23.07.2012 - 29.07.2012 35 °C
We awoke to a sunny morning in Rab after a fitful night of rain, lightning and intense winds. We were ready to move on with our adventure and head northward, but were met with some surprising and unfortunate news. We were told that the direct sailing to Rijeka was cancelled due to the winds –called bura. Looking around at the peaceful harbour, bright blue sky, and only a whisper of breeze rustling the trees, we scratched our heads in confusion. Finding out that our only option was to take a much later bus that would make our trip longer and more expensive, we begrudgingly waited around for hours, restless and ready for the next leg of our journey to begin. Once on the bus that took us to the mainland via a quick car ferry, we were amazed at the change in weather. Standing on the ferry was next to impossible as high winds tore at our clothes and nearly knocked us over. We learned that Rab is protected by mountains that shield it from these very winds, but outside Rab’s sheltered bay, havoc was ensuing. Later, after watching the news, we learned that we had just missed an enormous forest fire and that all boats and buses stopped running as dark skies rumbled overhead; we felt fortunate to have gotten away when we did. We arrived in Pula unscathed and were happy to learn the storm was moving southward as we moved north.
The northern triangularly-shaped region of Croatia is called Istria, which we heard referred to as the ‘Tuscany of Croatia;’ though, to me, this area means coming home. Istria is a mix of lush rolling hills and medieval hilltop villages full of aspiring artists, checkered farmlands that showcase Istria’s vibrant and fertile red soil and olive trees, as well as a long coastline of beaches along the clear cool waters of the Adriatic Sea. At one time under Italian rule, and with the close proximity to the Italian boarder, the culture, food and language are palimpsests of various cultural influences. The Istrian dialect varies distinctly from the Croatian language, originally used by the hardworking farmers and fishermen of the north, while it now is a matter of cultural pride that the youth speak Istrian-Croatian. Istria has fabulous food, with fresh fruits and vegetables readily available, incredible cheeses, and freshly caught seafood (along with a Nona that can cook an amazing meal) –it was nice to finally reach Pula and eat something home-cooked.
With plenty of family in and around Pula, we came to stay with my Nona (grandma) and mom, only to be pampered, spoiled, and loved to death. With clean laundry, bellies full, and bus passes in hand, I was ready to show Andrew, Pula. Pula is a relatively small city with most things in walking distance, but with a well-run transit system it is easier to get to the beaches via bus. Pula’s beautiful coastline of beaches have smooth limestone ledges, perfect for stretching out on before cooling off in the clear, sparkling, deep-blue and turquoise waters of the Adriatic.
We visited the Grotte dei Colombi, with deep caves worn into the high cliffs of limestone. The height of them had tourists testing their fears, either making the leap or shying away from the large drop. Of course, to Andrew, this was a playground full of leaping opportunities that ended with a dive off the highest point, challenging himself with a successful surfacing and a satisfied grin.
Visiting Pula’s old town means walking through Zlatna Vrata (the golden gates), where the entrance remains, along with sections of the remaining old walls. Now a tourist mecca, the old streets are lined with shops, vendors, street performers and music. Tourists jostle each other for room through the narrow alley, only to reach the central square (forum) where the Augustov Hram (temple) remains (built between 2 BC -14 AD), boasting impossibly high Roman columns. One of the main draws to Pula, however, has to be the amazing amphitheater called the Arena, which, largely intact from the 1st century, stands as a central focal point in Pula.
The large amphitheater was originally the gladiators’ domain, as they fought to the death, delighting the spectators and nobility. The Arena is now a main tourist draw which you can walk through and sit on the original spectator’s seats, as well as go underneath the structure to see where the lions and imprisoned gladiators were kept. A sport, similar to the UFC, two gladiators rivaled for their lives, or a gladiator was paired against a lion. Gladiators were prisoners, but could gain public support with continued success in the arena, and could eventually earn their freedom. Under this incredible monument of carved limestone and archways, the underground labyrinth has now been turned into a museum which displays the original tools used in making olive oil (something Istria is famed for).
From Pula we took a bus to Rovinj, a beautiful old town that winds up a hill and overlooks the sea and thirteen of Croatia’s thousands of islands. Rovinj, for me, has always been a favourite place to visit, with countless art galleries, handmade treasures, and little coffee shops along cobble streets smooth from wear, all peaking at the upper church of St. Euphemia with its prominent bell tower. A statue of St. Euphemia (a martyr for the Christian faith) stands atop the bell tower as a weathervane, pointing out to sea the direction of the wind. With endless charm, especially at night, I wanted to show Andrew the adorable streets I know and love.
From Rovinj we carried on to Poreč, a small town outside the village I called home when little, and which I returned to for endless summers of my youth. With cobble streets, a lovely harbour and promenade, the Euphrasian Basilica with 6th-century golden mosaics (a World Heritage Site), and a 2km walkway around the town and near beaches, Poreč will always be a special place for me. In the years since my childhood, Poreč has become a never ending industry of tourism, full of resorts and crawling with tourists. The beautiful slab beaches are now covered with masonry and concrete, and the quiet haven where I learned to swim is now overrun without a place to lie down. I felt a deep sorrow seeing my home this way, though I know the tourist industry is very important to Poreč, I selfishly wished for the days when I splashed in the clear waters, played with my sister and turned golden in the hot sun. Still a beautiful place, it is not for those looking for a quiet get-a-way. We spent an afternoon walking around before heading to my tiny village, called Mugeba.
My family home still remains, though rings hollow without the laughter and loving smile of my Nono, along with the sense of family Mugeba always brought me. This all said, we opened the shutters and I showed Andrew the tiny old house and reveled in sitting there, browsing through old photos and books, and sharing the memories I will always carry with me.
The following day we headed back to Pula for another lazy beach day. We rented a car and made plans for our trip to the final destination of our European holiday –Venice. I’ll make you wait for that part though, and all the beautiful pictures we have to share.
Love and hugs,