Monday, 24 August 2015

Mug #13 - Pula, Croatia

My visit to Croatia was an unequivocal success! I had the most amazing time, first in Split and then Vis, a magical place I will never forget and hope to revisit many times in the future. However, I did (of course) manage to make a few little mistakes both during my trip and more importantly, during the planning of my trip (yes I did actually plan things!).

One such mistake was assuming that because I would be able to get a train - probably direct or maybe with one or two quick stops - in the UK, that would take me the distance of Split to Pula in around 4 - 5 hours, I would be the same was possible in Croatia. As it turned out, it most certainly was not the case. Instead, in order to travel the (roughly) 40 miles by sea to Split from Vis and then the 300 miles from Split to Pula, this was the journey I had to take.

My alarm went off at 4.50am, a time I knew all too well from early lifeguard shifts this time last year. However, things have changed a lot since then and the only time I have seen 4.50am in the last year is when I've still be up, working at my computer, attempting to make a deadline.

So I splash some cold water in my face, check the apartment to make sure I haven't left anything behind and I leave for the ferry. Arriving at 5.25am which is good time for me, a whole 5 minutes before it leaves. Unfortunately by that time all the good sleeping spots had been taken but at least I'm on it and even though I can't normally can't sleep while on the move - boat, train, plane etc - I was pretty sure I was tired enough to sleep pretty much anywhere.

So I settle down into a very uncomfortable seat on the upper deck of the ferry from where - after leaving the harbour at 5.30am to the second - I sat and watched as the town of Vis become a dot on the horizon, with a small tear gathering in my eye. Figuratively if not literally. I enjoyed my time on the island so much that I never wanted to leave (a feeling only compounded by arriving back in grey sunless London).

But Vis was now behind me and Pula ahead. Thirteen hours and 50mins to be exact. If only the ferry could have been a larger percentage of my journey but instead I would be on the ferry for less than two and a half hours and on that coach for the rest of the day.

We pulled into the port at exactly 7.50am as scheduled. By the time the door had opened howeverit was now 7.53am, which gave me 7mins to find and get onto my bus. Luckily - obviously, not obviously, I knew this before I booked my bus and ferry times, although not before booking my flights - the bus station was within the port itself and so less than five minutes later I was sat in my seat on the little, hot, badly ageing coach that I would be calling home for the next 11+ hours.

Now one good thing about this journey - probably the only good thing, as well as maybe having plenty of time to read and write - was that I got off at the last stop. Maybe that doesn't necessarily sound like a good thing? I would definitely have liked to have gotten off that thing sooner. However, getting off at the last stop means one important thing, it is (virtually) impossible to miss your stop!

In total - thanks to a traffic jam that had us parked on the road for a full hour - I was on that little old bus for over 12 and a half hours. Happily we stopped (roughly) every two hours, for just enough time to jump down from the bus and run - as fast as I could, I didn't want to be left behind - to the toilet or simply stand next to the bus in the beaming sunshine and stretch my legs for a few moments.

Apart from those little pitstops I was stuck in that sticky seat, warm and sleep deprived for pretty much a full day. It was not a pleasant journey and yet not really that bad either. Yes I wish I'd got more sleep the night before. I hate that sensation of nodding off for a few minutes and then half waking, feeling worse than you did, before dozing off again. And yes I wish I had the Karate Kid on dvd like I did when I travelled up to Edinburgh for the fringe last August. But I had a book, these blogs to write and plenty of food and water and so it wasn't all that bad.

I finally arrived into Pula at around 8.30pm and took a taxi the short ride from the bus station to the apartment. Maybe without that huge journey behind me and the use of google maps I would have walked to the apartment. But for the sake of around £4, I was glad of the comfort of the taxi and not having to put myself through the rigmarole of trying to find the place, undoubtedly getting lost and then somehow - as if by magic - finding the place (at least that's what usually happens haha).

When I arrived at the apartment Eva is at the door waiting for me. She is a short woman in her fifties - all the young Croatia women as so tall and yet the older ones are all so short? - full of smiles and not a word of English. She shows me to my apartment. It's big. More than I need. Two double bedrooms and a nice sized bathroom. No kitchen but there is a washing machine in the bathroom and a fridge in the slightly larger of the bedroom. This is an apartment that is not only big but also right in the centre of Pula and all this for £35 a night!

