutions of the early Church. Priscus (proconsul of Asia) ordered that everyone in Chalcedon must take part in rituals and sacrifices to Mars, the Roman God of War.
Christians, including Euphemia, went into hiding to avoid the Roman order. When found, they were thrown in jail. Euphemia was tortured on the wheel but still refused to renounce her faith. Sentenced to death in the arena, she was killed by wild animals who attacked her. St. Euphemia is honored as the patron Saint of Rovinj with a statue (including the wheel) atop the tower. Venetian influences are apparent in the architecture. Today the site offers a peaceful survey of the Istrian peninsula.
Traditional Boats & Shipbuilding
We noticed a unique design to many of the local fishing boats. Along the pier we found a carpenter crafting one according to the traditional shipbuilding methods. The boats are known as “batanas.’ They represent the long maritime and fishing heritage of Rovinj. There is even a museum in town that contains 200 year old tools used to make these unique ships.
Rovinj is well-known for its olive groves . Truffles are Istria’s culinary crown jewel. The largest white truffle in the world was found in Istria. It is documented in the Guinness book of world records at over a kilo! Wine roads snake outward from Rovinj in all directions. Complimenting local seafood well is the most famous wine: “Istrian malmsey.” We enjoyed many great meals in Rovinj!
Fairs, Festivals & Celebrations
Fairs are a big deal here. In fact, by coincidence there was a Salsa Festival in full swing. We enjoyed watching dancers from around the world converge in Rovinj to celebrate the art of movement in a beautiful natural setting.
Other fairs traditionally offered household products, wine-growing activities, and homemade food items. We stayed long enough to take advantage of the local market, returning with olive oil, wine, fresh vegetables, and spices that smelled delicious. By evening we briefly considered buying a boat. Croatia would be an excellent cruising ground!