Aerial view of Lovran
As I’ve mentioned, everything we wanted to visit during our brief stop in Lovran was almost within arm’s reach of the Park Hotel: the seafood restaurants Najade and Kvarner Grill, the lungomare or promenade along the seafront, and the Stari Grad, or Old Town, which was right next door, its arched entrance only a few yards away. We had already dined at the Najade, and planned to do so again tonight — and, in the meantime, eat lunch at the Kvarner Grill.

Breakfast at the Park was good: a selection of eggs, bacon, cereals, dried and fresh fruits, and pastry. There was an Italian coffee machine similar to the one at the Slon, and it, too, was willing to produce hot chocolate, so I continued my new habit of mixing a mocha cup to go with breakfast. Dorothea, attempting to draw a glass of cold water, was fooled by the Italian-labeled spigot. Perhaps the most practical reward for studying Latin is knowing in advance that caldo means ‘hot,’ not ‘cold.’

Stairways and lamps, railings and ramps
It was well after breakfast, about 11:00, when we crossed the street to the promenade, or šetalište in Croatian, although guidebooks and tourist websites generally use the Italian lungomare, which means more specifically a seaside promenade. The paved walkway, whose curves, ramps, and stairs cling to the ins and outs of the jagged shoreline, was begun in 1888 and finished in 1911, much of that time taken up in protacted real estate negotiations. When finished, the lungomare ran northeast from where we were in Lovran all the way past Opatija to Volosko (then a separate fishing village, but now a part of the larger town) — 12 kilometers, or about 7½ miles of promenade, with copious points of access to villas on the land side and bathing places on the sea side, provided with benches and sheltered nooks, and lit for the benefit of evening strollers with globular lamps in the latest Viennese Secession style (more familiar to us as Art Nouveau). They named it for Franz Joseph, everyone’s favorite Habsburg Emperor at the time. (Perhaps the local decision to call the busy main street dedicated to Marshal Tito a šetalište rather than a cesta or ulice reflects a feeling on the part of the town fathers that the ruler of socialist Yugoslavia deserved a promenade as much as any old Austrian Emperor, but the result is an egregious misnomer.)

Pebble beach and bottom; concrete sunbathing surfaces
The southwest end of the lungomare was near the Kvarner Grill, right in front of us, so we turned left toward Opatija. At the point where we started, the shore is 15 or 20 feet above the water, with steep walls of natural rock in many places. Elsewhere the gaps are walled with stone blocks, which are also used to support the lungomare about a half or a third of the way from the top. At intervals we passed gates or ramps that led up toward the main street or to buildings between it and the shore, and, on the other side, descending steps that gave swimmers access to the water. Once down there, the swimmers usually launch themselves from rocks; there are a few patches of pebbly beach (“shingle,” as the English call it), but sand is absent.

We saw only a few people strolling, and a few others swimming or sunning themselves on rocky promontories where acceptably smooth surfaces had been made by pouring concrete over the jagged surface. Out over the calm water of the Kvarner Gulf, the horizon was hazy, especially toward the sun. But the air was clear, and though hot not humid. I was reminded of a good day at Cape Cod in July. Boat traffic was as sparse as human traffic seemed to be. The quiet was disturbed only once, when a tiny excursion boat went by, pretty far out, blasting tinny pop music through a speaker system that must have been strained by the effort. We didn’t envy the passengers, if there were any.

Left to right: Dorothea, lungomare, public swimming place, orthopedic hospital
We went on until we reached Lovran’s public bathing area, a large expanse of concrete that the official tourist map calls a kupalište (which I believe translates as ‘swimming place’ — at least it contains the word for ’swim’) rather than a plaže or ‘beach.’ I hoped to find a men’s room there, but the only building was closed, so we made an excursion up to Maršala Tita, where I fulfilled my mission, and back down to the kupalište. A very large white building looked down on it from the hillside above. We thought this was a hotel, but careful study of the map has revealed that it is in fact a hospital, the home of a famous orthopedic clinic. Whether the building began life as the mother of all millionaires’ villas, I can’t say, but I wouldn’t be tremendously surprised.

When we got back to the lungomare, we were ready to turn around and head back. We had had no intention of walking all the way to Opatija; in fact, we had gone less than a mile before we turned back and retraced our steps. The day was clear and hot, and it was pleasant to be out near the water, but we were walking more for pleasure than for exercise, and we spent plenty of time taking pictures. Our excursion lasted about an hour and three quarters, including the detour in quest of a public convenience.

