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Photo by Ellen Delis, Lagunas Ojos del Campo, Antofalla, Catamarca

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Ellen Delis,
Lagunas Ojos del Campo,
Antofalla, Catamarca



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  #316  
Old 29 Aug 2014
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I've been in Croatia for nearly three weeks now, Neda for over a month. We've really settled into some semblance of stability, all centred around Neda's daily visit to her mom. She is still waiting for a surgery date, and the family is getting anxious for her because she can't move at all in the hospital bed.

We've cocooned ourselves in the company of the extended family and friends. They've all rallied around us, spending almost every day with us, giving Neda the love and support to help her cope with the situation.


Goga, Neda's sister, serves us lunch. We are at her husband Mladen's parent's place

Mladen's parents are really taking good care of us, having us over often so the sisters can be together. They don't speak English, so I spend most of my time playing with our niece, Tea. I've noticed that most people in Pula under 40 know English, it's the older generation that only speaks Croatian and Italian, which is the de facto second language in Istra. Having been away from English-speaking countries for over a year and half now made me really reflect on the nature of new languages, especially now that I could see people trying to communicate with me in English, which may be their third or fourth language.


Tea shows me the pet turtles in her grandparent's house

Tea is growing up in a multi-lingual household. Living in Italy, her native language is Italian, but her parents and all her relatives speak Croatian to her. It's so interesting seeing how she relates to her English-speaking uncle. She calls Neda, "Teta Neda", using the Croatian word for Aunt but calls me "Zio Gene", the Italian word for Uncle, instinctively applying the non-Croatian term for me. I find it so familiar how she prioritizes her languages, similar to how Spanish is now my default whenever I try to speak non-English.

She is super-smart and quick as a whip in remembering things. She asked if I knew any Chinese words, so I recited the only thing I knew: counting from 1 to 10 in Mandarin. Chinese is a really difficult language to master because you have to not only get the pronunciation right, but also the intonation, otherwise the meaning changes completely. To all our astonishment, Tea recited all the numbers back to me perfectly, including the intonation, on her first try! She is going to be a natural with languages, just like her Teta Neda.


Tea is getting fed up with me and my Andre Agassi forehand roofing all the shuttlecocks...


After the hospital visits, we frequently go to the beach together

The pebbly beaches of Pula are a popular draw for tourists all over Europe. We have to search awhile to find an empty spot to lay our towels down.


Briscola is the name of the game, table talk is how you play the game...

Briscola is a popular Mediterranean card game, very similar to Euchre. However, unlike Euchre, table talk is totally allowed! IwuzlikeWHA?!? Each team can develop their own signals (like tugging your left ear, or scratching your chin) to communicate to each other how many trump cards they have and what kind of card to put down next. Just like Spanish and Croatian, I wasn't learning the signals fast enough and once again found myself Euchred in the communications game...


I'm good at this.


And I like taking pictures.


Neda welcomes Nera into her new home with a brand new toy

Oh yeah, almost forgot: we got a dog!

Finally after months of Neda trying to kidnap every single canine we've met on the road, we have a four-legged buddy we can call our own - if only temporarily. Neda has joined a volunteer organization called Ruka Sapi. They rescue stray dogs and cats from the streets of Pula. Since they don't have an official shelter, they house all the animals themselves in their own homes until they can find a new family for them.


My first little doggie ever!

Nera is a beautiful Croatian Sheepdog. She was found in the streets a few months ago with a broken leg after being hit by a car. The organization patched her up, and was keeping her in a homeless shelter (for people) but she had to be moved out to make space for other animals that required more medical attention. So we've offered to put Nera up with us until she can find a permanent home.

This is the first dog I've ever owned. Neda's had a few when she was living here. Nera came to us already housebroken, she was obviously abandoned by a previous owner. Very friendly, but a bit timid because she hasn't felt like she belonged anywhere for a while. It didn't take long for her to make herself at home with us. I was blown away by Nera's ability to communicate what she wanted whether she needed to go out for a pee (very important), hungry, or was itching to go for a walk. Such a smart girl! Even a dog can communicate better than I can and she can't even talk!


Finally, Neda has a little buddy!

