Monday, 23 April 2012

A Roman Ampitheater in Pula

The arena in Pula is one of the best-preserved examples of Roman ampitheaters in the world.  Some sources say that a visit here is a better investment than lining up to see the giant in Rome.

It is a must-see.  Add it to your bucket list...

Built from 27 BC -68 AD, during the reign of Caesar Augstus, it dominates the waterfront of the city of Pula.  Hugging the Adriatic, it is an imposing sight.

Established as the cultural, political, and social center in the area, the arena drew crowds to its various sponsored events.  It gave a heightened value and worth to ancient Pula as a site frequented by Emperors and high-ranking officials.

As we arrived, there were numerous tours entering and ogling the perimeter.  Guides speaking every language outed its characteristics in their various tongues - and yet, it wasn't crowded.  We were free to peek and prod and enjoy as much as we desired.

Beneath the floor, tunnels radiate to hidden rooms, holding cells for animals from the gladiator days.  This ampitheater was on the gladiator circuit, and hosted many public fighting events in its hey-day.

Tours of these tunnels are hosted on a tight schedule during the busy tourist season.

Seating inside the arena remains today, a modern equivalent of the ancient arrangement.  Originally, shops and stores were located beneath the seats.  Four towers, preserved as icons of Roman engineering, contained cisterns which were filled with perfumed water.  A huge canopy could be spread over the arena proper to shield spectators from the hot sun or the rain.

In 681, an order was given forbidding the pitting of prisoners against one another in death matches, and the use of wild animals.  Some sources cite Germanus to be a Christian martyr doomed to a terrible fate within the arena walls.
Stone from this site was systematically stolen for other building projects through the intervening centuries.  At one point, the site was all but completely buried. A Venetian senator proposed the removal of its materials to Venice, where it could be rebuilt. A headstone marking the decision of Gabriele Emo, another Venetian senator, to allow the edifice to remain intact stands reminder of an important intervention regarding Pula's best interests.

The arena saw intermittent and varying uses through the centuries.  Today, it is a venue for concerts.  Seating 20,000, it sponsors a full line-up - you can take in rock concerts, ballet, theater, and even a film-festival!

If you are planning a trip to the area, I urge you to check out the concert line-up - an open-air show in a turn of the millennia venue is just not something you get to take in every day.  You can find concert information here.

My thanks for the concert photo go out to the Croatian National Tourist Board.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Terra Magica

Croatia is indeed 'Terra Magica' - a magical place.

I want to introduce you to Klapa music today!

Klapa music is native to Croatia.  Usually a choir group consisting of 8-12 men, these groups sing folk songs praising local Istrian cultural phenomena. Many villages or communities have a Klapa group, and they support them with local pride.  Competitions pitting these Klapa groups against their neighbouring communities create good-humoured animosity and friendly rivalry between towns.

Klapa has always traditionally been a capella - but more modern variations are adding instrumentation.  Group members often accompany using guitar or mandolin.

If you have been following my blog, you will notice many typically Croatian images in the video.  This particular group, Klapa Motovun, hails from the Medieval village of Motovun, which I have written about previously.  In order to really get the most you can from the video, here is a brief Croatian language lesson.

Some of the typical local products are:

1.  Tartufi - truffles!  You will notice a basket of huge black truffles near the end of the video.  These are the rare delicacies found near Motovun - that basket must be worth a fortune!
2.  Vina - local wine, of course!  Vineyards dot the hillsides, and there are several grapes indiginous to the Istrian peninsula that the producers pride themselves on.
3. Kazuna - this is referring to the quaint little stone house that is so tied to Croatia's history.  I have written about these here.
4. Maslina - olives!  Silvery trees cling to the rocky soil all over Istria.  Freshly pressed olive oil of very high quality is an Istrian export the people take great pride in.
5. Boskarina - a breed of extra big, horned cattle that figure porminently in Istrian histroy and culture.  I haven't written about them yet - oops! - but I have eaten them.  Yum!

