Anyhow, we first visted Poreč, along the coast from us in Croatia, ten years ago, and it sticks in my mind for two reasons: one, I left feeling I had not done the place justice, and two, an infamous incident which was sort of related to the first. Having wandered around and not really done much other than stare in the windows of closed shops, we were about to leave when we realised the tide had gone out enough for the girls to play down at the sea. Our eldest, about twelve then, gathered up a collection of sea shells which we boxed up and took home. Some time later that evening, there was an ominous scratching coming from the box, and we opened it to find that a dozen previously very shy hermit crabs had emerged and were scuttling about. After some futile debate involving salinating tap water, my husband had to drive down to Koper beach under cover of darkness to wreak havoc on the ecosystem. I still sometimes wonder if we changed the course of evolution that night.
|Where did that toddler head come from?|
Fast forward ten years. We had planned to go to Poreč on Saturday, but the toddler was knocked out with a cold on Friday, so we waited a day, even though I was leery that most places would be shut, Croatia being a pretty devout Catholic country. But we hadn´t ventured far from Koper for ages, bogged down in school/ kindergarten administration, so we decided to give it a go. Crossing the border was pretty uneventful - the guard almost thought about opening our passports, then decided he couldn´t be bothered. The previous crossing was much more eventful. We were in a loaned car then, and we got thoroughly grilled at the border because why else would an Anglo-American family take up residence in Slovenia if not to steal old cars and make a getaway into Croatia?
Croatia, as I am ashamed to say I had to check, is in the EU now (it was not a member last time I was travelling around). In my defence, I was confused because it does not yet have the euro. The currency is the kuna, which I also try to forget because it involves memories of my husband spending money in Croatia and then singing "My kuna´s a goner" to the tune of Hakuna Matata from The Lion King.
Oh yes, Poreč. It is about an hour´s drive from us, and, like much of the region, used to belong to Italy until after WWII. But it was a settlement way before then, including as a Roman town, and with a paleo-Christian community. Wikipedia claims it has been the most visited tourist spot in the region since the 1970s, but to my mind the industry has grown even more since we first visited - that is true up and down the coast now cruises seem to be so wildly popular. I need not have worried about wandering empty streets because all of the shops and restaurants were open.
Entering the old town is like you have stepped out of the Tardis into some sort of timeline crash: bits of roman columns butting up against a restaurant, a medieval tower turned cafe, a Venetian facade along one side of a square, centuries-old paving worn to a shine by millions of feet, lopsided shop doorways packed with wooden ducks. (I didn´t get the wooden duck thing. Maybe it is a message for time travellers.)
First, we decided to make for the one big nerdy destination, the sixth century basilica, built over the fourth century original, with some rather beautiful mosaics. But, like our last visit, the basilica complex was closed, and there was a service going on in the church. We veered off down the streets, deciding to make for the temple of Neptune instead, quickly getting confused by the criss-crossed streets and aforementioned bits of roman architecture dotted everywhere.
At this point, in the interests of truth, I have to confess to some marital disharmony. When we can´t find a place, I like to stop, consult all available maps, and only move on when I feel confident. My husband´s modus operandi is to just start going in any feasible direction while he works out the route. There is not a good middle ground on this. Plus, I was coming down with my son´s cold, and the weather turned out to be a lot hotter than forecast, so the combination was not doing much for my temperament.
|Like I said. Very Catholic.|
Time for a retreat to the sea front and our picnic. Thankfully the people on the shadier bench next to us soon vacated it. As with last time, the sea was right up to the wall so playtime was limited to climbing down the steps to the edge of the water, watching jellyfish float by, or a pipe nose fish hunting smaller fish. We were about to retreat to the shade of town when we spotted a large jellyfish marooned on a jetty - and it was still quivering. I am an animal lover, but it was gross in an alien-movie kind of way. It was probably dying, but of course our daughter felt compelled to help it back into the sea (without touching it). This took a looong time in the direct sun, and involved more gross bits of jelly fish falling off ("It´s multiple organisms! It can survive!") so I hope Saint Francis was taking note.
|You are lucky the jellyfish is indistinct here.|
Resume mission: to find the temple of Neptune. Easy - if Google maps had been cooperating. There is something to be said for paper maps. After much wandering about, stopping at a random park as a preventative measure before the toddler had a meltdown, and sending my husband out on a scouting party, we got there. It was a small pile of ruins in a grassy square, right by the edge of the sea (who would have guessed?) but hey, it was off our list.
|I thought I should have at least one photo from 2018 with me in it.|
We got somewhat distracted along the way by an expensive natural beauty shop, where my daughter was somewhat annoyed that I did not fully payroll her purchase. She proceeded to give me a lecture on how important it is not to let terrible chemicals leach into my skin, and while I was at it I should stop shaving my legs and drying out my skin. And then she passed a fast food place and begged for money for a funnel cake because apparently what goes directly into your stomach does not matter. Or something.
Wandering back past the basilica, we decided to peek in again - and the church was open. Success! I have become pretty fond of early Christian mosaics. There is a proliferation of lambs (of God). And lots of shiny gold tiles. Plus, fun detective puzzles as you look at the pictures and abbreviated Latin and guess who is who. That means adults get to appreciate the art and children, even small ones, can be (mildly) entertained. Though actually our son was more interested in the nondescript original floor mosaics open for display below the current (by which I mean sixth century) floor level, because people had dropped things over the rails onto the floor (the coins on purpose I suppose; not so sure about the bottle of water), and I know he was wondering if he could do his bit to destroy history.
A final coffee (surprisingly more expensive than in Slovenia) and we headed home. We took several things back from this trip (but thankfully no hermit crabs - or jellyfish). First, we should admit we are not very good at just wandering around and experiencing the ambiance of a place (though to be fair this is harder when you have small children - or when you are coming down with a cold). Secondly, if we are going to a town where there is not a lot of nerdy things to do, we should plan for a nice meal somewhere rather than be cheap and bring a picnic (because see first point). Third, if you are a planner, be kind to yourself and actually plan. It saves the whole family much angst.
Touristy stuff. As I said, Poreč has become very much a summer tourist destination. It was reasonably busy even though the main summer season is ebbing, so I expect the narrow streets could be extremely crowded earlier in the summer (and really hot). I think we should have scoped out the actual beach options nearby and planned part of the day at one. But tourism and tourist shops aside, the old town is very pretty, with lots of chances to spot architectural gems from Roman ruins forward, and if you are good at wandering, you will really enjoy it. Chasing the Donkey has about the best overview of the area that I have seen (though of course I didn´t scroll down far enough to see that blog before we went). P.S. if you drive, there are two big, convenient car parks literally on the edge of the old town. The grassed one is two whole kunas per hour (24p, 32 cents) cheaper than the paved one.