Thursday, October 15, 2009


We had to switch trains three times on our way to Pula, Croatia. The last train dropped us off in Trieste, Italy and from there we had to catch a three hour bus the rest of the way. When we passed the border the bus was stopped and everyone's passport was checked over. They did a pretty thorough inspection and we even got a stamp. The bus takes off and about two minutes later we stop again for another border check. Turns out we had to pass through Slovenia (the first passport check) and then enter Croatia (the second check). It seemed a bit ridiculous, but border security is no laughing matter! Apparently. The countryside we passed through was really beautiful. Not in a sweeping-mountains-and-dramatic-scenery sort of way, but a rustic beauty. There was a lot of farmland and little plots of different plants were scattered about along the roadside. There were small mountains whose cliff edges we frequently drove along, offering great views of the valleys below. We had to pass slow-moving tractors a couple of times - it was a bit scary to imagine our big charter bus swerving out into the opposite lane of a two-lane highway to pass traffic. But we arrived safe and sound and even managed to figure out which local bus we had to take to get to our hotel. With a little help from some kind old ladies on the bus we even got off at the right stop. By the time we got settled into our little apartment it had been dark out for an hour. Some beer and pasta put us right to sleep for the night.

On the 18th we woke up to a bright, beautiful day and the first thing we wanted to do was see exactly what this resort we were staying at looked like. It was, of course, really lovely. The resort is basically a little village on a peninsula of Pula. It has a couple of hotels on it, a number of restaurants, a supermarket, a put-put golf course (which looked completely unused) and other little entertainment shops. Most of the space is taken up by little 3-story blocks of apartments though. We stayed in one of these. The shoreline is all rocks and no sand. The closest they get to having sand is a beach full of large pebbles, otherwise it's big rocks and sheets of stone. This makes for a beautiful coastline, but not a very comfortable beach. The water was the stuff of dreams: a crystal clear aqua that faded to deeper blues and turquoise as the water stretched away from the shore. Every time I walked along the path and looked out at the water I was amazed at how clear and pretty it was. After exploring one of the rocky formations near our apartment we decided we had better get some water shoes so our feet weren't in so much pain. We went to one of the many souvenir shops where Robyn and Chuck picked up some shoes, a pair of goggles for me, and Robyn got a big green blow-up float to lay on. On the way back to the apartment I was lucky enough to find a beat up, faded, foam floaty for myself. Armed and ready, we made for the water again! Robyn went off to one of the beaches to lay out while Chuck and I went back to our rocky formation to explore the life lurking below the surface. Unfortunately, the lurking life got the better of us and Chuck stepped on a sea urchin that went straight through his water shoes. Little did we know that we had stumbled into a field of urchins, ready to take on anything that crossed their path. He hobbled to the dry rock and sat down to examine his foot. There were about five spine tips in his big toe and two big spines stuck in his heel. Poor guy! I felt so bad for him! I did my best to help him pull them out and after limping back to the apartment I did my best to pull out the big ones in his heel with a pair of tweezers. I didn't do a good job at all though - the spine kept crushing under the pressure of the tweezers whenever I managed to get a hold of it. So after all was said and done, Chuck was left with some urchin spines stuck in his foot. We read online that they would dissolve over a month or so, so it was no harm to his health or anything. Needless to say, that put a damper on our day though. Chuck couldn't really put weight on his heel for the rest of the day so we just sat inside relaxing. We soon discovered that there was a litter of kittens living in a hole at the bottom of the stairwell outside out apartment. Mamma kitty would come to the top of the stairs with a lizard in her mouth and meow until the kittens crawled out, meowing in return. They were all adorable, but very skittish of people.

I woke up on the 19th to the sound of a woman saying "Gato! Gattino! Gattini!" outside the window. She was busy trying to get the cats to come out and just stood there for what seemed like 10 minutes calling them. "Gato! Gata! Gattino!" Gah, shut up! So that was a pleasant start to the morning. Other than that it was a pretty boring day. Robyn and I laid out for a bit. Robyn took a quick dip and informed me that the rocks were very slippery going into the water. I figured I could handle it and set out for a swim. I slipped on a rock and as I wobbled I figured I would easily find my balance. I took a corrective step and that foot slipped as well. I went down right onto my butt. I imagined that I looked like a cartoon character whose legs flail uselessly for a few seconds before a freezing in the air and then falling to the ground. Despite wearing Chuck's water-shoes I managed to get a nice cut on my big toe. I also felt like an idiot. Otherwise it was a nicely uneventful day.

