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.

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