Dear friends, family, and future self,
Heard of Istria? I hadn’t, but when Masha proposed a vacation I was eager to escape the home office routine. Promises of fresh sea food, charming coastal towns, sailing, and scuba diving were more than enough to convince me. Back now, I’m here to report on the trip. It turned out superb and I hope next time you’ll join us.
Geographically Istria is a Croatian peninsula on the northern Adriatic Sea. Culturally it is a mix between Croatian, Slovenian, and Italian which means inviting people. They don’t get caught up on the rules and know how to show tourists a good time. With temperatures 18-24 we enjoyed good weather for a range of activities.
Scuba diving connects with me on a deep level. Similar to climbing / ski touring it is an activity that carries a lot of reasonability. When taken slow it allows you to safely experience things outside normal sports. While scary by trusting your partner and working as a team it’s possible to relax and enjoy places few see.
This was my first time diving. We did the PADI open water diver course, out of Starfish diving center in Vrsar. Completing the theory work ahead of time once there we geared up and had six instructional drives plus one solo dive over serval days.
Looking at the forecast leading up to the trip the water was a cold 15 degrees. I was expecting a brutal experience, however 7mm wetsuits with hoods and booties meant only being cold for a minute or two when first entering the water. After that as long as you kept swimming it was fine. Issue being one had to sit still for some of the underwater exercises.
One of the hardest exercises was taking the face-mask off underwater with and swimming 5 meters. Sitting in a circle 10 meters down on the sandy bottom we each attempt it in turn. When breathing from the regulator with no mask every exhale means a rush of bubbles in your face. Combine this with the cold saltwater in the eyes and swimming is challenging. For me the trick was to go slow, remain calm, and remember all your gear is with you even if you can’t see it.
The course was greatly aided by good instruction. Raymond knew how to keep students calm under water and provide a controlled learning environment. I respect how he treats his students the same if it’s their first dive or if they are going on a 100 meter deep tech dive. Keeping track of us divers learning buoyancy I’m sure was not easy.
Swimming while diving is flying. If done right using your BCD (inflatable jacket) and your lungs you can control if you rise, fall, or remain at the same depth. In the beginning the group was all over the place, accidentally rising to the surface or bumping the bottom kicking up a cloud of sand. I preferred to swim in the back of the group watching things unfold and helping with loose fins or other equipment. By our 6th dive the view was majestic as the 3 divers in front of me following the instructor around a reef wall down to 18 meters to a small wreck.
For our 7th and final dive Masha and I returned to the reef wall this time with the instructor waiting at the surface. I’m happy to announce Masha found a special treasure on this dive.
The adventure, the gear, and sharing the experience with others make scuba awesome. I hope to continue courses on one of our next vacations. With the advance course we would have the ability to go deeper and see large wrecks.
Two novice sailers walk out onto a pier. In the distance, between sun glimmering waves, a local man helms a dinghy. The wind is just right and after his joy ride he turns back toward the pier with speed. Approaching quickly at the last second the boat slides into docking position and he smoothly steps on the the wood planks of the pier. With a confident smile he helps the couple board the boat. Then without many words he un-ties the boat from docking and pushes them out. No rules or no time limit just the Adriatic on a warm spring day.
This is how we nervously started our second time every sailing. Lucky for us the boat imminently went into the close-hauled point of sail and we were able to sail away from the pier without incident. After a few tacks we were out of the bay approaching islands.
The leeward side of the islands were calm and inviting while the windward side was rough with a large swell. Not eager to get caught up with rocks and crashing waves I was cautious not to get blown into the windward side and leave plenty of space.
Half way though our second time out in the boat we wanted to take a snack break. Sailing behind an island I put the boat into heave to position in the calm water. To further relax I decided to lower the main sail. This worked for about two minuets until we drifted from behind the island into the swell. Now with the boat rocking back and forth I rushed to raise the main sail again but it snagged.
With the sail firmly stuck in the rigging half way raised panic set in. “How are we going to make it back to shore with this!?!” From the till Masha directed me to lower the sail and we managed after a few attempts to correctly raise it. Crisis averted. Unfortunately this stressful situation in the waves didn’t do my stomach any favours and I experienced my first sea sickness. With my head over the side of the boat Masha sailed us back to the bay.
This experience extends our learning from last summer’s sailing course and I hope there will be more to come. Eventually we’ll work our way up to a larger boat we can take friends out on.
When I visit the airport I’m one of those people who are okay on take off but not enjoying it. Statists show it’s safe but it unnerves me. I’m not one to let that stop me though. High above Vrsar, white knuckles gripping the door handle, I made my first plane tour.
The airport was not much more than an overgrown patch of pavement with an abandon air traffic control tower. The staff consisted of a pilot sitting in a lawn chair having lunch.
I was glad to find out our plane was not one of the rusty junkers at the entrance. From the outside it looked reasonable. Having never flown in anything smaller 20 row / four wide passenger jet I knew this was going to be different. It could be best described as a small 1970’s coupe with bucket seats in the back that happens to fly.
Once in the air things went as planned. We got great views of our dive school and the areas we sailed. Was interesting to see how far islands extend underwater from what you can see from a boat. I’ll definitely be keeping my distance next time out sailing.
It was not until I was back on the ground cool pictures in hand that I relaxed. I survived! Hope the experience makes my next small plane flight easier.
South of Vrsar a river enters the Adriatic with a natural fjord. We found it a great place to explore by stand up paddling. Was too cold to swim this time of year but paddling was no problem.
Up the fjord towards the sea we found an oyster farm. Something Masha would later sample.
Not all Istria’s charm lays on the cost. Nestled atop a hill 15km from the water is the small town of Grožnjan.
The little gift shops smelling of truffle goods we opening for the season as we walked the narrow streets.
Corona virus has restricted the number of visitors to Istria but the tourist economy is alive. The official numbers show Istria with the lowest cases around but after talking with locals that may not be honest. In any case there were not many people around this early in the season and we found it safe.
Showing Istria’s Italian heritage Rovinj has a nice Italian plaza where we found delicious ice cream and cannoli.
We stayed in a small flat near the church in Vrsar. Beside the good location the little rooftop tarris was a highlight.
Would stay here again if we come back to Vrsar for more diving.
As with all our trips near the sea half the time is spent enjoying local foods. Istria is know for truffles. They make amazing truffle pasta sauces and good truffle potato chips. That said best of all is their sea food. Everything was so fresh!
In Croatia they include the caviar with their scallops which I appreciate.
My favourite dish was the calamari, either grilled or fried. Fried calamari is usually rubbery but here it was tender and delicious.
Not as brave as Masha I didn’t partake in oysters but I hear they are good. We could nearly see the farm from our dinner table.
Istria is a great asset. Being only six hours drive from Munich and offering so much sea activities I’m sure we’ll be back.