  Scenes are from Motovun, Pula, Groznjan - in short, places I have shared with you!  Enjoy a taste of Istria!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Random Reminiscences


I am aware that much of life outside Canada continues nonplussed by the presence of these scaly reptiles - but this Clumsy traveler has a motto:


Here I am with my 'snake stick' - ready to pound the ground ahead of me to dislodge any reluctant beasts.  One end is pronged like a fork - I'm not sure that I would have actually tried to corral a legless critter had I actually seen one - but I was ready.

Sort of.

Snake season was apparently over.  The locals who spied me with my snake stick likely needed surgery for their busted gut - but that's their problem.

This tiny roped parade of toddlers marched past as we were waiting for our Mediterranean cruise to begin (see the cruise post for the back story...).

Strings of tiny tots are cute no matter the location, don't you think??

I couldn't help but wonder what at the purpose of the day's outing - and at the marked difference between their little lives and the pre-schoolers in the area around home.  I guarantee they weren't going to the local grain elevator to see how wheat was handled...

This is a shot of the marina in the gorgeous town of Rovinj.

The Mediterranean sun waved in so friendly a manner at its Canadian visitors - we felt the warmest of welcomes and shed our outer layers after its handshake!

The variety and quantity of boats seemed endless.  Living as I do 2000 miles from the ocean, I couldn't get enough of boats and sea and salt-spray and fish and marinas...

In most villages, the remains of castle walls or Renaissance structures or Medieval enclosures created the perfect spot for a repository of hay.  these quaint haystacks were made more quaint still by their surroundings.

Often, a small herd of goats would find shelter in such a haven as this.  Honeycombed in an endless maze of openings and apertures and gates, walled spaces such as these added a quality of charm to back alleys and out-of-the-way nooks and crannies.

Near Dvigrad, in the parking area adjacent to the ruined castle, an unusual seating arrangement can be found.  After a small bird flew from this arbor, my sister, always on the look-out for something at which to laugh, made a singular remark as to its strange appearance.

"Hey - was that the partridge in the chair tree?" she joked.

Ha ha.

Funny how a simple snapshot can stir so many random reminiscences.

Funny how random reminiscences can be the highlight of your day...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Glagolitic Alley

In central Istria, 11 monuments stand as a solemn tribute to an ancient script - together, they make up what is called 'Glagolitic Alley'.

Along the gently winding roads between Roc and Hum, various stone edifices mark the history of a script in common use from the 9th through the early 19th centuries.  Invented as a means of making the Latin scriptures more accessible to the local people, the alphabet consisting of 32 characters bridged a significant cultural gap.
 Credited to Constantine Cyril (from whom the term Cyrillian emerged), the system of ancient loops and swirls became the first written means of communication for eastern Slavic peoples.  As written language always does, it had the power to define and capture culture in new ways.  A written script gives a force of unity and identity as very few other factors can.

The Glagolitic script eventually gave way to the modern Cyrillian alphabet, still used in many Eastern European nations today.

A drive through this area in November is stunning- the autumn breezes paint foliage in both reverent and spirited hues which capture the viewer's vision.  Each curve hides another gorgeous vista, each seemingly more breathtaking than the last.

Knowing that these rocks and hills were among the first to witness the birth of a language so long ago lends them an extra charm, mysterious and wise, an age-old stoic acceptance of the evolution of human thought and nation-hood.

This is a chart of one form of the ever-evolving Glagolitic script.     Jewelry and souvenirs marked with variations on the theme make for distinctly Croatian keepsakes.  I was able to purchase several necklaces in Hum marked with the scrawled characters on lovely stone pendants.  A glagolitic souvenir is the quintessential purchase in central Istria.

My thanks goes to the author of Ancient Scripts for the use of his Glagolitic graphic.

Check out more about the history of this language here:

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Mad for Mushrooms

We heard that there was a mushroom festival on in an Istrian town - and headed over for a peek.  Tables were imaginatively laid out on mossy beds, 'planted' like fairy rings in creative clumps.

