Reaching Istria

Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
Trip End Dec 29, 2006

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rovinj looked much like Korcula but on a grander scale. It was built on a mound, which rested on an oval shaped peninsula. The main difference between the two towns was that the houses on the perimeter of Rovinj were built right to the cliff's edge. These gave the outside of the city a fortress like appearance. Only at the very tip, below the main church's shadow, were there no homes and you could have a clear view of the sea and the ships passing by.

We took our luggage train and headed for the heart of old town. With each step we went back in time because the cobblestones became larger and more rutted. By the time we had climbed up the narrow street and stopped at our apartment the cobblestones were like walking over skeletons, slippery and shiny with age.

The apartment was tiny, very tiny. It had a double bed with a small bunk bed, which Collette immediately adored and immediately almost fell out of. The ceiling was low and the door was the only link to the narrow dark alley outside. Not only was it built in ages past but it felt like it, with medieval claustrophobic conditions. Lying down and looking at the gnarled chocolate colored beams not more than six feet above me made me speculate about who else had been in this room. The mosquitoes usually broke me out of this quiet reflection and on to more immediate and earthly matters.

Day one was spent walking up and down the main boulevard that led into old town. An ornate arch and the beginning of an incline separated the two parts. This road contained the restaurants, ice cream parlors, tourist shops, and clothing stores. All were laid out in typical medieval fashion where nothing is square or linear and the separation of sidewalk and street is made ambiguous by uneven stones. It's hard to account for the next three days. I have a vague recollection of eating some excellent fried calamari, going to the park for Colette, and the usual ice cream stops, but in what order these events happened and the particulars are lost. Like waking from a dream and trying to remember it before it vanishes or makes so little sense it is incomprehensible.

After a small battle with a tourist agency, which was half our fault and half theirs, we switched from the tiny apartment to a "normal" hotel. It was a little expensive for my state of mind but the room was spacious and they did clean it everyday. Mario, the owner, waiter, and maitre 'd was very friendly and would give us enthusiastic welcomes and good advice. Sometimes I felt for these workers because they worked non-stop. He set up the breakfast in the morning, waited on tables for lunch and dinner and dealt with any hotel issues. Sometimes on our daily outing we would pass him sitting at a back table eating his lunch and looking tired and more like a real person than a host. However, after the tourist season many of these workers take a few months off and spent their time doing what they wished. Anyway, this is how I interpreted things by what I was told and had observed. One must remember that on large countrywide issues the accuracy of a roving tourist can never be trusted.

Mario represented many of the workers we encountered. An aspect that fascinated me was their ability to speak several languages. From the souvenir vendor who sells plastic turtles and postcards to the tie clad bus driver most can speak passable English, German and their native tongue. In the US being multilingual is relegated to the well educated and the well read except for the children of immigrants. I am in constant awe when a kid turns to us in Croatia, speaks German, sees the dumbfounded look on our faces, and then switches to English. One waiter in Rome had no trace of an accent and I asked him if he lived in the US, He replied "Simpsons." Not only do the Simpsons entertain us but it's also educational. What a wonderful show. If I could learn another language from an Italian satirical cartoon, which I can't, I would brag to everybody I knew and people I just met. I could imagine that at night everybody in these countries is taking a night class and conjugating irregular verbs and giving short speeches about the color of clothes they wear and common conversations at bus stops. This multilingualism is founded not on the ability to be able to read obscure books in another language but is bred from necessity. Their failure or success, and thus their livelihood, is dependent on tourism and their ability to communicate. No matter the origin I am still impressed.

Having exhausted the sites in Rovinj and craving a ferry, bus, train, anything that moves and is inconvenient, we decided on two day-trips. The first was a simple bus ride to the industrial port city of Pula. A Roman coliseum was the major attraction and we walked around it and took pictures like dutiful tourists. Collette and I had a mock gladiator fight that I came out a little ahead on. The second site of interest was a fort perched on top of a hill. After hauling Collette up the hill we saw the size of the fort and the entry fee and decided to give it a pass. We have become more concerning and have to weigh the tourist value of a place against the number of stairs. The fort just didn't make it.

