Traveling abroad is usually comprised of different scenery, different cultures
and different people. This time we enjoyed the historical elegance of Vienna,
the grandeur of Lake Como, the beauty of the Croatian coast, the soft, rolling
hills of Tuscany, the energy of Florence… yet the thing that always endures
the strongest in our memories is the people!
This trip was no exception… we met a most wonderful group of friendly, helpful
folk who made our trip the great experience it was.
We met Erin Zipperle on our flight to Frankfurt. A bright, energetic young guy,
he was open and engaging, and ended up helping us find our way through the
maze of the Frankfurt airport. We had a drink together and got to know him a bit.
He runs, among other things, a great website called “Surviving Europe.”
He and his wife answer questions for travelers, suggest places to go, things to do,
and in general make the wary traveler feel as if someone there has his back.
Erin pointed out some special bottles of Jameson’s that we can’t get in the
States. I bought one called Energy and almost finished it in the three weeks we
were there. Erin helped our vacation get started on a very positive note, and
we’re sure we’ll see him again!
We hired a independent car company to drive us from Vienna to Rovinj, as
we discovered it would cost the same amount to rent a car and pay the
autostrasse tolls, plus the potential hassle of crossing two borders. Our driver
turned out to be a young man named Matic (pronounced “Mateese”) He spoke
3 languages besides his good English and was attending college while driving.
He was a great driver… careful, and he entertained us with good conversation
and a knowledge of the route we were traveling. Our trip took us through
Slovenia, a country I hadn’t even heard of. Matic gave us a brief history of how
Yugoslavia split into seven different countries, of which Slovenia, his home
country, was one. With our blessing, he took us on a side trip to the capital
city of Ljubljana, where we walked around the city square and had a great
lunch at a tiny little hole in the wall. Excellent wine, crazy but tasty sandwich!
Our first night in Rovinj, Croatia, we’d had a long day, were dog-tired, needed
an easy dinner, and bed. Across the narrow street from our room was a
restaurant, right on the water, called “Stella di Mare.” We flopped at an empty
table, and before we could order a drink, a man (who turned out to be the owner)
grabbed us by the arm, saying, “Come with me, I have just the table for you.”
He led us across the outdoor restaurant to a table right on the water, overlooking
the harbor. “There, that’s much better. Now what can we get for you?”
We ate there twice more, and each time became more familiar with the owner,
whose name is Gaffy. He fell in love with B and gave us special treats each time.
One evening he chose our dinner for us, a big fresh fish, which he prepared right
at our table. He gave us complimentary brandies, and sat with us for nearly
an hour, telling about his father, how he was inspired to build this restaurant,
and how it had to be rebuilt after a huge storm and flooding just five years
earlier. He showed us pictures of the flood, of his ruined restaurant, of the
rebuild and of his family. Gaffy made our stay in Rovinj one we could never
Another memorable meeting in Rovinj was Teo, the owner of Koza. it’s a
tiny shop on a back street of the old town of Rovinj that sells leather bags,
purses and wallets. He introduced himself to B, showed her where everything
was, then came outside and offered me a cup of wine… at 11 in the morning.
I accepted. He pulled up another chair and we sat out in the street and sipped
wine while B shopped for a purse for her friend Kay.
The actual experience of a new place and the people there almost always
surprises and delights us. Sure, overseas travel of any kind broadens our
perception of life on our planet, and usually deepens our sense of who
we are and how we live.
The funny thing about it is, two different people can arrive in the same
European city on the same day and have two completely different
experiences of it. Hmm. If that’s the case, could it be that travel is actually
an interactive activity? And if that’s the case, it would mean that the more
we put into it, the more we’d get out of it.
In the past I have wanted to simply get to a new place, get a bag of
popcorn and watch the circus… no complications. I soon learned that a
good trip becomes a great one when I “get into” wherever we are. It’s
like magic… and Betty has known this for years… she inspires me to
keep doing it when I don’t feel like it. She gets off the beaten tourist
paths, she talks to people who, at first, look like they don’t want to talk
to strangers. Yet suddenly we’re all having a glass of wine together and
they’re telling us where their cousin has a nice shop across town where
he sells great leather purses… cheap!
So we go the extra mile, and even when I won’t, B does. She’s amazing.
One example: Today she suggested we go out into the vineyards here
at Villa Buonasera and take some pictures, as they’ve been picking the
grapes all week, while the weather’s good and the grapes are ready.
She went up there yesterday and helped them pick for awhile, and got
a few good pictures. So today she coaxed me into climbing up the hill
with her, to where the crew was picking, and get some video of the
process. Oh, all right… and up we went. A hard, steep climb, we finally
got up there, sweaty and out of breath. But wow… was it worth it!
We saw (and videoed) them clipping the grape-filled stems from the vine and
throwing them into a plastic bucket. B found that it took about 15 minutes
to clip all the grapes from the vines in one row. We got to eat some of the
grapes, right off the vine… small, sweet, bursting with flavor. Then we walked
down the hill to the processing plant, or winery, to video them off-loading
the baskets of grapes into a machine that removes the stems and sends
the grapes up a hose into a giant container… where the fermenting process
begins. We ate more grapes and the owner showed us how the machine
works, and gave us a short explanation as to the continuing process of
turning the grapes into a liquid, then into wine. It was fascinating.
Once again it was the people… the owners of Villa Buonasera, Barbara
and her son Christian, shown here with his son, Lorenzo, who made it so
memorable. They are a most gracious and hard-working family, who took
time to teach us some of the intricacies of the wine-making process, and
shared the experience of it with us. We absolutely love them!
Are we tired tonight? Oh yeah… beat is a good word. The whole three
weeks has pretty much worn us down. Traveling in a foreign country isn’t
easy. We’ve used car, subway, taxi and tour bus…. each which can provide
its own unique set of complications. But what a time…! Am sitting here
drinking a fine glass of Buonasera’s Chianti Classico. It’s delicious,
and I know exactly where it came from and how it came to be in this glass…
because we picked some grapes and ate some today! Thank you B, for
kicking my sorry butt up that hill to be able to tell this story.
So yes, almost everything hurts or is sore, or is refusing to move. The
wine helps, for sure, but that bed over there is the ultimate answer… for
now, at least. But I like best the way my friend Steve Davis put it when he
wrote about travel in Italy… “Exhausted from the rigors of fighting your way
through Europe, a little skinned up, a little homesick, but carried away on a
cloud of wine, cheese, pasta, gelato, and terra cotta rooftops.”