We had a truly outstanding lunch, including salads and an unforgettable chocolate mousse with deep, rich espresso, at Ristorante Casa Tua on the waterfront in Opatija, 80 km from Poreč.
The rain continued to fall while we ate, but as we left the restaurant, the sun broke out briefly, making the streets turn gold, and afterwards, high above the town at a gas station, we were treated to a most magnificent view of the Adriatic Sea. Then we headed inland toward Zagreb.
Our drive was mainly through downpours and clouds that impended our views of… – well of what, I cannot tell you. But once in a while the veils lifted, and we were treated to spectacular scenes of the Adriatic Sea, low tree-covered mountains, and villages showing off their mediaeval buildings.
Ksenija, our host in Zagreb later told us that Croatians are not used to marketing themselves – historically they are a country of mainly farmers – but with fabulous holiday areas, clear clear water, and wonderful indigenous cuisine, they are sure to be successful in their self-promotion efforts. Of course, lots of people already know about the wonders of Croatia, but it is well worth consideration by those who haven’t thought of it before. And we didn’t even see several of the best parts – including Split, on the the Dalmatian Coast, and the country’s national parks. Next time. (Sigh.)
Our friend Ksenija welcomed us to Croatia with a warm hug and a drink, and we were happy to be finished with trying to find our way around the streets with the dubitable assistance of Google Maps. (A friend has recommended we try another maps program which works well off line and when I have an hour to sit down and figure out how to use it, I will!)
We went out for a short stroll around the neighbourhood, which is in the picturesque old part of Zagreb, and then enjoyed a dinner of sea bass, fresh out of the water that morning, with watercress and potatoes. Falling asleep after all of that was easy.
Plus, Wrangling with GPS in a New Country: A Cautionary Tale
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
On Wednesday we rented a car and drove from Venice to Poreč in Croatia, a distance of 250k.
We went through Trieste, where we had a tasty pizza in the city’s piazza, which is on the waterfront, and considered the fact that James Joyce and Nora Barnacle had lived in this city from 1905 to 1915. Since I had not known this until we were approaching Trieste, when I finally got around to checking out the city in my Lonely Planet Guide, we didn’t have time to do much more than consider our newly acquired knowledge, but if I ever come back to Trieste I will drop in on Joyce’s “scenic home on the grand canal” and also maybe visit Castello di Miramare, home of “the hapless Archduke Maximilian of Austria” (“hapless,” because he got himself shot by a firing squad in Mexico in 1867. Go figure).
Adventures with Technology
We had several maps to ensure that we would get from Trieste to Poreč without becoming “hapless” ourselves, by which I mean “lost” – e.g., by going astray in Slovenia (where Melania Trump is from), a country we needed to pass through briefly on the way to Croatia. Our reference materials included a printed map from the CAA that we noticed too late had the word “Croatia” printed in large caps right over the names and numbers of the highways we would need to take, obscuring them from view, and a GPS in our rental car that showed nothing but a blank screen beyond Italy and turned out to have a mind of her own.
The Italian-speaking Voice of the GPS happily accepted our request for directions to Poreč but she was devious: As soon as we got out of Trieste, she started giving us wrong directions until we ended up back in the city, in a rather sketchy part of town, where she announced that we had “arrived at our destination, on the right.”
We revised our destination parameters in an effort to trick the GPS into letting us get out of Italy, and set off onto the four-lane divided highway once more – only to have the Italian Voice try to turn us around again ten minutes later. But we were smarter now, and we ignored her advice. Unfortunately, our cleverness meant that now we had no idea where we were or where to go next. (These detours did confirm that we know the Italian words for “left” and “right,” sinistra and destra respectively, which will be handy when we get back to Italy on Sunday and attempt a reconciliation with our GPS.)
We’d bought a data-roaming plan before we left Toronto, but I had inadvertently used up way too much of the data in the previous few days so I was afraid to access the Google map of the region online. So we tried the offline map which we had downloaded ahead of time on the excellent advice of my elder son. However, we discovered that the flexibility of offline maps is limited — they find it hard to readjust if you accidentally go off course, and this one didn’t include all of the highway markers that we needed. It also didn’t, of course, speak Italian, Slovenian, or Croatian, the way the signage did as we proceeded out of, through and into the countries where those languages are spoken, one after the other. At last we gave up, turned on Google Maps’s GPS roaming, and got to our destination that way. I expect to have my roaming ability cut off by Bell at any moment now.
