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Roman Colosseum, Pula, Croatia
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 4,494,749 Area: 56,542 sq km Gov't: Presidential Parliamentary Democracy Religion: 87.8% Catholic, 4.4% Orthodox, 1.3% Muslim View Map
Roman Colosseum, Pula, Croatia, October 13, 2003  

Croatian Flag CROATIA


October 13. PIRAN - VODNJAN - PULA - RIJEKA Again we were off early to cover some major territory in a single day.  From Porto Roz we caught a bus to Croatia.  It was off-season so there were only a few options to get to Croatia from the coast.  The bus only had a handful of people on it so the border check was little more than cursory.  We had been able to see the top of Croatia sticking out across the bay from Piran and upon closer look of the border area there were a number of deserted buildings.  It was hard to tell if they were displaced people after countries drew their borders again or if the area had gone lost for some other reason.

Down the coast we picked up more people, including quite a few children commuting to school.  The old towns along the coast of Croatia's Istrian Peninsula were very much like Piran, each with a Venetian campanile towering above, and they had shared much of the same history.  The town of Vodnjan, inland from the coast and just north of Pula, the peninsula's southern most city, was home to three famous mummies.  Their unexplained preservation had been attributed to a miracle and they lay entombed in class cases in the town church.  During our stay in Piran we had seen a documentary on mummies around the world and these three had been included.  The thought of visiting had already occurred to us but seeing them on TV really peaked our curiosity so we were going some distance out of our way to stop in Vodnjan.  

We got off the bus on the main road and the driver pointed us in the direction of the church whose tower we had seen as we entered town. Vodjnan was a quiet and peaceful little town and we only passed a handful of smiling people as we carried our packs through the stone streets.  The street sloped down and took us to the main square in town where a beautiful red Venetian building dominated the otherwise well worn area.  From the square it just a short walk to the church, which turned out to be closed.  We investigated every possible entrance before setting ourselves down in a nearby cafe to decide what to do.  The woman who waited on us didn't speak English but understood why we were there and directed us to the priest's home, the red house just down the street, and motioned that he would come and open the church for us.  We rang the bell on the red house and a little old woman peeked her head out of the window on the second floor.  She didn't speak English either but we pointed towards the church and in Italian she replied that we should either come back at 3:00 or in three hours.  A couple of Italian tourists that came by later and confirmed that it 3:00.  So, we had to decide whether to hang out (it was only past 10:00) or cut our losses and continue to Pula where we planned to catch the bus to Rijeka.  We decided to stay since our whole reason for the detour through Istria had been to see the Saints.

The cafe in front of the church served up some nice biela kavas (Croatian for white coffee) but we couldn't stay there all day and eventually picked up our packs and wandered the streets of Vodnjan.  A car with a movie camera attached to the hood and a guy sitting next to it was moving slowly up and down all of the streets of the town.  We must have encountered them three or four times.  I am not sure if having some random backpackers in their footage was what they had in mind but there we were.  Otherwise, the town was very quiet with only the occasional person out shopping or having a coffee.  Having exhausted our sightseeing we went in search of Vodnjan's other main attraction, the Gostiona-Trattoria Vodnjanka, a small family run restaurant that was supposed to serve up some excellent food. 

After asking for directions we found the restaurant along the main road, not far from where we got off of the bus.  A couple of old men were drinking beer at one of the tables when we entered.  It was a small house, nicely decorated with white table clothes on a few tables in the main room.  A little black dog that had barked as us repeatedly as we walked down the street resided at the restaurant and he had a small bed under one of the side tables.  He came and went repeatedly during our lunch.  We sat down in the back and waited for someone to come around with menus but the woman of the house was the menu.  We didn't know what to get so she just said she'd bring a little of everything and we went with her suggestion.  The meal started with some local cured ham, slices of white cheese with a taste similar to Pecorino, and olives.  It was followed by a plate with two kinds of pastas, one with a creamy wild mushroom sauce and the other with a creamy truffle sauce.  These were absolutely divine!  The mushrooms were wonderful but the truffle pasta was unbelievable.  Local truffles are a Croatian delicacy and they were served in this pasta dish in generous chunks.  At $20 an ounce back home we are lucky to get pasta with truffle oil at even a nice restaurant and actual truffle pieces are a real extravagance but here, in this cozy little farm house, where neighborhood grandmas were the chefs we had chunks of truffles.  Indeed they were the most expensive part of our $30 meal but an absolute bargain by standards anywhere else.  The pastas were followed by some sautéed cabbage and pork, a reflection of the regions Austrian influence, and while the truffle pasta was a tough act to follow this dish was excellent as well.  The meal was capped off with come fried ribbons of dough sprinkled with powdered sugar.

It was only because of this amazing lunch that we weren't totally frustrated to find no sign of the town priest at 3:00.  Undoubtedly he had more urgent and important business than playing tour guide but it was disappointing, nonetheless.  We waited until 3:45 until we finally waived good-bye to the old woman in her window in the red house, where she sat looking a bit irritated at the late return of the priest (most likely her son).  We had to catch the 4:00 bus to Pula or the next bus wouldn't come by for two hours.  

It was only another 20 minutes to Pula where we had to change buses.  We tried to check our bags at the left luggage room but the attendant was too busy socializing to do his job.  Irritated we just lugged our packs with us.  We had just enough time to walk into Pula and see the huge skeleton of the Roman Stadium.   

Pula dated back to Roman times and, like the rest of the Istrian Peninsula, suffered under Venetian rule, was repeatedly invaded by the Patriarch of Aquilea, the Croatian-Hungarian Kings and the Austrian Habsburgs.  From 1918-1943 it fell under Italian fascist rule and then was occupied by the Germans in 1943.   At the end of WWII the Anglo-American forces allocated it to Yugoslavia.

The city was quite industrial but the imposing stadium was still impressive with its 30 meter high walls and 72 arches.  It could accommodate up to 20,000 people.  We had enough time to walk the outside of the walls before walking back to the bus station to catch the bus to Rijeka.

The sacrifice we made in waiting for our mummies was that we passed along the coast line from Pula to Rijeka in the dark and missed the views.  However, we couldn't regret our lovely meal, undoubtedly the best meal of our journey thus far!  When we arrived into Rijeka it was dark and chilly.  An expensive resort area, Rijeka only offered one affordable place to stay, the Red Cross Hostel and we had to take a bus to nearby Pecine for that.  Actually it was between Pecine and Rijeka, which, if we had known, would have made the walk to the hostel easier.  The bus actually returned to Rijeka via a different road that would have taken us directly in front of the hostel and saved us a twenty minute walk.  With my gimpy knee starting to swell under the weight of my pack, that would have been nice.

The Red Cross Hostel looked just like you might expect, a hospital.  We were initially given a four bed room to ourselves on an upper floor but our neighbors, three older men, we parked in the hallway in front of a blaring TV and amidst a haze of cigarette smoke.  We requested a change and got an odd room that was accessed via two other rooms but was quiet and had a nearby bathroom that no one else was using.   

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24