We went swimming the next day. The water is very cold so the easiest way to get in is to just jump. I always have to have someone else count to three for me. If I count myself I chicken out. Chuck and I paddled around using the goggles while Robyn laid out. There aren't any reefs or anything but there were usually quite a few fish hanging around. None of the fish were over five inches long. They usually hung around us in groups of two or three, but sometimes we saw whole schools of fish. I paddled over and took a look at the collection of sea urchins that we had stepped on the day before. They're so primal looking. After our morning in the water we went to the restaurant closest to us for lunch. A group of three Austrian guys who were sitting next to us decided to introduce themselves. They told us they didn't like Americans. Then they bought us drinks. And they continued to buy us drinks. We ended up talking and laughing and drinking for the next five hours or so! They were staying at a place 10 km down the beach from us and were taking a beer break from their jet ski riding. They were all in their 40's. Heinrich - the apparent "leader" of the group - was a bit chauvinistic and wasn't afraid of mentioning that his current and second wife was annoying but had a big rack. Andy didn't really speak English so we thought he might be a quiet guy, but he turned out to be the crazy guy. He tried to light some money on fire at one point, initiated a hand slapping game that left Chuck's hand with a few red welts the next day, and asked the wait staff for a frying pan to do...manly head bashing things of some sort. He was crazy! And Jeff was a bit of a goofball and had a really light, nice sense of humor. He had nice things to say about his wife and didn't seem as cynical about the world as the other guys did. They were an interesting group and a lot of fun to hang out with. Despite their initial claims that they didn't like Americans they seemed to like us well enough. They asked us our thoughts about Mr. President Obama and various other US policies, but that sort of talk was only a small part of the afternoon. We did a lot of comparing languages and they wrote out the longest word they knew in German which I can't actually type out because I can't make out the handwriting. I can tell you that it was about 68 letters long. Geeze! After too many beers they headed back to their hotel and we went back to ours. We managed to feed the cats some hotdogs before I fell into bed dead asleep and Robyn headed down to the reception area for internet.

On the 21st we decided we had better go into the town and see the sights before we had to leave Pula. We'd been spending too much time on the beach at this point. So we took the bus to Pula's very own ancient Colosseum. This one, unlike Rome's, is still intact. I imagine it hasn't seen quite as much violence and death as the one in Rome, but I assume it was still a place of death. I hadn't known that the Romans reach extended into Croatia although I should have guessed. They were quite the empire. We didn't have a set path to follow so we just wandered around the city and happened upon various points of interest. We saw the remains of the old ancient Roman wall, the old Forum area, a temple, lots of shops and restaurants, and various other random little statues, etc. Pula is a nice city - not too big, an active atmosphere, some history, and the beautiful coastline of course. We went to dinner at a restaurant near the reception building that night. Have I mentioned yet how cheap the food is? We would have large, good quality meals for $20-30 US for the three of us. We tried the "Istrian specialty" meals and found that they were delicious. Robyn's Istrian steak was like a chicken cordon bleu with a delicious white gravy sauce. Chuck got a Fuzi something-or-other which was pasta with a bolognese-like sauce with some different herbs and flavors. I tried cevapcici (pronounced che-vap-chi-chi) which was a bunch of finger-sized fried meatballs. I love trying new foods. While at dinner we got to watch all the kids and teenagers from the kickboxing competition walking around. Apparently our resort was host to a European Kickboxing Championship of some kind while we were there. We saw teams from Russia, Greece, Slovakia, Turkey, Poland, Ireland, etc. It was fun to watch them all flirting with each other and goofing off. A giant kickboxing hormone-fest. Kids seem to be pretty much the same everywhere we've been so far. Interested in looking trendy and attractive, full of energy, lots of laughing, and just being typical teenagers. And babies and toddlers too. They act just like babies and toddlers in the US or Amsterdam or wherever.

We did a lot of interneting on the 22nd. I got some pictures of crabs and shrimp (not very good pictures) in the tidal pools that form on the rocks. And I also managed to break my eReader. For those of you who don't know what that is, let me explain. Before we left for our trip I knew I was going to be getting bored easily. Since I like to read I looked into getting a digital book reader, like the Amazon Kindle or something. I did a bit of research and decided on the Sony eReader 505. It looks sleek and sexy and can support a couple of different formats. The reader has been absolutely great the have on the trip! I've read about 20 books on this trip so far, so new and some I've already read before. When Robyn joined us she also read a lot. It was an awesome $300 investment. So I was reading in bed and got up to go to the bathroom. I set the reader on the sheets next to me as i got up and managed to get my feet kind of tangled in the covers. I guess this put some pressure on the reader and crack the internal screen because when I came back to read some more there was a big scar from one corner of the screen to the other. When I flick the power button it just sort of flashed weakly at me, but nothing legible showed up on the screen. Feeling very sad I put it on the bedside table and decided to wait until morning and see if it would magically fix itself. Nope. It was broken. I was so sad! And still am. It has been a great little device. Stupid Sony... I read online that other people's Sony's have broken very easily as well, so I feel a little ripped off. $300 down the drain. It sounds like Sony isn't really into customer service either. I don't know how I would even go about returning mine though, seeing as I'm constantly on the move. Such a bummer.

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