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I think about having a look around, maybe get some food and exchange a little money, when Eva surprises me with some home cooked food. Chicken, potatoes, carrots, red peppers and tomatoes. The food is amazing, definitely the best food I had while I was in Croatia. Simply, tasty, healthy, home cooked; exactly what I needed at the end of a long day travelling.

After (virtually) licking my plate clean, I headed out into the town centre to have a look around. It looks very nice, all cobbled streets and old buildings. Plus they must have heard that I was coming because in the main square they have put on a welcoming party for me. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell them that I don't like Jazz! But never mind. I really appreciate the effort. So I have a quick look around, listen to the music for a little while and buy some little presents. Including the all important mug:

Then it's time to get back to the apartment and have a reasonably early night. I need to get up in the morning. I'll have to leave around 3pm if I'm going to get to the airport in time for my flight - although at this point I'm definitely thinking about missing it accidentally on purpose - which doesn't leave me a lot of time to have a look around Pula.

I get up reasonably early and head out to explore Pula for a few hours before I have to leave sunny Croatia and head back to grey old London (a city I love living in but haven't missed one iota these past 11 days).

So what is Pula like? It's very nice. Like I said, there are lots of nice little cobbled streets and plenty of old building and lots of interesting things to see like:

The Roman Twin Gate:

The Roman Amphitheatre:

The Roman Temple (Augustov Hram):

The Roman Arch (Arch of the Sergii):

There was a lot of Roman stuff - what with being just over the water from Italy.

Pula is a great city and is clearly proud of its heritage and rightly so, however these lovely places are surrounded by hundreds of tourist shops. Something I obviously need in order to continue my collection of mugs. Although I only need one mug selling shop, not fifty in a row. And you know you're in touristy hell when the restaurants resort to advertise their restaurants with imagines of their food (or at least generic imagines that resembles their food).

I'm sorry but I can't bring myself to eat at a restaurant that has pictures on its menu:

Although I do occasionally break this rule in China Town but that is somehow different.

As in Split, Pula is built next to the water. However unlike in Split where the city is built around the water and the water front looks like this:

Pula feels more like a working port and the city is like it's annex. Also the water front looks like this:

Having said all this, Pula is definitely worth a visit. But the all important question is: was it worth the 15 hour plus journey from hell?

Well unfortunately the answer to that has to be no. That's not to say I wish I hadn't gone. I'm glad that I went and I'm glad that I have another mug and another place to talk about. And I'm sure that lots of people would and do absolutely love Pula! However, for me, Pula was too big, busy and touristy - especially after having just come from the island paradise that is Vis - to hold a place in my heart the way that both Split and (especially) Vis do.

I will definitely be going back to Croatia in the future but I'm not sure if I will travel to Pula again. Maybe if it is convenient to fly into, in order to get to the more northerly islands. But not because I liked it so much that I want to go back again.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Mug #12 - Vis, Croatia

I completely fell in love with Vis, with the apartment I stayed in while I was there and if I had been single and considerably younger, I might have even afforded myself the luxury of falling in love with the young Croatian girl who lived in the house opposite.

It is virtually impossible for me to fully express just how much I fell in love with the island of Vis. However, as a "travel blogger" I will of course at least try. Vis is a truly magical place, a tiny little piece of heaven on earth and I enjoyed every single second that I was there.

So much so, if I had the money I would definitely buy a holiday home there (maybe even a home home). I would happily buy the apartment I stayed in. I would happily wake up to these views each morning:

Or even better, there was a big empty place on the corner. I would love to buy that and renovate it. It was a bit dilapidated, so it might require a bit more work than simply picking the right tiles for the kitchen, but I would definitely be up for the job. And I don't think it would cost very much in its current state of disrepair. Nice places only seem to go for between €100,000 - €250,000. You wouldn't get a shed for that in London! But obviously I'm a broke swimming teacher/wannabe writer and so I'm not going to be able to afford even that anytime soon.

Now the main reason for my trip to Croatia - particularly the 7 nights on Vis - was to relax. I had had a long and hard few months, where I had been working 7 days a week (which you can read about HERE) and I was still trying to get over the illness - or general feeling of being rundown - which had caused me to lose my voice (which you can read about HERE).

The idea was therefore to spend my time writing, reading, swimming and simply chilling out; enjoying the good weather and the healthy food. And that's just what I did (mostly).

I spent a lot of time staring aimlessly out to sea:

Or eating wonderful food. Including plenty of seafood and lots of fruit:

One morning I also went out early - just the once mind haha - and had this "Full English":

Vis truly was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to:

I had a very special time there. I had plenty of time to read and write and I went for a swim at some point - at least once - on each of the days that I was there. Enjoying the opportunity to swim in the stunning, clear waters.

