Carnival: Rijeka’s 5th Season

Race in Opatija, Croatia

I ended the last article telling you about our hassles trying to find somewhere to park our camper for a week or so.  We ended up in a parking lot with cars and a few tours buses in a fairly high-end residential area on the hills overlooking the Adriatic Sea and the city lights below.  This parking area isn’t very busy, and we have had plenty of room to keep the RV slide-outs open.  Every evening we have seen the most gorgeous sunsets over the Adriatic and the Učka mountain range that surrounds us.  All this for no charge at all.

If you look at our map, you will see that we are at the bend that separates the Istrian Peninsula from the main North/South portion of Croatia.  On one side of this corner is the large city (everything is relative) of Rijeka.  On the other side is the town of Opatija which was the main tourist area in the 1800s and 1900s.  The gorgeous old villas still abound here.  The New Year in this area is marked by a massive two month long carnival in Rijeka with colourful costumes, music, delicious foods and all-night festivities. Established in 1982, it has become the biggest carnival in Croatia and overflows to surrounding towns and villages. There are lots of masked balls and parades and lots of fun.  On Saturday there was a parade and some sort of car race in Rijeka.  We missed both as they were early in the morning and were probably over before we even read about them.  We went into town anyway.  The town has colourful streamers everywhere.  What we didn’t see, that disappointed me a little, where any small kiosks or tents that I associate with celebrations in town.  We had a nice day wandering around the town and driving up to the old castle overlooking the town and the Sea. The Carnival ends on March 6 so I expect that Mike and I will be back in Rijeka before then.

I should mention, that while Mike and I were walking near the waterfront we saw a large pile of snow in a parking lot.  This really surprised us since we didn’t think that they got snow like that in this part of the world.  It turns out that, as part of the Carnival, they had had a snowboarding event.  They had put up a ramp and some bleachers for people to sit on.  We think that they had trucked in the snow from the nearby mountain range.  The entire length of the snowboard run might have been 12m or 40 ft.  We didn’t think that Canadians would have been very impressed but I am sure it was a lot of fun for everyone.

We had first visited Opatija on the Friday.  I really liked the look of the town.  It doesn’t have the commercial docks that Rijeka has, it is much more relaxed with lots of lovely marinas and boats and waterfront walks.  While we were wandering around town, we could often here music.  They seem to pipe music throughout the town a lot of the time.  It is played at a nice quiet level.  The first music we heard was variations on the Viennese Waltz.  Since that is Mike’s and my favourite dance, it was a great start.  Listening to the Viennese Waltz, while having a cappuccino on the Adriatic Sea with lovely old villas behind you, it doesn’t get much better than that.  I read that Opatija is aimed more at vacationing senior citizens from Austria and Germany with its elegant hotels and restaurants.  It doesn’t have the night life that the younger group might be looking for.  The streets in Opatija and the surrounding towns are all lit up at night with lights for the Carnival season that ends in a week or so.

Opatija, portion of the Lungomare path

There is a 12 km seaside walk (no bikes) called the Lungomare, from Opatija to Lovran.  The problem is that this is one way, which makes it difficult to walk the entire length.  I wanted to bring the bikes in the car and drop them off at one end.  We could then walk to them and bike back to the car.  Mike did not want to bike on this part of the road because it is narrow and has many blind curves.  We decided to park the car in a marina about 3km from the end of the walk.  We would then walk to the end, have lunch and do the same walk back to the car.  We would do another portion on another day.  We had to drive through Opatija to get to the marina.  In town we saw lots and lots of people all walking in one direction.  Of course, we had to find somewhere to park and then go and follow the crowd.  Having no schedule is just great.  It turns out that the race and the parade that we had missed in Rijeka was happening here in Opatija.  The race consisted of all sorts of homemade vehicles without any real wheels or tires, instead they rolled on various size steel bearings. The road through Opatija has a 6-degree slope and some turns so they get going at quite a clip.  One or more people in weird costumes, would sit or lie down on these different contraptions and then try and steer clear of the curb, the spectators that line the street and the other racers.  Have a look at the picture at the top.  Some of the characters we recognized, like the Simpsons from TV, others where from the Viking era and everything in between.  What really surprised us was the age of both the spectators and the participants.  It was much older than we would have expected.  Of course, there were some children there but many of the people both watching and taking part were well over 50. 

After the various races there was a parade with the weirdest costumes, “floats”, dancers and anything else you can think of.  One float with dancers was dressed up as the band “Kiss”.  Some of the dancers were in traditional costumes, others where just funny.  We were told that the parade was going to be in the town of Lovran later in the afternoon which is where we had originally been heading.  After the parade, we decided to continue with our original plan.  We drove to the marina 3km before Lovran and started walking.  It is a lovely walk on the seaside passing many villas, some in great shape and others badly in need of repair.  We stopped for lunch and encountered many of the people from the parade having something before their next show.  We didn’t stay to watch the parade in Lovran, but we did walk past it, mingled with the people watching it, and overall had a super time.  When we got back to the car, we found that we had both walked almost 20,000 steps.  It is great to be out and doing things again.  We didn’t do any walking or anything outside while we were home in Toronto.

