When you go somewhere on holiday, how long does it usually take you to do some sightseeing and get the feel of a certain city – a day or two? A week? That’s fine, but sometimes we find ourselves in lovely places only in passing, and we have a mere couple of hours before we board a bus or a ferry to our next destination.
In such cases, I think it’s pretty safe to say most of us decide to sit down for coffee and enjoy some downtime. After all, travelling can get exhausting, and it’s understandable not everyone wants to buzz around and pack a load of activities into every single moment. However, why not give it a try? Who knows if you’re ever getting another chance to take a look around – it would be a pity not to check out at least one special spot in any town you might come across.
To prove there’s a lot to see even in the course of two hours and still have some time left for a quick drink, we’ll be taking an occasional look at randomly picked destinations in Croatia to see what they have to offer to people passing through. Lists of churches and palaces, restaurants and bars are a quick Google search away so we’ll skip the usuals, and introduce you to the understated gems you might otherwise miss.
We’re starting with Rovinj, the most coveted tourist destination in Istria. One look at this beauty, and it’s no wonder people keep flocking to the gorgeous coastal town like flies to honey. There’s a lot to see in Rovinj and its charming narrow streets will keep you enchanted for days… but in case you’re not even staying for a single day, go for a short walk around to enjoy the vivid scenery, and then head straight to Ecomuseum Batana.
Every time I write about this precious place, I swear it’s the last– and I never stay true to my word. It’s so hard to resist! On Sunday morning, I got the chance to make a quick stop in Rovinj on my way through Istria, and when I thought about what to do in that short window, I could think only of one answer.
My previous article was a sort of introduction to this priceless cultural project, and we can call this one a look around the place. Ecomuseum Batana is a multifaceted initiative that aims to preserve the traditional wooden boats of Rovinj and its entire maritime heritage, and it goes beyond the museum – read more here.
In summer months, the House of Batana is open every day of the week from 10:00 to 13:00 and again from 19:00 to 23:00. I arrived at the start of the morning shift and had the place to myself – a welcome opportunity, as the museum space is actually tiny. Proving the best things come in small packages, the two chambers on the ground floor are packed with information, photos, videos, and interactive installations.
First, you’ll be introduced to batana boats. The traditional wooden vessel gets its catchy name after the Italian verb battere (hit, beat), associated with the sound of waves hitting the flat bottom of the boat . There are four types of batana: the classic, used for day fishing not far from the shore…
The covered batana with two openings, used for fishing at the open sea – only three of those remain preserved in the port of Rovinj…
Then there’s the half-covered batana which has gone out of use, and the fourth, modern type – one with glass bottom.
You’ll find little bits of information everywhere you turn, presented in a fun, colourful way that’s sure to grab your attention. All the info is printed in three languages: the Rovinj dialect, Croatian, and Italian. In case you’re not fluent in the local lingo, there’s no need to worry – handy pamphlets are available in English and German as well.
You can watch the fascinating process of boat restoration, where a rundown batana will transform into a polished beauty in a couple of minutes. The actual restoration work takes about a month to complete – exactly the same as building a new batana from scratch.
Also on display are selected personal belongings of Rovinj’s boatbuilders and fishermen, along with endearing stories about their personal lives and sassy nicknames. I was amused by all the dishes – no proper man of the sea would have gone anywhere without his trusted pots and plates for a midday snack, or as we say here, marenda.
The other room is a treasure trove as well. Interactive glass panels light up to teach you about different types of fishing nets and various fish sorts that each net was used for. A bit further, a cup filled with wine (alas, fake) activates sound clips with conversations in Rovinj dialect. You can flip through a traditional cookbook… and snap a couple of recipe photos for future reference – I’m looking at you, black risotto!
Okay, with all the exhibits in mind, the place technically is a museum, but so captivating and fun, it almost feels right to call it a mini amusement park. It’s enough to say I stayed a bit over an hour; if 20 square metres of space can keep you occupied for that long, call it a win.
As I was leaving, I heard a couple that has just taken a look around complain to the hostess. We paid for the ticket and this is not what we expected, they kept repeating, without making it clear what exactly they did expect in a museum about boatbuilding. I guess some people can’t appreciate simple pleasures… For the rest of us, the House of Batana awaits in the centre of Rovinj, offering some fascinating knowledge and the chance to see the actual boats get repaired, if you happen to get lucky with your timing. And yes, I can confirm you’ll have some time left to have that coffee after all…