Rovinj, Pula — and a warm return to Italy

This post is part of a series of stories from my October 2021 travels in Croatia.
Click here for all posts.

If you’ve been following this adventure from the beginning, you’ll remember we started the week at the southern tip of Croatia. As planning unfolded, we knew we’d need a good place to wrap it up and fly out — and as far as Jenni and I are concerned, Italy is always a good idea. But first, we couldn’t resist a final day in Croatia – with a few stops on the Istrian Peninsula. We kept seeing photos of Rovinj and Pula as we planned our route, so we put them on the list for our final few hours in Croatia.

Rovinj and Pula in the Off-Season

After a long day at Plitvice Lakes, we made it to Rovinj for the night. And after a week of good travel luck and incredible weather — both started to catch up with us. Everything always feels dreary in the rain, so we tried to shake off a rainy arrival and an odd Airbnb host welcome with a delicious dinner when we arrived in Rovinj. But things didn’t look any rosier when we got back to our place to crash for the night. And by morning, we awoke to a Rovinj mostly closed for the season. We’d been traveling all week knowing that ‘shoulder season’ would mean limited hours and availability for things, but the lack of crowds had been a GOOD thing. Until now. Someday, we’ll be back in the summer, Rovinj. We’ll come back to soak up all the charm we KNOW is there.

Photo c/o Jenni Dinger

After a (quiet) stroll through town, we were ready to move on. To Pula, toward the southern tip of the peninsula. Pula is known for its Roman architecture — and we couldn’t resist a visit to one of the largest and best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. It’s not as big as the Colosseum in Rome, but the arena in Pula has towers preserved on all four sides — it was incredible to see an arena almost entirely intact! Today it’s used for concerts and events – can you imagine seeing a concert here?!

Italy: Hello again, old friend.

We’d originally planned to spend more time exploring that day – and spend a second night in our Rovinj Airbnb. But with the subpar experience at the Airbnb (Meh. It happens.) and the weather and the general quiet of a coastal area at the end of the season — we called an audible and went on to Italy that night instead of waiting until morning.

Here’s the thing with Italy. Italy, for me, is like that friend from college that ended up living across the country and you don’t really see them that much. You keep up with each other through photos on Facebook and occasional calls and texts – but when you do get together you pick up right where you left off. You hug and talk about how long it’s been — and your friendship is immediately rekindled, even after surviving all these years across the miles.

That’s me and Italy. Friends across the miles, ready to pick back up where we left off.

20 countries and nearly 20 years ago, Italy was the first stamp in my passport. No matter where else in the world I go, I suspect Italy will always feel this way.

So. Italy is always a good idea.

We needed a last-minute place to stay a single night before moving to our planned Airbnb, so we snagged a night (and a delicious dinner) at Hotel Montegrappa in Castelcucco (just outside Paderno). In 2002, Jenni and I spent our fall semester studying at a school in Paderno del Grappa, outside Venice, Italy. We traveled extensively in Italy that fall – and squeezed every last drop out of our Eurail passes traveling on a shoestring budget across western Europe. We both fell in love with travel — and Italy.

Jenni has been back to the area for work over the years, but I’d never been back. So a quick(!) tour of our favorite little town was in order. We stopped at the school (and said hello to the staff and faculty we’ve kept in touch with who are still there) and you know we had to have a drink at the pizzeria that served as THE gathering place during college. It was one of two bars in town, and it was the hangout.

A few miles away is the town of Asolo. We stayed right in the heart of Asolo – enjoying drinks at Epoca, cappuccino at Caffè Centrale, and the best pizza of your life at Pizzeria Bar Cornaro. By this point of the week, it was my birthday – and Jenni had Caffè Centrale make THE MOST decadent and incredible cake that was more than we could hope to share with everyone we met at Epoca. Essentially, we spent two days living like locals in Asolo.

Phone-and-passport-in-hand as we neared the end of our trip and started navigating COVID protocols to get back into the US.
Birthday cake with Bahjat, owner of Epoca
Photo c/o Jenni Dinger

As plans got more firm we decided we were just too damn close to NOT make THIS happen. My Uncle Brian and Aunt SangJu live a short drive from where we were staying overnight in Asolo. So a lunch date halfway across the world it was. SangJu reminded me that day we get precious little 1-on-1 time in our large family — so this was special. I’m so glad we made it happen. SangJu joined Jenni and me for a pasta-making lesson at Hotel Montegrappa, too. What a fun date – I love it when plans come together like that.

We didn’t have a car back in 2002 so we were at the mercy of how far we could get by foot — or booking a ride with the single taxi in town to drop us off at the closest train station. And we would later learn that the whole time, we were living 15 minutes away from Prosecco Road.

A stretch of road that winds through the countryside, dotted with Prosecco wineries. This is where we spent the day of my birthday. GORGEOUS.

And Jenni found a women-run winery for a tasting!

Italy gets more charming and beautiful with every passing day, and I hope it’s not 20 years before I’m exploring a new corner of it again. We didn’t necessarily plan to end our Croatian road trip with a trip down memory lane in Italy, but I believe in adventure and storytelling. And sometimes you just have to let the story unfold.

This post is part of a series of stories from my October 2021 travels in Croatia.
Click here for all posts.

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