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Monday, 25 May 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Rovinj to Beli

8th May
After our night of wine and romance in Rovinj, we headed south and looked at two more Womo guide “free” overnight stops. The first was by a nature reserve down a long dusty dirt track and notable for an old Roman cistern by the water’s edge.
It’s a small area and really couldn’t cope with more than a couple of vans, yet is so lovely and peaceful it would tempt you to stay.

Cisterna, an out of the way spot for picnics or swimming only

However, the “No motorhomes, No camping signs” were up in force – a direct result, we guess, of its inclusion in the Womo guide. The guide is barely two years old, so it’s hard to draw a different conclusion for such an out of the way place.

To be honest I think it was a little greedy to include it in the guide as an overnighter - these off the beaten track, special places are few and far between and most motorhomers will drive by without noticing, or figure it’s not worth the effort, they can take diligent map reading and gentle exploration to find.

A single overnight by the occasional van or two in such a place will generally pass without comment, even attract a smile or a wave as we leave (an acknowledgement that we haven't outstayed our welcome perhaps) but once word gets around it’s easy for such places to be overrun. Hordes of van’s with their awnings out will soon get the local hackles up and goad the council into action. It’s the curse of the “free” camp guide or website, or any guide to "undiscovered places" for that matter.

Now the secret’s out however, and despite the current restrictions, Cisterna still makes a perfect lunchtime picnic spot and we did have it to ourselves at this time of year. (GPS: 45.0380 N, 13.6912 E)

Next up from the guide was a spot at Barbariga. We turned off the main road from Bale at the signpost but the road immediately turned into dirt track, returning to tarmac just before the village. We were excited to see a snake or two slithering across the track and, believe it or not, a tortoise trying to cross the road!
As soon as we approached the village we could see that all entrances to the beach were barred with boulders. There are two proper tracks to the waterfront but both have lifting barriers, one firmly locked, the other open, but with a notice claiming that the area is one of archaeological interest and is off limits to cars. Another one bites the dust!

Barbariga, the beach is off limits to vehicles

We did however manage to find a lumpy parking spot on one track and had a walk on the rough gravely beach. There are large areas of scrub near the beach that have obviously been parked on, but we think the Womo team were again pushing their luck here, or have themselves brought the shutters down. (GPS: 44.9879 N, 13.7499 E).

Continuing down the coast we came to Fazana, an old fishing town and also a ferry port for trips to the Brijuni islands - an exclusive holiday destination for European aristocracy from way back, and now a national park.
We thought about over-nighting in the car park there on the waterfront, but the charge was 100 Kuna (about £12.50) for 24 hours and it was tight and dusty with tour coaches coming and going.

So we moved on to Pula, the largest cultural and economic centre of Istria. It has a multi-faceted history from pre-Roman times and was once Austria’s central sea port – it’s amazing how empires have waxed and waned over the centuries.
Nowadays it is a large ferry port and marina, with a busy shipyard as well.
(http://www.pulainfo.hr/ )

The posh end of Pula's waterfront

Camping Village Stoja is on its own little headland a few kilometres out of town and is laid out around an old 19th century fort, now overgrown.
We were pleased to find a vacant pitch right on the low cliff edge with an uninterrupted view out to sea. Schools of dolphins made an appearance dawn and dusk, and at night we could see the lights and hear the generators of a laid-up containership at anchor - which made Sue happy on both counts! (GPS: 44.8571 N, 13.8100 E) (http://www.arenaturist.com/ )

Dolphins pass by, morning and evening

9th May
A fine sunny day and we kitted up for a cycle ride into Pula. Crossing via a small local road over to the other side of the peninsula we were soon passing busy parts of the shipyard and the old naval armouries.
The Uljanik shipyard had two large ships nearing completion alongside and another taking shape on its slipway. Their huge cranes dominate the waterfront.

After a stroll along the fishing quays and marina we were approached by a tout for a boat trip to the Brijuni islands - the day’s special offer: €20 each, sailing in an hour, wine included. Sue’s an easy sell for any boat trip, so after a look at the Roman amphitheatre (one of the best preserved in the world) and a bit of the old town, we returned to the jetty.

Pula's well preserved Roman amphitheatre

Part of the Old Town

It soon became apparent that we would have the boat virtually to ourselves, and after a small delay we sailed with only five guests on board! Crucially, we were also allowed to take our bikes on board.

A pleasure cruise to the Brijuni islands, guests: five (and two bikes)!

The skipper was very amiable and we chatted at the wheelhouse door. The islands were Yugoslavia’s President Tito’s private fiefdom and he built a palace there - across on the mainland there used to be a naval/military complex with 10,000 servicemen (he wasn’t taking any chances).

