When In Rome

Sorry for the Cliché blog title

Sorry for the Cliché blog title, I had to…

So I literally almost cried about 5 minutes into arriving in Rome… and when I mean  almost cried, I curled up into a little ball, closed my eyes and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack…Driving in Rome will do that to you (don’t worry, I was in the passenger seat).  Luckily this was where we were dropping the car off.

Other than the insane driving, I loved Rome.  I had those happy feelings you get when you think to yourself, yup I would live here.  How can you not though, Rome is STUNNING!

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Where we stayed:

We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in the Rione Monti area.  It was extremely central so we really burned off all the pasta calories while walking to most of our destinations. However, we did have to take a couple of cabs (and almost got scammed by a taxi driver).  See below for what happened and how you can avoid getting ripped off.

Check out our Airbnb HERE.

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What we did:

  1. We probably did the most touristy thing we could possibly do and bought tickets for the Hop on Hop Off bus. Honestly, this is probably the best way to get a visual of all the popular places in the city.  We filled a water bottle with white wine and enjoyed the views (and the breeze).  The Hop on Hop off bus was around €25,00 per person and so unbelievably worth it.
  2. There are a couple MUST sees in Rome. The Pantheon is one of them.  It is also free to enter, but just make sure you don’t try and bring in a gelato like we did.

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  3. The Trevi Fountain is also must see and is extremely packed.  After seeing everyone’s beautiful photos which miraculously all look like they’re the only ones there, I was pretty shocked at the massive crowds (how naive of me).  If you want to get a great photo I suggest you go at the crack of dawn.Italy 2017-2330
  4. The Coliseum is obviously a must see as it is the biggest well-preserved coliseum in the world, expect there to be huge crowds as well.
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  5. Climb the Spanish steps for views of Rome. We had a heat wave in Italy when we were there and yes, it gets a little sweaty.Italy 2017-2358
  6. We drove, walked and bused by Altare della Patria; a massive marble monument. Each time we passed by we were awestruck.  You can’t miss it, it’s actually massive.  Apparently you can take the elevator to the top of it for 7 Euro, but don’t quote me, I saw this on another blog from 2014.Italy 2017-2374
  7. The Giardino Degli Aranci, or commonly know as the Garden of Oranges was perfection.   There were no oranges on the trees but the premise is so well-groomed and spectacular, it didn’t matter. Someone was getting their wedding photos done here and I was super jealous. We walked to the peak of the garden which overlooks the city and watched the sunset.
  8. If you are looking to see something way less touristy but still quite impressive, head over to the stunning Biblioteca Angelica.  It is an extremely old and beautifully charming library.  In fact, it is one of Rome’s first public libraries.  Biblioteca Angelica is still a locals library so you have to be extremely quiet.  You also wont be able to read any of the books if you aren’t fluent in Italian.  The librarian is quite aggressive and allows only one picture (I’m such a rebel, I took 2).  Go see it though, it is absolutely spectacular.

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    Okay shoot me.  Due to time constraints, we decided to skip the Vatican and put it on our list for next time.

Where We Ate/Drank

Lunch:

$ If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or some great take-away food, head over to Pasta Chef.  It’s located only a short walk from the Colosseum and has a drool worthy menu.  They serve authentic, fresh pasta which is made daily.  The plates and cutlery are biodegradable so your meal is basically guilt free!  We decided on the risotto and the pesto pasta.  It was quick, affordable and delicious!

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Dinner:

$$ We were on the brink of getting very sick of wine so for dinner we decided to get some artisan beer and pizza at one of the hottest spots in Rome, Bir + Fud.  The place itself is buzzing with modern flare and feels very contemporary and hip.  We got there at 7:30 and were able to be seated right away, however, at 8:00 p.m. the place was packed.  If you plan on eating here after 7:30, definitely make a reservation. We shared a pizza and the buffalo mozzarella and ham calzone and ended up having a fork battle over the calzone.  It was cheesy, yummy perfection.  The beer was also spectacular and they have a massive variety to choose from.

$$$  Trattoria Monti is located a little bit away from the center of Rome but VERY worth the small trek.  Clearly this spot is a local gem as every seat was full.  Luckily for us we had made a reservation beforehand.   Trattoria Monti is a little more upper class, so expect a pricier meal.  Despite this, IT IS WORTH IT.  Plus, it has a very welcoming and cozy atmosphere, you may as well be eating at Nonas house.  We settled on an appetizer, the tortello stuffed with ricotta, egg yolk and topped with butter sage sauce and a meaty pasta dish which I forgot the name.  Each meal was incredible and exploding with flavor.  You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Coffee/drinks:

We grabbed a coffee and people watched in big brown chairs at Café Angelina.  We both had an Iced Coffee to cool down and this was the perfect spot to rest the legs.

