This was a great find by our traveling buddy Jul for our Istrian Road Trip. We were a little disoriented upon arrival — the Altstadt confused us, and our GPS, and we were unsure parking in the big city lot outside the the old town was a good idea or not.
But it all worked out for the best. The location is ideal. The price was reasonable. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly, and never steered us wrong with recommendations for gelato or restaurant meals. We had a nice breakfast in the main area, just around the corner (≤10 second walk) from our rental apartment and were charmed by the apartment’s old-world, multi-level design (kitchen and one bath on the ground floor, loft bedroom up the right-side staircase, 2nd bedroom and bathroom up the left-side staircase).
Just when the weather was starting to appeal to us in Opatija, it was time to pull up stakes from the Imperial Hotel and head out on the road again. We had a lunch reservation in Pula and of course wanted to spend time in the nice weather (despite the effective A/C in the rental car).
But try as we might, we couldn’t get onto the highway in Opatija. I suspect this was a combination of several factors:
Roads in Opatija were all in good shape — even up in the hilly residential areas — so they might have been newer than our GPS. The road we were trying to get on might not have been a limited-access highway at that point along the coast in the recent past.
It was giving us instructions like “turn right in 20 meters” at places where there were 2 or 3 different possible right turns. As a result, there was a lot of back-tracking and hanging of u-turns.
I tended to follow the GPS’ instructions more than the local signage, based on successes thus far, and this proved to be unreliable for getting out of Opatija, at least.
So we eventually gave up and just looked for signs pointing to Pula and ended up taking the long(er) way there along the coast. It was a nice drive up and down the hills along the shore.
We got to Pula and drove past the place for lunch. We still managed to get there a little bit ahead of our reservation, but therefore didn’t have time for much more than a stroll around the marina area. Lunch turned out to be a glorious four-hour affair, with a combination of prix-fixe menus for the omnivores and on-the-fly, yet perfectly coordinated à la carte options for those in our party with more detailed requirements. The service and presentation were both impeccable. I only had one glass of a local prosecco, right at the start as an aperitif, being the driver, but I wish I’d had more — the local wines were great. There was a big emphasis on wild asparagus in all the courses — in a risotto; in a little scrambled eggs tasting dish; in a cool, spreadable paste. Really yummy stuff in terms of flavor and texture. Desserts were equally exciting: red wine ice cream with fig cream (Sarah), a polenta/honey/cream parfait (Scott and I), fennel ice cream with a chocolate soufflé (Jul…and that would have been my second choice). This meal was certainly an experience all its own.
Eventually we got to Rovinj without incident and were a little confused by the gates to the old town and the parking lots just outside it. Our GPS led us pretty much right to the Casa Garzotto, but for the last few meters where the names of the streets became unclear. We checked in there, got the keys to the apartment around the corner we’d rented and got moving, exploring the old town and the seaside at dusk. I was squirrelly about handing over the key to the rental car, so the hotel’s porter Steve (that’s how he introduced himself) could move it to a parking spot elsewhere in Rovinj — but in the end, I found out it didn’t matter much because they didn’t have a reserved parking spot available for our car anyway (they expected their parking connection would find one eventually, but I guess he never did). So we left it in the public lot overnight and Casa Garzotto picked up the tab the next day when we were ready to depart Rovinj. Steve and I guided the car through the city gates into the old town, and then he expertly loaded our stuff back in — much better than we ourselves had done — and shepherded us back out of the old town via his Razor.
Suffice it to say that Rovinj has just about all the charm and friendliness you could imagine, whether marveling at the ancient apartment buildings, sharing a bottle of wine on the rocks with friends (and fairly bold fiddler crabs) as the sun goes down, taking a mid-morning coffee break on a veranda over the clear blue harbor and under the clear blue sky, or strolling the edge of the old town in search of lunch or gelato.