Now the islands are a “special nature reserve” - though still used by the government hierarchy - and entry into the waters is restricted, no anchoring allowed. There is a golf course, an exotic animal safari park and an exclusive hotel with its own marina.

Coming back into the harbour after our two hour trip I was amazed to see prefabricated bits of ship dumped on the island in the middle. The skipper explained that the shipyard had nowhere else to put them, all the bits would become ships in the three months they took to assemble, and more would replace them, as they had a full order book for ten years. They must be doing something right!

"...just put those bits of ship over there, Jim"

Back in the old town we passed through the central square with its well preserved Roman forum and medieval town hall.

The old town square, with crane on the waterfront

10th May
A rather blustery but pleasant day on the campsite.

11th May
We checked out and drove the short distance to Camping Stupice at Premantura, the southernmost settlement of Istria. We struck lucky again, out of this vast, mainly wooded campsite we chose (at the receptionist’s recommendation) a place out of a single row of pitches facing the beach of a shallow cove – newly mown grass, flowers and shrubs between us and the turquoise water’s edge. Manna from heaven! (GPS: 44.7979 N, 13.9137 E)
(http://www.arenaturist.com/ )

Yes, that's us on the left hand side!

12th May
Any casual bird watchers amongst you will know that a Jay is a shy bird, normally identifiable by a flash of white, blue and black as they fly away. Here, they sit on your chairs, your bike handle bars, anywhere that suits them, even walk past you on the grass! Still not an easy photo with a snapshot camera though, they are restless birds.

We packed a picnic lunch and headed on the bikes for the Kamenjak cape, a nature reserve with bike trails to the very southern tip.

Its a small and winding path....

Pushing our bikes along the shoreline and through the sometimes dense brush we found the most perfect picnic spot - a smooth flat slab of limestone, slipping gently into the water but with a pine tree growing out of a crack in the rock to give us shade. Inaccessible except from the water or a tiny trail though the woods, we, like the many before us who had carved their names in the rock, felt we had discovered something special.

Shade by the water, courtesy of a tree growing out of the rock!

A little way back, a couple in a very nice Land Rover based camper had driven through an almost impossible track, taking a bit of pine tree with them on the roof, and settled themselves on the isolated beach. Very organised, they had created an extensive sun shelter out of what looked like sailcloth, pegged into the rock of a small inlet. Extreme camping?

Now, that's what I call a camper

(Entry to the reserve for motorhomes is 50 Kuna, about £6.25, but overnight camping is forbidden, the gates are locked and rangers do a patrol)

Moving onto the promontory we came across an information board warning us about the presence of Black Widow spiders - which are partial to the sort of stony scrubland in which we were standing.
For those that may have forgotten, the Black Widow is a lady spider with a neurotoxin in her venom which can be fatal to humans. Sweet in nature, she selects her beloved, mates with him, and to show her appreciation promptly kills and eats him. Her offspring are little better - consuming each other from birth until the remaining 10% are big enough to look elsewhere for food.

Advisedly (from the information board) they can also be found elsewhere on the southern Istrian peninsula, but only a grown female (from June to October) will bite a human, and only when disturbed in its nest, which can be found near and under rocks, walls and tree trunks, but also in the grass - so take care, or refrain from lying in the grass, picking herbs or turning stones.
The sting frequently goes unnoticed, but soon acute pain can be felt all over the body. The place of stinging does not need to be treated but medical help should be sought as soon as possible for administration of the antivenin.

Istria's "Lands End"

Having reached the tip of Istria without a nip from an arachnid, we returned hot and dusty. Later, with the bangers on the BBQ, we enjoyed a wonderfully serene seascape in the warm dusk.

13th May
Finding it difficult to tear ourselves away from this beautiful spot, we headed north again, squeezing through the narrow streets of Medulin, then the little villages of Liznjan and Sisan before taking a right turn onto a dirt track to Kavran, just before Valtura.

A layby overlooking the fish farms in the bay of Luka Budava provided us with a nice lunchtime break.
Soon after we found the gravel road blocked by an accident on a tight hillside corner - a van had avoided the oncoming car by burying himself into the hedgerow. Fortunately they soon extricated themselves and no one appeared hurt, but it was a reminder to take it very slowly around these blind bends.

Take care round those bends - there's boy racers about!

From Krnicka we took the turning down to the small fishing port of Krnicka Luka – a recommendation from the Womo guide for an overnight stop. As soon as we saw the new holiday apartment blocks we had our doubts, and sure enough, on the waterfront was a large sign restricting motorhomes to a maximum 4 hour stay. There was probably no legal backing to the homemade looking sign, but we got the message and turned tail. The waterfront restaurant wouldn’t be getting our trade.

