Croatia in September: Istria, Rijeka, and refugees
In September, when the weather gets cold and people start putting on jackets and scarfs for the first time, I usually get a strong desire to go to the seaside. Perhaps, it’s my desperate attempt to say goodbye to Summer once last time. September 2015 was amazing because of two reasons. First, I had money to spend on a new trip. Second, my dearest friend Bety decided to join me on the road. Together we decided to go to the Adriatic sea coast of Croatia where, as we thought, people could still swim at this time of the year.
When choosing a hotel, we booked an apartment in a small town Bakar, which is about 8 km away from a seaport called Rijeka. The town looked peaceful on the pictures, and the price for accommodation seemed to be reasonable. Unfortunately, there were no direct routes to Bakar from Zagreb (where we were arriving) therefore we had to change buses at Rijeka. This worked out in our advantage since a friend of ours lives there and had promised to show us around the region.
The refugees issue
One thing you need to know when planning a trip with me is that I almost always have some problems with transportation. I can I miss a plane or a bus, take an expired ID card with me or get off at the wrong train station. All joking aside, there are no limitations to what can happen. That trip wasn’t an exception. As you probably have heard (actually, I want to see a person who hasn’t), the year 2015 was marked by the enormous amount of refugees traveling to Europe. A huge part of them were passing Serbia as their last stop on their way to the Schengen area. Well, not many countries were able to cope with the big number of migrants.
That Autumn Hungary closed its borders. Soon Croatia announced closure of its borders with Serbia as well. All except one, between Belgrade and Zagreb, the one I needed. The day before my departure I checked the road situation on the website, and everything seemed to be normal. But when I came to the bus station the next morning there were no buses going to Zagreb at all. Along with other passengers, we were waiting about half an hour until the driver came and, making a helpless gesture, announced that the last border with Croatia was closed during the night. That was a real “finita la commedia” for me. Without any information regarding the future possibility of opening the borders, I had to come up with another plan. The most obvious one was a plane, which I successfully took the day after.
Bety and I rented a tiny studio on the ground floor, with the toilets located outside of it, in the hall by the stairs. It was quite funny, actually, to leave the apartment each time we needed to pee. The apartment was just one minute away from the bay, in the old town. The city didn’t have any significant sightseeings. But it had plenty of restaurants located at the seafront, which served delicious fish and white wine. That was more than enough for me. Usually I seldom get the chance to eat a nice meal while sitting by the sea watching the moon reflecting in the water. For that reason, I remembered our dinners in Bakar in details. The only disadvantage of the location was that there were no beaches as the area around was industrial and rocky, and the hills surrounded Bakar were very steep. The closest one was few kilometers away. After an unsuccessful long wait for a bus, we decided to walk on foot. It was a bad decision as in 1-2 km the road got us to a highway where it was impossible to walk. We had to turn back, and I had to forget about my swimming plans.
In Croatia, the best you can do is to rent a car (in our case to find a friend who has a car) and travel through the country as there are plenty of places you can’t get by bus. With our Croatian friend, Bety and I visited many towns and resorts in Istria (or Istra in Croatian), the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The one I remembered the most was a medieval town Labin. It’s located on a hill and has a beautiful Old Town with narrow streets made from bricks. The view of Istria from the city walls is amazing.
The second place I have vivid memories about was Kringa. The legend tells of a 17th century villager Jure Grando Alilovič, who, after 16 years of his death, began arising from his grave at night and terrorized the village of Kringa. That story become the first recorded case of vampirism in Euopean history (noted in 1689), making Jure Grando Alilovič the fist known vampire, at least in Europe. Now Kringa has a Museum of Vampires ( Kringa, 52444 Tinjan) that we decided to visit.
But when we arrived, it tuned out the Museum was closed, and all that was left was a cafe designed as a vampire house, with posters of vampires on the walls, shelves made in a shape of coffins, old furniture, candles, and an oracle crystal ball. Honestly, I was expecting at least a small corner with souvenirs where I can buy books about Jure Grando… or a vampire hunting kit. Well, we had to limit ourselves to just a beer 🙂
Rijeka, the third largest city in Croatia and the town we visited the most, reminded me of Saint Petersburg. But not because of the ships nearby but because of the strong wind that gets to you everywhere in the city. Even though the temperature in Istria was around 15-17 degrees during the day, it always seemed very cold in Rijeka. After my return, I learned an interesting fact about the city. Apparently, every year it holds the biggest carnival in Croatia. For example, this year there were 110 carnival groups with more than 10.000 participants. Next one will be held in the second part of January 2017, from January 17 until March 1. I don’t know about you but few friends of mine are going there religiously.