Three countries in an hour and farewell Italy,hello Croatia.

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May 4th 2013
Published: May 6th 2013
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Gelato flavour of the day - GMB - Kiwi (a taste of home)

The hotel for the night was situated in a small town about 11km from Pardeone and when we arrived we were the only names the woman on the front desk had on her list so we weren't surprised when we were the only ones at breakfast.

There had been a short but loud thunderstorm last night as we went to bed and it had done the trick by clearing the air with the morning dawning fine and clear,well as clear as we have seen in the European smog which is more evident in the northern parts of Italy.

The small town was more like a place you might come across in England than in Italy with tidy wide streets and properties lined with neatly trimmed hedges and gardens with small trees and shrubs.The houses were unlike any we have seen in larger towns and cities in Italy and looked more what we might see in NZ except for the type of materials used in their construction.

The woman who had been on the front desk last night was there to take our payment for the night and she was as uncommunicative this morning as she was last night.She spoke no English although we were pretty sure she understood what we said in conservation as the whole process of checking in and paying the bill went without a hitch and having to repeat ourselves.

She was not a dynamic person and although she wasn't rude or anything we wondered whether her personality might be the reason why the large hotel didn't have any other guests for the night and perhaps the hotel might be a good case for 'The Hotel Inspector'(the TV series where a struggling hotel is set up to improve its popularity before it goes broke)to have a go at saving.

This morning we were going to say goodbye to Italy after 5 weeks and 4800km of driving from Rome south to the tip,around 80% of Sicily's coastline and then back up the east coast of Italy through the Dolomites.

Avoiding the toll road wasn't going to take any longer to get to the border with Slovenia so we took the local road the SS14 and worked our way east through rural towns and the associated countryside where there were many vineyards and restaurants that looked enticing.It was just as well 'the sun wasn't over the yardarm' and we weren't encouraged into one of those vineyards and could maintain our progress.

We got to the Golfo di Panzaro and the shipbuilding city of Monfalcone and thought we should stock up with groceries and get some meat for a couple of nights dinners as tomorrow is Sunday and we are unsure of shopping in Pula.

We had seen many signs for various supermarkets we had used so far but we never actually saw the stores so we assumed we would have had to deviate from the main road to find them.Then a Lidl store came into sight..........unfortunately!

We have never liked shopping at Lidl.They have always looked disorganised and although their prices can be cheap they don't always have what you want and often they look like they are stocking end of line items so just how fresh some of their stuff is, is anyone's guess.However,we were running out of towns,except for Trieste which we hoped to avoid by a ring road that on the map would take us around the downtown area,so we decided to give it a go.

As it turned out either Lidl have upped their game or this store was just slightly better set out as shopping wasn't too bad until we came to the checkout...............

The young woman on the till looked pleasant enough and when it came our turn did the checkout process quickly.Then came the payment of just under €20.Gretchen handed over our ANZ Travel card.The young woman refused to insert it into the EFTPOS machine claiming the card was a 'credit card' and obviously Lidl don't accept credit cards for payment(they wouldn't survive in NZ for as we know everyone puts their groceries on their credit card to get the card issuer points etc etc).Gretchen tried to explain nicely that the card was a debit card as we had preloaded it and there was no credit facility with it and the young woman showed she understood at least some of her English but remained adamant.I think Gretchen was ready for a bit of a debate but I got a €20 bill out and paid the amount due as we could see we weren't going to get anywhere and the queue of locals were wanting to get their purchases made.So we will now check with the ANZ to find out exactly how the card is classified.

We carried on for lunch at a spot high above the bay and enjoyed a boot lunch taking in the panoramic view while sitting in the warm spring sunshine.

The road we w ere on we soon discovered wasn't going to take us clear of Trieste downtown but in the end that didn't matter as it was Saturday afternoon and the roads were relatively quiet and what we saw of the downtown area was interesting with a well laid out waterfront walk area which might have been nice for our lunch stop had we not already had it and we still had two borders to cross.

Italy came to an end very suddenly and it was a seamless crossing into Slovenia which of course is part of the EU and therefore there is no need to go through customs or border control.With a money changer on the roadside we changed some Euro to Croatian Kuna and continued on our way for the 30 minutes or so we would be in Slovenia.We recalled from our last trip that Euros are readily accepted in Croatia when you purchase things but having the local currency at least means you know what exchange rate you have paid.Croatia is set to join the EU in July but they will not take up the Euro at that time.

In no time at all after driving around the short coastal strip that is Slovenia and separates Italy and Croatia we were at the Slovenian border and had our passports stamped showing us leaving the EU.A couple of hundred metres further on was the Croatian border and here we thought there might be a little investigation when we handed over the passports.But no,the guy in the box just looked at the open pages in Gretchen's hand and waved us through.Even the large officer standing outside the box waved us through when Gretchen looked at him as if we wanted them to at least take the passports into their own hands to examine.

We wanted to get to Pula by mid afternoon so we took the toll road from the border.Two lanes in each direction(it looked like the extra two lanes and a barrier had been added recently as arrows on our side of the road had been panited out but were still visible.So it was 100kph with the least traffic we have seen in days.Where were all the cars coming or going from the border or the towns between the border and Pula or where they avoiding the toll road because of the cost.?

Like most toll roads its pathway was through uninteresting territory,in fact there just wasn't anything like a town or village anywhere near the road and the most interesting thing to take in was the high viaduct we travelled over with a canal beneath.

We cut out the 90km in under an hour and paid our K38 or about €4 for the experience and were soon into the city of Pula which has a population of about 60,000 people.

One thing the GPS doesn't do is tell you about roads that are being dug up and whether you take a diversion and so we found out just when our drive to the apartment we have was looking easy.However without too much trouble other than a narrow lane we made it to the block of apartments which is within an easy walk of the downtown area.

On first look at the socialist era building you would,no,we won't stay here.Iva,the owner arrived about the same time a very elderly woman appeared with bucket and brush and proceeded to clean up the steps that took us to the entry door for the block.Iva passed a comment with her and she gave us the eye as if she was checking us over as foreigners(which of course we are).

The apartment interior belied what we saw on the outside and Iva had gone to great lengths to modernise the interior.Its going to be great to have a lounge suite to sit on and watch TV(we discovered many of the Sky channels here are in English,yah!)

The 'caretaker' woman made sure she stayed cleaning the steps while we bought our luggage in and we felt a bit guilty stepping on her nice clean steps.We must have been given the OK as she gave us a toothless smile as we bought the last of our stuff inside.

We took a walk downtown about 15 minutes away to get an idea about what was in the old part of the city to explore.

It was pork steak for dinner,we still haven't really been able to find any beef that we would trust but perhaps that is just something we will have to get over.The horse meat in the supermarkets has been clearly labelled so we shouldn't really be concerned.

We have just over a week ahead in Croatia and now that we have left Italy behind you could say that the adventure into more of the unknown has really started.


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