The many twists and turns in the walkway kept the view changing, and the walk back was as great a pleasure as the walk out. We were back at the Kvarner Grill at about 1:00, so we went in to have lunch.

Lungomare from our table in the Kvarner Grill
There weren’t many lunchers in the restaurant, so (like everyone else) we were able to get a waterside table. From ours we could see the stretch of coast where we’d been walking. I ordered a risotto made with cuttlefish ink, a dish popular in Italy as well as Croatia. I expected it to be dark, but was surprised to find it as black as if the chef had used printer’s ink rather than the natural product of a local cephalopod. I don’t remember what else was in the risotto, though I assume that other parts of the same critter were involved. I do remember that I liked the dish’s briny taste.

Cuttlefish disporting itself
Cuttlefish, Wikipedia tells me, are members of the cephalopod family, whose name indicates (fairly enough, I suppose) that the same body part serves as both head and foot. The family also includes the squid and the octopus, although the cuttlefish is distinct from both. All family members produce ink as a defense mechanism, and although I didn’t find any testimony that cuttlefish ink is superior in culinary quality, it has been celebrated in human tradition for reasons having nothing to do with food. Ink was invented in the ancient world (which in the West was centered on the Mediterranean), and in that region the Greek word for ‘cuttlefish’ became attached to the ink. In modern times this word, sepia, is applied to the brown color that cuttlefish ink acquires after drying. (Not in my risotto, mind you, there was nothing either dry or brown about that. It was black!) I also learned that the cuttlefish has three hearts, highly developed (though very nonhuman) eyes, and may be the most intelligent of invertebrates. The latter hardly supports a claim to genius, but it ought to count for something.

Dorothea, meanwhile, was having tomato salad, mushrooms sauteed with garlic, and French fries, accompanied by Jamnice sparkling water. I drank a bottle of Ožujsko lager, which seemed to be as clearly the market leader in Croatia as Union is in Slovenia. I liked it equally well.

View from somewhere near the end of the lungomare
Leaving the restaurant, we wandered around to its other side, where we found more lungomare-style lamps on the quayside and on a long stone breakwater that extended from it. It was hard to tell exactly where the lungomare ended, but it was clearly somewhere in this neighborhood.

The restaurant, quay, and breakwater shared their tiny peninsula with a few other buildings and a park, all on the miniature side. One of the buildings held a tourist office and another a gelateria, where sladoled and other goodies were on sale. I got a couple of scoops of sladoled — one hazelnut and one cappuccino, and Dorothea went for a slice of Sachertorte made with apricot jam. At about 2:30 we were back in the hotel, resting through the heat of the day. As Dorothea said in her notes (demonstrating the steely resolve of a true American), “the air conditioning was almost too cold, but it was welcome.”

Entrance to the Old Town (seen from across the main street)
We bestirred ourselves at about 4:30 to set off to the Old Town, or Stari Grad. The entrance nearest to us was just across the side street next to the hotel, where a row of stores forms one of the Old Town’s outside walls; you enter through an arched passage in one of them. The tiny community also has a few other entrances around its oval perimeter, but no motor traffic enters; most of the streets are too narrow — some more so than city sidewalks.

The passages Old Towners use to get around between their houses don’t have names; every house within Stari Grad has only a number: “Stari Grad 14,” “Stari Grad 103,” and so on. If their mail is delivered, it must require a long-term member of the community to do the job.

Trg Sv. Jurja (or Plaza di San Giorgio)
We followed the passage we entered past a couple of stores and into a small plaza, no wider or longer than many a suburban driveway. St. George’s Church was at the end of one long side, facing a building on the opposite side no more than 15 feet away. At the other end, which was lower, a small restaurant had a single row of tables under an awning, and a cafe on one side crowded a few tiny tables under a single umbrella, ten feet across, that advertised Heineken Beer. A couple of miniature shops completed the commercial scene, one selling “Suvenirs” and another jewelry. The jewelry shop was diagonally across from the church and the building may once have been parish property; over its door a naive relief showed St. George impaling a dragon while the Queen of Heaven knelt prayerfully on an overlooking cloud.

Other buildings on the plaza were apparently residential. One of these had an arched doorway whose keystone was inscribed “1722;” the semicircular space inside the arch was filled with a Turk’s head in relief, his eyebrows, mustache, and beard sprouting into decorative symmetrical curlicues that filled the space. Whether the relief was as old as the arch I can’t say, but it certainly wasn’t radically modern.