Statistics indicate that black dogs are the least adopted dogs. They say that there is a stigma with black dogs, that they're perceived to be more aggressive and they point to the "evil black dog" stereotype in movies and TV shows. This is so far from the truth, Nera is such a gentle and affectionate girl! They also say that black dogs are difficult to photograph, so they don't look good in adoption ads. This is very true. Looking through all the pictures I've taken of Nera, the camera always seems to focus on a table or a nearby foot, anything but the evil black dog...


The post office where we pick up our parcels. Funky looking building!

We're really taking advantage of having a shipping address that we can send stuff to. Being on the road for so long, there are a lot of things that have piled up in my parent's mailbox in Canada that can't be faxed, scanned or sent electronically. I've got about 2 years of Loblaws flyers to catch up on! We also take the opportunity to refresh some of the motorcycle gear that has worn down or needs replacing.


Nona and Neda

This is Neda's mom's mom. Everytime we visit Croatia, we pay a visit to nona and then she feeds us. She loves feeding people! She doesn't speak any English at all, but that doesn't stop her from talking to me in Croatian non-stop as if I understood every single word. That was refreshing because normally when people try to communicate with me here, they do it through Neda, only turning to look at me once Neda starts translating. Nona doesn't even ask Neda to translate, she just looks me in the eye, gives me some sage advice (or compliments me on my full head of hair, or tells me what her secret ingredient in her Burek is, I don't really know), and then flashes me a knowing smile. I like the feeling of being part of natural conversation, instead of waiting for the UN interpreter's delayed translation.

Earlier on, there was a big cultural misunderstanding between nona and I. You see, in the Asian culture, when someone puts a plate of food in front of you, it's considered a sign of respect to finish every last morsel on that plate. However, to nona, that was a signal that you wanted more food. I kept cleaning the plate and she kept piling it on, no matter how much I objected that I was already full! It was like a race to see how much food she could move from the stove to my belly.

I suspect that I am one of nona's favorite visitors. There is no higher compliment you can pay to a Croatian grandmother than to clean out her fridge and pantry. In fact, I'm going back there again tonight, whether she's there or not.


Spy King.

Every Wednesday, Neda's group of friends rents a volleyball court for a couple of hours down by the beaches. They're all ex-jocks from high school so the level of play is competitive. Unfortunately, one week during a game, Neda slipped a disc, and not in the fun-frisbee kind of way. I make fun of her because during this trip, the only time she gets injured is at home and when she is off the bike. While in Toronto, last year she almost severed a tendon in her finger while wrestling a can opener. Couldn't ride for two months. And now here she can't ride for another few weeks because of her lower back.

Volleyball is kind of special sport for Neda and I. 19 years ago (almost to the day actually), a pretty, young girl showed up to the YMCA where I regularly played recreational volleyball. She went around to every person in the gym before we started, shook their hand and introduced herself very formally. That was quite unusual, because in Toronto, a brief, cold look and then avoiding eye contact is fairly standard when meeting strangers.

She spoke virtually no English. My chances at impressing HotImmigrantGirl shot up exponentially...

I met Neda shortly thereafter.


Neda and Iva after volleyball

Iva is one of Neda's few non-jock friends. While the rest of her crew are all ex-handball or volleyball players, Iva likes art instead. She jokingly tells me how Neda and her jock friends used to tease her about her pink unitards in gym class, since the standard uniform was all black. I'm learning all sorts of new things about my bride. I asked Iva if Neda also threw slushies in every one's faces in the hallways at school...

Iva and I would have gotten along well in high school. Because Neda would have pushed both of us into a locker and locked us inside!


Karin is one of Neda's oldest and closest friends

In between work, Karin still finds time to regularly pack up her two little kids into her car, drive in from out of town just to give Neda some GirlCompany. I really admire that. She must have super powers or something. On this particular visit, I asked how she was and she replied, "I was a little bit sick yesterday, was throwing up and felt really bad, but I'm feeling a little better today". Yeah, I guess Kryptonite will do that to you...

We regularly get together with all of Neda's friends at each others houses and have pot luck dinners. Eating out in restaurants is super-expensive because all the businesses have jacked up their prices for the tourists, and Croatia is an expensive country to live in to begin with. Besides, everyone here says the tourist restaurants serve crap anyway. The homecooked food tastes much better! So if you're visiting Pula, make friends with a local and invite yourself over. I'll give you nona's address.