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$$$$ We headed on over to Jerry Thomas, which is a 1930’s inspired speakeasy bar known for their killer cocktails.  We knocked on huge dark door which was located in a very dark ally and waited outside.  A man came to the door and asked for a password… which we didn’t have.  Luckily when we smiled apologetically he told us it was no problem, we would just have to wait an hour. FYI if you go, you are supposed to find the daily password on their Facebook page.  Soon after, a small family knocked on the door and gave the man the password.  The door man turned them away due to capacity reasons (the bar only holds up to 40 people), then promptly led us into the bar.

The place itself was very charming with it’s old world glamour and dark mystic vibes.  Leon and I sat at the bar and ordered two drinks; I had a Gin concoction and he ordered the Buffalo whiskey sour.  My drink was good, but his literally knocked my socks off.   I made us stay longer so I could have one of my own.  If you can, sit at the bar when you go.  Watching the mixologists is quite fascinating.

I only have one complaint, and please don’t let this deter you from going whatsoever.  The people who were standing behind us (basically touching us it was so packed) decided to light up not only a cigarette, but a cigar too!  There are no windows in this tiny bar and the big door was closed tightly.  So here we are sitting and having the most amazing (and expensive) drinks ever, and these people are smoking on us.  Luckily after about 15 minutes they got seated and left. But still – circulated air.

Tips on Taxi’s

Luckily our Airbnb was pretty central which cut down on the amount of cabs we had to take.   Out of 3 cabs I took, 1 tried to rip us off.  Leon and I were taking a cab to a Speakeasy bar one night after 10pm, the surcharge of €5,80 was already added at the beginning. The cab ride came to 13 Euro, Leon handed him a €20  and the man gave us back €2.  I told him he didn’t give us enough change and he said that there was an additional surcharge anytime after 10 p.m.  I told him the surcharge would have been added to the meter at the beginning of the trip and he frantically pointed to various maps in his cab that said nothing about a further surcharge.  After fighting with him for 2 minutes he finally gave us back our correct change.  So if you’re in Rome, watch out for these kinds of things, like being charged for a surcharge on top of a surcharge.

Here are a couple of ways to make sure you’re not spending more money on cabs than you need to:

  1. Know the surcharges:
  2. Watch out for fixed taxi prices
     If someone wants to give you a fixed price within the city – chances are you are getting ripped off.  Make sure they turn the meter on, if they don’t, get out!
  3. Check and say the amount of money you give to the cab driver
    instead of just giving the cab driver a bill, say “here is X amount of Euro”.  I’ve read taxi scams where cab drivers will switch bills and then say you haven’t given them enough money.
  4. Try to give them exact change.
    Cab drivers might pull the “I have no change” card to try and swindle a couple extra dollars from you.
  5. Grab a cab from an official taxi pickup
    This will lessen the chance of you getting picked up by an unregistered (and possibly shady) taxi cab.  Registered cabs are white and have their licence number on the side!!

Anyway, Rome was an amazing surprise.  I expected it to be a dirty city with way too many tourists but it turned out to be my favorite stop this trip.

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Florence: The City of Careless Exploration

Ahhh Florence, the city of careless exploration. Wandering around Florence, or shall I say Firenze, is the best way to experience the rich culture this beautiful city has to offer.

Wandering around Florence (or shall I say Firenze) aimlessly is the best way to experience the rich culture this beautiful city has to offer.  You’ll discover something impressive around every corner; whether it be mouthwatering menus, romantic alleyways, intricate sculptures or carousels smack dab in the center of a plaza.

Where we stayed:

Only stopping once in Verona to stretch our legs, we drove 6 hours from Zadar, Croatia to Florence, Italy.  We arrived at our Airbnb around 8 p.m. and were happily surprised that it was located in the very central Piazza Santa Croce, walking distance from basically everything.  We could see Basilica di Santa Croce from our room! We felt that choosing an Airbnb over a hotel gave us an authentic local experience.

Check out our Airbnb here.

Florence 2017-2071.jpgThis was 10 steps from our front door!

What we did:

Speaking of plazas, Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio are both must sees.  Even if you’re not planning on going to these plazas, you’ll eventually end wandering through anyway.  Piazza della Signoria was my favorite because of the stunning open-air sculpture exhibit.