Yesterday was quite interesting.  We decided to try and get to a small tower on the top of Vojak, the tallest peak in the Učka mountains and in all of Istria.  We had driven somewhat close to the top in November, but it was too cold and windy, so we gave up and went to a restaurant close by for a great local meal.

We went to the same parking lot from last year and started out again.  I was wearing my brand-new hiking boots that I had bought in Canada.  They were just one more of the many, not so light items, that we carried back with us.  I hadn’t planned on trying them out the first time on a real hike in the mountains.  We got up the first hilly part and saw that the path then went downhill, presumably going up again somewhere out of sight.  The track was covered in some icy snow and Mike was concerned that if either of us slid and hurt ourselves we would be in big trouble.  We decided to give up and head back to the car.  When we got there, I figured out that this parking lot was on many of the hiking trails in the area but wouldn’t actually have ever got us to the tower on the top of the peak.  We drove a short way further up the mountain and came to a parking spot that turned out to be a two-minute walk from the peak, much easier.  The road that we drove up is on the website which shows some of the highest, scariest or most scenic roads around the world.  This actual road can be found at this link Mount Vojak road.  It was extremely windy at the top of the peak and quite cold.  The view from the top of the tower was absolutely phenomenal.  It doesn’t show up nearly as well in photos as it looked in real life, at least not in our photos!  It was a complete 360⁰, unobstructed view.  You had the Adriatic Sea, the coastline and the islands on one side and the slope down the mountains towards the inland on the other side.  We met a man who had a beautiful and friendly dog with him.  He didn’t speak much English, but he managed to say that the dog wasn’t his but had followed him up the 1350m or 4500 ft that he had just hiked.  The dog followed Mike and I back to our car.  We had absolutely no room in the car for a large dog and we didn’t know what part of the mountain range the dog had come from so we drove away.  We firmly believe that the dog will be able to get back down to its home, but it was heartbreaking just leaving it.

Phenomal views from the highest point in Istria. Notice the man and the dog.

The restaurant that we wanted to return to was only open on the weekends at this time of year which was disappointing, but we had an excellent lunch at a restaurant that specialized in local meals.  After walking to the highest point in the area we decided to go back down to the sea and finish our walk along the Lungomare.  We went back to the same marina we had been in the day before, but this time walked back towards Opatija.  We turned around when we got to the spot we had walked to on our first day in town.  It is kind of neat walking in the mountains on snow covered trails in the morning, having a great lunch and walking along the Sea in the afternoon.  Can you tell that Mike and I are thoroughly enjoying ourselves?

This morning Mike changed the oil in the generator.  That was number three or half way through his major to do list for the beginning of this season.  Because we aren’t in a campground, we are using the generator all morning and from sunset until we go to bed at night.  It adds up the hours to the next maintenance requirement quickly.  Our big concern has been to conserve water since we don’t have anywhere to get water here.  We have done much better than I expected.  While I am writing this, Mike has driven to a truck stop nearby, that has showers and all so that he can wash his hair.  Luckily, I don’t need to wash my hair very often and when I do, I use hairdressers in town ?.  The next camperstop that we are going to has water.  When we run out of water in a few more days, we will leave this area.  Since we arrived back in Croatia Mike has put new motors and components in the laundry machine and got it working, installed a new tap that we brought from Canada in our bathroom since the old one was leaking and now changed the oil in the generator.  He has yet to fix my bike and to do something with the TV in the bedroom.  It is permanently mounted with no access to any ports.  I want to attach our Chromecast or ROKU device so that wecan watch shows that put me to sleep at night when we have free internet access.  This may turn out to be a fairly major job I am afraid.

Mike returned from the truck stop and we drove out and toured some lovely small medieval fortified towns.  My favourite was the village of Mošćenice.  It was an absolute warren of little topsy turvy streets with great views whenever you got on the outside of the medieval walls.  The town appears to be completely occupied with all the homes lived in.  They look like they have been nicely done up on the inside, while retaining the medieval exterior appearance.

P.S.  After we got home tonight, Mike went straight to work on the TV, after a frustrating hour or so we now have our ROKU device working as desired in the bedroom.  YEAH.  Next task for my poor husband is to replace the speed adjustment control mechanism and pedal sensor on my bicycle.  Hopefully that will fix the pedal assist feature that broke when I fell off my bike on rough terrain last fall.  How nice to have my own very practical mechanical engineer with me full time ?.

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