ll Nick's Croatian Adventure! 

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Wed 23 June 

Iím in a bit of a rush to get this uploaded to the internet so this will be a short report.

I arrived in Istria last Wednesday and have spent a lot of time since going to look at houses. There are a lot more estate agents here than anywhere else  and it is generally a lot easier to get in touch with people here about property. As we suspected, Istria looks like being the most productive place for us. It has the sea, the sun and the hills you get in the  rest of Croatia, but is much closer to Italy and Slovenia, making it more accessible by the cheaper airlines which fly directly to Trieste and to Ljulbljana. They are in the process of developing a motorway network to link Italy and Slovenia to Croatia and there is a lot of building work going on in preparation. Prices have definitely risen since last year but are still a lot more affordable than Dubrovnik. There is also a lot more of the kind of property we are interested in - old stone houses with 3 floors. The advantage that the houses have here over comparable villages in, say, France, is that they have more land around them, sufficient for a decent sized garden. I have put links to the agents on the local Iinks page.

The coast is not as stunning as it was around Dubrovnik. There the mountains just fall into the sea. Here, the mountains run North to South on the Eastern side and on the Eastern coast there is very little development - basically just a road running around the base of the hills with a few isolated towns below the road. On the Western side, the landscape is more varied. In the North it is hillier and more densely forested with the hills gradually levelling out on the coast. The towns have a very Italian feel about them, in particular Rovinj and Porec which are probably the two best known tourist destinations in Istria. There is a strong Italian influence about the whole region, not surprising given the area's history. It was settled by the various Italian principalities, principally the Venetians and was part of Italy until the second world war. A lot of the street signs are in both Croatian and Italian and a lot of people speak good Italian - it is perfectly feasible to get by with Italian here. From my perspective this is a good thing as local agents tend to be geared to the Italian and German markets and I have spoken more Croatian here than anywhere else. This has obviously endeared the locals to me, as has the weather, the scenery and the architecture. It has a more mediterranean feel to it than Zagreb and other places on the coast that I passed through. The houses are prettier, the countryside, although not dramatic, is more varied and certainly more lush. There are a lot more foreign cars here - probably about half of all the cars. I thought that given the number of tourists here it might be hellish, but as soon as you move inland away from the coast they rapidly thin out and the roads can be very quiet. I have been to see a number of houses in villages where all you can hear are the birds. The roads are also easier to drive on - they are sufficiently straight to allow overtaking - a novelty in much of Croatia.

The food has been good as well. I recently saw the biggest Pizza ever - it must have been about a meter in diameter and cost about £12 or something and fed a family of 7 Croatians! I can vouch that the smaller Pizzas (which in themselves were enough for 2 people) are very tasty! Prices in the restaurants and bars are pretty reasonable, particularly if you go to the Croatian cafes. There seems to be a definite Croatian sector in each town where the locals go to relax, away from the tourists. I dare say that a lot of tourists wouldn't go in these places - not that they're intimidating or anything, it's just that they are obviously local - there are no multi-lingual menu boards, with their comical translations. And they tend to be full of younger people. I think this is a a consequence of the seasonal nature of the work. A lot of people are involved in the tourist trade - it is the back bone of their economy. Typically people will only have work for 6 months, but they work everyday for those 6 months with no days off. Some of them, the waiters and cooks, may then go off and work a winter season somewhere, be it Slovenia, Switzerland or wherever.

I am staying with a family, as is my wont, just outside Porec. They have a couple of apartments that they let out, but I have opted for half-board as I get to eat with them and to practise my Croatian on Darinka, my hostess, who seems a very willing victim and corrects me when I make mistakes. It is far enough out of Porec to be peaceful, but near enough that I can walk in if I am feeling energetic...

I have to just mention the football once. It has been the main talking point here for the past 10 days or so and has meant that I have had a focus to my evenings, which has helped to fill a lot of time that might otherwise have been quite solitary. It has though meant that I haven't written a report for a long time and that I have drunk a lot of beer! - I watched the In-ger-land Croatia game at home rather than in town and even when England went 1-0 down was reasonably confident, especially as we only needed a draw. I managed to contain my euphoria at the final whistle to avoid upsetting my hosts!


That's all for the time being..

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Last modified: 10/17/04