Saturday, 14 July 2018

FAMILY REVIEW: Pula, Croatia

CROSSING TWO BORDERS

In trying to keep costs down, we booked a bus with FlixBus from Venice to Pula. Their website said they had free wifi and USB plugs and a toilet on every bus. They only had the wifi.

The trip was about 4 1/2 hours long. The bus was old and run down and the seats were uncomfortable.

When we arrived at the Slovenia border, there was nothing there. Like, nothing. We only realised we were in Slovenia when the signs had changed from Italian to Slovene. 

But exiting Slovenia was a whole different story. We reached a border where we all had to exit the bus, get our passports stamped before going back onto the bus.

Less than 100 metres away, we reached another border which was the border to get into Croatia. We were stopped again but this time, the border control person came on the bus and took all the foreign passports and took them off the bus with him! 

A little worrying considering we had no idea what he was doing with them.

After about 15 minutes, one of the bus drivers comes back on the bus and the bus starts leaving. Luckily that bus driver had our passports and lucky he didn't forget any! But come on, they've been passed from an official border patrol person to a random bus driver! The system doesn't make you feel too great about entering Croatia but at least we got our passports back!

Why didn't we just walk the 100 metres from the Slovenia exit to the Croatia entry without having to go back on the bus and watch our passports get taken away?! Weird.

PULA, CROATIA

I have to be honest... my first impressions of Croatia wasn't the best. From the odd entrance through the border to the Croatian bus drivers that weren't the most approachable or nice people then when we arrived at our accommodation, it was an old 80s/90s building in a run down neighbourhood so I was wondering what the heck were we doing in Croatia?! Was this neighbourhood the dodgy end? We couldn't tell at 9pm at night.

But... our amazing hosts and our time there changed my mind. Our host, with the limited English he could speak, waited for us to arrive; carried my heavy luggage up the 3 flights of stairs insisting I do not carry it myself (Nathan was the only one that could take the luggage up); had a platter of meat and cheese waiting for us knowing it was a late arrival; had water (and even wine) in the fridge for us and some fruit and bread. He turned my first impressions around immediately because he was awesome!


Sure, the playground across the road from us was so rundown and there was a drunk guy outside the supermarket across the other road from us that would just talk and yell all day... and at all hours of the day and night it was crazy loud with either the drunk guy, traffic or just a lot of people hanging out at the playground or outside the supermarket.

Swipe Right: Our neighbourhood in Pula

The longer we stayed there though, the more I enjoyed hearing the community (minus the drunk guy and the loud traffic). The longer we were in Croatia, the more I was so glad we added it onto our travel list!

CROATIAN PEOPLE

If you know the history of Croatia and the wars they have been through not that long ago, you see that Croatia is a result of war - not a casualty, just a result. You start to understand why it's a mix between old buildings and new - knowing a lot of old buildings would have been destroyed. You start to understand that perhaps the drunk guy outside the supermarket could possibly have some form of PTSD. You start to understand why the people may be tougher on the exterior than some other cultures.

And you also see that Croatia is picking itself back up from their past. They are taking care of their own people and their land which shows that Croatian people are resilient and strong to match their country.

Our personal interactions with Croatian people though were great! If they spoke English, they spoke what they could to us. We actually found more people in Pula spoke English than in Verona or Venice.

We had one not so welcoming run in with one of the workers at the supermarket who thought I was taking photos of the products in the shop when I was actually just using Google Translate to live translate things for me. No matter what we said - or what one of the locals said in their language to defend us - he would not listen to us, but we were grateful to the local woman who tried to defend us then helped us translate what we had originally tried to on the phone.

But besides him, we felt very welcomed in the apartment building and wherever we went. Tough exterior, perhaps, but very welcoming to us as well.

OUTSIDE PULA

We rented a car (which wasn't initially planned), to explore more and to go to church - an hour or so away.

The roads within the inner parts of Pula may need an upgrade, but their highways do not. They were great to be on and the surrounding greenery was an amazing backdrop.


They do have tolls though but I happily paid them to help with their upkeep and construction of more highways like the one we went on. 

We went to a place called Rijeka for church. It was different to Pula, with more older buildings similar to Italy buildings.

We didn't venture further past there but wish we had the budget and the time to. If Pula and the roads in and out of Rijeka and the landscapes and water were anything to go by, Croatia has so much more to see and offer. Unfortunately, we had to limit our car use and return to Pula.

CROATIAN NATURE

Croatia is extremely green. Their landscapes and countrysides are beautifully luscious which reminded us of NZ. 

Their beaches, although pebbly, are clear and so brightly blue and green.

THINGS TO DO

PULA ARENA

If you look into the history of Pula, you will see the strong Roman connection and that it was a pretty important city to the Romans. Some of the things we saw were from those Roman times.

This Arena or Ampitheatre was built between 27-68AD and is one of the largest Roman arenas still standing.


Opening hours differs depending on the time of the year but aim for usually 9:00am and later closing times of 9:00pm during the summertime.

Entry price is HRK50 for adults; HRK25 for children (NZ$12 and NZ$6).

So yes, another Arena. This one is smaller than the one in Verona but kept in great condition!

There was a part underneath the Arena where there was an exhibition on the producing of olive oil in the area in the Roman times. They even talked about Emperor Hadrian. Our Hadrian enjoyed that!

I saw no toilets in there except a portaloo. But I wasn't sure if it was a public use one or for some workers who were working around the structure of the Arena.

TEMPLE OF AUGUSTUS

A temple built for Emperor Augustus and built approximately 2BC to 14AD. However, it was bombed in 1944 and had to be rebuilt after the war ended.


Opening hours are 9:00am to 9:00pm during summer only.

Entry costs are HRK10 for adults and HRK5 for children (NZ$2.50 and NZ$1.20).

You don't have to go inside to appreciate it. The exhibition inside isn't big or grand or that great but it was cheap to be able to see the inside of it.

It was small so there were no toilets. No air con either but they had a fan in there that was cooling us down enough!

SWIMMING

We made sure we went swimming at least once while we were there - pebbles be damned! It was cold but not NZ chill to the bone cold.



The water was clear and refreshing and with the heat creeping quite high 20s, we couldn't skip it! Unfortunately, we could only do that once as the only way to get decent beaches was by car and we had a car for such a short time.

EXPLORING PULA

Pula city is a mixture of Roman buildings/structures and newer homes and shopping and restaurants. These are some of the things we saw around the city:

These sweets shops were everywhere!
Those are not bananas..they are all sweets!

FINAL REVIEW

H: I liked that everything was so close by and that there was a variety of food places. Yum! I also really liked that there were quite a few ancient things to explore.

N: It is a real mix of ancient Roman, post WWII and modern suburbia. It is only a hop, skip and a jump from Trieste across the border and Venice across the Adriatic sea.  It is also a great central stop between Zagreb in the north east and Split down south so the location is excellent. The coastlines of Croatia are just so beautiful you can't help but stop and appreciate them.

T: Gotta admit, first impressions of the neighbourhood we were staying in wasn't the greatest. The area needs plenty of upgrading... but the hosts, the other people we interacted with and the beautiful country changed my view completely. In the end, I was sad to leave Pula and really wished we had planned to stay there longer when we first included Croatia as a destination. Worth visiting, definitely. Would I return? Yes. And I would explore the rest of it... and make sure I have some water shoes!


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