Pouring in Poreč
Poreč is a resort town on the Istrian Peninsula and our hotel – the Palazzo! – was vast and spacious, and reminded me of stories I have read of visitors staying at European hotels in the off-season, when the hotels are quiet and nearly empty, but elegant with staff in their white shirts and bow ties standing at the ready to fulfil visitors’ every need (fluent in German, Italian, Croatian and English and possibly other languages as well). After checking in, we wandered the stone-slab streets and ended the day with a chicken scallopini several blocks from our hotel.
Breakfast at the Palazzo the following morning was as elegant as the staff: fresh fruit, croissants, home-made sausages, eggs to order on demand, olives, cutlets, fresh bread, and several kinds of juices, and coffees or hot chocolate. They’d even carved the image of the hotel into a watermelon to decorate the buffet.
It started sprinkling soon after we arrived in Poreč (pronounced “Por-etch”) and by morning it was pouring, but we loved it anyway.
When the Lights Go Out, It’s Time to Leave
We have been impressed by the hotels where we have stayed so far in Europe for their power-saving techniques. The lights won’t go on unless you insert your room key/card into a slot that activates the power, which means that as soon as you leave the room with your key, the lights go out. We were not thrilled with the system the first time we encountered it, especially since we’d been planning to charge a phone and a laptop while we were downstairs for breakfast, but once we realized the reason, we adapted quickly.
In Poreč the hotel extended this method to let us know when check-out time had arrived: at exactly 11 a.m., all the lights in our room went out. Fortunately, we weren’t still in the shower when that happened.
Speaking of Languages
I have no idea whether the Croatians speak Croatian as well as the Italians speak Italian (just a joke, folks), but almost all of them speak English, which is a big help. And unlike Google Maps, Google Translate works very well off-line as well as on-. Which is nice.
In fact, Google Translate is amazing. You can speak into it and it will translate what you said into any language you want. You can type into it, you can scrawl something onto the screen and you can also take a photo of the words you don’t understand and poof! There it is in English! It’s great!
The best thing about Venice is that it bears a striking resemblance to the way I have always imagined it. Of course, like most people, I have had a lot of help in forming my mental image of this city – from literary and dramatic sources (e.g., Mann’s Death in Venice, various iterations of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice), through paintings by Monet, Manet, Kinkade and especially Giovanni Antonio Canal (aka Canaletto. With a name like that, what other city was he going to paint?), to movies that include The Italian Job, The Tourist, and Moonraker. It’s even been featured in cartoons (See “O Sole Minnie.“) Venice looks exactly the way it is supposed to, which was a huge relief to me: I feared I might be disappointed. I definitely am not.
But since I’m sure that those of you who haven’t been to Venice yet have exactly the same images in your heads as I did/do, I decided that in this post I would share things I didn’t know about Venice until I got here, rather than things I did. So here goes.
Every two years (or so) the entire city celebrates the Biennale Arte de Venezia, featuring art and artists from around the world. In 2019, the 58th edition will open on May 11, and run to November 24. So we missed the opening, but that was okay because the areas of Venice where the shows are held (primarily in Arsenale and Giardini, which are east of the main tourist area) will be crowded once the opening has happened, and we got to walk around those areas while they were almost deserted. We saw workers installing an art display and heard people rehearsing for performances, but mainly the area was so quiet it was almost ghostly. Today, the Biennale includes dance, architecture, performance art, cinema, and educational initiatives as well as the visual art exhibitions that have formed the core since its inauguration in 1893. This year’s theme is “May You Live in Interesting Times.” We do.
Speaking of workers, it hadn’t occurred to me that absolutely everything has to be delivered by boat to every store, restaurant and hotel in the city until I read this article in The National Post. One afternoon after we’d worn our feet out, we sat down for a rest near the gondola stations and a vaporetto stop on the waterfront. There we watched the world float by, and in addition to the various water-based human transportation systems (including massive private yachts), we saw all kinds of other boats dropping off supplies – massive crates and cartons — delivering them to the closest wharf to their destinations, and then carrying them the rest of the way. Those guys work their asses off.
So do the gondola drivers. What I enjoyed most was watching them move so lightly on their feet as they use their long oars to manoeuvre around each other and all the other water traffic (of which there is a truly significant amount!). I didn’t see a single boat bump into any other boat, which is astounding when you consider how many of them are out there – going, it seems, in all directions.
