It’s November, the end of the year. Motorcycle season is almost over, but still we hope for another beautiful day to just ride a little bit. However, the inability to travel by bikes does not prevent us from traveling in general. Finally, I managed to plan everything with a friend from Istria.
Umag has marked my life by my very name, which I got from my friend, and thus we became the big and little Neven. How it came to this and how the two boys, living a few hundred kilometres away, got the same name is another story, the story of our parents and stories before we were even born. My first trip to Umag I remember was during the Homeland war. I was a kid, unaware of what’s going on, travelling to Umag with my mom. I remember entering the tavern of Neven’s mother, who welcomed us with the words “I wondered when you would come” and Maneštra. I remember many more details, the situation and the adventures of two Nevens. The time spent in Umag produced what is for me more than friendship. All these details are important and as I said, they contributed to the making of an unbreakable friendship without which there would be no this article nor this journey.
As it has already been written, after many years of planning, Neven and I finally managed to decide to see each other. We’ve always been prevented by work and other things, so it all went down to a texts, a birthday card or a quick call. Now we decided to go and this will be the first time in 13 years to see Neven. Last time we saw each other was in the summer of 2005, when I was competing in a MTB race in Pazin.
I eagerly await to finish work and depart for Umag. I closed the firm a few minutes early, and rushed home. Silvija picked me up right after work, so I just had a quick lunch and we could go. Passing through the tunnel of St. Marko, I called Neven to tell him that we are on our way. Without any plans for the next days we are driving to Umag, and I am telling Silvija many stories of Neven and Neven. By nightfall, we arrive at the Buščina Tavern. Over the years a lot has changed, but still, perhaps for subjective reasons, everything seemed the same and unchanged. We entered the tavern and again, like once were greeted by Neven’s mother, and in me it started a total rush of memories, emotions and it felt like it was the 90s again, when I arrived with my mom at that same tavern. Neven is still not here, but even before I asked the question I got an answer – Neven wented to prepare the house for us, we can start dinner, and he will come. We sat at a table in a tavern not knowing what awaits us. The kind young waiter asked what we wanted to drink and we decided for the home-made Istrian craft beer San Servolo. Silvija and I noticed the beer in the shops in Karlovac, but we thought it was foreign. Soon we got an appetizer-an interesting brusket with fresh creamy cheese and red cabbage. We looked at each other and smiled, like two losers, we said, “How do you eat it?!” We ended up eating with fingers laughing quietly. The next dish was a pumpkin soup. We really enjoyed the phenomenal soup, still laughing at the brusket situation. We were unaware there was a real food bombing coming our way. After the soup we got pasta with shrimps and truffles and the waiter explained that at the moment there was an event called ” The truffle days”. Thinking that it was over and already quite full, we were surprised when we got sole fish and potatoes as a main course. The young waiter offered to clean fish and frankly, we were relieved. While he was very skillly cleaning the fish, he gave us some information about that type of fish. I must admit, I’m sorry I didn’t ask what his name was, so that I could commend him for his exceptional kindness and professionalism. Convinced that we will not be able to eat it all, we had the first bite of fish and at that very moment, we almost forgot how full we were. Neven joined us soon, and then we got the dessert cream with fig jam. We talked to Neven and just looked at a dessert that looked delicious, but we were so full that it had to wait. Soon, Neven’s mom joined us, so the evening passes by talking about the dessert, beer, food and memories of past times. We were already a little tired, so Neven showed us our accommodation. We were staying in one of the houses they rent- Casa Buščina. He briefly showed and presented a house that is decorated in a traditional Istrian style. He then left us to enjoy the open fireplace in which the fire was cracking, offered champagne and a invited us to meet at his place for breakfast in the morning. We enjoyed this beautiful house, which is located near Umag, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and forests, and truly offers an ideal holiday in a true Istrian style.
We depart from Matelići towards Umag. I was pretty excited to meet Neven’s kids. During breakfastwe talked about many things, including the plans for the day. With Neven’s suggestion to go to Trieste, we left to seize the day. We still decided to leave Trieste for some other trip, so we focused on Istria. We decided to go to Poreč and enjoyed a pleasant ride with a sightseeing tour towards Karigador, then by the sea, over the river Mirna, we drove towards Poreč. It really was a trip and a ride without any plan and program. We walked, enjoyed and saw the old town. We wanted to visit the Euphrasius Basilica, but without success. The tourist season ended and it was closed, but we didn’t bother too much, and walked until nightfall, when we slowly headed back to Umag, with the intention of visiting the old town and then having dinner at the tavern. In the tavern, Neven welcomes us as a waiter, we sat near the fireplace and athe dinner started. Again we got a brusket, then mashed pumpkin with poked egg, olive oil and truffles – we absolutely loved that. Next on the menu were gnocchi with Boškarin. Boškarin or the Istrian ox is an indigenous species of cattle and a famous Istrian delicacy. In our region, there is a common opinion and prejudice that beef is a tough meat that is mostly used for good soup, but this boškarin took down all prejudices. The meat is delicious and so soft that the knife is not even needed. The next specialty is Boškarin, but in the form of steaks with mashed potatoes, a little rice and beetroot, of course with the addition of truffles. Once again, all myths, prejudices and opinions about beef fell into the water. With unavoidable home-made beer the dessert followed and we begin to struggle. For dessert we got a phenomenal dense ice cream with a little olive oil – an incredibly tasty blend. And so comes the time to go to accommodation. We wished Neven a good night and went to bed because in the morning we departure to Karlovac.
We are slowly packing and departing for Karlovac. We wanted to avoid the highway and decided to visit Grožnjan and at least quickly see the corridor Parenzana, which we definitely decided to visit by bicycles next year. Parenzana is a narrow-gauge stripe linking Poreč and Trieste and it was in operation from 1902 to 1935. The Parenzana corridor itself has been preserved even today and is largely renovated into cycling and hiking trails. This is where the international MTB Marathon is held. In Grožnjan we had the first morning coffee with a view of the the surrounding hills, and we continued walking around the town. Grožnjan is a small town famous for its art, so they call it the City of artists. Narrow streets give the impression that the time has stopped. We decided to move on and continue towards Livade, where the Zigante truffle days were held. Livade is a small place that flourished thanks to Parenzana. It was a place through which wine was transported by Parenzana. Nowadays, Livade is known as the “the Truffle centre of the World”. We were walking in the fair, sightseeing, informing and buying traditional cheeses, Istrian Salamis and products, provided that it is domestic and traditional. We moved on and without much thinking we decided to avoid the Učka tunnel. We continued climbing the Učka mountain on a winding road to the Učka restaurant. There we took a short rest and had coffee. Almost immediately we made the decision to go hiking here. The schedule for the coming year is filling up very quickly. In the meantime we leared from friends that there was a car race on Grobnik. Next destination-Automotodrom Grobnik. We descent from Učka to Veprina and Matulji and headed for Grobnik. For those who do not know, Grobnik is a race track where various car and motorcycle races have been held since 1978. In particular, we must emphasize the fact that the world-famous and most popular moto race, Moto GP, used to be held here. We were touring Grobnik and took photos of interesting cars (mostly oldtimers) and with friends we waited for the race in which our friend participaced. We watched the race that was very interesting because our friend hit the protective tyres placed on the track. We shot all that with a cell phone, and with the rest of the crew we ran to the pits to see the damage to the car. Soon, we packed and continued back to Karlovac. We came home tired, but satisfied. We spent a wonderful weekend in Umag, and for the whole experience we can thank Neven, just like his mom and the rest of the family. This way we thank them for a warm welcome to the tavern Buščina and the house of the same name, which we really enjoyed.