Two Churches, Two Towns, One Garden

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Monday morning we headed up to Porec, taking the local road which skirts the edge of the Limski Canal.We easily found parking just before the peninsula that contains Porec’s older part of town. We first walked through the market, with its separate produce venders and fish sellers areas. Both the produce and fish looked better than those at the Rovinj market, and there were definitely more people speaking Croatian buying than in Rovinj.Larry was intrigued by a vino sfuso-looking place, but sadly we didn’t have an empty bottle with us to get filled with local plonk.

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I spotted an older gentleman carrying a bag of tiny fish, and felt sympathy for whoever had to clean them until I saw him stop under a tree and call out to the cats that had been waiting for him. Very happy kitties.

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We continued walking into the old part of Porec, which juts out into the sea. This part of town is filled with tons of tourist shops selling all manner of junk, but you can still find remnant of Venetian architecture and some charming spots. Escaping the tour groups, we went down the narrow street straight from the Basilica and bought a terrific spinach borek from the tiny bakery at the end of the street.

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We spent a long time in the complex at the  Euphrasian Basilica. Churches have been built on this site since the 3rd century. The Baptistry connects to the bell tower, and guess which of us climbed the tower. Many layers of floor mosaics have been uncovered and displayed in the lower floor of the atrium and museum, along with stone carvings. Some lovely designs, and there are many detailed signs about their meanings and discovery. There is also a large portion of floor that was under the demolished church adjoining the Basilica, and you view it from a walkway that also allows for a nice view over the water.

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The 6th century mosaics in the Basilica are glittery wonders, with fabulous faces on all the people depicted.Mary and Jesus; the Apostles, Bishop Euphrasius is holding the model of the church, 12 female saints, and look, Mary is holding yarn, you can see the skein on the floor.

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We walked around for a bit, but Porec was becoming overrun by tour groups so we strolled along the sea for a bit and then got lost, finally finding the car again. I had read of some wonderful frescos in a church in Beram, about a 1/2 hour drive away according to Google Maps. On the web page I found they said to call the area tourist office to find out about opening the church. Larry called and was told it was open all day. Liar, liar, pants on fire. We drove the twisty uphill one-lane road to Beram, took a bit of time to find out the church is located down another twisty lane a left turn from the village, and yes, closed up tight. Two older guys hanging around told us to find Mrs Sonja, at no, 30 in the village. Back we went, found Mrs. Sonja and a German couple also wanting to get inside, and back down the hill again.

So worth it.

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The tiny church was built in the 13th century, and in 1474 was covered in frescoes painted by Vincent of Kastav – who left his name on the side door of the church. The walls show scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus, and the back wall has a fantastic  allegory of the Dance of Death–skeletons showing that everyone is equal at the end. The effervescent Mrs. Sonja spent some time telling us in German about the frescoes, and then took us to the cemetery in back, with each grave covered in plastic flowers.

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By now it was past lunchtime. Mrs. Sonja recommended a place in nearby Pazin, which we couldn’t find. I wanted to head to a place nearby that had gotten decent reviews; Larry pulled the “we’re here, let’s eat at that place over there” card. Mistake. Soggy pizza, chewy meat, and a weird guy at the next table staring at me while blowing his nose with his fingers.

Back on the road we visited two more little towns. Gračišće was absolutely adorable, with 14th and 15th century stone buildings (a few with their year they were built above the lintel) , several tiny churches, and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. No tour buses. There’s even a view across the valleys.

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I loved the little church of the Mother of God, which had a table on its front porch. We peered through the windows to see the frescoes inside. The doorway and windows were encrusted with old nails–childless women would drive in the nails in hopes of conceiving.

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Bale was a bit livelier, with a few galleries and artsy shops and a restaurant near the old castle. There was a huge passion flower vine growing next to the church.

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I’d seen a sign for something called the Histria Aromatica, some sort of garden nearby. Up a long drive is a brand new huge stone building, surrounded by enormous gardens of aromatic plants, vegetables, olives and grapevines. We walked around, and spent some time talking with the woman there. She said they’ve only been open a short while, and aim to do educational programming, host meetings and weddings, and showcase how plants are grown and used. The also have a restaurant featuring their produce and a shop selling their own oils, creams and soaps. It’s a lovely place, I hope they can make a go of it.

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Back home and some rest. For dinner, we walked around the corner to Giannino and got the last table on the terrace. Started with a wonderful antipasti of tuna tartar with a sea bass carpaccio. Larry had a plate of several different grilled fish; and I had grilled scampi and calamari. Very fresh, very simple. I’d have loved to go for one of the “for two” dishes that were more complex. Another time.

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Oh, and during the coure of our conversation Larry started looking for online simple Croation phrases. Look what he found–extra bonus points if you get the reference.

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The Salsa Festival started, and so there was music and dancing in the main piazza. Some very professional dancers have come, and it was fun to watch, but intimidating to participate. We held hands and swayed. Worked for us.

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