ll Nick's Croatian Adventure! 

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Mon 11 July 

Alison joined me in Croatia last week and we have had a week looking at properties in Croatia and also in Italy.

She flew into Trieste in Northern Italy and I drove over to pick her up. The journey took about 2 hours to the airport from Porec, in the centre of Istria. At the moment, on the Croatian side the road is not brilliant - there is still a single carriageway which travels from Porec to the Slovenian border. There is ample evidence though of the building work going on to re-develop the road - it will be a fast single lane road with a hard shoulder and overtaking lanes every so often. It won't be a motorway in the normal sense, but apparently the whole network is being developed with extension in mind, so that as traffic volume grows the network can be extended. There is currently a fast road from Rijeka, on the Kvarner Gulf, the Eastern side of Istria, down to Pula in the far south. It is called the Y as it splits about halfway up, in the vicinity of Porec, with one road leading off to Rijeka, the other (the one which is being built) going off to the Slovenian border towards Trieste.

It will be a good thing when Croatia joins the EU, as it will cut down the border controls - at present, you have to stop on the Croatian side as well as the Slovenian side - rather, not so much stop as slow down and wave your passport at some very bored border policemen (I'm sure the similarity isn't only phonetic! probably about as interesting as being a museum attendant! (apologies to anyone that happens to be a musem attendant and to love their job). In Slovenia there is also ample evidence of a motorway building program - they are slightly further advanced and have about 10km of proper motorway already in existence, with the remainder in evidence as well. Once in Italy things improve considerably and there is a good network of motorway connections leading to Slovenia, Austria, back to Rijeka in Croatia and of course linking into the rest of the Italian network.

Trieste airport is a slight misnomer as it is about 35kms West of Trieste, adding an extra 15 mins or so to the driving time (assuming you drive at the average Italian speed of 140kph, or average motorway life expectancy of about 47!

We stayed with our Croatian host family for the first week, looking at houses further south, around the old Italianate town of Rovinj. It's a beautiful place with a tall campanile, lots of quaint little streets and a marina. It is naturally popular with the tourists, but didn't feel overrun by them, certainly not in June - there was still plenty of Croatian being spoken on the streets and in the cafes. Rovinj itself is prohibitively expensive to buy property, and the only thing available tends to be quite small flats The building restrictions tend to be tighter around here, with a consequent effect on land prices. Having said that though we have found a very nice, old stone built house at the end of a village with fantastic, unimpeded views over to the sea. The house itself is not huge, only about 140m2 (compared to some of 250m2 that we have looked at) but it has great views, the best of any that we have seen so far, is at the edge of the village, surrounded by agricultural and forest land  and has plenty of land for a pool, large garden and more outbuildings if we need them. It is close enough to the main Y road to have good access, but far enough away that it is not affected by the traffic or noise. It does need a lot of work, but that is par for the course here. We had thought it was going for around 100k Euros but we have subsequently discovered they are asking 160k! A lot for such a small house here. We will need to do some serious negotiating if we are ever going to get anywhere near their asking price.

Because we had seen some interesting properties on the Internet, we decided to take a few days out to travel to Italy. We were headed for Le Marche, down near Ancona and then up to Tuscany, more of a speculative trip than a realistic house-buying spree. We looked at a couple of properties over there, but the coastline is nothing like the Croatian coast. The beaches are sandier, which is good for kids, but there is no shade and the water is definitely not as clean. There has been a problem this year across the Adriatic with Algae in the water, forming a dirty cloud on the surface. Fortunately the "Bura", the cold winds from the Bosnian hinterland, akin to the Mistral, blew up a storm the other night and the waters are a lot cleaner now. They usually blow a couple of days a month, drastically reducing the temperature in the winter, apparently by as much as 10 degrees!

After a couple more days in Istria, as is now becoming part of the pattern, it was time to move on. My destination was Zadar, about midway down the Dalmatian coast. On the way down I stopped at a couple of places, Rijeka and Crikvenica. Rijeka is a big port, the second biggest city in Croatia after Zagreb, and was badly bombed during the war. Unfortunately the re-building process took into account the pressing need for housing rather than any aesthetic considerations so that consequently there is a big urban sprawl, climbing up the side of the mountain. The magistrala, the main road on the coast, runs behind it so that your first impression of the place is a lot of high-rises, scattered up the hillside. It is also home to the country's biggest oil-refinery. So, all in all, not a place to spend a lot of time, although it does have a good transport infrastructure, with ferries to the islands and to Italian ports, an airport on the island of Krk (which is connected to the mainland by a bridge) and a good, new, motorway network to Zagreb, Split and Trieste, via the Slovenian hinterland. The magistrala is somewhat ironically named as it is really a glorified B road, running the whole length of the coast line. It used to be the main trunk road linking the coast with Zagreb, but is gradually being supplanted by the new motorway network. About an hour out of Rijeka is Crikvenica, a popular holiday destination and resort. It was absolutely packed, primarily with holidaying Croatians and Bosnians. It has been noticeable that the further away from Rijeka and Istria you get the less foreign tourists there are. I get the distinct impression that Croatians don't really go to Istria for their holidays. They seem to prefer going to the Dalmatian coast or to the islands.

The drive down was very impressive. The magistrala stays pretty close to the coast the whole way down. On the way you pass through a couple of National Parks. The biggest and highest Mountain Range, Velebit is just inland and just like further down the coast at Dubrovnik the mountains just fall into the sea. The views of the myriad islands which lie off-shore and the colour of the sea are spectacular. The hills themselves are particularly barren, just rocky outcrops with the occasional scrub on them. I should imagine that rock-falls are probably quite common.

Zadar, where I'm staying now is full of Croatians and also seems to be more popular with people from the other ex-Soviet bloc countries; there are a lot of Polish, Czech and Hungarian tourists here. It is probably not one of the better known Croatian resorts. I think I've mentioned before that it was badly bombed in the war. It is an eclectic mix of roman ruins (it has one of the oldest forums [fora]) outside of Italy), Venetian, Dalmatian, Austro-Hungarian, Art Deco and 50s and 70s concrete buildings. It has a fairly large tourist complex, Puntamika to the side of the harbour. The complex though is not badly done. The apartments have all been recently renovated, the buildings are low-rise, and probably most importantly there are a lot of trees in the area, which serve a dual-purpose, both hiding the buildings and providing shade and shelter from the sun. To the south of the town is the biggest marina on the adriatic at Sukosan. Just offshore are a load of islands, from Pag in the North, all the way down the coast to Sibenik.Inland the countryside is a lot flatter round here than it is further north or south. This is apparently the place to see cattle grazing. The agrarian economy does seem more diverse - I've seen wheat, maize, vines, olives and cattle as well. One of the things that has struck me here has been the variety and diversity of fruit trees, growing either wild or cultivated. There are plums, cherries, apricots, pears, apples, figs and best of all mulberry. I'd never tasted a mulberry until a couple of weeks ago, but I can highly recommend them - they are incredibly sweet, particularly the lighter coloured variety.

 I'm dong a course for two weeks. I've managed to wangle myself onto the advanced course as I've been in the country for 2 months now. Unfortunately English seems to be lingua franca here (surprise, surprise) so rather than staying in the accommodation provided I've opted to go for the family route again and am staying with a pensioner, who used to teach Croatian, so is more than happy to chat to me. Doubtless by the end of my 2 weeks here I will be a proselytized Catholic! After Zadar I intend to pop down to Split for a couple of days as I was impressed with it before.

By the way - if anyone wants to send an email you know the address. Helps to make it a more enjoyable day when you get mail!

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