Oh, Tajo!

Tajana (pronounced Tie-Anna) is one of our social co-ordinators in Pula. She organizes all of our social gatherings as well as extra-curricular activities like visits to the neighbouring villages and towns. She works for a historical society, so she knows everything there is to know about Istria. Tajana's English is not as good, but it's waaay better than my non-existent Croatian. When Neda translates what Tajo is saying, I'm bowled over as to how funny she is, something that doesn't come across when she's trying to speak English to me. That struck such a chord in me, because I know *EXACTLY* how it feels to not have your true personality come across in the words you speak.

Tajo also told Neda, "I'd like to speak to Gene more, but my ego prevents me from sounding like a 5-year-old". OMG. That one line totally articulates the way I felt the last 18 months about my hesitancy to even try speaking Spanish. She totally hit the nail on the head.


"beep beeep beeeeep beep beeep!"

Tina is Tajana's niece. Even at 3-years old, she's picked up on the fact that I don't speak or understand Croatian, so she communicates by beep-ing to me. After a bit of time, I've begun to understand what she's saying. For instance in the picture above, she's saying:


"I'm going to strangle you when the grown-ups aren't looking!"

We are in Pula, Croatia, and it looks like we're going to be here for awhile. But we're surrounded by lots of good people that are itching to take care of Neda and I. They wrap around us like a warm blanket and I'm so very grateful for that. Hvala vam!
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  #317  
Old 12 Sep 2014
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The phone rings in the middle of the night. Bad news never waits for the morning. Ten days after the surgery to remove the tumour, Neda' mom passed away in the night. Her body was too weak and exhausted to recover. The family was devastated. After getting a surgery date and having the procedure performed successfully, we had made plans to move Neda's mom to an assisted living facility and start her rehabilitation. We had not planned on making funeral arrangements.


Neda's mom, Mirjana as a small child

It took a long time to get over the grief and start the task of cleaning out Mirjana's apartment. We looked through some old pictures that Neda's mom had kept and I wondered at the life of a person who I mostly knew through stories told through Neda's eyes. The pictures and the stories that came out because of it revealed a bit more of the person that I never got to know very well.

Mirjana was born 1949 in Montenegro, which back then was a part of former Yugoslavia. The family stayed there a few years before moving to Istria. Her dad was the chief mechanical engineer aboard a ship that sailed all over the world, only coming back to be with the family for a month out of every year.


Nona, Mirjana and her brother outside the Hotel Riviera in Pula


Mirjana as a young woman aboard her dad's ship

Nona told us that Mirjana was a quiet girl growing up, and that she always had her head buried in a book somewhere. Neda nodded her head at this and added that not much had changed throughout the years.


As a young bride


Mirjana and her two girls, Goga and Neda

One of my favorite stories that Neda told me about her childhood was of her playing in the garden outside the apartment. When she got hungry, instead of coming back inside, she would yell to her mom up in the kitchen, "Mama, I'm hungry!" Mirjana would then make sandwiches and drop them through the window down to Neda so she could continue playing! That story always makes me smile.


Mirjana and Goga


Outside in the garden of the apartment


Neda's birthday surrounded by her mom and grandparents

We looked through a lot of old birthday pictures and slides of Neda and Goga throughout the years. I noted that as the sisters grew older, the exact same chocolate cake appeared in front of them in every photo. Neda explained that that was the only birthday cake her mom knew how to make! I thought that was funny, like seeing the same family member in photos that never seems to age over the years. Dorian Gray cake!


Goga's wedding day.
Mirjana liked to call them all "The Three Muskeeters"


While in Pula, Goga found an old memory book from her elementary school years. It's an album that all your friends and family write messages or doodle in to capture a point in time, kind of like a yearbook. She showed me one of the pages that her mom had free-hand copied a picture of a Sarah Kay drawing. She had totally forgotten about it. It was very artistic and even as a copy, showed a lot of talent. Goga is an artist herself and it was nice confirmation seeing where she got her talent from.