Now as idyllic as Vis is, travelling around on foot would have been virtually impossible. Luckily for me however, the lady I was renting the apartment from - the stunning little apartment which cost only around £40 a night - also borrowed me her bike:

Which both saved me at least £10 - £20 a day in rental fees and also enabled me to cycle past the main, extremely busy beach and find these beautiful secluded bays where I could swim virtually all by my own for hours at a time:

Before leaving Split, I spent 100kn - roughly the equivalent of £10 - on the snorkel and mask that I'm wearing above and I have to say that it was most definitely the best 100kn I spent while I was in Croatia. I had an amazing time snorkelling in the Adriatic. I saw all sorts of amazing fish and all manner of different sea creatures, from hermit crabs to sea cucumbers. You can read more about my snorkelling adventures HERE and HERE.

Snorkelling was by far the most fun that I had while I was on Vis. But the most valuable piece of equipment that I had on my trip - more so than my snorkel or camera or even my swimming shorts - had to be the bike. How else would I have gotten around?

Thanks to that bike I was not only able to find beautiful bays to swim in like this one here:

and that one there:

I was also able to cycle up to the top of Fort George - a 19th century fort originally built by the British - to see this stunning sunset (which was a slightly lonely experience without having someones hand to hold. Still amazingly beautiful though):

I was also able to find my way to this amazing disused submarine base:

That bike really was invaluable to me while I was on Vis. It was a brilliant way for me to get around. However, Vis - like many of those little islands in places like Croatia and Greece - was extremely hilly, mountainous even. I would therefore suggest that if you are to travel to Vis or somewhere similar, renting a car or scooter might be a better option for getting around . Or even better still, consider travelling by yacht. That way you really can see everything that you want to as you hop from one island to the next.

Because bikes are great. I wouldn't have been able to see half the things that I did without that bike. However, unless you are a good, experienced cyclist (which I am not), a bike might not be the best form of transport on an island like Vis. And I say this from experience.

on the opposite side of the island, around 5-7 miles from Vis town, was another town called Komiza. Now there's a nice little cycle I thought to myself. Not too far. In fact a far shorter distance than the 8.5 miles I occasionally cycle from my house to work in London. How very wrong I was however!

Yes it was a short distance. What I didn't realise however, was that the cycle was uphill, all the way! And some of the hills were seriously steep. Trust me this is not the sign you want to see 45 minutes - of cycling uphill in blistering heat - into what you thought would be a fairly gentle 30 minute bike ride:

I have to confess that that hill was simply to punishing for me to conquer. Especially considering how tired I was even before I had gotten there. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the top without stopping. No, I ended up stopping several times during the ascent and in fact I even had to walk for part of the climb.

Upon finally getting to the top of the peak, I had a fabulous view of Komiza. However, as there was another 3km of downhill cycling until I reached the town itself, I decided to turn around and head back to Vis town. Sometimes you need to know when to quit for the day. I could have easily flown down those tight s bends all the way down into Komiza. However, if I cycled those 3km downhill, at some point I would have had to cycle them back up again and I just didn't have it in my legs.

So instead I turned around and cycled all the way back down to Vis town. I say cycle. Apart from a 20m stretch of flat road, it was downhill all the way and so - apart from that short stretch - I didn't pedal all the way back home. After cycling over 1 hour and 20 minutes up to the top of the hill, it took me just 14 minutes to come all the way back down.

It was a bit of a disaster. But I shrugged it off and went for a swim. The best way to forget all about it.

While I was on Vis, I also visited one of it's many nudist beaches - which you can read about HERE:

In fact I actually visited a nudist beach on my first proper day on Vis, but at the time I didn't realise that it was also a nudist beach. However, if you follow the link above you can read all about my deliberate trip to a nudist beach and find out whether I took all my clothes off or not.

On top of that I also attempted to swim to this little island:

which I will also be writing about on Year31Project very soon.

And on my last day in Vis I decided to do the tourist thing and take a boat trip - I had given up trying to see the whole of the island by bike - and see as much of the island as I could while I was still there.

The boat trip took us full circle, right around the island. Stopping off at several interesting spots along the way. Including the natural phenomenon Stiniva Cove:

Although I was quite disappointed that we were unable to leave the boat at this point and swim through the small opening into the cove itself.