I had never seen so many mushrooms under one roof.

And not just the number of mushrooms, but the number of species was a novelty to me.  Each was different than its neighbor - there were dainty spindles, huge lumpy knobs, fragile stems no wider than a straw, enormous gelatinous masses of fungi - all marked carefully with both Latin and Croatian names.  And unfortunately for us, we couldn't identify most of them.

Fluency in the linguistic area would have been a definite asset in this situation!

There are more than 100 varieties of mushrooms in this area of Croatia - an incredible edible panorama!  There are many more that lurk in the forests and fields which are of the deadly poisonous type.  We were warned that one in particular mimics chanterelles so well that it takes a very seasoned veteran to distinguish between the delicious and fatal.

Mushroom picking without a trained guide could be disastrous to a vacation...

Several of the species laid out on the tables more closely resembled coral reefs than fungi to my untrained eyes.  Several were unrecognizable as a mushroom.  It was like entering another world, a world of fairies and gnomes and underground secret lairs, castles and dungeons and 'little people' of the forest.

The festival included a mushroom cook-off, and tasty smells drifted up from a lower floor, where presumably the local food gurus were preparing their mushroom delicacies unmolested by the enthusiasts gathered to look over the displays.
These displays opened my eyes to a world which had previously eluded me - now, when I go to a supermarket, I check out the stock of mushrooms.  We have tried several new varieties, using new recipes pulled from the internet.  They aren't Croatian - but they are new and different to our Canadian palettes, and I am glad for the travel which has broadened my food preparation horizons here at home.

Exposure to new things, new vistas, new horizons, expands our personal vocabulary in so many ways.

So here's to the lowly mushroom - long may it grace our tables and fill our spirits as well as our stomachs!

If any of you are familiar with the names of the mushrooms in these photos, drop me a line - I'd love to identify them!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

All-Saint's Day

In Canada, as October submits to November, our stores, houses, and communities are decked out in Halloween style: goblins, ghouls, rats on gravestones, symbols of everything eerie and evil come out to play.  In Croatia, the markets fill with flowers.  Blooms and baskets line every grocery store or place of business, in readiness for November 1, All Saint's Day  (or the Day of the Dead).  The focus was so strikingly different to me, that its image stands out starkly in my mind.

Churches, such as this old gem near the castle of Dvigrad, become the focus of entire families as people of all ages and walks of life carry the beautiful flowers they purchased the day before to the graves of their loved ones.  Churchyards come alive with beauty as the growing collections amass in a never-ending stream of quiet visitors.

A day set apart to mourn, remember, and honour their deceased relatives, Croatians make use of the state holiday to gather with family.

We happened to be in the vicinity of Beram on all Saint's Day.  We had hoped to see Istria's most famous frescoes in the tiny Beram church.  Not realizing what November 1st meant to Croatians,  we watched with interest as carload after carload of well-dressed visitors approached the graveyard with flowers.  When we realized what was happening, we understood that this was not the appropriate day to ask for admission to the chapel.  Instead, we followed people into the graveyard, in order to better understand the nature of the holiday.

The flowers and candles made a stunning display.  we wandered quietly, taking in unfamiliar names, reading inscriptions, quietly observing.

I remember suddenly feeling that I was intruding on something very private - something sacred.  It felt like our idle curiosity had no place in that silent mourning , in that time of personal honour.

We quietly retraced our steps and sombrely drove away.

I left thinking that a day set aside to honour family was so much more fitting, more cultural, more beautiful than a day set aside to decorate with witches and give out candy.  I loved to see the families together, placing their floral tributes with care, enjoying the gorgeous fall splendour.

I am not Catholic - I don't know much about saints. I don't even know that much about what I observed on that day in Croatia.  But I do know that it gave me a unique chance to glimpse a people who value family above all else, who exhibit strong principles of  a societal bond worth celebrating - and I am so glad that I was there to be a part of it!