Tourism has actually become a huge problem for Venice: the city is sinking and the waters are rising, and instead of only the wealthy being able to visit this massive historical site, almost every Tom, Dick and Mary is able to afford the trip. The cruise ships are a huge problem – not only because of the pollution, but because of the crowds (we saw several of the huge floating hotels while we were there) and there is a movement afoot to have them banned from the region. The BBC reports that more than 26 million people visited Venice in 2017, and that nearly half of the actual population has left in the past 50 years.
We stayed on the island of Lido, rather than on the main islands in the Venice Lagoon, so we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos and on buses, and we felt as though we were on Toronto Island rather than in the big city. It was lovely to get away from all of those people at the end of the day. On Lido, there are roads as well as a few canals. There are thousands of bicycles parked near the boat docks, and people ride them, and walk and use the bus. I was astounded to find that the buses have USB charging outlets on them!
By the way, after studying the language on Duolingo for several months, I am happy to report that Italians speak spectacular Italian. But most of the people we met in Venice were also almost fluent in English, for which I give them huge credit because I can also report that I am certainly not anywhere close to fluent in their language. I hope to improve at least a bit before we leave. It is a beautiful language.
To those who have previously accompanied me on my adventures in India and Cuba, welcome back, and a very warm “Benvenuto!” to those who are visiting my travel blog for the first time.
From May 5 to 27 of this year (!), Arnie and I are going to Italy, with a few days in Croatia. I am beside myself with excitement because – unlike almost everyone I know, including my own children – I have never been to Europe. A few days ago, I finished booking hotels for the trip, and I am beginning to believe this is really going to happen.
Aside from reserving rooms and a few tickets to museums that we might not have been able to get into if we’d left it to chance, I have been doing the usual things in order to prepare myself for our journey: reading a few books, including The Lonely Planet Guide to Italy, and learning to speak some Italian with the help of Duolingo (Como sta?).
Arnie and I also recently watched a fun movie called The Trip to Italy, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Despite the pair’s tour around the Italy of Byron and Shelley, two poets I’ve loved since university, the film primarily made me hungry. The hotels they stayed in (such as the Villa Cimbrone, “a medieval palazzo perched above the gulf of Salerno” @ $700/night €460) bear no resemblance to the ones I’ve booked.
Our departure date is about six weeks away at this point. I invite you to join me in the anticipation. In the next few weeks I’ll be posting about our preparations, and welcoming your ideas of what not to miss while we are there.
Sometimes I listen to podcasts when I run, but I find it hard to concentrate on a single subject when I’m out there. My mind likes to drift and become distracted, and I like to let it do that. Sometimes the drift leads me to solutions to problems in my writing or my real life, and sometimes the distraction draws me to ideas I’d never otherwise have had. Sometimes nothing much happens: my mind just drifts. Time passes. The run starts… the run continues… the run ends.
I find music to be a better accompaniment to running than a podcast. It gives me something to focus on without requiring that I sustain that focus. I often listen to the words to songs for a stanza or so, for example, and then realize a couple of other songs have gone by and I haven’t paid any attention to the words for several minutes. Or sometimes I’ll try to get my feet to hit the pavement coincidentally with the beat of the music, but I quickly get distracted from that as well. I find that the availability of such diversions is particularly useful when I first set out, before I hit my pace (when the going can be tough) and at the end, when I’m tired but still have several blocks to run (when the going can be tough).
Music also reinforces the runner’s high that I hope for every time I head out there (but don’t always find. More on that in another post). But when I am fortunate enough to start feeling like I’m floating above the ground, like I am strong, free and half my age, the pounding of “Go West” (Village People) or “Beat It” (Michael Jackson) or “Grace Kelly” (Mika) in my headphones is the icing on the cake. It makes a great run perfect.
Running music needs to be chosen in advance, of course. You don’t want to suddenly find your library has shuffled you into Renee Fleming’s “Ave Maria” or Kris Kristofferson singing “Sunday Morning Coming Down” when you are trying to improve your speed.
When I first started running, back in the 1990s, my listening device was a tape inserted into a Sony Walkman, and the tapes used to take me hours to create: I’d put a record on the record player, press the “record” button on the system’s tape recorder, press “pause” on the recorder when the song was over, find the next song I wanted on another record, and so on. In those days, my lists included “Let’s Get Physical,” “Bette Davis Eyes,” Rita MacNeil, MC Hammer, ELO: a wide range. The Walkman wasn’t too steady so the music sounded like it was rolling around in an empty drum half the time, but it worked for me.
