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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (and other lands)

Croatia - a very nice surprise!

CROATIA | Saturday, 31 August 2013 | Views [645]

I don't really know what I expected Croatia to be like before I arrived. I knew that it was the 'new' Greek Islands in terms of partying for the late teens/early 20s, and that it was meant to have remarkably good food, but I didn't really know what kind of food I would find. As it turned out, it's pretty nice.


I caught the ferry from Venice to Pula, in the Istra region of northern Croatia. The ferry was OK, there was less legroom than on a Ryanair flight, but I did see some dolphins, so that made up for it! The ferry terminal is right in the heart of Pula, and as you come in, you have a fantastic view of the Roman amphitheatre which is still used as a concert space. Not a bad way to enter a new country! I grabbed my bags and went for a wander through the town to find my hostel, which was up on a hill overlooking the main town. My lovely hostel-owner host gave me some recommendations for cevapci restaurants, to have a typical Croatian dinner (cevapci is minced meat, pressed into either one large burger or lots of little rissoles, served with bread, sheep's cheese, and some salad on the side). After stuffing myself full of meat and bread, I headed back to the hostel, had a very necessary shower, and went to bed.


The next day, I went for a walk around town to get my bearings and to see the big sights. It turned out that a big electronic music festival had just started, which meant that the streets were packed with young festival goers, ready to party. The festival was using the amphitheatre as the venue for their opening party, so unfortunately I couldn't go inside to take pictures, but it was still pretty impressive! I continued to explore up the hill to the Austro-Hungarian fortress, which has commanding views over the whole city and harbour, as well as some slightly unusual museum displays (Croatian pharmacies throughout the ages, amongst other things).


After another good nights sleep, I decided that the best way for me to spend the day would be to go to the beach. Istrian beaches are what I think of as 'typical European' beaches, in that they are covered in pebbles and there is not a grain of sand in sight. The beaches are quite beautiful, but very different to what I'm used to: the beaches are in small rocky coves, some only 20 metres across, with steep banks of very large pebbles (ranging from the size of my fist to the size of a rockmelon). The water is crystal clear, and there is not a lot of weed, but there are tons and tons of beachgoers, most of whom prefer to bake themselves in the sun rather than go for a swim! There is no surf to speak of (not surprising) but there are lots of peddalo-style contraptions, and giant floating slides, and other beach-fun-things. It was a very strange experience - lying on pebbles reading a book is not comfortable - but it was a nice thing to do. The beachgoers were an interesting mix of Croatians, Italians and Germans, all prepared to expose as much skin as possible to get that perfect shade of walnut brown.


That evening I headed to the bus station with all my things to get on an overnight bus down to Split. It's only about 500km but the bus took 10 hours, as it stopped about thirty times. There were only a few official big stops, but at each one locals would board, and would request to be dropped off a few kilometres down the road - presumably there are no local buses to take them, so they have to use the big coach services. Needless to say, despite my massive headphones and my eyemask, I didn't sleep all that well! I arrived in Split at about 6am, and sat in the cafe connected to the coach station, drinking coffee (shock, horror!) until my hostel reception was due to open at 8am. I hobbled across to the hostel (on my beach adventures the previous day I developed some pretty nasty blisters on both feet), dumped my bags, and went for a bit more of a hobble/walk around the fresh fruit and vegetable markets and Diocletian's Palace at the centre of the old town until I was completely exhausted, when I went back to the hostel. Fortunately, even though it was still a few hours from the official check in time, the hostel had a couple of beds spare, so I was given somewhere to have a shower and a nap nice and early.


Split is an interesting town in that it has the impressive Roman history - Diocletian's Palace is amazing - as well as a thriving island-based tourist industry. A lot of sailing boats take mini-tours (up to a week, usually) from Split along the Dalmatian Coast, and so it's the start/end point for a lot of young people's booze cruise adventures. In my hostel I met a good bunch of people, all of whom (myself included) were going on some tour or other the next day. We all went out for dinner (pan-fried sea bass for me) and ice cream along the waterfront, and the headed back for an early night before the start of my tour across the Balkans the next day.

Tags: croatia, dalmatia, hostels, istra, overnight bus, pula, split


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