We also visited the wonder that is the blue caves, which well and truly lived up to their name:

I had a great time on the boat trip. It was fun and very reasonably priced at roughly £20, plus another £5 for our ticket to see the blue caves. The only negative was that it was a little bit on the long side. We left the harbour at 9am and didn't arrive back until after 4.30pm. But I still had time for a late afternoon snorkel, which is all I was interested in.

There really was so much to do on Vis and I spent a serious amount of my time in water. However, I did of course find some time to go looking for the all important souvenir mug:

All in all the Vis leg of my Croatian adventure was a huge success. I didn't leave feeling particularly refreshed. This was mostly due to the fact that they threw me a huge thanks for coming, we're sorry to see you leave party - either that or they were celebrating Victory day and not just that but its 20th Anniversary - with music blurting out into the night until 2am. When I had to be up for my ferry at 5am, for my next and final stop - Pula.

I truly had the most amazing time on Vis. But I'm considering going around telling everyone that it was horrible and that they should never go, in a pathetic attempt - that is bound to fail - at keeping too many people from visiting. Because Vis was one of the most magical places that I have ever been too. Somewhere I certainly hope to visit again and again in the future. And although already a fairly popular tourist destination - it seems to be a hotspot for people sailing from island to island in particular - it has not yet become overrun and therefore destroyed by tourists - in fact it has only been open to foreign tourist since 1989, before which time it was a military territory - and it would be nice if it could remain that way for as long as possible. So don't go haha and if you do. Do it soon! Before it no doubt changes forever.

P.s There will be a video of my trip to Vis coming soon
and you can see more photographs from my Croatian Adventure on my Instagram:

Monday, 10 August 2015

Mug #11 - Split, Croatia

These adventures tend to start with two things.

1. Messages from well meaning women who care about me and still don't think that at 31 years of age I know how to take care of myself (they might have a point but still).

2. Running. In this case a quick hop, skip and a jump to Walthamstow bus station, where I arrived 7 minutes early for my bus to Liverpool station. Where 30 minutes or so later I arrived for my coach to Stansted Airport - arriving so early that I was able to get on the coach before the one I had booked. What's going on? Have I finally become an adult? - where me and my hand luggage only arrived for our easyJet flight to Split, Croatia.

Attempting to fit everything a modern gent needs for a 10 day trip into a hand luggage only size bag was an interesting exercise that's for sure:

And in the end I didn't do too badly. I managed to fit everything I needed for ten nights and eleven days into that one small bag. Although how many liquids does one man really need:

And even with the help of my trusty tick list I still managed to forgot to take one thing (read more about that HERE). But all in all I had everything I needed as well as several things that it turned out that I didn't.

Now I booked this holiday on something of a whim. I wanted to go somewhere, I had 3 weeks off work and a little bit of money and so after inviting suggestions on Facebook and doing some light google research, I plumped for Croatia. And boy did I make a good decision! OK so all the decision I made weren't exactly great ones. Like the decision to fly at 6.30am, which led to me starting my journey at 2.30am, wasn't necessarily the best. However, the decision to go to Croatia was absolutely the right decision for me personally.

My Croatian adventure started in Split, where I would stay for two and a half days. I arrived into Split by shuttle bus from the airport at around midday. And this was the view that awaited me:

It was fair to say that I was pretty taken with Split straight from the off. It is a spectacularly beautiful little city. Slightly on the touristy side of things - which will no doubt continue to get even worse in the near future - but a lovely little city none the less.

Now being the super organised your man you all know me to be, upon arriving in Split my first task was to find an internet cafe where I could draw myself a little map of how to get from the bus station / ferry port to the apartment I was renting.

Once I found it - I was lost very close to the apartment for around an hour or so - the location of the apartment I stayed in was ideal. Right in the middle of the "city" - I write @city@ because I'm not convinced it's being enough to be a proper city - it was a ten minute walk to the nearest beach in one direction and a fifteen minute walk to the port - where I would take my ferry to Vis, the next stop on my adventure - in the other direction.

The apartment itself was fine. Good value for money. I think it worked out at around £33 a night, which if there was two of you would be a great price. Now the place looked a little like it hadn't been decorated since the seventies and I couldn't sit on the toilet properly because it was too close to the sink. However, if you have been to or even just heard me talk about my place in London, you will understand that this simply made it feel like something of a home from home.

