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(reblogged from: likecroatia)
I woke up last Wednesday with sun lighting the floor of my room. Stepping outside onto my balcony, I breathed in the fresh, salty air—the air of a Croatian summer.
It was a beautiful day, and one that marked the beginning of Rovinj’s summer season. Last Wednesday was also a national holiday, Worker’s Day (the European equivalent of U.S. Labor Day), and pretty much all Croatian employees were free to do as they pleased, many even taking a long holiday by connecting it with the weekend. While I didn’t have this luxury, I was determined to take advantage of my one-day holiday and the summery weather. So what better way to do that than by going to the beach?
Initially Stephanie and I had intended to go to Punta Corrente as BBQs and parties are held in celebration of Worker’s Day along the beach and in the park. But we opted for a more low-key locale and went to Rovinj’s “other side,” located just a bit northwest of the town center. During the summer this side is also filled with tourists, like most of the town, but before the peak season comes into full swing, it’s quiet, serene. Here, we met up with a friend and her husband, laid down our towels and took in some much needed sun.
Rovinj from “the other side”
We played Briscola, ate delicious vegan chocolate cake, and drank some Italian spritz. We alsoall went on our very first swim of the season. May 1st is still considered too early for swimming by most since the water is still quite cold. Yet discomfort had to be pushed aside to celebrate the start of summer with a proper swim.
And wow. It was cold. Oh. So. Cold. I let my legs dangle in the water over the side of the stone pier to get used to the chill. After about five minutes, I started out slow. I went up to my calves, then to my knees. And then I stopped. With each small step forward, the water stung like ice. I shook my head “no” to Stephanie, who was already well into the water, swimming around. Yet I knew I had to go in. In my mind, it marked some rite of passage that would make me a real coastal Croat.
View from the beach
And sure enough, I dove into the water, yelled in mild horror, and then swam until I got some feeling back into my body and found one of those random warm spots in the sea. The initial jump was the worst part, but after you were in, it felt like normal sea water that was just a tad bit colder than usual. I’m glad I took the plunge. I felt a sense of accomplishment, even though the act didn’t mean much beyond me and my friends, but who cares? Sometimes these can be the most meaningful accomplishments.
Once late afternoon rolled around, we called it a day and packed up, then went on a walk to explore the rest of Rovinj’s “other side.”
Rovinj’s most famous building is its church on the hill, St. Euphemia. Yet Rovinj is also home to a far lesser-known landmark, the orthopedic hospital and rehabilitation center, “Primarius Dr. Martin Horvat.” One reason for its lack of attention is that the hospital is not open to the public and it is generally frowned upon to visit the grounds as a tourist. But, seeing as we’re essentially locals we went through the area without a second look from the hospital guard.
The hospital was built by the Austrian government in 1888 and was originally intended to be a children’s treatment center. Following World War I, it was converted into its current purpose, a clinic for orthopedics, and is one of the oldest orthopedic hospitals in Croatia and Europe. The hospital was specially constructed on this particular part of Rovinj because of its special micro-climate that is supposed to aid in recovery.
While the hospital is still in use today, the small buildings once constructed around this health resort, including a cinema, lookout tower, pool, church, and greenhouse, no longer function. These forgotten buildings are all in various states of disrepair. Walking through the area, a feeling of sadness comes over me as I long to see this place in all its glory. Yet, that would surely draw tourists and ruin its eerie charm.
Gothic staircase in the hospital
And no, that wasn’t a typo or ill-fitting word choice. The hospital area is both eerie and charming. It’s closed off from the rest of the world, enveloped in a pine forest and boarded by a secluded sandy beach. As you enter from the beach side, you see the hospital—alive, yes, but with peeling, dirty yellow paint and splintered window frames and shutters. Immediately to its right, there’s the old, unused pool that doesn’t even look like a pool. It’s a hulking piece of grey that has too much concrete and far too little space to showcase the pool itself.
If you zigzag a bit to the right and keep walking for a minute or two up another path you’ll reach the hospital lookout tower. Climb up to the top and catch a glimpse of Rovinj’s old town and the island Figarola.
The hospital tower
As we walked back down to the hospital building, we passed the old cinema (now used as a gym), whose gothic veneer gave us all the chills.
The old cinema
Right next door is the Church of St. Pelag, also abandoned. It’s architecturally beautiful, despite its unkempt nature. Inside, you’ll find that it’s being used as storage space. Old documents, binders, and books, some even dating back to the 1930s, crowd the building.
The Church of St. Pelag
Inside the Church of St. Pelag
Upon leaving the grounds, we all agreed that the hospital would be the perfect horror movie set. While I’d love to see the buildings repaired, repainted, and revitalized, I like them this way. It gives the place a sense of struggle, of loss even, which, like any good writer will say, builds character.
I’ve lived in Rovinj for almost a full year now and I’ve seen its many sides from its crowded summer to its lonely winter and all the craziness in-between. Many picture Rovinj as an idyllic, romantic coastal town and while this is true, the town is so much more. Rovinj is complex, layered with history, with culture, and with many stories—both remembered and forgotten.