Good-Bye Croatia – Hello Venice!!
Continuing our cruise North, the final stop on our Croatian itinerary is Rovinj. A charming little fishing village on the Istrian peninsula, this was the best place to land for our final stop in Croatia.
Situated in a nearly straight-line distance from Venice across the Adriatic, the two cities couldn’t be more different. Once Venetian, the only evidence of Rovinj’s past are the infamous stone lions carved on the façade of buildings and the Italian being spoken by the locals. In fact, Italian and Croatian are both official languages. As with all the stops on our summer cruise, English is widely spoken by even the most modest shop keeper.
Still a fishing village, tourism dollars seem to be pushing out the fishermen, as evidenced by the strictly 5-star hotel accommodations and the higher end shops selling ceramics and trinkets to foreigners.
The towns which seem to speak to me the most are those in which the locals abound, enjoying their town, amongst and despite the tourists. The towns where everyone, regardless of wealth or home zip code can appreciate the birth right which is the water and seaside. My favorite cities are those where the mingling of old and new is as harmonious as the old and young enjoying green spaces planned for by the city. While it is hard for me to imagine this town without the tourists, one can see that there is a strong local community in place. Typical and unique to most of Croatia, beaches are scarce though waterfront is plentiful. Most Croatians will sunbath on any surface near the waterfront and the multi-layered rocks climbing from the water to the cliffs provided a perfect spot for dozens of “beachgoers” to enjoy the waterfront. In fact, under the caption of “when in Rome”, Jack and I went for a swim on the other side of the jetty from where Gratitude was docked.
Waterfront dining is another spectacular summertime activity in this locale and seafood is the primary attraction. It is hard to imagine a bad meal in any of the great restaurants. And finally, akin to the celebration that happens daily in westward facing seaside’s, the daily gala which is sunset was marked by a quiet revelry amongst anyone in the area.
While the price of dockage is probably higher here than any other place in Croatia, it was an enjoyable and necessary stop for us on our trip to Venice. All checking out formalities were seamlessly handled by our BWA Agent, but in truth, it could have been managed by us should you decide to come here and check out of- or into- Croatia. We were able to get PCR tests for all 3 of us for our entrance into Italy as well. Although rushed, the whole process took only a couple of hours on the morning of departure, and we were off for Venice.
Experiencing calmer waters on the trip across the Adriatic than we were experiencing tied to the dock, the 8-hour passage to Venice could not have been more enjoyable. I must confess to a bit of arrival disillusionment, however.
Now – bear with me here. Rarely does a single negative word come out of my mouth on the blog. Even in a town I truly don’t care for, I can find so many wonderful things about which to write – it is simple for me to gloss over my personal feelings of a place, without clouding anyone else’s experience of it, with my own discontent. I’m also overwhelmingly aware that there are many more aspects to one’s enjoyment of a place than the place itself. For example, I have visited Florence 2 times in my life, but our most recent experience has left me absolutely in love with it, while the first visit was such a letdown, we almost didn’t come back. All of this is to say that one’s perception of a city – mine or someone else’s- is far more about them than the place itself.
If you know me at all, you know that a rich fantasy life fuels our ambitions. Years of dreaming of the day we bring Gratitude to the Grand Canal in Venice have fueled this goal and propelled us closer to this day. Yet arriving in Venice, we were advised that we are NOT permitted anywhere near the Grand Canal. The closest we could get was the marina in which we were berthed, several kilometers from the famed St. Marks Basilica. Even our small dinghy was not permitted access to the coveted canals of the “inner-sanctum” which is Venice.
In fairness, one can understand the restrictions given how crowded the waterways are on a good day. Due to covid, only approximately 60% of the usual crowd was here, but even low by contrast, one can easily see how unfamiliar tourists clogging the arteries, which feed the 120 or so islands, could cause problems. Still, being forced to climb aboard the public vaporetto’s everywhere one goes for a month was a disappointment (to say nothing of the expense) and completely out of our usual wheelhouse. Even in locales where cars are not easily available, we are typically able to bike or scooter everywhere (no bikes allowed in Venice) – or there are enough restaurants and grocery stores very nearby so that locally sourced food and supplies is simple. Less so in Venice where there are 2 cafes near the only marina on Venice, but a proper grocery store and ample restaurants are a good 20-30 minute walk in each direction. For reference, a water taxi cost is approximately 70.00 Euro for a few miles travelled. Going 1 way to the airport was 120.00 Euro. Taking the vaporetto (public bus) for a single day unlimited was 20 Euro per person. So, you see, we spent more in transportation this month in Venice than we will likely spend all year (excepting, of course – air travel back to the states). Even though masks were mandatory, the vaporetto’s were crowded – very crowded.
