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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Welcome to Croatia

Day 1: Dobro došli u Hrvatsku

It was a bit of a planning as we were looking for the best summer destination, where it has beaches as well as cultural sites offering. Second consideration was the accessibility with public transport since we wanted to see as much places as we could. Another consideration was of course the budget, the cheaper, the better. Actually our first choice was Iceland, but I thought it will be too cold and it is summer so I badly needed to be on the beach. Then came Finland which also has a lot of nature and cultural stuffs to see, but I guess it will be for the next time. Our last choices were Malta and Croatia. A friend of ours who is Croatian but grew up in Germany invited us before so I thought it would be great to finally go there. It was decided since it's easy to reach from Berlin and it has a good mix of cultural attractions, beaches and nature as we also wanted to go to the countryside. When we agreed on Croatia and picked the places we wanted to go, what's left hanging was the question of where do we start? There were a few possibilities and depending on the dates, there were direct flights from Berlin to Pula, Rijeka, Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Split.

We found a cheap flight with German Wings from Berlin to Pula. Pula seemed like a good start because we've read about its amphitheater and other historical sites. There is also a good bus connection to other places of interest in Istria region. There are also ferries to nearby islands and a ferry connection to Zadar. A really big help in planning our trip was the listing of ferry routes and timetables.

All our bags were packed and ready to go but no taxi's waiting and blowing its horn... :( so we had to take the subway (UBahn) and suburban train (SBahn) to Berlin-Schönefeld airport. I had at least five hours sleep partly due to excitement or perhaps it was the heat. Finally summer has broken and I'm feeling restless and just wanted to go on vacation.

The way to the airport Berlin-Schönefeld was quite complicated. It took at least an hour with three changes with public transport and a long walk from the SBahn station to the airport's main entrance. I use to fly from Tegel airport and it takes me just a maximum of 35 minutes from my place. Anyhow, we checked in the previous night and we only had to drop our luggage off and we still had ample time for breakfast. We were in Pula in less than two hours and I was just happy to be on solid grounds again.

The moment we stepped out of the plane and felt the searing heat, I knew vacation begun. Pula airport looks new and there were some construction still going on. The airport is located just 6 kilometers away from the city center and accessible by taxi or bus. The bus was oddly timed as it left a minute we landed so there was no chance to catch it when you still have to wait you for your baggage. As luck would have it, you will be overcharged by some pesky taxi drivers. The bus ride costs 15 Kuna (2€) and the regular taxi fare to the city center will be around 120 Kuna (16 €) Anyhow, we didn't want to wait for the next bus coming in another 90 minutes so we took a taxi. It was probably not the wisest decision as the driver charged us 180 Kuna (roughly 25 €) to bring us to our hotel. I joked about my friend paying an EU Advance. I know it's a bad joke, I'm wicked eh! But we were soon at the hotel, Veli Jože, which we booked in advance. We have read that one should pre-book an accommodation in Croatia since summer is its peak season and chances would be that hotels will be overbooked.

Veli Jože is a 10-minute-walk outside the town center and much cheaper than most of the more centrally located hotels. The hotel and our room looked fine. It's clean, spacious and located in an okay area. Our room (and I guess all the rooms) unfortunately lacking in air-condition unit and a refrigerator. We kind of underestimated the Croatian summer weather as it was constantly between 30-40°C but we had a bathroom, TV and a free Wi-Fi outside the room downstairs and a view of the shipyard. It was too loud at night due to the traffic but I needed to open the window to let some fresh air. It was a horror for me and I haven't got a good sleep for the next three consecutive nights. We should have asked for another room on the other side of the house or an air-conditioning unit would have made a great difference. Considering that we paid half of the price compared to the hotels on the city center, it was alright.

Our plan for the rest of the day was to explore Pula. After a short walk from our hotel, we arrived at the center and I got my first taste of the Croatian food in a nice restaurant. I've learned the word "hvala" and it means "thank you! (We actually learned a few from our Croatian friend [ hallo Kati ;) ] in Berlin, "Boli me kurac", which roughly means like "tell no shit" but "kurac" literally means the male genitals.

Walking through the small streets in the center, we first went to find the ancient roman floor mosaic. It was not easy to find since it was somewhere at the backyard of the house and there was no visible sign or tourist presence. It was easy to overlook but we found it. They could have made a little effort in its presentation. It was roofed, but no viewing area and it was behind bars. Much better was the Temple of Augustus located right next to the town hall and also has a very modest exhibition. After taking a map from the tourist office we continued uphill to see the fortress (Kaštel) and found the church of St. Francis on our way. You have a great view of Pula and the sea from the fortress.

On our way to the most famous attraction of Pula, the amphitheater, we came to a small park near the marina. The area was just in the process of being renewed. At the marina some tour operators were selling some trips to the Brijuni Islands. One booker convinced us to buy a trip as we had heard that they are interesting to visit. But we needed some moments to think about it first and we needed to buy our ferry tickets to Mali Losijn and back as well as the ticket to Zadar for our onward journey at the nearby Commodore Cruises office located in Riva 14. We first took a little rest at the café overlooking the marina and the amphitheater and just enjoyed the view.

After we bought our excursion tickets to Brijuni, we finally continued to the amphitheater (Arena) which is quite huge and impressive. There are actually some events inside the amphitheater in the evening but we were just there to take a look and wander around the place. Further down it also has an exhibition. The amphitheater is said to be the sixth biggest in the world.

Strolling back through the city we bought some bread at a bakery along the way, and then we came to an archeological museum and the entrance to "Zero Street", a tunnel system with underground walks. We skipped both but looked around for some statues and ruins at the back.

Then we passed by at the not yet awakened "nightlife area" of Pula and came to the impressive Arch of Sergii which today serves as entrance to the pedestrian area of Pula. It was getting crowded since there was also the Film Festival of Pula at the time. We quickly went to a small grocery shop and bought some cold drinks and back to the hotel.

On the map we had seen that there is a beach relatively nearby the hotel on the opposite direction of the town. It was already bit late but we still to see and maybe swim. It turned out to be a bit of a walk but was easy to find. There is a camping place nearby. We immediately went to take a plunge on the cool waters of the Adriatic coast.

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