She will drive you from point A to point B, and make that the most interesting, educating and fun taxi ride you have ever had. She will take you to your destination, but along the way, she will inform you about culture, landmarks, hidden gems, and give you restaurants recommendations in your area. Aside from a basic taxi service, you can request a personalized daily trip that will be tailor made according to your preferences: a complete personalized daily ride to hidden gems of Istria, including stops at restaurants, wineries, landmarks and viewpoints. Based in Rovinj, a renowned tourist destination, she took over her father’s business 8 years ago. She is not a mere driver, she is a curious mind and a wanderlust soul, and she will take every life situation as an opportunity for self-improvement. Meet Ivona Damjan or rather – Taxi Ivona.
How do people react when they see a female taxi driver?
After 8 years of doing this job, people still react, and I’m positively surprised by it. I don’t get offended; I like to see the enthusiasm.
Where did the idea of being a taxi driver come from?
My father was a taxi driver for 40 years, then he retired and I took over his business. Initially he drove tourists mostly to Motovun and Grožnjan, I went on with taking over the business and expanding routes.
I love Istria, I hike quite often and have discovered many beautiful places – I like sharing those places with people who come here.
The very idea of personalized taxi road trips came up a few years ago when I was driving a Russian family to Pula. After coming to Pula, I had a 2-hour gap while they were exploring the city. They didn’t have their cellphones, so when they ended exploring we searched for each other around Pula for like, an hour, because they couldn’t find me or my car! That situation made me realize – I have to do something about this, so it doesn’t happen in the future. Rather than just dropping people off, I came up with the idea of creating the itinerary for them.
Tourists make their own itineraries, or they leave the choice to you?
If they contact me by recommendation or review, they already know what I’m doing. In that case, they let me make a personalized itinerary for them. If they already know what they want to see, I also take that into account. For example, if they want to see the coast, I’ll make a route from Rovinj to Poreč and then stop in Vrsar. In my humble opinion, it’s a pity not to see Vrsar if it’s along the way, I like that place!
“It’s through conversations I find out people’s interests, and that’s how I make it personalized even more. I see it becoming more popular because many people have no inspiration what to see or explore during their holidays in Istria.”
What prevails though?
There’s no rule. There are people interested in cultural heritage and they definitely want to see frescoes in Istria, there are people who prefer natural beauties. Others who have already been here, have seen larger cities want something completely different. You adapt to each situation. That’s always a challenge. When someone finds something they want to see in Istria and I haven’t seen it yet, I re-invent the route again. That’s a great side of my job, I love it!
Has it ever happened to you – the situation of not knowing where to drive your tourist?
Yes, a few years ago an experienced and well-informed traveler asked me to take her to Završje and I did not know where to drive. That’s when I gave myself the task of exploring every corner of Istria. I did several road trips – some of them by car, some of them by hiking.
You know, you need to get in the car with me, and then we could talk, I could tell you a lot more. When you’re out driving on the road – that feeling simply makes you tell stories.
YOUR personalized route through Istria looks like…
I’d have to think about it… If someone was driving me, that would be through local landscape roads. I would love to drive along Mirna valley, or take a part of the road above Poreč, by the sea. No mainstream roads, no highways. I always have to look at the road when I drive – pay attention to traffic, people, animals … so I would just like to relax and take a good look at the nature. Good question!
Do you have a favorite place in Istria?
Absolutely not. I’m still exploring, and still get surprised when I discover something new. Truth be told I did see a lot of it, but there are still places that leave me thrilled, like: “This is so near me and I didn’t even know it existed.”
We saw lot of comments from people satisfied with the amount of extensive knowledge about Istria that you have. Where does that come from?
I am curious by nature, my friends know my main question is ‘why’. Also, I’m a traveler myself, and when I go someplace new I don’t like being ignorant… When I drive, I’d rather talk about Istria during the ride than about how there are no jobs, or something negative. Before I was involved in this job, I wanted to travel the world. I thought – I’m going to travel Croatia when I’m old and retired. Through work, I realized I had to know more about my region. Sometimes you’re left with no GPS, and you have to take your guest to their vacation rental. It’s a matter of being professional, so I told myself – more than anything, I’ll get to know my region, it’s my job to know it to details.
There are some truly wonderful online comments and reviews of your work.
It’s very nice to read them. Still, I always say – it’s more about the guest, not about me. If you are positive, you will see things in a positive way.
“Reviews are just a reflection of those people, not of me, because you directly see what they paid attention to.”
On the other hand, when some people come with expectations, I feel a bit pressured. But so far – everything went ok. I spend a lot of time with people in the car and I often get along with them. During that time I have the opportunity give them recommendations where to eat, tell them, for instance, our truffle story… I’m glad they ask questions themselves, though. I always try to tell my stories in a way people can learn something about our region, and to make them want to come back. So next time they come – they already know something about the place they are coming to.
What is your modus vivendi?
I love my job and it’s not hard for me to work. Sometimes the amount of time I spend on the road can take up to 10 hours a day – I give all of me during that time. I find it natural to help people, regardless of the situation – whether someone breaks their legs or is hungry. Money isn’t my motivator. At the end of the day you are tired but also happy because you know you did something good. My job is to drive people from point A to point B, but if I can make their day better along the way – why not.
Your thoughts on tourism in Croatia?
We should strive for year-round tourism throughout the country. Prior to that, it is important to set quality foundations and sustainable strategies. Arrivals are increasing, and we need a better way of handling them. Especially when we speak of Rovinj – I would like to have fewer arrivals in the summer and more in winter. It’s a shame not to visit Rovinj during winter, there’s no snow, the temperatures rarely, or never, go below 0°c, and the city is peaceful, and what’s most important – we have a lot of sunshine days.
Simply, the atmosphere is like in Van Morrison’s song Into the Mystic: “Smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly.”
Author: Annamaria Gržetić
Founded in 2015, our focus is on contributing to sustainable tourism development in the region of Istria, Croatia, through the work we do. Therefore we are keen on building a travel community to connect travelers with locals of Istria. Off The Beaten Path is a movement that embraces tourism development in a respectful manner while encouraging locals and travelers to involve themselves in a much meaningful way.
Want to work with us, be featured in our interview or simply have a story to tell? Reach us:
A. Coane 6, 52210 Rovinj
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