I love a good panoramic view: when I find myself in a new city I’m always in search for the best location to marvel at a city skyline from above.  So if heights don’t make you nauseous and you are in moderately good shape, make your way to the top if Giotto’s Campanile. It will certainty make a memorable experience. But be prepared to sweat a bit though. The 463 steps to the top definitely gets the heart pumping.   There are floors which you can take breaks on along the way, but beware, the walkways are ridiculously small.  Once you get to the top of the tower you get the most beautiful, panoramic view of Florence.

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We decided to go to the Boboli Gardens an hour before closing.  The lady at the front desk was applaud we waited so late in the day to go; she almost convinced us to skip it!  Luckily a local overheard our conversation and assured us that we had enough time. She told us to start from the top of the gardens and make our way down as the gardens at the top are the most beautiful.  So we bought tickets, started from the top and took our time. We even had enough time for glass of wine and a chat with another traveling couple at the restaurant overlooking the gardens.  It was perfect because we were able to admire the views with almost no people around.   The Boboli Gardens are absolutely magical, but you don’t need longer than an two hours to admire the scenery (they kicked us out an hour after closing).  I STRONGLY recommend going here.

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Where we ate:

As you can imagine, driving for 6 hours from Zadar worked us up an appetite.  We stumbled upon a romantic outdoor patio restaurant in the semi-hidden Plazza Della Passera called 4 Leoni.  They serve artisan food, fresh pasta and delicious wine.  We had to wait for a table because the restaurant was jam packed but it was well worth it.  We shared a mouth- watering Ravioli and a bottle of their house wine, which was surprisingly really tasty.  We weren’t expecting much as we didn’t plan this meal but WOW WAS IT GOOD.

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You have to have at least one white tablecloth, candle lit dinner in Florence.   Ristorante Sant’ Ambrogio  is located in a quiet neighbourhood 7 minutes away from the Il Duomo area and was perfect for this kind of romantic meal.  This restaurant was elegant yet unpretentious and had a great ambiance.  We shared a beef tartare, risotto, tagliatelle pasta, and of course, a bottle of red wine.  It was a true Italian dining experience.

As you walk around Florence, you will eventually run into a street with line-ups down two adjacent sidewalks.  Yup, both line-ups are for sandwiches.  I thought this was hilarious until Leon insisted we try one. So, we lined up for the infamous All’antico Vinaio for half an hour.  It was actually a nice break from walking.  The people watching was pretty good too.  We decided on getting two sandwiches, the L’Inferno and the La Schiacciata Del Boss.  The L’Inferno was hands down the best.

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Located inside Piazza della Repubblica (this is the plaza with the carousel) you will find a very posh coffee shop/ bakery called Caffé Gilli.   We stood at the bar to watch the Italians work their magic behind the espresso machine. There is a 5€ price difference if you sit on the patio versus stand at the bar.  In general we found that throughout Croatia and Italy, many places charge you a “cover charge” for sitting and eating at their establishment. Usually it’s 1 – 2€.

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If you’re looking for a trendy coffee shop, head over to Ditta Artigianale.  It’s very modern despite the surrounding rustic and historic landscape.  This coffee shop was bustling the entire time we spent trying to figuring out our route from Florence to Rome.

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OH MY GOSH THE GELATO IN FLORENCE WAS AMAZING.  Yes I had two a day (for only 1 or 2 Euros each, so why the heck not?!).

A very noteworthy gelato spot was La Carraia, which is located by the river.  There was a little lineup but it went quickly. We had a scoop of the dark chocolate and the strawberry gelato.  They were unbelievably flavorful.  They have tons of flavors to choose from so you might have to go back a couple times.

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Careful – they melt quick 😉

Zadar, Zrče Beach and Plitvice Lakes

A couple days of a lot of ocean and the most beautiful Lakes I have ever seen.

This trek of the journey was eventful, to say the least.

Where we stayed

We stayed in MY FAVORITE Airbnb of the trip right in the center of the city.  However, It was pretty loud in the room at night (until about 1am) because of an open-air bar right outside the windows.  Luckily we didn’t get home much sooner than 1 a.m each night!

Parking can be tricky, but luckily our Airbnb host showed us where there was free parking right outside the city (about a 7 minute walk away from our Airbnb).  The free parking was at the back of a paid parking lot on a gravel area, so it was a little tricky to find.

this was our Airbnb.

Zadar

Zadar has some “must see’s”.  The infamous Sea Organ is one of them.  You can sit on long broad steps that descend into the ocean, watch the sunset, and listen to the Sea Organ.   The Sea Organ is powered by the waves. The stronger the waves, the louder the Sea Organ is.  I suggest you go half an hour before the sunset to grab a spot.