Houses, flowers, laundry, geraniums, grafitti
We wandered for an hour or more up and down the narrow passageways that led in and out of St. George’s square. The Old Town is full of vertical lines, and both of us took most of our pictures in portrait format, often framed by the walls on either side of a passage. Some houses sported fresh paint jobs; others showed deteriorating surfaces, but everything was clean and tidy. In a country where grafitti sometimes seem to run out of control, not a single wall was defaced, although small grafitti sometimes appeared on boxes (whether these held mail or electric or water meters, we don’t know) attached to the side of houses.

In former centuries, when seaborne raids were a constant worry for coastal communities, everyone built inside the walls for safety’s sake, and as the community grew, all available space was filled. As your family continued to multiply, you couldn’t build out, and there were constraints, based on architectural tradition and available building materials, on how far you could build up. The people in old Lovran had to use space very frugally.

But they’re natives of the Mediterranean world, and growing things is in their blood. We saw a few trees in the Old Town, but none were very big, and there was no room for more. On the other hand, flowers were everywhere, sometimes in roof gardens, often in pots on balconies or doorsteps. It seemed that every householder had found some way to cultivate a few blossoms, a little greenery, in a place where virtually every square meter of ground was either built on or paved. The resulting combination of old stones, painted walls, and bright flowers (or occasionally bright laundry, hung out a window) kept our shutters snapping. (OK, I know that isn’t mechanically accurate in the case of digital photography. Sue me.) You can see how enchanted we were in today’s supersized photo gallery.

Geraniums upstairs
Speaking of “natives of the Mediterranean world,” it’s reasonable to wonder whether the people of Lovran, especially those who live in this tiny, rooted enclave, are Croatian or Italian. I don’t know, but I’d guess the most likely answer would be “both.” Places like Lovran were first settled by Italians, and ruled by Venice or, later, by language-tolerant Habsburgs. Some of Istria’s constantly increasing Croat population probably moved into Italian towns and learned to speak that language. There were no religious obstacles to intermarriage between two Catholic communities. Suddenly, after World War II, Istria found itself for the first time part of a Slavic nation, where Italian was very clearly a minority language. Some people couldn’t accept this and moved to Italy, but the rest presumably learned to speak Croatian if they didn’t already know how. (An exception might be those cranky senior citizens too set in their ways to change and too ornery to move — every community has some.) Intermarriage probably increased during the decades after 1945. I’d be willing to bet that the two ethnicities are pretty well mixed in a place like Lovran, and a walk around the Old Town is enough to show anyone that its Italian heritage, or perhaps I should say its Italian-flavored Mediterranean heritage, is still alive.

It was late afternoon during our visit, and most people probably weren’t home from work yet. We saw a couple of women carrying groceries home, and a man pouring water on the potted garden outside his door. Just as we were about to leave, we saw two lovely little girls, perhaps three or four years old, who watched shyly from their doorstep as we came closer, taking pictures all the way. I was pretty near them when I took my last one, and thought it might be nice to show them the result. So I put the picture on the camera’s view screen, walked up, and held it out for them to see. So far, so good. But I wanted to say something nice, and suddenly woke up to the fact that I was incapable of uttering a word in any language they could understand. My attempt to overcome this deficiency was anything but inspired: not to put a too fine a point on it, I giggled like a drooling idiot. If any parent had been within hearing, I would probably have been fitted for a straitjacket within minutes. But fortunately I was at liberty to retire in well-earned confusion.

We left the Old Town shortly afterwards. It was too early for dinner, so we read in our room for a couple of hours, and then walked across to Najade again. There we shared an antipasto starter that included pršut, cheese, octopus, pepperoncini, and gherkins. For the main course, I ordered the dish singled out in the Rough Guide’s description of Najade as “excellent”: six small squid stuffed with pršut and cheese. I had had a similar dish at Oštarija Peglez’n in Bled, and it was very good, but this version was unbeatable. Dorothea ordered scallops, which she has always loved, and she loved these as well, although, in addition to the “swimming muscle” that is the only part of a scallop served in American restaurants, these scallops also had what she calls “a stomach-like bit.” One taste was enough to tell her that this bit would never make it onto her hit parade, so she concentrated on the part she liked, and was well satisfied. We also shared a dish of French fries and a mixed salad, ¾ liter of house white wine, and a bottle of Jamnice. For dessert, I renewed my acquaintance of the night before with the restaurant’s delightful sour-cherry strudel, and Dorothea had another of her favorite desserts: crème caramel.

After our second leisurely meal at this wonderful restaurant, we got back to the hotel at quarter past ten, where we made arrangements at the desk to have a taxi pick us up the next morning at 10:45 and start us on our way to Plitvitce.