Published: August 5th 2007July 21st 2007
I was supposed to catch a ferry from Venice to Pula, but baulked when I saw the 74€ price tag. Instead, I took a train to the border town of Trieste with my Eurail pass, and then caught a bus to Pula for the princely sum of 12.50€ (my train pass doesn't work in Croatia).
Italy doesn't actually border Croatia, so the bus had to go through Slovenia, famous for being mountainous, and it's easy to see why. I can't actually say that I've been to Slovenia though, as per my own rules, I never actually got off the bus and set foot in Slovenia, so I have not officially been there ;-)
You could tell once you hit Croatia though, with red earth, old clay houses and scorching sun creating a classic Mediterranean landscape.
Having had no luck finding accomodation in Pula (even my ex-Xerox colleague Tihomir who is from Pula couldn't find anything with his inside sources) I was anxious that I might not find anything when I arrived.
However, the problem was solved almost as soon as I stepped off the bus.
"Centro! Super! Festivale!" shouted an old woman at me, pointing furiously at a map.
Inside The Arena
Where gladiators (not the Spandex-clad Australian ones) once fought.
Lonely Planet had warned me about people like Mrs Pucic, and that some of them were scam artists. However, I had nowhere to sleep, so I had little choice but to hear her out. And a place that is central, super and close to the festival sounded good too.
"Quanté?" I replied, recognising that it was Italian, not Croatian she was speaking.
She replied by walking away, ushering me to follow.
Getting further and further away from the bus stop, I was starting to get a little worried as to what I was getting myself into. I asked her a few times more how much she was charging, but she just kept walking.
We arrived at her apartment, and she showed me a room, which judging from the photos on the wall, was once her daughter's. The place was central, just as she had advertised, being right next to Pula's famous amphitheatre.
She invited me to leave my bags in the room, demonstrated that the room could be locked and then led me to the kitchen.
She started at 35€ to which I replied "No, karo."
She then offered 30€ a night, and judging by the location, and that the
The View From My Room In Pula
Mrs Pucic's room didn't work out badly at all - right behind the mural is the amphitheatre.
room was private, I thought that was a fair price, although in hindsight I probably could have got the room cheaper since I had practically already moved into the room and she probably wasn't going to get anyone else at 8pm at night.
I only had 15€ on me for a cash payment, so I gave that to her and then rather eccentrically, she personally escorted me all the way to the ATM. What was I gonna do, take off and leave all my stuff in the room?
Once I had the cash, I gave her the remaining 300 kuna (KN), equivalent to about 45€. She then asked for another 100KN.
"15€," I told her, referring to the original 15€ I gave her. She then shot a look that said, "what 15€, I don't see it anywhere."
"15€!" I exclaimed again. Going back to the kitchen, she then found it hidden under some letters.
"Ahh..." she sighed.
Nice try, old lady.
Overall though, she did seem like a nice old lady, even if she was a bit eccentric. When I was brushing my teeth the next morning, she ushered me into another bathroom around the back to hide me, while
Modern Film In An Ancient Theatre
Adnittedly, Harry Potter would have been better than Ocean's 13 in this ancient setting.
she showed through another potential guest. She also burst into my room while I was sleeping to retrieve some linen she kept in there.
But overall, considering that I had no accommodation booked in Pula at all, this had worked out perfectly.
My sister and her friends had watched Harry Potter in Paris - but I had the opportunity to watch it in Pula, in a 2000 year old Roman amphitheatre for the equivalent cost of 4€. Not being a Harry Potter fan though, I passed it down and watched Ocean's 13 instead the next night. They do this every night for about a month as part of a film festival where they show one Croatian movie and one commercial one every night.
You can't expect Roman ruins to be the most comfortable of movie experiences, but this was something that definitely had to be experienced and as the acoustics were awesome (I could hear the Harry Potter sound effects from my bedroom - sounded awesome!) and the amphitheatre lit up at night was cool.