Another must see in this area is “The Greeting to the Sun”.  It’s an outdoor light-up dance floor which is located steps away from the Sea Organ  (you can kill two birds with one stone).  Please don’t do as the tourists do and lay on the dance floor, that’s gross :).

We had drinks and breakfast smoothies (on different days) at The Garden; an outdoor garden club on top of the city walls.  At night it has a really cool relaxed slightly bourgeois vibe; they have beds in the center of the lounge and white couches surrounding the bar area.  During the day you can sit in a airy white cabana to eat your healthy meal.  They have fresh squeezed juice, fruit smoothies and healthy breakfasts.  It’s really stunning.  I don’t have any photos because I forgot to put the battery in my camera that day (this was the day after Zrče beach, you’ll put the pieces together shortly).

Zadar The Garden Lounge Menu

We went for dinner on the patio of Restaurant Bruschetta for a nibble to eat. We ended up getting a bottle of wine and a couple appetizers and only really liked the truffle bruschetta.  The pizza looked really good though (yes we messed up).  We sat beside a table of around 10 local women and watched them chain-smoke for 2 hours. HOW DO YOU EVEN TASTE YOUR FOOD.  I was almost impressed.

We rented a boat and it may have been the best decision we made our whole trip Well, other than bringing a ton of booze and one small container of warm yogurt.  Yes I did lose an entire toenail that day… luckily this mishap happened after the alcohol consumption..

Boating cost around 170 Euro for the whole day, including the gas.  Leon got his boat license the week before just in case he would need to rent one of the boats. According to the boat rental website they do require a boat license if you’re renting a bigger boat, but, no one asked to see it the day of.

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Views from our boat in Zadar Croatia

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

We actually stopped at the Plitvice Lakes on our way to Zadar from Zagrab and JUST barley got in before they stopped letting people through.  I recommend planning on spending at least 4 hours there (before 7pm) and wear your walking shoes because that’s what you’ll be doing the entire time.  This national park was magical and there is a lot to see.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

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Zrče Beach for the day..

Getting to the island of Pag is really quite beautiful.  As you drive upwards the land gets very brown and desert-like until you eventually start descending back down to lush landscape and civilization.  Zrče is a party beach on the island of Pag with a bunch of massive day clubs where people quite literally get obliterated and make out with each other.  BUT, we were a teeny bit early in the season for all of the inappropriate festivities (the clubs weren’t packed to the brim).  We started off at Euphoria Club which was my favorite; we sat in nice loungers, jumped off of the club deck into the ocean when we got too hot and sipped on (really strong) drinks.  Somewhere between this club and our 3rd? I got tipsy and lost both of our drivers licenses and Leon’s Visa (Okay fine, I was wasted out of my little tree).  To be fair, this one club, Aquarius, was promoting a buy one JUG of mojito, get one JUG free. Anyway, Zrče is really cool and the beaches are beautiful and sandy.  Expect to see some boobs.

Here’s a sober video of myself dancing in a “pool” about 2 feet deep…

If you do go in July or August, please please please be safe. It’s surprisingly easy for things to get out of hand due to the scorching sun and the aggressively strong drinks. Things can get unsafe very quickly If you don’t have a 200 pound boyfriend following you around everywhere.  Also note that the ratio from guys to girls was 5:1 – ladies watch  yo-selves.

Don’t skip Zagreb!

I’ve come across some travel blogs telling people to skip Zagreb which BOGGLES MY MIND.  One person even said it lacked History… sorry, what?

Where we stayed

We stayed at Leon’s parents cute little apartment just outside of the old town and drove into the old city center.  side note –  There are blue and white and yellow lined parking spots on the street, only park within the white lines with the big ‘P’ sign above – yes I know this because we got a parking ticket.

What we Did

We got the heck out of the new city (yes, yes it’s not very pretty – i can agree with that), parked, and then walked to the breathtaking Zagreb Cathedral of Assumption.  Remember, like most churches, if you want to be able to step inside, you must have something to cover your shoulders.  Me being “scantily” clad, I could only poke my head in.

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A 10 minutes walk away from the Cathedral you will find Strossmayer Promenade.  Here you get great views of the multicoloured rooftops of the Old Town (also known as Gornji Grad). The surrounding area is adorable too; we even happened upon a interesting festival while we were soaking in the scenery.

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Also located in Upper Town is the unique St. Mark’s Church.  This church is distinctive because of it’s vibrantly colored tile roof which bears the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, and Zagreb.  This area is the oldest in the city and possesses countless stunning historic buildings and museums.