As the years progressed, I moved from the Walkman through the Discman to the iPod to the iPhone, which is where I am now. The music I listen to has moved through the decades, too – today, the latest Beyoncé and Adele are as likely to be out there with me as Gwen Stefani or the Black-Eyed Peas. I also listen to songs that I loved in my teens and twenties, and a few that were released even before that. But what has changed the most is the ease of creating a running list. Now I can just drag and drop.
In fact, I don’t even have to do that. Instead I can download a workout list that someone else has created on Spotify, or buy an album like Running Hits (image above. Not a bad anthology) from iTunes. If I were so inclined, I believe I could even figure out how to get my iPhone to play songs from my library that echo the beat I want to run to. Or keep time with the beat of my heart. The possibilities are limitless.
I wonder what the Crystals would have thought if they had known that “Da Doo Run Run” might one day find itself on in the wireless headphones of people who were running, and accessing the song on a phone they were wearing on their wrists.
Probably thanks to recent movies, I went through an ABBA/Queen phase when I started running again in August, but I’m ready to move on. In fact, am considering creating my own running list on Spotify specifically for baby boomers who still want to run.
What songs would you put on it?
 Many people think that runners should forego the music and just enjoy the sounds of nature. Not me. I get enough silence when I’m working, so being able to listen to music is a welcome part of the break. In addition I tend to run in busy areas where it’s safer, rather than in the river valley. Not too many sounds of nature out there on Sheppard Ave.
 People tell me that I shouldn’t run on sidewalks because they are harder on my joints than roads, roads usually being made of tarmac rather than concrete. See Note 1. Plus, if I ran on the road, I couldn’t listen to music. Because of all the cars and cyclists. 😉
When I began to run the first time, at about the age of 40, I took a “Learn to Run” course at the Running Room in Edmonton. It was a great way to start, and I highly recommend taking a course like that if you haven’t run before and one is available nearby.
There are many good reasons for taking a course. One is the information you receive during the pre-run talks on such topics as nutrition, hydration, pacing, buying shoes, etc. Another (very important) benefit of running courses is the camaraderie. Running with other people is highly motivating. In addition, running-course instructors know how to manage groups so that newbies minimize their chances of getting injured, and how to raise the spirits of those at the back of the pack.
Group runs in learn-to-run courses typically start off with “one-minute run, one-minute walk, repeat 10 times,” and then gradually build up over 8 to 10 weeks until the group is doing one-minute walk, ten-minute run, repeat three times” (or something to that effect). You’re expected to do a couple of runs between each weekly class.
In the years following that first running course, I signed up for several other courses – each of which had a target race at the end of it. I took the 5k course, the 10k course and the half-marathon course. When I moved to Saskatoon, after a long layoff from running, I signed up for the 5k course at the Running Room there, and met a whole new group of runners. Most of the courses have the same classroom content, of course, so after the first one or two, the main value is the motivation of being in a group to get out there and run: to run longer and longer distances, to run faster, to run hills, etc. And every instructor puts their own spin on it, so you are always acquiring new tips.
When I moved to Toronto at the age of 60, I signed up for another 5k course but by this time enough years had passed since I’d done any serious running, and enough arthritis had set in, that I felt I was slowing down the group. Please note that the group did not make me feel this way, and neither did the instructor: it was all in my own head. But I quit after a few weeks, discouraged.
I didn’t want to get discouraged by a group of younger runners and quit again. Most of all, I didn’t want to be embarrassed.
On reflection, I suppose I should have started again with the learn-to-run course rather than the 5k class. But I was also getting tired of spending money to get the same “chalk talk” I’d heard several times before. Another option would have been to simply join the drop-in run clubs that go out from most running stores each week (check local listings for run times) — no charge for those — but I was feeling heavy and slow and old, and I didn’t know anyone who I could run with (i.e., not anyone as slow as I was).
When I decided to start running again this past August, I was living too far away from a run club to make that option viable, and I was also quite certain that I was not going to be able to keep up with anyone else at all. There are many people who walk faster than I could run. I didn’t want to get discouraged by a group of younger runners and quit again. Most of all, I didn’t want to be embarrassed.
Running apps are also useful for keeping track of where you ran, how far you went, how long it took you, etc., but keep in mind with your first app that it is going to help you achieve a definite goal: running 5k, for example, or running for 30 minutes without a walk break. After this stage, you will want another app as you continue to run further and faster. So the long-term dashboard options are less important in the first app than they will be in the one to which you will graduate after the first ten weeks or so.