Attending Tea's annual birthday party at Goga's in-laws place


After moving to Canada, Neda would visit her mom in Pula every couple of years


Mirjana in her favorite chair buried in a book


Mirjana couldn't attend our wedding in Toronto,
so we held a reception in Croatia as well


Because Neda's mom didn't speak English, whenever she would call us in Toronto to speak to Neda, our conversations were very short. I learned how to say "Hello" and "Neda's not at home right now" in Croatian to make our calls easier for her. While staying in Neda's mom's apartment the last couple of months, I saw all the How-To-Speak-English books and dictionaries on the shelf. She had been trying to learn English just so that she could communicate to me. That was very touching!


Three generations!


Lunch with the girls


As always, the girl and her book

It was nice sharing stories with all of Mirjana's family, and hearing how she touched each one of their lives in ways small and large. She was very much loved by her family. She will be missed greatly.
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  #318  
Old 12 Sep 2014
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Sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you all

Wayne
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  #319  
Old 12 Sep 2014
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Neda , Gene

So sorry to hear of your loss,my condolences to the both of you and your family. Gene your pix and stories are always wonderful no matter what the subject.You make us feel like we are there with you Thank you for sharing.Wishing both of you the best .
john
newliskeard ont ca
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  #320  
Old 12 Sep 2014
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My heartfelt condolences to you both Neda & Gene.
It's harder for a girl to lose her Mum, as I have witnessed with my wife.

Thanks for sharing.

Grant
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  #321  
Old 13 Sep 2014
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Ever since I joined the Hubb, I followed your journey. You guys have a blast of a time. Sometimes life doesn't seem to be fair. The last couple of days are painful, my condolences to you. It takes time overcome the grief of losing loved ones. Best wishes.
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  #322  
Old 13 Sep 2014
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Sad times

Sorry to hear of your loss, thankyou for sharing your trip, your life and especially those photos of family life from the past.
Stay cool, stay strong.
Hoss
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  #323  
Old 13 Sep 2014
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My condolences to you both. Tough times. Thank you for posting the pictures - amazing how pictures do say a thousand words. Rob
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  #324  
Old 14 Sep 2014
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Lori and I are both very sad to read of your loss. Our condolences.
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  #325  
Old 15 Sep 2014
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So very sorry to hear of your loss, my thoughts are with you and your family. Thank you for sharing those photos and for allowing us a glimpse into their lives.
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Funeral for Neda's mom

The last couple of weeks have been very busy, arranging Mirjana's funeral and getting all of affairs settled. I wished I could have helped, but the language barrier meant that it was faster for Neda and Goga to do all the work themselves. I stayed with Tea and we watched movies and played video games together instead.


I taught Tea how to play the guitar. She was inseparable with the instrument after!


A night at the drive-in

Neda's always told me that growing up her parents never took any pictures of her. Since she was a younger sibling, there were tons of pictures of her older sister. Neda recounted bitterly, "I guess the novelty of having kids wore off after the first child..." Marcia, Marcia, Marcia...

While cleaning out her mom's apartment, we found a treasure trove of slides and we fired up an ancient, rickety projector (all it was missing was a hand-crank) and made an evening out of it with the rest of the family. There were *TONS* of pictures of Neda! Seems her dad had transitioned from making photos to making slides during Neda's childhood, and since Goga was going through her teenage Too-Cool-To-Hang-With-The-Family phase, all there were were slides of Neda hiking, Neda playing with the dog, Neda in the garden, Neda by the marina...

Her entire view of her childhood was changed overnight!


Rediscovered childhood memories: Neda at the fair


Bullitt the blue sky

Dog Update: Nera didn't stay with us for very long before her cuteness factor scored her a permanent home. I missed the soft patter of her feet on the kitchen floor while I was typing up blog entries on the computer.

One afternoon, Neda came home from grocery shopping and announced, "Gene, we have a visitor!" Normally that was my cue to put some pants on. But into the kitchen came another black, furry four-legged friend! "I found him by the marina, he almost got hit by a car. Can we keep him?" I looked at the dog collar around his neck and replied, "We should probably try to find his owner?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll do that too..."

We put out a notice on all the social media websites that Neda was hooked into. There were many replies reporting sightings all over Pula. In the meantime, since there wasn't a nametag on his collar, I got to name him! I called him Bullitt. He was very different from Nera. Not quite as smart, but rambunctious and mischievous. He wanted to sleep on our bed and couldn't seem to remember our home when we went out for a walk. He kept tugging on the leash even when we were outside our apartment. Dumb dog.