All of this is to say, if we were to do this again, Venice would be a destination for a week-long stay at the most. As it was, we had planned to do some train travel to other Italian cities – which we did. Stay tuned for coming posts on Verona, Lake Garda, Milan, and Piacenza. But as a base from which to travel and explore, I’m afraid I can’t really give Venice high marks. Better to make the most of a very touristy week here and then go elsewhere for affordable marina accommodations closer to trains and public transportation.
On my first visit to Venice 30 or so years ago, I fell in love with the place, so, I must ask myself, what is it about me that was so “put off” by Venice when we first arrived this time around?
I think Venice is almost like the prom queen everyone adores due to her special and unique personality. From afar, she is admired and romanticized. She is written about and idolized – she is the star of movies and heroine in novels.
And of course, she should be. Say what you like about Venice, there is no place in the world like it! How could a place consisting of nearly 120 islands connected by over 400 bridges – charming and each with its own character – be anything but enchanting? There is absolutely nothing that I could write here that hasn’t already been written about and chronicled by thousands of far more eloquent writers than I. Visited by poets dating back to Lord Byron and the muse of writers as prolific as Hemingway, Venice truly is something to behold.
Yet, upon our arrival nearly a month ago, I was actually – well, glum. Looking back, I think that Venice was the “destination” of sorts for our summer cruise. We left Italy in May and, I suppose, Venice was going to be our sort of “coming home” to Italy. Not only a repository of happy memories for both Alec and me, it also marked a dream come true to bring our own home to such a place.
But the fantasy and the reality once more collided and the result was the blue mood which clouded my first few days of Venice.
For whatever reason, my minds eye recalled only the charming alleyways and deserted piazzas aside from a few strolling lovers embracing under the stars -but what we found was a crushing abundance of cheap Chinese knockoffs hawked by vendors in mobile carts. One can forgive the long queues to gain access to the cathedrals or museums but when we discovered lines to access the Hard Rock Café and the Disney shop, I felt our commitment to a month here was a mistake. The shocking abundance of trinkets which had absolutely nothing to do with Venice, and the shops selling items made by a production line in China had me wondering whatever will we do for a month here?
Looking back, there was more to it than that of course. We aren’t on vacation aboard Gratitude. This isn’t some weeklong departure from life at “home” or the real world. This IS our world. And it is that which colors each of our experiences of a place. In fact, it was when Kelly came to visit and we treated the town the way a visitor may for a week, we found that our experience of it changed drastically. Or perhaps, our experience of the city changed because with Kelly in town, we could appreciate it more. In either event, this warrants 2 fully different blog posts – 1 depicting Venice as a person living there for a month, and 1 from the standpoint of a tourist visiting for a week.
So, the contrast complete, Venice juxtaposed against the charming fishing village of Rovinj, I can in fact touch some of the vague and illusory reasons why some places speak more to me than others. Cities which exist solely at the behest of the tourists are far less appealing to me than cities which march on slowly with or without anyone from the outside world bearing witness to them. Being in a place and among the people who belong there is so much more authentic to me than towns inhabited nearly exclusively by tourists or those whose job it is to service that industry.
That said, I appreciate your indulgence as I share my unique experience of a place as a person “living” here, rather than visiting. Please understand that I do not earn money from the blog – this is only our family’s’ log of our adventures which we share with those to whom it touches for whatever reason. As an unpaid diary – these are strictly speaking, my own thoughts and experiences. But if this post had you feeling a little cheated by our first week here, stay tuned – the following week gave us a bit more of what you may have hoped to read here.
The following week, my sister Kelly visited us from the US. During her time with us, we embraced Venice as a complete and total tourist. We spent more money than we typically do doing things a tourist would do. And we had a completely different experience of Venice. So, look for a blog post on our week of “Vacation in Venice” with Kelly during her visit.
In other news: Alec continues to amaze me with his ever expanding body of knowledge surrounding everything Gratitude. I could and should do a blog post on Alec and his commitment to keeping us safe and comfortable which is, I must say, a full time job. This month alone he worked on 2 crucial systems on board. Here he is stuffing his 6’2″ into a tiny box…