We’ve spent the last few days in a state of luxurious repose. We are staying at the Hotel Park in Rovinj with a gorgeous view overlooking the harbor with the city in the background, jutting dramatically into the Adriatic. It is a classic European middle-class resort hotel where holiday-makers want to eat the big buffet breakfast, lounge around the pool all day, and then stroll into town to eat al fresco in a local pizzeria at night. We haven’t put much of a unique twist on this tried and true agenda, except to add in a little more exercise.
We meander through the narrow, cobbled streets of the city, peering into the nooks and crannies of this tiny, ancient town. In the middle-ages, it apparently housed upwards of 10,000 people, crammed inside the double sea walls providing vigilant protection against all sorts of vicious marauders, of the likes of pirates, invaders, conquerors and the black plague. We hiked up to the huge cathedral dominating the skyline and climbed the rickety, wooden staircase to the bell tower to take in the expansive vistas of the city and surrounding environs. We’ve indulged daily in a scoop of gelato available in a rainbow of flavors.
As swimmers, one of the draws for staying here is the 50 meter pool located just steps away from the hotel, floating on the harbor’s edge, boasting a spectacular view of the city. It is filled with crystal-clear salt water that feels refreshingly cool as we swim. From our balcony, we can watch the school teams practice water polo – the national sport in this part of the world. South of the hotel is a path, winding around a protected bay punctuated with small rocky coves, where sunbathers can perch and swimmers make their way to the water for a refreshing dip. We take a stroll along the path, lined with leafy shade trees, before coming back to swim in the cool, clear water.
We have not heard any other Americans so far. There is a group of middle-aged Britons staying at the hotel, cleaning out the breakfast buffet of black tea and toast every morning, but everyone else appears to be Italian and German, who descend upon the cappuccino, breads, cold cuts and cheeses. Larry makes a bee-line for the coffee, bacon and eggs. I’ve tried something different each day, including some very dense muesli, drinkable yogurt and fruit-filled strudels sweet enough to rot my teeth out. Due to shifting political landscapes, the peninsula of Istria has been considered part of a variety of countries over the years, including Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia and now Croatia. The language spoken here is a mix of Italian and Croatian. The food reflects this blending of cultures as well.
We stumble upon a local restaurant where the proprietor comes around to each table and greets every patron with a handshake and a toothy grin. His wait-staff take drink orders and bring the food to the table, but the owner personally takes each order, scribbling it on a small note pad. I order pork-stuffed peppers in a tomato-based sauce and Larry gets a seafood platter with a sampling of just about everything left in the sea. The proprietor comes back after the dinner plates are cleared and asks each party what they ordered. He writes out the price for each item, manually tabulating the figures in his head and, after scratching out a total, places the scrap of paper on the table. For us, with no common language, he retrieves the menu so we can gesture and point at what we had eaten. Larry remarks how this method demonstrates a high level of trust with his clientele. By the jovial and familial manner in which people interact with him, and the fact every table is filled, I’d hazard a guess that his distinctive approach is working.