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Idyllic Istria

View from atop the church tower

I took a bus from Trieste, an Italian port city, through a one-laned twisty hilly road down through Istria – the peninsula that lies at the northern point of the Adriatic Sea. It took three hours for the bus to travel the 100 kilometers down the western coast, stopping at little towns along the way, to reach Pula – located at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. This port city is the largest in Istria with just over 62,000 residents. It holds a beautiful mix of mostly Croats, with some Serbs, Italians, Bosniaks and Slovenians. Istria is a melting pot of Italian, Austrian and Croatian cultures.

I walked across the city, passing the first century Roman amphitheatre (aka Colosseum) and the old town to get to my hostel. Famished, I decided along with several new friends I had met at the hostel to pay a visit to one of Pula’s most frequented Italian restaurants, Jupiter, located at Castrapola 38 – a couple of blocks above the forum. Pizza was the specialty – there were 18 to choose from. The five of us stationed ourselves in a booth with a rustic wooden table. We each ordered an individual pizza at a reasonable price. Little did we know that in Croatia an “individual pizza” could easily feed two… or three. The pizza was exquisite.

We then decided to be mature and cultured travelers. Instead of a typical night of finding the local pub or club, we decided to attend a concert of traditional Croatian choral music at the Colosseum for $40. The amphitheater was lit beautifully and packed with locals. The men’s choirs took the stage one by one to sing songs that everyone in the audience knew and sang along to. And though it was nice, we were getting bored and cold and were somewhat regretting not hitting up the clubs.

I explored the narrow streets of the old town the next morning. Though beautifully lined with medieval and Renaissance buildings along the ancient Roman stoned streets, I couldn’t help but notice the many tourist-targeted shops and overpriced restaurants. I ran into two Portuguese friends I had met in Trieste a couple of days before. We ate a very mediocre and overpriced lunch at what looked like a nice restaurant. We were later told by one of the locals that for these restaurants there are two prices – the local’s price and the significantly higher tourist’s price.

We trekked up the stairs of the central hill of the old city to explore the star-shaped 14th century castle that sat atop. The princess that I am, I make a point of visiting the castles along the ways of my travels. This one had a moat. It was converted into the Historical Museum of Istria. It certainly was no Palazzo Ducale of Venice. For a few dollars we walked through 5 or 6 open rooms filled with old weapons, kitchenware, and pharmaceuticals. The city views alone were worth the visit.

That night we hit the clubs. We started at the beach and slowly made our way inland. By 4am we were at the fourth club of the night. The Portuguese boys were still going strong. I was fading and the smoke was getting to me. I headed back to the hostel, squeezed in a couple of hours of sleep, and the next day, caught a bus to Rovinj.


I had convinced Tristan (British) and Chris (Australian) from the hostel to join me in Rovinj. A short one-hour bus ride north along the coast brought us to a stunning little town by sea. Rovinj was originally an island separated from the mainland. In 1763 the channel was filled in. Its nickname is “The Hitchhiker’s Thumb.” Its population of just over 13,500 consists of mostly Croats and Italians. The town clearly had a strong Italian influence. It even had an Italian school. Tristan said it reminded him of Venice.

We could not take enough pictures. Every moment, every turn was a treasurable scene. We walked along the boardwalk filled with restaurants and tourists, sailboats and yachts, and up the rickety stairs of the church tower, which stands tall in the middle of the island. The views were breathtaking. We spent half an hour up there snapping away with our cameras.

The boys hopped on the last bus back to Pula and I had the evening to myself. I got a cup of hot chocolate and sat on the boardwalk near the boats to watch the sun set behind the island. The stray cats kept me company as love struck couples walked by. If I had known this place would be swarming with lovebirds, I would have saved it for my honeymoon.

I woke up early the next morning to soak in the beauty of this city one last time before heading to Rijeka to catch the ferry down to Hvar Island. The bus cut through the stunning Istria countryside. I didn't have much time to explore this industrious port city before I boarded the ferry heading south to Hvar Island. I ran into Tristan and Chris in the boarding line. We watched the city lights slowly get further and further away as we sailed south until it was darkness. We stayed up late laughing, reminiscing and sharing travel stories. The three of us made up a commonwealth of Canada, Britain, and Australia. Too cheap to get a cabin, we fell asleep on chairs in the lounge. Next time I’m definitely getting a cabin. The ferry docked at Hvar Island at 6 am. The boys were continuing on to Dubrovnik. We said our goodbyes and I got off the boat.

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