The Retirees go Abroad – Croatia – Opatija Riviera – Lovrana and Moscenice

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Friday and the weather is fine with not a cloud in the sky. Only a half day trip today. We will go to Lovrana and Moscenice. We took the small bus today mainly because of the number in the tour group.

Lovran is a town in Istria, Croatia. It is situated on the western coast of the Kvarner Bay. Its name derives from Laurel (Laurus nobilis), as shown in the coat of arms. Lovran is one of the oldest coastal settlements on the eastern shore of Istrian peninsula. By the early Middle Ages it was an important urban and shipbuilding centre of northern Adriatic. Following the sudden development of port towns in the vicinity (Trieste, Pula, and Rijeka) which became the new and dominant urban centres in the region, Lovran lost its significance.

However, by the mid-19th century, the area gained prominence as it becomes a fashionable resort of Austro-Hungarian nobility. The long tradition of tourism is still strongly felt in the Lovran region, and it forms the backbone of the economy. The region is rich with cultural-historical heritage. A parish church with medieval frescoes and Glagolitic inscriptions, and the 14th century tower of St George’s Square within the old urban core, as well as rural ambiances and architectural edifices – namely turn-of-the-century villas with surrounding parks, are general points of interest.

Lovran includes an old town that was once fortified and evidence of the fortification can be seen today. Beside the old watch tower is the church of St George first founded in the 12th century. Both front the old town square which includes Mustacon a wooden relief over the door of a house to protect the inhabitants from evil. Only one of the old town gates exists today and outside of the old town is St Trinity Chapel. There is also a very good coffee shop where we enjoyed an iced coffee – best choice for a hot day.

Mošćenice is a village in the municipality of Mošćenička Dragain Primorje-Gorski Kotar County on the Istrian peninsula, close to Opatija, Croatia. I thought I would give all you secretly Croatian types a chances to get your tongue around a few Croatian names.

It is a typical hilltop village with stone houses and narrow streets situated 173 metres above Mošćenička Draga. From Mošćenice one has a nice view across the Kvarner Gulf to Rijeka and the islands of Krk and Cres. The village is connected to the Mošćenička Draga by road and 750 steps which lead from St. Ivan beach to the centre of the village. Besides the old St. Andrew church, places of interest are the local ethnographic museum and an old olive extraction mill.

The town is typically built as a concentrically conceived settlement with outer walls consisting of houses whose outside walls function as walls of the fortress. In such an enclosed environment, space is precious and all houses are built close to one another, separated by narrow streets and sometimes linked by covered passages. Much of the medieval structure is still visible now.

Our tour starts at the loggia outside the village. Here the village council met and the court was convened and the markets were held. From there we went through the gate under the Austro Hapsburg Crest. The village relied on refining olive oil for most of its life. One of the oil crushing plants from 500 years ago still exits and we were able to visit this establishment.

The parish church of St Andrew Apostle is very intriguing. The resident priest visited us at the church to speak to us in Croatian whilst our local guide translated. The church has been operating on this site since 800AD has been restored many times and added to by Italian soldiers during WW2 with frescos and repainting. It includes the remaining pillars from the original 8th century church and some odd objects including a cross adorned with all the instruments of the crucifixion of Christ.

Then a visit to the local ethnographic museum in the old watch house. Here we found that there is a Scotsman everywhere. If you look closely at the feet of the shepherds coat there is the Croatian form of the bag pipes which our guide said predated the Scots and Irish and made more of a din. The other costume is the typical married woman’s attire. A yellow sash indicated an engaged woman and white sash – a virgin? Perhaps just still looking said our guide.

Back to the hotel and down to the beach. The water is warm said our guide. Bullshit – bloody freezing but still we climbed in and swam around for about 1/2 an hour in water variously 6 feet to 25 feet deep. Then we sat in the sun, and watched the boats go by, before touring more of Opatija visiting the fountain and then the Museum of Tourism located in the first villa built at Opatija in 1820s with its impressive gardens and its Swiss Cottage in the yard. We also passed the Mozart Hotel the prettiest villa on the coast.

And so ended Friday.

The Retirees go Abroad – Croatia – Opatija Riviera – Pula and Rovinj

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After getting a reasonable nights sleep we arise to travel to Pula and Rovinj. Pula, a seafront city on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, is known for its protected harbor, long, beach-lined coast and Roman ruins. Founded as early as the 10th century B.C.E. and valued for its strategic location, Pula has been occupied, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, including by the Romans, Ostrogoths and Venetians, as well as the Allied Forces during WW2.

The Romans built a major settlement there with a road to Rome running past Pula’s amphitheatre part of which remains today. Although not as complete as the amphitheatre in Rome or Verona it is still interesting to visit. It is slightly different but the same principle as Rome. The basement has disappeared but with restoration a museum has been created where once gladiators gathered and wild animals were stored ready for the fights. Amphora and oil presses now replace the other.

