DAY 6 VODNJAN: Today is Sunday and we have arrangements to spend the afternoon with friends. We decide to spend the morning in Vodnjan, or Dignano to give it its Italian name. What a lovely and interesting town - packed with medieval buildings both large and small, packed together down narrow streets and alleyways. We've been there numerous times, but it never fails to impress. Like Bale, there are signs of it going up in the world. Thirty years ago it was a medieval slum - picturesque by all means, but you had to wonder what it was like to live there. There are a lot of new build going on outside the old town. I guess its classic commuter-country for people working in Pula (10 kms away). Leave aside commuters, Vodnjan's growing prosperity is increasingly based on its excellent white wine and olive oil. That said it remains architecturally splendid, (although much left to do) and free of planned monstrosities. It's also virtually tourist-free, which means you can park free easily.
We found a little square to park and walked around the corner to the main Piazza with its Venetian Town Hall. We thought there must be some kind of festival (or manifestation as the locals like to call them) going on given the noise levels. But No. The noise came from a little old fashioned and traditional bar (called the Loggia I think) with about a dozen or so men and a couple of women all engaged in animated discussion. I love it - so much animation, all talking at once they have to shout to be heard. Tourists quite often ask where can we go where the locals eat/drink. My advice would be follow wherever the noise is coming from. It's something we've noticed over the years and we gravitate to these places. This occasion we didn't want to cramp their style so sat at a table opposite in a new cafe bar and within earshot of the friendly bilingual (Croatian/Italian) gossip. This new bar is again an old building recently restored, tiny inside but beautifully with a small decking area outside. We were served by a charming young koobar and sat soaking up the sun. It was very hot. At 1 p.m., as if by magic, the folk at the Loggia rose as one and drifted off in different directions all the while shouting their unfinished conversations across the Piazza. Obviously all going home for Sunday lunch with the family.
My advice to anyone arriving in the old town is just to walk and explore the nooks and crannies which is the joy of the place.
You stumble across architectural gems from Renaissance, the baroque, the Austro-Hungarian era - not just single buildings but whole streets. There are still areas of decay and dilapidation with once wonderful buildings long past renovation and I hold my breath in case some property developer will come and demolish them to put up a dreadful carbuncle. The main shopping street (Istarska Ulica) is a very long, narrow street running from the Square up to the railway line. I think I can say this street remains much as I remember it 30 years ago - no renovation here.
For those interested in such things you can go to the church of St Blaise/Sv.Blaz) which has a collection of mummified saints inside glass cases.
Should you want to eat, it's not a place (I'm talking about the old town) with a restaurant on every corner, and non at all in the Piazza. Walk up Istarska Ulica and on the left, (before the railway line), is Kod Tanja (very old fashioned when we first knew it: no menu; you ate whatever Tanja was cooking that day, and you didn't get red wine because her man only made white; it's got a bit more posh since then with a new frontage. We didn'[t eat at Tanja's place this time, because it was Sunday, and surprisinglly she doesn't open 'till 3.00 p..m.; so we went across the road to a new place, The Restaurant-Pizzeria Girontando. The newly built facade didn't look impressive, but what the hell, we needed to eat.
The first impression couldn't have been more wrong. We were led to a simple terrace at the back, looking across the railway line onto olive-groves and vineyards. where a lot of local families were eating Sunday lunch with obvious enjoyment (the kids tucking into what looked like first-rate pizza) and offered a menu of authentic local cooking (brodet, polenta with snails, spicy sausages with sauerkraut etc). It was excellent. The price? Main course, salad, home baked bread, half litre of good local wine, half a litre of mineral water, round figures of £12 for two plus tip. If that's not value I don't know what is.
One of the things I enjoy so much in Istria is eating domaci food (not usually found in restaurants) in family homes. I have yet to come upon a woman of the house who isn't a brillant cook - everything fresh that day (they shop daily) or from the garden, not to mention their bakin skills. The hospitality is warm and generous. If you're ever fortunate to get an invitation make sure you accept. Initially, very early in our travel, we received invitations because we used to talk (especially husband) to just about anyone and everyone - konobars, bar staff and their customers, plus our daughter would meet and play (as children do) with) local children and eventually their parents invited us into their homes and the rest, as they say, is history. They've now all become lifelong friends and treated as part of their extended family.
It's hot and now Vodnjan is quiet. Its siesta time so we return to the car and back to Pula.