The apartment was big, especially for little old me. There was an open plan kitchen and living area, a single bedroom, bathroom and a mystery bonus room that was big enough to be a double bedroom but didn't have a bed in it. The apartment also had two balconies, one of which had lovely views like this:

Upon finding my apartment I checked in and chilled out / hid from the sun for a couple of hours, before venturing out in the laet afternoon to have a little look around.

My initial thoughts on Croatia:
1. It is very nice. I will definitely be back.
2. It's a lot like Greece. The landscape. The trees. The weather. The architecture. The noisy insects. The fig trees. Lots of cats. And I love Greece, especially the islands and so I could certainly feel myself also falling in love with Croatia, straight form the off.
3. Why do I live in London again?

Instead of heading into the centre I decided to go off in search of the "beach". I'm not sure it really counts as a beach if there is no sand or even any pebbles?:

I didn't have my swimming shorts or a towel with me, plus I was running pretty low on energy supplies and so I just had a nice stroll through this lovely wooded area I found. Upon finding the beach I took pictures of the beautiful water and this dude posing it out in his briefs:

After my walk I was feeling pretty drained from the long day and all the travelling all on around two hours of sleep. So I got myself a takeaway - a Croatian version of a kebab - and got an early night:

I had a nice long sleep and then the next day I went out into Split to have a nice long look around. Take a look at this picture and tell me - with a straight face - that Split isn't a pretty little city:

The first thing I did was to get the buying of presents, postcard and of course my souvenir mug out of the way. Nice and early so that I could concentrate on exploring the city for the rest of the very limited time that I was there:

With the shopping out of the way, next I headed for some food. Now normally I would never head to a city without some sort of travel guide. However, I was only in Split for a couple of nights and well... no actually I just forgot. So I didn't have anything with me to suggest somewhere good (and not too touristy) but luckily for me (and maybe you too), the people of Split have made this great little pocket guide with map:

It was absolutely invaluable while I was there, not least because it led me to the wonderful Villa Spiza. If you're in Split and you're looking for good authentic Croatia/Mediterranean food - my favourite cuisine - at reasonable prices, then look no further than this cute little restaurant:

It really is quite small and the service isn't great - the people were lovely but ordering and paying could have been easier and I never got the salad that I both ordered and paid for - but the food was insanely good! And there was so much of it:

After around 30 minutes of deshelling prawns I got quite proficient at it haha. Later I headed back down towards the water front and bought myself an ice cream (which if I'm being honest made up around 60% of my diet while I was in Croatia):

The map was great. Very helpful. Definitely grab a copy if you're in town. However, save yourself the effort of trekking 30mins out of the centre to see the local street art as indicated as number 34 on the map. That something I did with my final couple of hours before heading for the ferry. I was disappointed by the fact that this was the only decent piece that I found:

and I like it, to me it looks like the pigeons are in a rap group, it's just a shame that it was the only good one that I found. The majority of the other graffiti were tags and I'm sorry but no matter how creative or well executed, I simply don't have any time for tags.

So the lack of good graffiti was disappointing. However, if you're shooing a zombie and/or apocalyptic style film, then this area - which was once the Olympic Centre - would be perfect don't you think?:

Then in the late afternoon I headed off back to the "beach" I had found the night before and had a wonderful and refreshing swim in the gorgeous, clear, warm, torquise waters. Where I stayed for over an hour, swimming from one end of the bay to the other and back again. Before heading back for another earl-ish night and no doubt some more ice cream.

The next day, my final day in Split I simply wondered the small cobbled streets, took plenty of photographs and ate amazing Croatia pastries:

Before wasting a couple of hours in search of nonexistent graffiti, buying myself a snorkel and running to the ferry. Arriving at the boat a big sweaty mess with just a couple of minutes to spare.

I definitely wasn't inSplit for long enough. However, I wasn't exactly sad to leave either - yes I could have happily stayed for another day or seven but - I was too excited about the next stage of my trip.

But I loved Split. It's beautiful, had amazing weather, is reasonably cheap, the people spoke excellent English and it's only a couple of hours from the UK by plane. What more could you want? Split and no doubt Croatia as a whole, really does have everything going for it. So unfortunately it is only going to get more and more popular. Therefore, I would say that you should go soon! Before it is completely over run by tourists. Although in truth, it is undeniably too late already!

So that was the story of my two and a bit days in Split. Next I headed off to the island of Vis, with my suitcase and my brand new snorkel - which you can read more about HERE - hopeful that it would be at least as magical as Split.

ps. see more photographs from my Croatian adventure on my Instagram: