Is It Wrong to Love a Power Plant?

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Monday, June 28, 2010

I spent much of this morning driving through Croatia's coastal mountains. One particularly lovely ocean inlet was dominated by a giant coal-fired power plant. I expect most people would have thought this ruined the scene, but I'm an engineer at heart because I found it fascinating.

There was a large cargo ship docked partway to the plant. The dock was setup to unload the coal and deliver it via a covered conveyor belt that must have been at least one kilometer long to the power plant. The plant itself had the largest chimney I'd ever seen. The plant was down in the valley, but the chimney easily reached the height of the surrounding hills. From the height of maintenance doors going up the side of the tower, I estimated it was almost 800 feet tall. (Wikipedia says it's 340 meters, so I was way under, and marks it as the tallest structure in Croatia.)

Today I transitioned from Istria into the Kvarner region. The geography was similar, but the towns I saw on today's drive looked more Austro-Hungarian than Mediterranean. The area was also much more industrial, although not in an unsightly, polluted way. There were just more large industrial structures such as a few power plants and some sort of chemical plant or refinery near my hotel. Many of them may no longer even be operating. I haven't seen any spewing odd-colored gasses or massive oil slicks. (America, I'm looking at you.)

Leaving the power plant behind, I stopped for lunch in the small sea-side tourist town of Opatija. I passed several similar towns along the way, but the guidebook mentioned Opatija, so I chose that one. There didn't seem to be anything special about it. It would make a good spot for a beach vacation, and there was a smattering of interesting architecture from styles popular in Austria at the end of the 19th century, but it was probably interchangable with any of the other towns along that stretch of shore. A nearby national park in the coastal mountains may have had some interesting hikes, but it wasn't in the guidebook, so I didn't have a stop planned. Maybe next time.

Since I only stopped for lunch in Opatija, I had the entire afternoon free for neighboring Rijeka. I had got so many towns to visit on this trip, I was not able remember everything I had read about them when planning the trip, so it came as quite a surprise to me to find Rijeka was a very large city. It was by far the biggest city I'd been in since Ljubljana, and the only time since the day I got lost that I really wanted a GPS.

I'd gotten used to showing up at a small town and following the signs a few blocks to the info center. Since Rijeka was a major city, there was a lot going on and a lot for me to do while driving. Read signs. Figure out where the arrows were pointing. Try to figure out where I wanted to go. Try to figure out where I was. Avoid turning down one way streets. Avoid staring at interesting buildings. Avoid buses. Keep an eye out for foolish pedestrians. Avoid getting run over. Avoid running over anyone. A GPS would have taken half that off of my plate. No accidents, though, so I made it through.

I did run into a little problem, though. I'm not sure the GPS would have helped. Because it was so hectic, I decided to get out of the city proper and start my visit at a castle in a nearby hill suburb. Unfortunately, the castle was impossible to find. I spent at least an hour literally driving in circles around the top of the hill.

The castle was sort of by a church. At the foot of the hill, there were signs pointing towards the church and the castle. Part way up the hill, the signs for the castle disappeared, but there were still a few signs for the church, so I followed them. The problem was, the church was at the end of a loop of one-way streets. Whenever I would take a different path, trying to finally get to the castle, I'd inevitably dump back out on that one-way street and circle by the church again.

On probably the third loop, I actually managed to catch a brief glimpse of the castle. The hope this gave me probably cost an extra half-hour of circling. Finally, I gave up and decided to go back down to the city proper and get directions from the tourist office. In the end, it turned out the castle was down a closed, and unmarked, road that started-off at the church. Argh. The castle wasn't even terribly remarkable. It had a decent view of the city, but I'd seen that same view several times while circling.

Being forced to go back downtown was actually a good thing, though. The older parts of Rijeka are absolutely filled with interesting 1800's and early 1900's architecture: Historicism, Vienna Secession, Modernism, and I'm sure a others few that weren't identified. Outside of the central tourist area, most of it could use a thourough scrubbing (or whatever you do to buildings) to remove soot built-up over the decades, but the facades were intact even on the buildings that hadn't been restored.

I even found a good parking space, just a block over from the walking section. The space was conveniently next to a bank, which was good because I needed change for the parking machine. The Croatian kuna (no Euro yet) was about 6 to the dollar, so parking for a few hours was usually in the 10-20 kuna range. It was extremely annoying that most of the Croatian parking machines I encountered didn't take bills. Trying to put together 10-20 kuna worth of coins each time I needed to park was a challenge.

I'm spending the night on my first Croatian island, Krk. That's right, no vowels. Sure it's probably larger than a few US states (okay not really, it's 1/6th the size of Rhode Island), and it's connected to the mainland by a short bridge instead of a ferry, but it's still an island. Assuming I wake up on time in the morning, I plan to explore Krk town before heading on to my next stop.

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