Beautiful (and Quiet) Buzet

(This is the eighth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)
Sunday June 22

We pulled away from House Tina, and took the country road north towards Karlovac, where our proprietor had been living in a camp during the war.  Along the way we lots of houses with bullet holes and shrapnel damage, but there were equally as many all spiffed up with new plaster, paint and new roofs.  Croatia seems to be putting the war behind them.

Karlovac Shopping

First, a stop at an Interspar store where we saw (from right to left) a clear plastic “can” with aluminum pop top full of clear lemon-water.  I didn’t buy it and looked for one the rest of the time we were over there and never saw it again.  It was very cool.  We also saw a Jane Fondom workout video, right next to a Jane Fonda workout video.  And then a very cute red-checked Croatian bag of KiKi candies, which I also purchased, along with supplies for our lunch.  I wonder if foreigners come over here and go gaga at our packaging.  Do we have any cool packaging?

Croatia1_freewaysights

It’s time to get on the road and get going.  This section of freeway, which traverses from east to west across Croatia also has lots of tunnels, but their names are beside them on signs, not over them in fun writing.  The terrain is hilly, wooded and in many section on the western side of the country we saw many fallen trees.  Apparently there had been a big storm and the temperatures suddenly dropped, freezing all the rain/ice onto the trees, cracking them in half, toppling many.  The damage was extensive.

Croatia1a_freeway sign

Not too many freeway signs–mostly beautiful countryside.  It reminded me of driving through Halifax Canada with long straight highways bordered by trees and fields.  Croatia has a toll system for their roads.  When you enter them, you draw a ticket from the automated machine and then drive.  After a while you see the Autocesta gates and you stop to pay for what you just drove.  This is more modern: no coins are thrown in a basket, instead you whip out the bankcard and they swipe it and present you with your card and your receipt.  Drive on.  At one Autocesta, we took in the scenery:

1AutocestaCroatia_cow

1AutocestaCroatia_train and pizza

croatian main roads

We drove from the blue dot (Plitvice Lakes National Park) up to Karlovac (red circle), then took the A1 West to Rijecka (green circle), where we promptly got sort of lost, but Dave kept driving and I kept flipping back and forth on my printed-out Google maps and frantically searched my map book, but somehow, someway, we made it through that spaghetti-ed freeway system interchange, heading into Istria.  And then we paid a monster fee for traveling through a very very long tunnel.

Istria Road Map

From Rijecka (green circle), we finally made it to Buzet (violet rectangle).  Istria was part of Italy until 1947, when it was scooped up into Yugoslavia, and there it stayed when Croatia split off and kept it.  Besides being known as a place for truffle hunting, wine drinking and possible early birthplace of the Glagolitic alphabet (kind of like that old claim “George Washington Slept Here”), it resembles in many ways the hilltown areas of Italy.  Some more deft driving and map-following and we glimpsed Buzet on top of a hill:Buzet7c_town from below

We drove up and looped around through this gate, the “Big” Gate:

Buzet Big Gate

On the right is what we saw coming up, and the view on the left is what we saw later, coming down.  Yes, it was interesting.  We found our hotel right away (after that hard hairpin turn to the left just inside the Big Gate), drove past it looking for parking, drove up and around the town, holding our breath on the narrow streets, then flipped around and came up again, through the gate and parked in front of Vela Vrata, our hotel.

Vela Vrata Hotel with sign

Vela Vrata_front door

We thought we were in Italy, really, except that everything was written in Croatian and they all spoke that as well.  Whenever I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been able to pick up a word or two to add to my pathetically small working vocabulary.  This time I didn’t pick up ANY words in Croatian, nor Slovenian, nor Hungarian.

Vela Vrata_room

Our room was sweet, the window shut against the day’s heat.

Vela Vrata sink

I’ve never been so excited to see shampoo, soap, and drinking glasses.  And more than one washcloth and towel.  We felt like we were in the Buzetian Waldorf Astoria.

Vela Vrata Window

View through the bathroom window.

Vela Vrata_bedroom window

And we opened up the bedroom window, to see the countryside.  We retrieved our luggage from the car, then Dave had to go and repark it “down below,” in a special lot just for the hotel.  We turned left onto a street that looked like it would work, except at the bottom there were stairs.  Nope.  Back up the car.  Around that bend there was another street, but I urged Dave just to park the car in the little parking lot below and we would walk up.  We did so, and found a little pocket park with a fountain, a family and some benches where we could eat our lunch, purchased in Karlovac.

Buzet1a_little town square below

Buzet1a2_lunch

What is it about European bakeries?  The breads are fresh, delicious and available.  We’d bought “picnic” supplies and enjoyed our lunch at this little place.  Our unstated, but previously assumed goal was to drop our stuff in Buzet and take a driving tour of the Istrian Peninsula.  This was rapidly being scaled down to drop our backpack in our room and take a walking tour of the small hilltown.

Buzet1g_overlook again

This is the view to the “front,” just below our little park, of a church and its cemetery.

Buzet1c_tiny door in wall

The route back up to our hotel (really just a couple of long city blocks, but strung out into switchbacks and up a hill) passed by some gardens.

Buzet1a3_flowers

Buzet1f_ochre wall

We walked to the right, up behind our hotel to explore.  It’s not a large hilltown, and the Sunday afternoon was quiet.