It was over a day when the phone rang insistently. A worried voice on the other end meekly said, "Um, I think you have my dog". Neda replied, "If you want to see him again, meet us at the park in 30 minutes". I think she wanted to add, "bring small unmarked bills and make sure no one follows you". Neda wasn't going to give up yet another dog without a fight!

Bullitt's owner met his dognappers later that afternoon, and Bullitt walked over to him when he was called by his real name, Max. Seems that Max gets let out every day to roam the streets and he always come home at night. He lived right behind our apartment which was why he was always straining at the leash when we were coming home. We totally kidnapped this little guy from his daily routine! When Max didn't show up last night, his owner frantically searched the Internet and found our posting. He seemed very relieved to see his dog again.

While walking away dogless, Neda whispered to me, "I think Max would have been better off with us. Did you see how hesitant he was leaving us?" I replied, "Yeah, I think it's called Stockholm Syndrome..."


The pebbly beaches of Lungo Mare

Lungo Mare is a scenic, windy road that follows the shoreline. Cyclists, joggers and strollers take in the natural beauty of the area. The rocky coast is strewn with the occasional pebbly beaches along the bays, which are very popular with both locals and tourists. It's where Neda used to spend her summers, sun tanning on the rocks with her friends.


Having a drink with fellow Croatian bikers!

We have motorcycle visitors in Pula! Neda is member of a Croatian motorcycle forum online and we've been posting our blog reports there. When they heard that we were in the country, Danko and Nives rode into town to pay us a visit. It was really nice meeting other bikers and and we got some great tips about riding in Croatia. They were headed to Albania in a few weeks, we were very interested in that! We really miss our bikes, which were probably somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean right now.


Wishing farewell to Danko and Nives


Salsa dancers in front of the Temple of Augustus


3D-Mapping

The tourism board of Pula puts on many events throughout the city in the summer. One of the more interesting ones is are a series of short 10-15 minute computer animations projected onto the old buildings in the Forum.


Taking a shortcut through the dark alleyways of Pula


Cranes of the shipyard in the distances as the sun sets on the shores of this old town
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  #327  
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Thank you all for your kind words, Neda and I really appreciate it.
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  #328  
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Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Neda.
So very sorry to hear of Neda's moms passing.

Texas
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Neda's been keeping track of our motorcycles while they've been making the slow journey across the Atlantic, and our bikes are now in Hamburg! The shipping agent told us it would be another week until they would arrive in Zagreb for us to pick up. So excited! It's been so long since we've been on two wheels. Thankfully we are staying right in the heart of Pula, and family and all the conveniences are within walking distances, but it still would be nice to have some transportation.

In the meantime, Iva and Tajana have taken it upon themselves to be our official tour guides, ferrying us all over the Istrian peninsula to show us just how beautiful the region is.


Motovun in the distance

One of the more popular places to visit in Istria is Motovun, which is right in the centre of the peninsula. Situated on top of a hill, you can see it from quite a distance. It's got incredible medieval architecture, reflecting many different styles throughout its different periods of rule, and they say you can see all four corners of Istria from the top of the city walls.


The city gates in the background at the top of the hill. I imagined a thick portcullis
keeping invaders out back in the middle ages.


We came right in the middle of the Motovun film festival, which is attended by people all over Europe. There was a huge screen being set up in the courtyard and lots of makeshift outdoor conferences and round table discussions held in the patios of the restaurants and coffee shops.


Shots on the wall of the castle! Except for Iva, the Designated Driver.

From the top, you can see a beautiful view of the terra-cotta roofed buildings that are so typical of the region, as well as the valley below. The weather was kind of damp and rainy (what else is new?), so not many good photo ops that day.


Church of St Stephens


Tuffles are very popular here since being discovered in the Motovun forest 80 years ago.
They use special dogs to sniff them out. Expensive delicacy.



Late night, cobblestone streets of Grožnjan

Ever summer, there's a jazz festival that's held in the town of Grožnjan, which is located just a few kms north-west of Motovun. Another town with medieval architecture, its primary claim to fame these days is being an artists colony. We piled into Iva's car once again to see some live music, but got sidetracked with good company and conversation during a nice late evening dinner and only got to see the last few minutes of a Croatian jazz trio.


The sound of someone practicing on a saxophone drifted through the air
as we walked the pretty streets after the concert.