We then took a tour of the old city of Pula seeing the remains of the Roman gates, the sculpture of James Joyce, some mosaic floor tiles from the Roman period, the temple of Augustus, and the town hall built with part from the wall from the temple of Diana. The streets were in some places narrow and lanes ran off to climb the hill to the peak over which the Romans built their city. Inevitably there is an old church and this one was connected to a Baptistery. The Baptistery is gone but its bell tower remains.

The Croatians have been under the subjugation of a number of empires and countries but they only regained their independence after the Second World War and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. A monument to those who brought independence looks over the harbour that brought so many invaders.

We then travelled to Rovinj on the way to the border with Slovenia. Rovinj/Rovigno is a city located on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, it is a popular tourist resort and an active fishing port. Istriot, a Romance language once widely spoken in this part of Istria, is still spoken by some of the residents. The town is officially bilingual, Italian and Croatian, hence both town names are official and equal.

The area of the old city is on an island that has over time been connected to the mainland so you get lanes leading to the sea and harbours surrounding it on three sides. We decided not to go on the tour but find things for ourselves. First stop was the market where I could not resist buying some fabulous looking figs but figs are like a weed here – everywhere you turn there is a fig tree. So it was a bit like carrying coal to Newcastle. There was the usual church on the top of the hill in the centre of the old town. It has a bell tower which you can climb for 20 Kuna and a stout heart. The old wooden stairs, 180 of them, threaten to collapse with every footstep. But the view from above is worth the heart stopping climb.

We then walked down through the town clearly still a place for the living. It was hot and humid very much like Brisbane so when we saw a pizza restaurant with some satisfied customers enjoying pizza outside of the restaurant, we had to stop. The satisfied customers turned out to be John Stefanic, his wife and sister. John is a first generation Aussie catching up on his Croat heritage. So some lunch at Harlekin a chat with John and 1/2 a litre of wine and we were ready for the rest of the trip.

Strolling down to the harbour we made our way round to the bus pickup through the old city gate. Again there was a modern memorial to the heroes creating the modern Croatia. The bus trip back was via the freeway and threw the new 5 kilometre tunnel through Mount Ukca.

The Retirees go Abroad – Croatia – Opatija Riviera

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By the time we meet our tour guide and wait whilst the rest of the tour collect their luggage we don’t get away till 12.00 noon. It is a 21/2 hr bus ride to Opatji on the Croatian Riviera. The trip from Zagreb to Opatija took over 21/2 hours through the countryside and then the mountains onto the Adriatic coast.

Our hotel is quite reasonable and well located overlooking the sea. There is a path that follows the water front and it was enjoyable to stretch our legs. We visited the 15th century church of St Jacob which started life as a Benedictine monastery. The Croatian word for Monastery – Opatija – gave the town its name. The coast line is quite attractive with its clear water splashing against the side walk wetting passers-by.

We have met Avis, a single Scottish lass who lived 18 years in Melbourne then moved to Holland and now lives in Norfolk and has the most complex accent and we have also met brother and sister David and Joy from Rutland the UK’s smallest county. Joy is widowed but has done quite a lot of travel with her husband and after he died has travelled with her brother. So we all have stories to tell and share.

After settling into the hotel, we walked along the beach front. The beach front is a stone and concrete wall with various little harbours and swimming nooks stretching for some 7 kilometres with a walking path atop of it. Opatija has only found fame as a tourist destination in the mid-1800s. Up till then it was a small unimportant fishing village. Our walk took us past many of the villas and hotels from that period and an ancient church the church of St Joseph with its golden Mary outside. There are larger and more modern churches but the favourite is St Josephs.

The Retirees go Abroad – On our way to Croatia – Oxford revisited

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We have been lying low and recovering from our trip to the Lakes District but now look forward to our 7 days in Croatia. As we fly out on Wednesday morning from Heathrow at 8.00am, we have booked into a hotel at Hayes outside of London near Uxbridge. On the way down to London, we called into Oxford to reminisce about our visit to Oxford with Rod and Kerry Hayes and to see some more of the exhibits at the Ashmolean Museum. This is Britain’s first dedicated museum and it is fascinating. Certain things really caught my eye this time. One exhibit on the making of violins and stringed instruments down the centuries was so absorbing once again I ran out of time.

After a bite of lunch we walked down to Christ Church College through the garden and around to Merton and Corpus Christi up Magpie Lane over to the Bodleian Library and Brasenose College then into Broad St past Baliol College and to bus stop 2 to go back to Pear Tree Park and Ride then on to Heathrow.

We stayed overnight at the Mercure Hotel at Hayes near terminal 5 at Heathrow. This gives us the ability to be at the terminal for our 8.10am departure. However even an early flight from Heathrow can be delayed and we don’t get away till 9.00am meaning we arrived at Zagreb in Croatia at 11.00am.