Map Buzet Istria Croatia

Here’s a map we got AFTER our walk, when the tourist agency with erratic hours finally opened.  Lots of things were noted here, but we used our guidebook to sort of guide us around this little town.  Our hotel is just across from #6, the South Bulwark, and you can see where we parked our car (the large red P).  While I do post this map, try to ignore it.  Just go with us on a traipse around a little town where you don’t speak the language, are tired from driving across the country, are happy with having had such a good picnic, and have two cameras to record everything (one for this blog and one for Instagram, later on that night).

Buzet_ESE

Buzet2a_building

These cobblestones were slippery and uneven.

Buzet2_colorful doorway

Buzet2a_old building

Buzet2b1_more towers

We saw two possible churches, but both were closed.

Buzet2f_laundry1

For some, it was laundry day.  And everywhere were potted plants, lush and full.

Buzet2e_scissors

I need this scissors sign to hang outside my sewing room.

Buzet2d_museum sign

My sister Christine was in China, and her Instagram feed was full of visits to museums.  I joked that she goes to museums and we see the sign for one.

Buzet3_house

And around every lane you could see the edge of the hill drop off into the green valley below.

Buzet4_church door

St. George’s Church (#21 on the map).  Nothing was open.  Nothing except our hotel and the bar next to it.

Buzet3_graffiti

We walked up to the top of the town, the church abutting the old crenelated city wall.  Buzet has credentials back to the 16th century, but I think the graffiti is newer.

Buzet3g_old town wall

The other side of the church, with a lone bell in the wall.

Buzet3_view from back of town

The view from atop the city wall.

Buzet3_town well1

The regular camera records the town’s Big Well (#17) in the center of the city, but the iPhone camera catches the light differently, giving a different look:

Buzet3_town well

Buzet3_timbers on side gate

Buzet3f_town gate3

Buzet3c_DAE

The views were expansive, but as Dave noted, “Italy seemed to have better land use management.”  Yes, we’d look out over a sweeping valley and see a bunch of high rises, or a quarry, or a car factory.  The old Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part, had its emphasis on industry and building mostly likely due to its roots in Communism, and the powers-that-be probably thought that a factory was a far better use of land than keeping a view or maintaining its agrarian heritage.  It was kind of startling sometimes, as Italy’s hilltowns are surrounded by buccolic landscapes on all sides.

Buzet3e_exterior side gate

The backside of that gate we just came through. This was the “Little Gate,” (#15 on the left side of the town), whereas the Big Gate (#2) was on the lower right side.

Buzet3h_flower

Buzet1k_countryside

Buzet1e_overlook from road

Buzet overlook

Vela Vrata_hotel sign

We came back to the hotel. An afternoon nap seemed like a good idea in this equally sleepy hilltown.  Forget getting in the car and driving around.

Buzet1m_overlook from front side

Soon it was dinner time.  Really it went like this “It’s 8 o’clock already??!!” We walked back down to our car.

Buzet1n_little gate

Buzet5_Pizzeria dinner

Pizzeria Jezic had about nine hundred options, but luckily a young couple helped us figure out what to get.  We opted for a salad (our standard) and a pizza.  We told the server we would split the pizza, so it arrived, neatly cut in half on two plates. The World Cup was on the television, but since Croatia wouldn’t be playing until the next night, Monday, June 23rd, the town was not as drawn in to what was being televised.  The game was on in the bar as we walked up the hill after dinner, but the dining area in front of the hotel only had two guests.  We remarked on how quiet the town was when we checked out the next morning, and the manager said, “Oh wait for tonight when Croatia plays.”  We were glad to get a good night’s sleep in the beautiful Vela Vrata hotel in beautiful Buzet, Istria.

I woke up earlier than Dave the next morning, and recorded this from the bathroom window.  You might have to turn up the volume to hear the singing birds.  We showered, dressed, packed up and headed toward the breakfast room.

Vela Vrata pool

First stop: the swiming pool.  I’d heard about it on the web and I wanted to see it.  I kept thinking how much my sister Susan would like to do her laps in this place.

Vela Vrata_breakfast buffet1

Vela Vrata_breakfast buffet2

The breakfast buffet included hot and cold dishes, including some strange things that we passed right by.  But it was a nice breakfast room:

Vela Vrata_breakfast roomThe use of air conditioner was not apparent, a change from the guest rooms in the hotel, and finally the server/attendant opened up opposing windows to give us a breeze through the hot and stuffy room.  We poked around places on the way back to our rooms, reluctant to leave such a nice place, but happy to go again.

Buzet overlook

We walked our luggage down to the car, remembering a large plaza we’d seen the day before (below).

Buzet8a_War Dead Memorial

Somehow Dave made his way there.  We think it was a memorial to those who had died in the war.Buzet War Dead Memorial

Buzet8e_War Dead Memorial

At the center was this strange bowl-shaped object, with the signs of the zodiac on the top and bottom and faces all around the equator of the thing.  We assumed, by the look of the light fixture on the inside, that it was some sort of beacon to memorialize the place.  We never saw it lit the night before (the pizza place was sort of near this).

Buzet7a_Nardoni Dom

We felt like Croatia had been scrubbed of Communism and its relics, finding only this place with some obviously heroic logos from that time.

Buzet7b_town Communist marker

And then again, it could be about nothing, one of the drawbacks of using graphics instead of language to make your way through a town.  We were headed for the Slovenia this morning, and to find a place to buy our “sticker.”  Apparently it was a necessary item to drive on Slovenian highways, and we were warned in two guidebooks, as well as by our host at House Tina.  He said we would get a fine of 150 euro (about $225) if we didn’t have it, and then the rental car company would fine us too, just for the hassle of having to track us down and bill us.  We were on the lookout as we made our way north.

Next up: Slovenia and Ljubljana

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