visits Pula in Croatia


Maria Nolan

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EUROPE > Croatia > Pula | Rovinj

The Istrian Province of Croatia

Maria Nolan

Article & Pictures © 2007 Maria Nolan

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The sights of Pula — although lovely — can be seen on a day-trip, but the magic and charm of Rovinj, Brijini, or even Porec, deserve to be slowly sampled, savoured, and most definitely shared

The Istrian Province of Croatia is one of the most exquisite and picturesque places I have had the pleasure of visiting. The scenery will leave you quite breathless and the people are friendly, helpful, immensely proud of their country, and only too delighted to expound on its merits to us foreigners. Indeed, if the Irish are happy that Pula is one of the newest Ryanair destinations, the Croatians are ecstatic.

My first impressions of Pula, I would have to say, were rather subdued. Although, very Italian, it doesn't have the grandeur of Rome, the culture of Florence or the wonder of Venice. Yet, on further exploration, it emerged as a rather nice city with its own distinct charm and quaintness.

Most of its historical and cultural sights are situated within a 1-kilometre radius of each other. Beginning with the Arch of Sergii and ending up at Pula's marvelously preserved Amphitheatre, one can walk from one to the other with relative ease.

Statue of James Joyce at a cafe table in Pula, Croatia We, being Irish, began with coffee at the Hotel Ulysses, adjacent to the Arch of Sergii — well we would, wouldn't we? James Joyce lived in Pula for about 6 months and taught English here. He certainly seems to have made a lasting impression in a very short time! I had my photo taken seated on the great mans lap — and not the first either, I have no doubt. This seems to be a rather popular pastime with visitors. Coffee by the way was remarkably reasonable despite being right in the tourist area.

From there we moved on to Hercules gate and just down the road. The Twin Gates, built in the first and second centuries respectively, making Hercules Gate the oldest roman monument in the city. Then on to the Roman Theatre, where among the ancient ruins you experience a strange silence; no sounds of the city to be heard here, only the singing of the birds and the occasional small sound of the many shy green lizards scurrying in and out beneath these aged roman stones.

We visited the Cathedral, the Church of St. Nicholas, The Chapel of St. Maria Formosa and the Franciscan Monastery, however all were locked and barred, but they led us down to the wonderful marina and harbour area of Pula. During its period under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Pula was a significant naval base and the harbour is a kaleidoscope of colour and a hive of activity. This is truly a beautiful part of Pula and is a must on your agenda. We had a lovely lunch here at a most reasonable cost again despite being in one of Pula's most visited areas. Continuing along the marina will take you to the Roman Forum which is dominated by the Temple of Augustus. This lovely wide ancient Square is relaxing and enjoyable to sit in and it is also where Pula's Tourist Office is located.

Roman Amphitheatre on Pula - click to enlarge The most spectacular sight in all of Pula is the unbelievably well preserved Roman Amphitheatre. This is one of the best outside Rome. Walking out here you can almost smell the sweat of the gladiators, hear the roar of the lions and feel the blood-thirsty excitement of the spectators. As we stood saturated in this savage and primitive atmosphere, a very small domestic cat strolled from one of the orifices on to this ancient arena prompting one of our party to joke "They`re not making cats like the used to!"

Our accommodation in Pula was a four-bedroomed apartment within 10 minutes walking distance of the centre of the city. There is a huge amount of development happening in Pula at the moment and some of the outlying districts resemble building sites; but believe me, the apartment, with its own swimming pool, was beautiful and couldn't be faulted at €500 for the week for 6 of us. The owners lived underneath and, on our last night, we decided to barbeque, and they very kindly presented us with a delicious assortment of delectable desserts for afters, plus offered to drive us to the airport the following day. Most unusual. Would certainly recommend this type of accommodation and warn you not to be put off by the surroundings — as I say, it's in the early stages of development.

The citizens of Pula seem to be very interested in gardening and vegetables, and on the 10 minute walk into the city, there are numerous allotments, sporting all kinds of vegetables and flowers; people can be seen working at all hours of the day and into the night. We were told that most of the food in the Restaurants is organic. Food and drink are relatively cheap in the city, but clothing seems to be pretty much the same as Dublin, both in style and cost. But footwear — now there's where Pula comes into its own ladies — do not return home without purchasing at least one pair of shoes from the wonderfully different collections all over the city. Almost every second shop is a shoe shop, and if you think you've seen them all then think again and visit each one: they all have slightly different collections. Jewellery is another biggie here — based on shells and shell designs — a lot of mother of pearl and murano glass — attractive — and again, I say, different to anything I have seen at home.