The Retirees go Abroad – The Lakes District – Blackpool

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We dropped Joe and Sue in town and returned to our B&B. After breakfast in the morning we were on the road again this time to Blackpool and it Illuminations. We had no trouble finding the town nor our hotel but we both felt disappointed. Blackpool looked tired and dirty. We drove the 7 kilometres along the seafront passing its three piers and the Blackpool Tower but it was not our cup of tea. However we did take the time to visit each pier with their fun parks and parlours.

After sunset a dramatic changes take place – the darkness hides everything that is ugly and the lights camouflage its tiredness.

Friday we head for home. Our next rip starts on Wednesday in Croatia.

The Retirees go Abroad – The Lakes District – Windemere, Bowness and Rydal

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Thursday we planned a walk around Derwentwater but it turned very cold and grey so a trip to Windermere replaced our walk. We found Windermere but it is not on the lake so after a coffee we went onto Bowness where we did a tour of the lake by boat.

Lunch was followed by a trip to Rydal Water and Caves. This exceptionally pretty walk around the tranquil waters of Rydal Water is the inspiration for so much of the poetry of William Wordsworth and the words in the diary of his sister Dorothy. It is very easy to see why – Rydal Water itself is tightly enclosed between the steep slopes of Loughrigg Fell and the Fairfield Horseshoe creating the landscape of trees, lake and mountain which so inspired them.

Much of the walk is through lovely woodland, which clings tightly to the shores of the lake but is not thick enough to cut off the views across the lake. However we were there to visit Rydal Cave, a large man made amphitheatre of slate complete with resident fish!

The Retirees go Abroad – The Lakes District – Keswick

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Monday and we have planned a trip to the Lakes District with a stay at Keswick where we will meet Joe and Sue Scanlan, former neighbours from Toowoomba. Things do not get off to a good start. There is a problem with the Amex card and Kerry has dropped her IPhone smashing her screen. This throws out our plans and we end up having to travel to Sheffield to have the phone repaired.

In Sheffield we go to a modern shopping centre on the outskirts. It is huge or at least the car park is huge. We get the phone fixed but it is still a long trip to Keswick along a minor road the A66 which takes us into the Lakes District through Penrith. This brings us onto a road repair that has traffic backed up for miles. It turns out to be a hole in the road under repair but abandoned for the day by the workmen leaving the traffic to sort itself out. This caused over half an hour of stop start traffic and we did not get into Keswick before 4.00pm.

We are staying in a B&B called Hall Garth. It is a three story home in a street of three story homes most of which are B&Bs with no vacancy signs in the window. Our room is pleasant and the B&B well located within an easy walk of the town centre. So we use the rest of the afternoon to check out the centre and meet up with Joe and Sue.

We finally meet up and have dinner at a local pizza restaurant before going home. The B&B breakfast the next morning is big enough for two people but it sets us up for the day. We have planned to walk along the old Keswick rail line toward Thekeld, turning off to go to the Castlerigg Stone Circle returning to the town via Spring Farm. The walk along the old rail line is very interesting. They have pulled up the rail line but the bridges are still in place with new decking. The path is crossed by the river as it winds through the valley and it is very romantic to stroll along listening to the river and seeing the sun reflecting through the trees. The path is crossed by a major overpass which according to the plaque below won the prize as the best engineered concrete overpass in 1999.

Once we leave the path we walk through cow paddocks before reaching a road where we made our way up to the stones. Before we could reach the stones we encountered a gallery with photography of the remoter parts of the district. Stunning photography. Outside in the courtyard an old man sits in the sun looking proudly on at his restored 1927 Sunbeam motor bike with its acetylene gas lamp for a head light. The stones sit atop a hill and although not as large as Stone Henge they are just as old. It was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages. Every year, thousands of tourists travel to the site. This plateau forms the raised centre of a natural amphitheatre created by the surrounding fells and from within the circle it is possible to see some of the highest peaks in Cumbria: Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Grasmoor and Blencathra.

We depart across a style and down a lane cross over some more fields through some gates and finally down a steep path to the cafe of Spring Farm where we have lunch and recover after over three hours in the field.

After a rest we go home for a cup of tea and a lie down. Soon we are up again to take a tour on the hop on hop off bus. But the bus is not typical. Whilst it is a double decker the buses go different routes and there is not one route viewing the highlights. So we travel out to Seatoller where we hop off and our bus turns around going back to Keswick.

Seatoller was once the home to the mine workers at Hollister Slate Mine and since the closure of the mine there is not much there.  Attractions around the mine complex include a visitor centre, underground tours of the workings, and England’s first via ferrata, where participants use a safety harness to scale a cliff path.

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We had hoped to catch a smaller no 77 bus to travel up through the hills and back around to Keswick but the damned thing did not turn up until it was too late for us to get back to Keswick for dinner with Joe and Sue so with heavy hearts we returned to Keswick without going beyond Seatoller. But we made it to the Pheasant Inn for dinner and a good thing too. On the way home we found the hotel with the longest name “The Chief Justice of the Common Pleas” in memory of a 17th century jurist born in Keswick and formerly until 2000 the Police Station and Magistrates court.

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