Still in Istria

Christmas in the RV

Well this is an overdue post but who wants to write and say that they won’t be home for Christmas.  With Toronto being a very hot zone in lockdown and Croatia and Istria jumping back and forth between green, yellow and red in terms of severity of coronavirus, travelling didn’t seem like a smart idea.  We are trying to do the “right” thing per all the experts but I am afraid that this doesn’t make us popular at home.  I understand that we will be missed both as individuals and as assistants at Christmas time.  I have asked my family to set up a large 18” Android tablet with Google Due during the gift opening in the morning.  Mike and I especially want to have the monitor set up at the end of the table for Christmas dinner so that we can try and be a limited part of the festivities.  Yesterday I was on Duo with a friend in Canada and she told me that they had done exactly this for her brother when he couldn’t make it to an important family event.  She said that it worked out quite well.  I will let you all know how it goes after Christmas.

As you can see above, our Christmas decorations are limited, but we did try and add some Christmas spirit to the dash of the RV.  There are other campers here in the same position as Mike and I, and they are also doing some minor Christmas decorating.  Most of them have given up completely on going home this winter.  Mike and I still hope to get home as soon as both Toronto and Istria are out of the red zone for a few weeks.  There are about six English speaking families in this small campground.  Since none of us know or visit with anyone locally we tend to think of ourselves in a relatively safe bubble.  We walk around the campground once or twice every day.  This takes about 3 minutes if we don’t see other people since it is a very small campground.  This short walk often gives us a chance to chat with other campers outside.  The campground has one small room with a log fireplace that people sometimes gather in.  We probably have visitors in our RV once every couple of weeks.  We do think that as long as we stay in our small camping bubble this should be OK. 

We often cycle right up to sunset since it comes so early these days.  On most evenings, one hour before sunset the sunlight turns buildings and trees a beautiful gold colour.  We can tell roughly what time of day it is by the light.  It is either normal, bright and gold or right before sunset the houses and trees get a pinkish tone.  Very close to the campground was a small outdoor café that other campers would wander down to, to watch the sunset over the Adriatic.  I was looking forward to doing this but just after our first visit to the café, Croatia closed down all eating areas, even the outdoor ones which surprised me.  The current plan is for them to reopen before Christmas.  Mike is sitting here with a couple from Ireland who have decided to stay in the campground for the winter.  Our campground is one of the few open all year and has an extremely good price for their winter season package which is good until the end of March.

Watching the sunset over the Adriatic – BEFORE LOCKDOWN!

As anyone who knows Mike and I know, closing the restaurants and cafés is a bit of a problem.  We really enjoy going to eat or have a cappuccino in a local establishment and having the chance to try and talk with the staff.  You learn a lot that way.  Prior to this week, which I will explain later, Mike and I have been cycling 30 – 40 km every day or two.  During our rides we would always try and stop at least once, sometimes twice in different cafés or restaurants, partially for me to rest and also for our one meal out per day. Stopping at the side of a road to have a drink you brought with you isn’t quite the same thing.  It does make the rides a little more uncomfortable.

If restaurants are going to be closed except for take-out during a lockdown, then Toronto is a much better place to be.  When we were home in the spring we enjoyed walking and picking up pizza, pasta, great chicken wings and more, all within a couple of blocks of our apartment.  Where we are in Croatia, many of the restaurants were closed before the lockdown just because it is out of the tourist season.  Of the ones left, some have definitely said that it wasn’t worthwhile for them to do takeout since staying open with indoor customers was only just barely worth while.  I am sure that there are a few doing take-out in nearby towns but finding them isn’t easy.  We did pick up a pizza the other night.  Actually Mike had to pick up two pizzas.  For those who know us, you probably know that Mike does not like seafood.  We were eating pizza with a couple from England and their pizza of choice included tuna.  This certainly isn’t a common option in Canada (actually I have never heard of it before) and Mike wasn’t into tuna on his pizza.  We ordered two pizzas, which was quite difficult to do over the phone with the language barrier.  When Mike picked the pizzas up the order was correct and they had had no problems with the tuna selection.

One day we drove our car to the eastern Istrian coast (we are staying on the west coast) and took our bikes on a ride through hills that we remembered from years past when we had driven that way.  There were was a very interesting medieval town of Mošćenice enroute.  It looks to be fully occupied and isn’t mainly a tourist town which is nice.  Now I should tell you that fully occupied means a population of about 300 people.  The towns and villages aren’t very large in Istria.  On our first visit to Mošćenice in 2018 we met a young couple who had an aunt living in Brampton which is the city right next to where we live in Canada.  It is a very small world.  We often drive somewhere in Istria, park and unpack our bikes, ride around in a large loop and then return to the car, pack up the bikes and drive back to the RV.  This is a pretty typical day for us.  The starting point for our ride is often about a 40 – 60 minute drive from our camper.