The sight of the amphitheatre during the day was just as impressive, with the outer wall almost completely intact. To imagine gladiators had once
From The Top Of The Citadel
View of Pula from the top of the Venetian Citadel
fought here was an amazing thought.
There also other Roman ruins around the city including the Triumphal Arch Of Sergius, the Temple Of Augustus and the old walls along Istarska. The view from the top of the Venetian Citadel was amazing too, although the unmaintained tower that you go up to get there is a little dangerous.
Unfortunately, I didn't have time to hit the beach, as it is a few kilometres south of town on the Verudela Peninsula where all the flash hotel resorts are. Apparently the topless Swedish girls there missed out.
And I have a new favourite fast food joint - Pizza Cut (not Hut). For 4€ you can get a whole, rather large, and rather tasty, pizza. This represented a feast for this rather famished and malnourished backpacker, and I even had change to buy gelato and bottles of soft drink that were less than 1€ each. I love how cheap it is here!
Overall, Pula was nice, would've been cool to check out the beaches before I make a proper judgement, but I liked how laid back the place was.
I did feel a little out of place though - I seemed to be
The Streets Of Zagreb I
A cobblestone street in the northern part of Zagreb.
the only Asian in Pula. People would stare at me as if I was some kind of novelty, but I never felt threatened apart from when I passed the leather-clad bikers in the "Rock Cafe".
89% of Croatia's population are Croats, followed by 5% Serbs, 0.5% Bosnians and 0.4% Hungarians, so it isn't the most diverse country in terms of population - yet.
Many Croats I talked to seem to accept that Croatia will join the European Union soon, although opinion is divided as to whether this will be a good thing or not. The culture here is strong and well preserved, and the place is not crawling with as many tourists as most of Western Europe. In this sense, people are friendlier as they haven't reached the point where they resent tourists like they seem to in France and Italy. So if and when Croatia eventually joins the EU, I hope that the culture, friendliness and hospitality that I experienced will remain intact.
Thanks to my friend Luka, he put me in touch with his father Sime in Zagreb, who generously hosted me during my two day stay there. Sime and his wife Marina live in a nice
The Streets Of Zagreb II
Main street (Ilica) in Zagreb, complete with tram lines.
part of the town, in the hills and I had a nicely self-contained part of the apartment to stay - by far the best accomodation I have had so far (apart from the Hard Rock Hotel). It's always nice to stay with a local, as you feel totally at ease (about your property in particular) and you get glimpses of the local lifestyle and get to experience things that as a tourist, you would never experience.
The night I arrived in Zagreb, Luka's brother Marko picked me up from the bus station, and I went with him for a few beers with his friends Maria, Mariela and his girlfriend Ana. They were telling me that perhaps I had come to Zagreb at the wrong time of year, as all the locals have fled town for the coast and that Zagreb (in fact most of Croatia it seems) is currently going through a heat wave.
It was hot alright - 44 degrees the next day - Marko was telling me that they haven't had temperatures like these in 100 years. And the heat meant that I was thirsty for local beers.
Velebitsko is a micro-brewed beer that is not found at
A View From The Top
View of Zagreb from the Lotrscak Tower.
many pubs, but lucky for me, this one had it. It was beautiful - Velebitsko is, justifiably, widely accepted as the best beer in Croatia. Pity it's so hard to find. I also tried Ozujsko, the most common beer in Croatia, but it was nowhere near as nice.
The heat means that you're sweating out most of what you're drinking, so I was able to drink much more than I usually do. It was the first decent drinking session on my trip so far, so I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The next day I went on a van/walking tour of Zagreb, which Sime had very kindly bought for me.
Zagreb is a city rich with legends and history. There are some very pretty buildings and gardens here, and the tram lines reminded me of Christchurch.
Zagreb used to be made up of two towns - Gradec and Kaptol - that fought each other for centuries. Many of Zagreb's landmarks can be found in these areas, north of the city centre, including St Catherine's Church, St Mark's Church, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Stone Gate which houses a painting of the Virgin Mary which miraculously
The National Theatre
In my opinion, Zagreb's prettiest building.
escaped a devastating fire unscathed and is now worshipped, and the Lotrscak Tower, out of which a cannon fires daily at noon.