We were working on kind of a last-minute schedule, so the selection of available hotels/apartments was limited. Sarah found us two rooms for two nights at the Hotel Imperial, on the main drag in Opatija, Maršala Tita, just across the street from the Adriatic. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Then we learned from some tour-guide materials at the local tourist office (or perhaps it was Scott’s own independent research?) that it really was from the Austro-Hungarian Empire area — and it seemed like the whole area was set up as a resort complex and infrastructure supporting it for Austrian nobility. No real surprise then, that Croatia became the resort of choice for communist leaders after World War II. Aside from the WLAN in the lobby area, it appeared to be in those conditions still (though we could see it would take a lot of money, but it would be a glorious hotel if someone were to make the investment to restore and modernize it). I wonder if shower curtains were a symbol of bourgeois capitalist scum? Neither the Zurikas’ room nor ours were equipped with them, though there were rings and hooks and things.
Weather still wasn’t great here (until our last evening and morning there, on which these pictures were taken), but we did at least manage to avoid the rain occasionally. We got our amusement from a terribly bad restaurant we considered, and then rejected, after discarding a suggestion Sarah or Jul or someone had found online, and then, in the end, decided to patronize after all — which was a mistake. (You can see I was pretty uninvolved with the planning — I just did the driving). Fortunately, after that we learned our lesson and paid more attention to the recommendations and had much better luck, especially once we got to Rovinj.
We took a 10km walk along the seaside partially in the rain. It’s paved the whole way. Maybe the on-again, off-again rain was a blessing, because I can see how that path would be glorious in good weather, and clogged with all kinds of tourists. Our destination on the walk was Lovran, and lunch at the Bellavista restaurant. I got about 500g of squid. At the bad restaurant the night before, I had already had fried calamari, so this time I tried it grilled. I didn’t do the math on that one; I should have figured that “grilled” meant “whole.” It was good, but there was an awful lot of it. And the flavor was nice, even if the texture was rubberier than deep-fried.
The little town of Lovran was cute and a fair indicator of what was awaiting us on the next leg of the trip in Rovinj.
Roman Virdi has some really nice shots of Opatija here, some of which must have come from our hotel as well.
Been kinda quiet around here, hmm? We’ve been busy. After work on Tuesday last week, I scooped up a rental car from near the office — upgraded from the Ford Focus class to the Mazda 5 class, which was a very good idea, as it turns out, since we made use of the extra luggage room and the dual sliding passenger doors were handy for tight parking — dashed home to pick up Sarah, and bopped down to Munich to crash out at Chez zurika.com. Along the way, we discovered that a small van-like vehicle such as that Mazda 5 is NOT suitable for one of those stacked parking spaces. Fortunately we figured that out before causing any damage to the car or their stacky thing. We got up early the next morning and got the show on the road to Zagreb.
The drive down was rather uneventful, apart from the rain. We each got a passport stamp at the crossing from Slovenia into Croatia, so that was cool and finally arrived outside of downtown Zagreb at the spiffy Hotel Jarun. The receptionist there was quite friendly and helpful and pointed us in the right direction to the tram to get downtown, where we quickly appreciated the city’s charm.
Here are some notes I jotted at the time:
Lights on in the rain, else potential 150€ fine (tip from border dude between SLO and HR).
Steel-faced border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia. Not very friendly. Does that matter? Another stamp in the passports, at long as they’re still a candidate country.
About 7.25 kuna to the Euro at time of writing. Food seems cheaper (restaurant pricing) but retail clothing doesn’t (much) – at least based on window shopping.
One-way tram ride costs about a € for one zone. It’s a good 15-20 minute tram ride into downtown Zagreb from Jarun.
If you have a one-way paper ticket, look for the ticket-stamper machine in the front car of the tram. Seems most people travel on passes or other magnetic-read tickets.
Hotel Jarun is clean and new and well-equiped. Nice techy stuff like big TV and free WLAN (not that we used either much due to being exhausted upon arrival last night after dinner and exploring). Generous shower, decent breakfast offerings.
Old town seems cute, mix of old and well-maintained and obviously new-but-made-to-look-old or newly-restored buildings.
Don’t like not having a book; our rentention of basic phrases from a podcast J+S brought was miserable.
We’ve been in Croatia for the past 2-3 days. The weather seems determined to work against us, but we are also determined to have a good time. There were some cute places to eat and walk around in Zagreb. Since yesterday afternoon we’ve been trying not to get rained on in Opatija, on the coast. We’ll see what today has to offer. Pictures to follow when we have time to sort them out and upload them; stay tuned.