One of the biggest advantages of Pula is that it is so close to so many other beautiful spots along the Istrian coast — like Rovinj — and public transport is easily accessible and comparatively cheap. Plus it gives the visitor a chance to see more of Croatia, even on a short sojourn.

Rovinj , Croatia - click to enlarge Before the trip, a well travelled friend told me that when I saw Rovinj I wouldn’t want to leave it — ever! And he was so right. It is quiet exquisite and there is just something magical about the narrow, colourful twisted little streets and the amazing views that makes you fall in love immediately with this antique jewel set immaculately in the azure Adriatic.

Rovinj carves itself a niche in your memory that makes it one of those places you promise yourself you will return too. Its collection of crooked Mother Hubbard houses, clustered together in a multicoloured mound that overlooks the beautiful blue Adriatic, and the timeless, vibrant marina, sets it apart. Everything seems to wind upwards — or should I say heaven-wards — and one just automatically follows the very natural ascent all the way up to the Church of Saint Euphemia — and even further upwards into the Bell Tower, where the beauty at the top is truly spellbinding. Saint Euphemia is a little known Saint who was martyred at a young age in the first century. Her Sarcophagus is in the church here.

The climb to the top of the Bell Tower is not for the faint hearted with its narrow, aged-damaged steps; it appeared decidedly dangerous and definitely would have been closed down on health and safety grounds in Ireland. But for those that make the climb, the sights are both spectacular and unforgettable. Gazing from a height at the bluer-than-blue Adriatic, the many tiny boats and ships look like tiny diamonds scattered on a blue velvet cushion.

Trust me and do put Rovinj on your list of places to see.

Just up the coast from Rovinj is another lovely fishing town with a beautiful marina called Porec. It is slightly more commercialized than Rovinj, and a little less quaint, maybe, but only very little less. Its marvelous marina is a haven of cafés and restaurants and jewellery stalls sporting pieces of all descriptions and sizes. You do not get the feeling of being ripped-off in Croatia and the people at the stalls, whilst being extremely helpful, are not overpowering and pushy.

Both these towns — jewels of the Adriatic — are easily accessible from Pula. Public transport is regular and reliable, taking approximately 45 minutes to get to Rovinj and perhaps a little over the hour to Porec; neither trip will cost you an arm and a leg.

On our final day in Pula we took a boat trip to the Islands — Brijini — like a string of pearls they stretch across the sapphire sea, sparkling and glistening they bathe in the liquid gold of the Croatian sun. The largest of the Islands was once the residence of President Tito of Yugoslavia and is now a National Park and one of the most visited places in Istria. You can visit the Tito Museum which is a bit of a shrine to the man himself, with the walls in all the rooms covered with photos of Tito kissing and cuddling small children and being kind to a wide variety of animals — but only in his very rare moments of spare time of course! Tito would spend 6 months of the year on the island and received presents of animals from many prominent world leaders of the time. Almost all of these animals have passed to their eternal reward now like Tito himself (he died in 1980) and they are now stuffed and housed in glass cases in the Museum. Thankfully only the animals though!

A little train will take you on a tour of the island, and all of this plus a guided tour is included in the reasonable price you pay on the boat. Once again, extremely good value, even if only for the boat trip alone. It leaves from the harbour in Pula and it takes approximately 45 minutes to get to Brijini — and the scenery itself is worth the cost.

The Island has a small animal reserve with deer, zebras, ostrichs and two very distressed and bored elephants. I didn’t like this part of the tour at all. The animals didn’t look happy and it was upsetting to see them.

Our Tour Guide was extremely well informed and had perfect English and was more than eager to answer questions; the tour itself was well organized. In truth, this trip couldn’t be faulted and is another must on your agenda.

In conclusion I was most impressed with my first excursion to what was once called Yugoslavia and would have no hesitation recommending Pula as a city break; but rather, I would suggest you might just fly into Pula and stay in Rovinj or on Brijini. The Island has two lovely hotels and the cost per night is far from exorbitant.

The sights of Pula — although lovely — can be seen on a day-trip, but the magic and charm of Rovinj, Brijini, or even Porec, deserve to be slowly sampled, savoured, and most definitely shared; they all have a seraphic beauty and are truly sublime and serene places.


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