Medieval Mošćenice down steep hill to the Adriatic

Last week we went for a 40 km ebike ride that had a lot of steep up and down segments.  Although the actual altitude was never higher than 450m (1500 ft) we cycled over 1,000m or over 3,000 feet uphill during the ride thanks to the hills.  Due to the steepness of the hills and the amount of climbing this was one of the biggest workouts we had ever given our ebike batteries.  When Mike got down to one remaining bar on his battery and we still had one steep hill to climb and descend we were more than a little worried.  As it turns out, our ebikes were good to us and got us back to the car just fine.  The weather in the hills was not much above freezing with wind chill bringing it down a few degrees.  Add on the wind that we generated riding down the steep mountains and you get a very cold ride.  Yesterday I bought warmer socks to add to my attire for next time.

On one recent ride we saw fantastic views through terraced olive groves, views across the valley and over to higher mountains on the other side.  We rode along a ridge that dropped off on both sides by more than 30m or 100 feet, which was a little spooky.  It was lovely and when the light changed and made the trees and the houses all look gold it was even better. The picture at the end of this post shows the view from the eastern coast of Istria looking towards continental Croatia.  You can just see Rijeka, the third largest city in Croatia with a population of about 125,000 people.  Rijeka is in a red zone and we haven’t visited it this year.

Harvesting olives in Istria

Olive oil is a major industry here.  They use a powered device with long “fingers” on a stick that they hold up in an olive tree and the fingers vibrate causing the olives to fall off the branches onto a blanket laid below the tree.

Earlier I mentioned that we probably wouldn’t be riding this week.  We are currently being visited by gale force winds and rain called Jugo. To save myself a little time and effort, I am stealing a few paragraphs about the Bura and the Jugo winds from an article that I wrote two years ago.

The Bura comes from the north and typically blows for three days although it can last for a week. It’s most common in winter but can happen at any time of the year.  Along the coast in Croatia, the sky can get clogged with a haze that makes the islands barely visible. Bura comes in and wipes the sky clean.   Bura has been clocked as high as 304 km (189 miles) per hour. We are talking hurricane force icy cold winds. Luckily homes here are built of stone, brick, or concrete and not wood.  According to the internet Bura is considered clean and healthy. Bura is supposed to clean everything. It cleans the air, the ground, the sea.  People simply feel good, their minds are cleared.  As long as it stays below hurricane grade winds the area is a much cleaner, healthier and better place when Bura comes to town.   

If people respect Bura they don’t appear to like Jugo and they don’t talk much about Jugo.  Jugo is a moist wind from the south, typically accompanied by dark clouds and rain-filled storms which can create big waves. All of this affects the mood, and since Jugo usually lasts a long time it can cause depression, body aches, pains and grumpiness. Jugo is always an acceptable excuse for melancholic behavior.  Its negative influence on people is so notorious that during the Republic of Dubrovnik (14-19th century) the Jugo was considered a legal defense and authorities were lenient towards criminals who committed crimes while Jugo was blowing. 

The words Bura and Jugo have become colloquialisms. Bura is used for cleaning things, the wind is known as the “cleaning lady”.  Jugo can be used as a synonym for bad or inconvenient. For instance, you could say, “This sandwich is really jugo” or “I hope I don’t miss my bus, that would be jugo.

We are currently in the third day of this Jugo weather.  It has been pouring rain for much of the day and night.  The winds here are about 40 km/hour (25 mph).  When we looked the other day, a town we visited recently on the eastern side of Istria was getting 150 km/hr or almost 100 mph winds.  Weather for this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon is forecast as 100% rain.  You don’t see that very often.  I think it then drops to 60 – 70% chance of rain in a few days.  Istria gets about 8 days of rain in December.  Does that mean that after this week it is clear sailing?  That would be nice.

I probably won’t post another article until shortly after Christmas.  We are staying in one place and not doing much more than just cycling when we can.  There aren’t a lot of new interesting things to talk about. 

Merry Christmas to all and to our families especially.  We hope to get together with everyone as soon as we can come home and do some visiting.  Love you all and miss you.

Eastern coast of Istria with Rijeka in the distance

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