Tuesday, 29 May 2012

In Through the Gate

Croatia is full of interesting and inviting doorways and gates.

This one is in the town of Sveti Lovrec, which I fell in love with (you can read about it here.)  It marks the entrance to a private garden lined with olive trees overlooking the lavender fields.

Don't you just want to go in?

Another gate in this quaint little village that I had to go through to see what was on the other side was this little gem.  I have no idea now how old that wall and gate were, but I do know it outdated me by a long-shot (even with another birthday added today!)

On the other side was a tiny ancient stone chapel.  The gate was marked with emblems and the tiny square it opened into was simply adorable.

When you see it, it beckons wandering feet, doesn't it?  You can't not explore in these amazing little villages!

And who doesn't like a castle entrance?  This one is the entrance into the old town square at Bale.  We first happened upon it at night, and our first glimpses by street-light and stars ensured a return visit the next day!  I imagined coming home after work and strolling home through a castle gate each evening.

Do the residents think it's as cool as I do - or are they simply used to it?

This lovely doorway is on one side of an old church in Pula.  That quiet corridor certainly invites repose, doesn't it?

Where I live, we don't tend to have fascinating gates and doorways like this.  So whenever I saw one, my camera was busy!

Some private entrances led to tiny little courtyards draped with greenery, with potted geraniums on each stone step.  Others hid amazing little cafe bars or shops.

Whatever the function, Croatians really know how to go in through the gate....

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

My Favourite Croatian Foliage

Croatia is so beautiful.  (Have I already told you that?) To a Canadian gardening fanatic, everywhere we went, there were foliar favourites.  Some were because I had never seen them before.  Some were just because.

One favourite was definitely the palms.  There were many different cultivars of palms planted most often on properties by the sea.

And we all know you can't go wrong with a palm by the sea...

Or ivy clinging to a ruined castle wall....

Or olives on an olive tree, representatives of a rich harvest of oil to come...

Or kiwis ripening in the Mediterranean sun on a carport support....

Or ripe persimmons cloaked in magenta hoods on trees dipped in scarlet....

Or grapes dangling from a sun-kissed vine....

Or fig leaves dazzling the eye in well-veined splendor...

Isn't Croatian foliage fantastic?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

You Know You're NOT in Canada When...

Maybe a good portion of the fun of being in Croatia were the things that were so - un-Canadian.  Different.

And by extension, those things which were so distinctly not from my Canadian experiences were that much more interesting because they were out of the scope of any previous experiences.

Case in point - you know you're NOT in Canada when you are walking along on a cobblestone street lined with shops on the ground floor which are operating out of buildings built in the 12th-14th centuries.  So NOT Canada.

These shops are accessed by ancient heavy doors and odd mis-matched floor levels; their wares are showcased in windows which are set into stones too ancient to date.

You know you are NOT in Canada when you are wandering among Venetian palaces from bygone days.  Windows from fairy tales peep curiously at tourists below.  In Croatia, the Venetian influence is everywhere.  History links Venice to Croatia through numerous political and social ties stretching back hundreds of years.

Doorways, windows, 'Romeo and Juliet' balconies - all cry out with a Venetian voice and point to the heavy influence of the city across the Adriatic.

The stones used in construction have been carved from the very earth - a readily available and incredibly useful resource springing from its bowels.  The variations in style and structure testify to the creativity of masons from Medieval days to modern times.

The stone itself is beautiful - but when coupled with greenery, the effects can be stunning.

Many homes had vines crawling along and over doorways and windows to shade the occupants in their comings and goings from the intense Mediterranean heat.  Window boxes filled with brilliant geraniums added a touch of whimsy to cold stone fronts.

Grapes, kiwis, passionflowers - we saw many of these growing luxuriously around doorways.  In November, the kiwis were hanging, plump orbs of sweetness - a tempting treat!

One last example of architecture I had never seen before - covered parking lots!  In Canada, these would be torn apart by the sheer weight of snow and become ridiculous.  I can just imagine a city worker's complaints at having to clear the snow from the parking covers!  You know you're definitely not in Canada when the covers over the cars are to protect vehicles from blistering in the heat of summer!

Each example of 'This is SO not Canada!' was special to me.  Each spoke of another time, another place, and as pupil, I was delighted at the course offering.  I determined to take in everything, devouring Croatia, ingesting its delights - I wanted to remember!  (Did I ever study this hard for my REAL exams? )

Friday, 4 May 2012

Canadians Don't Know How to Eat Raw Beef

We Canadians aren't really that much into eating food raw.  Unless it grew in a garden, we tend to frown (in an extremely friendly and polite manner) upon eating foods like meat raw.

Sushi has caught on as a new fad lately - but even then, may times the shrimp in the roll has already been battered and fried, and you can choose rolls that are packed with fruit and veggies and pretend that you are really eating real sushi, when you aren't.

That's just how we Canadians are.  We work and play safe.  We eat 'safe', too.

So when my sister announced that we had been invited to her neighbor's for a Croatian treat she had whipped up for our last evening, I little thought it would be raw.

Or more specifically, raw beef.  I like my raw beef to be lowing in a pasture, grazing on the hoof.

We were all seated when the dish was placed proudly in front of us.  My sister smiled encouragement at me.

"You'll love it.  It's called 'beef carpaccio'", she whispered.

"Beef -?" I whispered back.

"It's raw beef, sliced super-thin, drizzled with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and herbs," she hissed through her teeth.  "It's delicious!"

Yeah, right.  Now I was stuck grinning idiotically at my hostess, thinking there's nothing for it, old girl.  Just try some and hope you don't gag and puke at the table.

I grabbed the utensils and dug in, thinking to take a moderate sample before going 'whole hog'.  Or 'whole beef', for that matter.

But in my haste I grabbed a pile of slices that were hopelessly entwined with each other, and ended up taking a good third of the plate with my first scrape.

Great, I thought in a panic. Now I'm in for it.

Smiling, with my stomach in my throat, I hoped that everyone would just ignore me as I took my first bite.

Ha.  Dream on.

Instead, knowing that this was my first go, being a 'raw beef virgin', so to speak, everyone turned to watch my fork move to my mouth like it was the first lunar landing in slow-mo.

I chewed.

I smiled.

I conquered - and reached for seconds.  And thirds.

It was absolutely delicious...

I don't know why we don't eat raw beef here.

Maybe Croatian cattle are just happier than their Canadian brothers - look at where they live - and produce a better raw product.

All I know is that meat was pure paradise, a party for your mouth.

(Anyone know where I can find some raw beef?)