Zagreb is also rich with museums - I'm not really the arty-farty type so I didn't go into any, but they looked nice from the outside!
However, a feature that scars the face of Zagreb is the amount of graffiti. I've been told that Croats aren't the most law-abiding citizens in the world and that graffiti is not cracked down upon as much as it should.
Also on the tour, I met a Australian girl called Michelle, and it was nice to talk to someone who understood all my Kiwi slang. She reminded me a lot of my friend Ashlin.
That night I was taken out to dinner by Sime and Marina to a place where they did authentic Croatian lamb on a spit. It was nice, perhaps a bit salty, although I've noticed that Croats eat their food with more than just a pinch of salt.
I also started the meal with a traditional shot of brandy called "rakija". It really packs a punch, so I was lucky that it is sipped rather than shot down
The Milisa Family
After our lamb dinner, from the left; Marko, Ana, myself, Sime and Marina.
in one. Croats also drink their wine mixed with sparkling water ("bevanda") which is quite refreshing, and I liked it very much, although normal wine drinkers and connoisseurs would probably scoff at the fact that it is watered down. I tended to prefer red bevanda to white bevanda.
Croats don't tend to binge drink - apparently ;-)
Apart from the lamb on a spit, I also tried "cevapi" (pork/beef rib patties eaten with a crispy bun, raw onions and a very mild chilli sauce called "ajvar") which I thought was scrumptious, and "burek" (greasy pastry filled with cheese) which is traditionally eaten by young Croats after a night on the piss, which meant I also did the same on more than one night in Croatia ;-)
In terms of vegetables, baby onions are eaten raw, and beans, tomatoes, mashed potatoes and capsicum are all staples, eaten with a generous dash of olive oil. Cheese, prosciutto, Croatian coldcuts and bread are also eaten in large quantities here. So it was very different to what I'm used to, but I eat anything, so I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The next day I also had to post 4kg of stuff back to London
Celebrity Spotting I
Look who I bumped into in Split - it's Croatian tennis player Mario Ancic! Actually, no it's me and Luka's very cool cousin Tomo.
- carrying 20kg+ is way too much - especially in this heat.
Then it was off to Split, and so I said goodbye to Sime, Marina and Marko. I will never forget the hospitality they provided - it was more than I could ever have expected and I will always be grateful. It really ensured I enjoyed my stay in Zagreb immensely.
So a big shout out to the Milisas - thank you so much for having me! :-)
When I arrived in Split, Sime insisted that I meet up with his niece Tanja, and nephew Tomo.
I met Tanja at the bus station, who then helped me find my hostel. The hostel didn't appear to be open, so we rang the buzzer and then the rather grumpy owner came out of the adjoining apartment - perhaps we woke her up ;-)
Like a lot of accomodation in Croatia, the hostel is pretty much just the owner's home rented out. My "room" was the lounge, which I was sharing with four others, one of which slept naked. Ewww. I think he was German.
Anyway, after checking into my hostel Tanja and I met up with a few of her
Celebrity Spotting II
Look who else I bumped into in Split - Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls! No, actually, it's the lovely Tanja, Luka's other cousin and myself.
friends and Tomo, before we went to a concert by re-formed Croatian band, Jinx.
Jinx play really happy, 70/80s-style retro pop. Of course I didn't know any of the words, but a few beers later and I knew them all ;-)
After the concert, it was time to hit one of Split's more popular watering holes amongst the locals, O'Hara's - which Tanja swore was not an Irish pub - and it didn't appear to be, so I'll take her word for it - an Irish pub in disguise perhaps? One of the many drinks I had that night was a straight Croatian liquor that tastes a bit like Pimms. Unsurprisingly, I've forgotten what it's called ;-)
I got back to the hostel at about 4.30am - the next day was not pleasant at all.
To see how I fared the next day, read part 2!