This weird-looking lump is actually a French poodle sniffing around the cobblestones


Croangels in Galizana


West coast resort town of Vrsar

We've been invited to a gathering of Croatian travelers! Iva is an avid traveler just like us, and she belongs to a network of friends all over Istria who get together every once in a while to share stories and experiences. Tonight, we're visiting a horse farm just outside of the tourist resort of Vrsar, but we arrive a bit early to poke around the city.


Following a cyclist through the narrow streets

Looking through all the photos I've taken of Istria, I've noticed that most of them are in portrait-mode, even though I consciously try to shoot in landscape-mode, because it fills the the screen better. But the narrow streets of all these Istrian towns just beg to be shown all the way from its cobblestone feet to its terra-cotta caps. All my landscape shots just seem to show a lot of blank walls...


Just off the coast are 18 unpopulated islets


More portrait-mode goodness
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Tourist traps in Vrsar


Campfire stories with Croatian travelers

I was fortunate that most everyone spoke English to some degree. We exchanged stories of all the places we had been to and lived in, and we were excited to hear about all the places on the continent that we'd like to travel to since we were here. The farm is owned by one of Iva's friend, Gaspar. His English wasn't as strong but surprisingly, our common language turned out to be Spanish! Who knew it could come in handy? Gaspar is a horse enthusiast and has traveled all over the world. When I told him of our Alaska to South America trip, he told me that he wanted to do the exact same route, but by horse! The Americas on one horsepower!

After that evening, Iva arranged for the travelers to meet at her place the next time, because she had told everyone that we were going to do a slideshow presentation for them. Our second presentation this trip!


Dropping into Iva's grandmother's house

One of the things that Iva and Tajana had been trying to plan for the last couple of months is some kind of hiking trip, but due to Neda's mom's passing, the first outing was cancelled. We were all set to go again a few weeks ago, but then the jeep that was supposed to be taking us and our equipment caught on fire! So this is the third time, and nothing, not even the threat of rain (again) was going to stop us!

We drop into Iva's granmother's place to run some last minute errands. I loved the look of her place, it had a very recent old-world European look to it, if you catch my drift.


Melissa (Lemon Balm) plants are native to Istria, it's leaves can be used to ward off mosquitoes
Neda stocks up for the weekend...


We are now exploring the east coast of Istria. Our hike was supposed to start in the old Roman settlement of Labin and climb up the ridge of the mountains that skirt the south-east coast of the peninsula, ending up in the tiny summit town of Skitača, about 13 kms away. But due to the rains, we decided to drive to the top of the mountain and then hike back down to Labin the next day.


Inside the mountaineering lodge. We made dinner over this fire.


Thinking of taking up wedding photography to pay the bills

There was a church besides the mountaineering lodge and a wedding was being held the day we arrived. Later on, after all the guests had left, the catering staff dropped off the leftover cake and pastries which we gorged on during dinner. Thank you, random Croatian bride and groom!


Starting out from the top of the mountain in Skitača, clouds obscure the horizon
creating a seamless sky blue Adriatic sea in the background - Photo courtesy of Iva



Towards the end of our hike, the town of Rabac comes into view in the distance


Labin


More narrow cobblestone streets in Labin


Iva's friend's family owns a vineyard in Vižinada, just outside of Motovun

Everyone is familiar with Italian wines, and Istria was once part of Italy and shares much of the same climate and soil as most of the northern Italian vineyards. On another social outing, Iva organized a tour of her friend Ines' vineyard to sample some of the vintages from this region.


We went on a small tour of the vineyard and saw how they made the different types of wines

Since this was the old world, I expected a huge wooden vat with barefoot peasants stamping the grapes and a little spigot at the bottom of the vat where you could pour out a glass of fresh-squeeze wine. Apparently my knowledge of vintners fell a bit short...

During the tour, we learned that Istria is known for its Malvazija white wine, due to the conditions in the area. I'm not a big white wine drinker, but I do like saying the word Malvazija (Mal-Vah-Zee-Uh). I'm just disappointed that there'll be very little opportunity to use that word in ordinary conversation.


Ines pours another glass of white wine


Mal-Vah-Zee-Uh!

We really want to thank Iva and Tajana so much for taking us all over Istria and showing us just how awesome this corner of the world is!
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