The next excursion was another bus ride to the city of Porec. This is supposed to be one of the most visited harbor towns in Croatia due to the Byzantine mosaics in the church and its quaintness. The town was nice and similar to many we had seen. After we viewed the mosaics we saw a group of German tourists filling in the courtyard and every available space so we decided to hit the bell tower before they could get to it. They were slow movers but we still had to hurry. Collette took this opportunity to sprint off. I captured her but she we went limp. This is a technique she perfected that if you grab one arm she lets the rest of her body go limp and tries to lie on the floor. She finds it entertaining and it temporary prevents anybody from taking her to a destination she doesn't approve of. This time she did it but came up crying and complaining her arm hurt. This sent alarm bells through us. Collette had dislocated her elbow four times before. It's called nursemaids elbow and children are supposed to outgrow it but Collette had proven to be prone to it. With reservation and partial denial I hauled her past some huffing and lumbering German white hairs to the top. The view was soothing with the blue water and slow life of the town laid out in front of us. Collette continued to cry, which is out of character. She cries if she can't have candy, if you take a toy away or give her a time out but physical pain is short lived and vanishes when she sees a kitty, a dog, or plainly becomes bored with it. The only exception is when salt water hits the bumps, scabs, cuts and scratches on her legs and waves of tears will come to her as she sits on the beach repeating that it hurts. Even that passes with haste, but this time the pain persisted in her limp arm. We were forced to recognize that she had dislocated her elbow not only in a foreign country but also in a town in which we were not staying. Without passports or resources we had to decide what to do. The trials of traveling, being away for so long, dealing with Collette, the trains, buses, ferries, obscure money, exchange rates, buying tickets, hauling our luggage and cathedral stairs all seemed to build up on us. Now, seeing our daughter in pain and us in confusion was like a dam breaking. It brought out our worst behavior and we argued with venom about how each of us reacted to the crisis while Collette rode in the stroller with one limp arm draped across her body and warm tears across her cheeks. She showed us who was the more mature one and brought us back into perspective when she turned to us and said,"Hey, look, I stopped crying". She thought we were fighting over her and it was her attempt to make us stop. It broke my shameful heart.

We arrived at the hospital which luckily was in walking distance and followed the signs that read "tourist clinic" to see a receptionist who promptly charged us forty dollars. The doctor was short and gruff and was preoccupied with something that had nothing to do with our case. Collette faced the doctor with her typical stoic demeanor. He popped her elbow but Christy and I both had doubts that he had accomplished resetting it. We had seen the procedure four times before and when the elbow was reset properly Collette would immediately get better and pass the candy test. We hold down the good arm and have her reach for a piece of candy with the bad one. As we walked back into town she failed this test. Doubt was replaced by certainty that the doctor had done nothing except relieve us of forty dollars and give Collette a useless shoulder bandage. With great difficulty we decided to go into a back alley were people were less likely to hear her screams and Christy took her arm and popped her elbow. A stream of relief flowed over us when she passed the candy test with relish and the shoulder bandage went in the trash.

The rest of the day was back on track. Had pizza at an outside café, ate ice cream, went to a bar at the top of an ancient tower for coffee, and took some pictures. The town was nice but not great, but it did teach me about myself and to do some basic reevaluating. To what end I do not know but I did gain respect for my daughter. To see her in pain brought my feelings for her to the surface and I was reminded at their intensity and strength.

Our departure was several hours before the sun's arrival, and we were not only departing Rovinj but also Croatia. We had come to take the harbor towns, the beauty of the ocean, and the friendly interesting people for granted and had to face that we would miss it. I already was missing it by the time we boarded the bus in the dark when the only people on the streets were some other blurry-eyed, puffy-faced tourists and some lonely fishermen. A fitting example of Croatia was in our backpack. On hearing that we were leaving so early in the morning Mario had packed us a lunch that his wife had handed us the night before. These kind gestures we will always carry with us. This particular one we would carry as far as Venice where we ate the tasty packed lunch with exhaustion, thanks and reflection on a wonderful and complex country.
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