My First Running App
I started with the Couch to 5k Runner. It starts out with 25 to 30 minutes of exercise in total, starting and ending with a 5-minute warmup/cool-down walk. As you work through the eight-week program, you go from from 1.5-minute walks alternating with 1.5-minute runs until you reach 30 minutes of straight running, and then you increase your running time until you are (ideally) at 5k.
I wasn’t that fast. But it didn’t matter. I went as far as I could in the allotted time, and stuck with the program, which was the most important part. By the time I’d finished with this app, I was able to run 30 minutes without a break. I started with a two to three minute warm-up walk and a similar time for a cool-down walk.
It’s important to note that the couch to 5k app never presented me with more of a challenge than I could manage. The only hard part was getting out the door.
Last summer – at the age of 68, osteoarthritis everywhere, and with one bout of foot surgery already behind me and another in my future – I was in a blue funk. I had (re)gained about twenty pounds in the year and a half since the foot surgery, and I needed to get up and out, to get some exercise. But I was discouraged by my options.
Swimming was one option. As everyone knows, swimming is very good for ageing joints because it doesn’t put weight on them. I love love love swimming, more than almost any other activity – but only in lakes, rivers and oceans. Out there, I feel wildly free. By contrast, I find few recreational activities as tedious and irritating as swimming lanes in a pool with two dozen other swimmers who are constantly smacking you with their fists or feet and are either determined to pass you, or to prevent you from passing them as they crawl along more slowly than you do.
Exercise classes and machines were other options. A few years earlier I’d joined the Y, and for about six months I’d gone over there religiously several days a week. But that was time-consuming – and it was also boring and seemingly pointless. Gradually I stopped going, at which point my monthly investment turned into a waste of money.
I’d tried yoga. God knows I’d tried yoga. Not my bag. Plus the downward dog was how I’d broken the plate the foot surgeon had installed to protect my big toe from further pain and damage, necessitating another round of surgery at a time still to be determined.
What I really wanted to do was to run. Every time I saw someone running, I longed to be out there too. I used to run, starting when I was about 40, off and on until I moved to Toronto when I was about 60. I had never been a fast runner (far from it) but I had signed up for 5k and 10k runs and had enjoyed training for them and running them. The best one was the Melissa 10K road race in Banff,a challenge and a half, set in the most beautiful location imaginable, which I did three or four times. I’d even once done a very slow half-marathon in Vancouver, way back in my forties. But now I hadn’t run for five or six years or more; part of the blue funk was me mourning the fact that I couldn’t run any more because I was too old.
What had made me decide I was too old to run? Well, it was partly a phenomenological conclusion: since I never saw old people running, I reasoned that most old people must be incapable of running (aside from the one or two centenarians who make it into the New York Times each year). But primarily it was my infinite capacity to imagine disaster that held me back. What if I wore out my hips and knees permanently and ended up in a wheelchair? What if I fell down while I was out there (seniors are always falling down, aren’t they?) and had to listen to the emergency medical services personnel say to one another, as if I wasn’t there, “What was she thinking????” Worse, or at least more embarrassing, I might drop dead on some nice young family’s front sidewalk in the neighbourhood, and traumatize them all.
It wasn’t as though I was in any shape to run, either. After I’d moved to Toronto, existing problems with my feet (bunionettes, a hammertoe, arthritic joint swelling) had grown worse and worse, and it had taken me five years to get in to see an orthopaedic surgeon for the first operation. I also had long-standing issues related to a pulled muscle in my thigh (still unresolved despite the assistance of several allied health professionals), not to mention large knots of discomfort in my hips and my lower back. I tended to walk lopsidedly, as my family liked to point out. (“Why do you walk like a penguin?” one grandchild had asked me helpfully.)
In short, “running” was not a recommended option for someone with my physical limitations. But I wasn’t interested in doing anything else. So I sat and moped and sat and moped and sat and moped. And ate. For months.
And then one day in August of this year, soon after I finally got a pair of orthotics that supported the toe with the broken plate in it, I decided to hell with it. If running was all I wanted to do, then running was what I was going to do. I’d already envisioned the worst possible physical outcomes, which meant (my years of experience told me) that they wouldn’t happen: something else would. And in the meantime, so what if I embarrassed myself in public? So what if I was the slowest runner on the planet? What other option did I have?
So I downloaded a “Couch to 5k” app, dug out my old running gear, tied on my running shoes – with the orthotics in them – and (without telling anyone what I was doing) headed out the door.