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Published: August 14th 2013
As we neared the border of Slovenia and Croatia, the traffic started to build. So far, on our travels, we’ve been really lucky: managing to avoid heavy traffic for most of our journeys. Or perhaps it’s because we both live in the South East of England, we are used to battling heavy and aggressive traffic everywhere we go?
The first jam was for the border crossing, although Croatia entered the EU in July, at present they still stop and check passports or official papers as you enter the country. We waited our turn for the officials to take our passports and stare at them, and then at us, long enough for us to start to wonder if we had done something wrong, then once our passports were handed back we were on our way. The motorway was empty for a few blissful minutes until we reached the back of the queue for the toll (the toll that’s not marked on any of our 2012/2013 edition maps) so we waited again. Have I mentioned that our van was built in 1999 and has no air conditioning? Sweating, we finally left the toll booths behind us and set forth on to a
completely clear motorway, we followed the signs to Krk Island, sitting in another traffic jam in Rijeka and yet another for the toll bridge on to Krk, hardly one in five of the cars has a Croatian plate however, us foreigners have swamped the country. All discomfort was forgotten once we were crossing the bridge to the Island, the bridge is about a mile long and the view is gorgeous: beautiful blue seas and sky with tiny boats and rocky shores all around. I felt some sea bathing coming on!
Unfortunately, our first Croatian stop was a bit of a disappointment: the campsite, just outside Punat, was huge and crowded with large, rambling permanent caravan outfits (the kind that are owned by someone who pays a rent to keep them there all year and holiday there year in, year out), I’ve absolutely nothing against this kind of holiday at all but we’ve visited 34 campsites on our travels now and we’ve found that every one of the sites that holds these permanent set ups are not very welcoming of those that are touring through, there’s an unsociable air about them and the feeling gained is that, frankly, we are
in the way. Aside from this, with over 1000 visitors staying on the site the hot water supply and Wi-Fi coverage (it could be argued that it’s a bit sad to want internet access when you’re on holiday but we’ve planned to be away for 5 months and like to contact friends and family and also book further campsites via the internet) were inadequate and it was noisy every night in to the early hours. The walk from our site along the sea front to Punat was quite pleasant though, little fruit and veg stalls, bakers, cafes, stalls selling beach paraphernalia lined the pavement and boats were moored in the water however the other disappointment for me was that the ‘beach’ was actually slabs of concrete! I couldn’t believe it! How ugly! By what scale of the imagination can a vast expanse of concrete be called a beach? None the less all the marketing for the island and the roadside signposts called it this and there were many holiday makers lying out on towels, for 8 hours a day, on the concrete!
We picked the wrong island I think and I admit we spent little time researching Croatia’s best
bits, it was also getting too hot to drive further South where I believe the more scenic coast and countryside is situated, we knew we’d be uncomfortable so I emailed a list of campsites on the coast and the islands in the North of the country and we pitched up at the first campsite that could accommodate us during their busiest season. We made the best of it though: swimming in the sea every day and taking a boat trip around the island. Krk town is quite nice too, we cycled in a couple of times from our campsite which took about half an hour each way, the town is dominated by city walls, parts of which date from 1st
century, within the walls a cathedral and a citadel which were built in the 12th
century AD, still stand. There are four ‘gates‘ in the walls that allow entry and exit from the town, one: ‘The Little City Gate’, leads out to a small harbour. There was a very grand yacht in the harbour one of the afternoons we visited, white and sleek and totally at odds with the rest of the little boats that bobbed about. The name on
the side said ‘Follow Me V’, which made me wonder what happened to the previous four and whether, if you knew, you’d want to follow the fifth version?
We found a nicer place to stay near Rovinj on the Western Istria coast, sitting in the same traffic jam at Rijeka on the way back through, the campsite, although still huge, had a friendlier feel to it and from the site we managed to visit Rovinj and Pula, both towns with a lot of history to them.
Rovinj is still a fishing port so there’s a mixture of industrious activity as well as the usual selection of cafes and restaurants at the water’s edge. The town sits out on a peninsular (originally an island), a huge church: Saint Euphemia, crowns the top of the hill and narrow streets and piazzas lead down from it. Some of the buildings at the end of the little side alleys actually stand in the water. The original old town walls were built by the Venetians in the 13th
century and Italian is still the second language in Istria. The little shops that line the old town streets sell to tourists of course but
there is an emphasis on local handicrafts rather than tatty bits, so we spent a happy hour or two browsing the pictures, wooden carvings, jewellery, local wine and honey.
From Rovinj we took a bus to Pula which is a town on the very bottom of the Istrian coast, the town dates back from Roman times and there is still plenty of evidence to see, the most impressive being the Amphitheatre. The Arena, as it’s known, was built to host gladiatorial contests and seated 20,000 people, music concerts and the yearly film festival are still held there. As you walk towards the town from the bus station, along one of the main streets, there it sits, surrounded by 21st
century shops and fuel stations! It’s almost complete and I think it’s impressive enough to knock Rome’s Coliseum into a cocked hat!
In the town there are some other great finds! The Temple of Augustus, dedicated to the first Roman emperor, stands in a square, it was originally part of a triangle of three temples but only this one remains. It was hit by a bomb in the Second World War but has been cleverly reconstructed. Heading South East
from here, along Sergijevaca, we came to the Triumphal Arch of Sergius, built in 27BC to honour a distinguished local family, we ducked under it quickly as it looks like it’s about to topple to the floor any minute! If you search hard, and don’t be put off by the signs that send you around in circles, there is a beautiful example of a Roman floor mosaic hidden around the back of a modern building, the remains of Roman houses and floor mosaics were uncovered during more WWII bombs. This one measures 12 x 6 metres and the central panel of the mosaic depicts ‘The Punishment of Dirce’ a woman from Greek mythology who was accused of attempted murder of a family member: it shows Amphion and Zethus tying her to an angry bull!
Something else I wished we’d had time to see but didn’t was the Zerostrasse which is an underground system of tunnels, built before the First World War, to shelter the people of Pula. Unfortunately, we were at the mercy of the bus timetable and so had to give this a miss. We did experience some small traffic jams in and out of the town of
Pula but none of them as impressive as those seen in England!
Tot: 1.924s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 11; qc: 60; dbt: 0.0216s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb