Visit to Rab Island
I spent a rewarding day yesterday on Rab Island, one of the southernmost inhabited islands of the Kvarner region. I took the bus from Rijeka, which included a ride on the ferry, and wound up in Rab Town, the "old town" of which goes back at least 1000 years (or parts of it do). Rab Town is known for its four distinctive remaining towers (there were more once), some beautiful churches, charming streets that wind through the old town, and a dramatically beautiful seafront with large deciduous forests. It's also known for its "naturist" beaches (i.e. nude beaches). King Edward XIII vacationed here, though it's debated whether he bared all. He was wooing Wallis Simpson all along the Adriatic. Rab has been a tourist destination for quite some time, though luckily there were only a few busloads of Germans there yesterday, and various other wandering tourists from all over, including Croatia. I met a woman on the bus who said she lives near Zagreb and has never been here before. She said she found the island unbelievably beautiful. I agree.
Not much was open in terms of churches and museums since it was not yet tourist season (which is July-September). In preparation for the masses to come there was a lot of construction going on. But much of the town was quiet and enjoyable. Most of the important churches had their doors open, but not the grill gatework that is just inside the door. So you could peer through the grillwork at the interior. There is also one old church in ruins now (St. Justine I think). But sometimes ruins are more interesting or appealing to me than intact churches, I guess because I enjoy the sense of mystery, imagining what it might have been like in its heyday. Also it sort of becomes part of the natural environment in a way, making it half naturally, half architecturally interesting. Anyway, at this site of ruins the tower still stands, along with the apse, and they have reconstructed (putting up pillars) part of the nave and other areas. There were supposed to be beautiful mosaics here originally, only traces of which are left, but I searched and searched and could find no traces of mosaics. So I'm assuming they've been moved to a museum. There was also a lovely cathedral called "St. Mary the Great" (a great name), made striking by the use of contrasting colored stone (pink and white) in construction of the outer, front wall (see photo above).
This old town is on a hill, and the steepest part of the hill is the street with all the churches and towers and borders the sea. So from here you can walk down to the seaside or get dramatic views. There is also a very large (100's of acres) park next to the old town area which also has areas with steps leading down to the seafront. After lunch I walked along this seafront for a while (a mile or more). One walks along a well used path including many little built-in seats of stone and cement. Every so often there are also cafes or swimming areas. I saw a few people swimming. I did stick my feet in once and found the water to be pretty cold, but not unbearable. There were a few place with actual sand beaches, though mostly they were mostly rocky, maybe mixed with a little sand, and there were plenty of concrete areas too (though not as much as in some places).
Most of the cafes were closed (except for one larger one that I think was part of a hotel). There were also some very beautiful and large rocks on the shore at various places. I think they were fossils since they have very interesting markings, groves, notches, pocks, and so on (there's picture of some of these above). The water as usual in Croatia varies from deep green to turqouise blue. I don't know what causes the water to have that striking turqouise blue pattern in patches. There is lot of limestone in the landscape here, so I was thinking maybe it happens where the bottom is limestone without any vegetation or dirt. And that might reflect the sky differently. But I don't know if this idea has any merit.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, but with a cool breeze that kept me from ever feeling hot. I had lunch in a restaurant called Paradiso in a courtyard that had an interesting mix of features -- old stone and woodwork in the walls and balconies, flower boxes full of gernaiums, and over the old, covered well, a modern glass sculpture that I think was meant to resemble a kind of water fountain. There was also music blaring from the louspeakers, a contemporary Italian singer, it sounded like. The food was pizza and pasta. The pizza I had was okay, not the best I have had here, though the most expensive (at $9). Corn on pizza just doesn't appeal to me, and this one had it, along with mushrooms, zuchinni, and peppers. I had asked just for mushroom pizza, but in trying to stress or verify that I wanted no meat on the pizza I used the word "vegetarian." So the waiter got the idea that I wanted a mixed vegetable pizza and they put on all this other stuff. This place was also notable for charging 25 kuna ($4) for a carafe of tap water (at least that's what I ordered; maybe it was bottled water poured into a carafe).
The bus/ferry ride back and forth was long but quite enjoyable because the coastal scenery all along the way was so lovely. We stopped off at a number of seaside villages to pick up or let off passengers. One of the more striking things I remember about this ride, apart from the generally beautiful scenery of sea, mountains, and dramatic landscapes, were the wildflowers blooming all along the way. Many of these were fairly generic seeming, but one that especially struck me was the deep purple iris. I had heard from the folklore institute that the iris played a big role in traditional mythology here (like in Greece there was a goddess named for the flower). But now I can start to see why. The iris seems to grow wild all along this route we traveled and is evident in great abundance. Everywhere you see interspersed amidst the greenery, yellow and softer colored flowers these bursts of deep purple. It took me a little while to realize they are irises. And since they are all along the road and hillsides, even far from settlements, they cannot all have been planted. What joy it added to the day to see all these wild irises everywhere.