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I had an extremely interesting experience while walking to our dinner spot in the center of the city.  Before I explain, a little history – Back in 1731, legend has it that all of the houses and surrounding area around the eastern wooden gate, Kamenita Vrata or also known as Stone Gate, were burnt to the ground.  However Stone Gate, which was embedded with a painting of Jesus and Mary inexplicably remained untouched.  Today you can find the painting  in a shrine, protected by a metal enclosure.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, around dusk people gather in and around the tunnel to light candles and pray.  We’re talking hundreds of people crammed around this tunnel.  I was very inclined to find a way around, BUT, nothing gets in the way of Leon and his dinner so he grabbed my hand and we started walking down tiny center isle.  The sea of people split down the middle as we slowly made our way through the crowd and I could feel everyone’s gaze on us as they loudly chanted their prayers.

This all lasted for about 2 minutes (felt like an eternity) and I definitely felt like I was about to be sacrificed.

We came back later to take a look at the religious site and noticed the dozens of marble bricks surrounding the shrine.   The small bricks generally say “Thank you Mother”.

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Not too far from the Stone Gate is the pedestrian-only Tkalciceva StreetThis is a must see in Zagreb.  Not only is this street full of history and beauty as you will find old houses that are now turned into cafés; Tkalciceva Street is quite lively at night because of the bars and restaurants with outdoor seating.  This long street screams people watching potential and is probably so popular because of it.  Croatians love to see and be seen.

We settled on a cozy spot on the patio of Pivnica Mali Medo to have some Istrian beer.  Their lager was very large, very tasty and reasonably priced.

Going along with our ever prevalent patio theme, we ate dinner on the terrace at  Restaurant Agava located on Tkalciceva Street.  I suggest making a reservation if you are planning on dining during the weekend because this spot was very busy.  To eat, we opted to share a salad and the entrée chicken (which was phenomenal).  Dinner was scrumptious and the venue is extremely romantic (if you’re looking to go on a hot date).

All in all I really enjoyed Zagreb.  Don’t skip it, visit and form your own opinion about it (and learn about the history)!

A stop-over in Opatija

This is the shortest blog post of all time but I felt that Opatija needed a shout out because it’s so darn cute! Opatija looks like a little romantic Italian city and as soon as I laid eyes on this gem I instantly regretted not spending a night.

What we did

First thing we did was grab a gelato and walk down the stunning seaside promenade.  We noticed that there are no real beaches in Opatija but little sheltered bays that you can walk down a couple steps to go for a dip.

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P.S. Croatians love their speedos 

We found the stunning patio at  Restaurant Argonauli which overlooks the promenade. We had most amazing lunch ever.  It was absolutely delicious and the service was the best we received in Croatia.

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Truffles are a culinary highlight of north-western Istria.  Personally I don’t even like mushrooms and I love anything to do with Truffles.  So you can’t use that excuse not to try it!

Okay done! Told you it was short!

 

Why you MUST visit Rovinj

Rovinj a 40 Minute drive from Pula and MUST be on your list.  Rovinj is full of old-world charm with its cobblestone alleyways, local sidewalk singers, amazing gelato and the most dreamy harbor (especially when the sun is setting).

What we did:

As soon as we got there we bought a gelato from one of the many little gelato stores that line the boardwalk and made our way down the pier that is located in the center of Rovinj.  There is usually someone singing in that square so if you get lost, just follow the music!

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my iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice

We ate on the patio at Maestral, which is on the harbor located across the water from the old town.  You get a spectacular view of the town which is perched on a hill at the edge of a peninsula.  At the very top is the Church of St. Euphemia. IT IS SO PICTURESQUE. The restaurant was great too – the truffle pasta is delicious.

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here’s an unattractive photo of my half eaten ravioli

Our second night we ate at  Pian del Forno (it was average).  We chose this place because we were super hangry and in a hurry to get something to eat before the sunset.  It also was nice to sit outside.  The jumbo pizza is very jumbo indeed.

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We made our way to Valentino Cocktail and Champagne bar for a little late night bevy.  This is probably the most romantic lounge in Rovinj as you can catch a sunset as you literally sit on the waters edge. There are pretty blue lights illuminating the water from below so you can sip on your drink and catch a glance at an occasional fish swimming by.

You can walk right up to the Church of St. Euphemia. It has been notably overlooking the town since 1754 and is beautifully illuminated at night. It looks so amazing and grand it was basically life changing.

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If you don’t believe me that this place is magical yet, Rovinj has the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The sun sets right over the water and lights up the whole sky. We literally drove back to Rovinj a second time so we could buy a delish bottle of Istrian wine and sit on the waters edge to soak it all in. [Side note], the wine in Istra is not commonly exported and even the most inexpensive bottle is absolutely delicious.

This place is an absolute gem.

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