I recently had the pleasure of enjoying Istria, Croatia – the northern region of the Croatian Coast. I was staying with friends in Zagreb, we decided to jump a bus and visit a relative in Istria. Istria is a pennisula that is part Croatian, part Italian and part Slovenian. After two trips to Zagreb, I was finally heading to the legendary Croatian Coast.
Zagreb is two hours from Istria depending on whether you get the express (2 hours) or the local (up to 4 hours) bus. The bus ride through the mountains of Croatia is great for sightseeing, although oddly
and disturbingly, there are locals roasting pigs right on the side of the main road hoping a tourist will want some carcass on their ride – I most definitely passed. I learned that the Southern Coast of Croatia (think Split, Dubrovnik) is more for Western tourists while the Northern Coast is for locals.
Before getting to our destination we stopped in the city of Rijeka. It’s large and has gorgeous, mammoth buildings, it’s also industrial. The sea is obstructed by large ports containing ships either being built or emptied. I was not keen on this town. We reached our destination, Volosko – a charming, small sea town that has windy, hillside roads with antiquated buildings and loads of personality. We stayed with my friend’s Aunt Annika, an 80-year old hurricane of a woman. She has homes all over the world and spends her days swimming in her beloved Adriatic Sea and making it known, "I will only date men 40 years younger" to anyone who will listen. Annika had an odd habit of not wearing clothes; I don’t really want to think of it, but most of the women – old, fat, young, thin – rarely wore tops or much more than dental floss as bottoms at the beach. Let’s just say this prude American was not thrilled by the views.
Volosko offers charming rock/stone/cement landings to dive off into the clear and the beautiful Adriatic Sea to sunbathe in, which I did for hours on end. This is not the type of beach experience most Americans are likely used to. While it is beautiful, it is a rocky experience; large stones line the sea and its floor. It is a good idea to purchase water shoes for 25 kuna (about five dollars) at one of the local shops. Although I was chided for traveling around the world only to not swim in the sea, I thoroughly enjoyed lying on one of the landings, sunbathing and taking in the endless scene of the blue sea. The views of the Adriatic are downright stunning – unless the large red and white gas tower at the electric plant in Riejka interferes with your seascape. Regertfully, it’s horribly present from most vistas in Istria. The locals are trying to have it removed. I wholeheartedly support it!
The Adriatic leaves a thick coat of salt on you, but there are convenient showers located sporadically on the coast to wash it off. The showers don’t cost a dime, a mere courtesy that Croatians provide. Bless them for this. Otherwise you’re a pillar of salt. I had the misfortune of heading on my vacation with a newly broken finger – the large troublesome splint was aggravating. I took the splint off and basically kept my finger dangling in the sea for five days. The swelling dropped, the black and blue coloring went away and my finger stopped throbbing. Say what you want, but if there isn’t something healing about that sea, then both me and my finger are insane.
Opatija is a bustling little sea town just a few steps from Volosko. There is a fantastic walkway that goes all through Optaija to Volosko and the other bordering towns. It is on the sea and I must have walked it literally 30 times in 5 days. The walkway is right above the sea and takes you past hotels, parks, sea landings, restaurants, water polo – you name it. It is both exhilirating and intoxicating – a great way to keep healthy on vacation.
In Optaija you will find plenty of night clubs, outdoor markets and cozy restaurants. Like much of Croatia, the food, as well as everything else, is an interesting mix of Italian and Russian influences. This means that most restaurants will feature pasta and pizza along with potato dishes. Of course seafood is omnipresent and known to be some of the best in the world.
My favorite is a common dish of boiled potatoes and Swiss chard/spinach – don’t knock it till you try it, scrumptious! Since Croatia is not on the Euro yet, for about $1USD, you can purchase a bread roll, delectable marmalade filled chocolate and coconut donut and fresh fruit. Not a bad breakfast, eh?
Medveja, another nearby town, is a bit more posh than Opatija; features gorgeous seaside resorts where for $5USD, you can rent a beach lounge and lie by the sea. It feels like Mexico except for the pebbled beach as opposed to white sand. However, there is a power the sea has that is different and perhaps more healing than the ocean.
There was one-day trip I didn’t make as I was mesmerized by the sea. Trieste, Italy is an emerging small coastal city that is one hour away by bus. I hope to see it next time. Overall, I enjoyed every single part of Volosko, Opatija and Medveja – it was hard to leave. Fortunately, the sea will be there next time.