So, it was back to the main road and onto Labin, wait for it … a medieval fortified hilltop town. It’s the historical and administrative centre of eastern Istria, famous for its artists and with a major art festival, the Labin Art Republica, in the summer.

As we had had enough for one day, we headed down to Camping Marina, a newly refurbished site in the Camping-on-the-Adriatic chain.
We opted for a standard, but very rough and lumpy pitch, which had a magnificent view out to sea. We thought they had got their priorities wrong, putting the premium pitches down close to the waterfront where the view is obscured by trees, also they are overlooked by mobile homes on terraces behind, add in the noise of the diving centre plonked in the middle.... there’s no accounting for taste.

A "Standard" pitch at Camping Marina

There’s a bit of a shanty town of tatty bars and markets on the entry road, which lowers the tone a bit, and someone also had a very evil smelling bonfire going which filled our van with its stench in the still hot air, so we weren’t that impressed. (GPS: 45.0333 N, 14.1595 E)
(http://www.camping-adriatic.com/ )

14th May
Back up the steep hill to Labin. The problem for us was parking, there just didn’t seem to be anything suitable for us without a long walk up the very steep, wheel slipping, cobbled approach road.
So we had a look at Rabac, an upmarket resort town with a nice little harbour and beach. The main part of the waterfront is exclusively hotels and apartments. Numerous music events in the summer.
(http://www.istria-rabac.com/ )

Our next decision was to ignore the crowded and developed coastline north of Lovran and instead cross by ferry to the island of Cres-Losinj. The ferry goes from Uvala Brestova (a bay northwards up the coast) across to Porozine on Cres.

The coast road is having a major rebuild, so it was a slow and dusty drive, even after we turned down to the ferry. A 300 metre long queue was waiting for the boat, but we could see one approaching and we were the last vehicle squeezed on - tickets cannot be purchased in advance but are bought from a booth on the quay. The trip takes around 20 minutes and costs 240 Kuna (about £30).
(http://www.jadrolinija.hr/ )

If this ferry looks Pagoda-ish to you, it was made in Japan!

The road from Porozine soon turns to single track, but at a newly made panorama point we doubled back to go north again, on an even narrower road lined with limestone walls, where our map indicated a campsite at Beli.

Beli, how beautiful is that?

The left turn just before the town, at the sign for Auto Camp Brajdi, took us down a precipitous, barrier-less track to the tiny harbour and small, gently shelving gravel beach.

Please, please, please - don't let there be a van coming the other way!

What a super little place – on the beach front was an open air bar, well shaded with a blue and white canopy, offering the sounds of Bob Marley et al. along with the beer – a touch of de Caribbean maahn!

I think we'll have a beer in the bar at Beli Beach

Behind the beach in a small enclosed wooded valley is the campsite. Sheep were roaming about freely, presumably as an effective way of keeping the grass down, but plenty of doo doo into the bargain.

Mind the sheep - they're a bit pushy around here

Talking to a German couple, they said the drill was just to park up where we wanted and a lady would come around in the morning. In fact she came about an hour later – talking fluent English with an American twang (born in Beli, lived in Chicago, now home running the campsite).
The fee was 97 Kuna a night, plus another 20 on the first night for the “registration fee” - apparently an inescapable surcharge - so that if we were stopped by the Police we could prove we had stayed in a campsite, i.e. hadn’t been free camping.
In fact we had managed to escape this charge most of the time by staying on ACSI campsites, still, she was quite firm on this point, blaming it on “Uncle Sam.”
Amusing to note that she immediately switched to Croatian to chat to her dog – well it was a Croatian dog.

A tripper boat was moored with its bow in the harbour entrance and its cargo of excited school kids were enjoying the beach. It felt like our first really hot day and the draw of the water was irresistible. Cold, but not breathtakingly so, it felt great to be swimming again - memories of last year’s sojourn in Greece.

Back on the pitch the sheep kept us entertained, one in particular, a black one no less, chasing the others all evening, smacking into them with headache inducing thuds, then running himself into a wall in a tantrum.

After clearing away our late barbequed meal, I noticed a huge white glare in the sky behind the beach huts.
On the beach, looking out onto the glassy sea, there was a fleet of squid fishing boats in vee formation, their upper decks blazing with rows of high powered floodlights to attract the squid.
The actual boats were invisible apart from the red and green of their navigation lights, but the glare from the floodlights reflected in the water like a searchlight beam, creating a silvery, watery path back to the sound of the vessels engines. Clearly audible in the still air, the throb of each boat's exhaust merged with the others to become an even, powerful drone. The whole scene felt surreal, like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind - so amazing I didn't think about trying to take a photo.

We curled up with the sounds of the sheep baaarking at each other, a racket they kept up well into the night.

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