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Pula, Plitvice and thank God for Rijeka!

We had been waiting patiently for this. Holidays of late had been to visit family and this time we decided to throw caution to the wind and conquer another country. There were going to be a lot of firsts for us. We decided to try Norwegian Airways and got our return tickets for really cheap – GBP 58.00 return per person! No, not a typo – just amazing. They were also no delays (so not the Easyjet experience) and free wifi on board. Yes, the plane interior was not the best, old and on our return flight, what looked like porridge splattered on the side next to the window seat but hey, the journey lasted a total of about 2 hours and I wasn’t bothered. I mean, what’s a little crusty old food when you paid to get to a whole new country for the price of a train ticket? The captain was polite, informative and professional so seeing as he was taking me there, that was high on my priority list.

We hired a car. Another first. We were spending three nights in Pula at a plush apartment which we rented. Our accommodation, housed in an old historical building along with the street leading to it, was impressive. As we passed by using our GPS navigating the way, those houses spoke to me, each screaming out at me different anecdotes from their past. The friendly lady who owned the premise showed us in. She spent a lot of time explaining things about the town and how, because we had a car, we should explore further out and she gave us lots of ammunition for the days to come. We were both appreciative and excited.

First thing I wanted to do was check out the beaches. Just to have look so we could pick and choose where we would spend our second day lounging and taking some sun into our cheeks. God knows we needed it after having London to contend with for almost three years. I needed that Vitamin D! We got in our car and drove out for about 10 minutes to the beach we knew was there, close by.

Beach Hawaii was a sad sight. Now, I knew why they took the picture from that angle. Approximately 80 meters of white pebbles and although the water it led to was shimmering shades of blue, the little stretch was filled to the brim. Along the coast, there were lots of big boulders and rocks that people positioned themselves on so they could both sunbathe and plunge into the sea. There was wind and as a result, some currents and waves beating against the rocks. We did the math. New to this place + not used to the current and rocks + general disappointment = not happening. I did have a momentary relapse and decided to try convincing ‘husband’ that it was worth a try until he painted a picture for me. Of my head hitting against one of those big sharp rocks on Day 1 of our Croatian adventure.

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An ATM machine on the door which I found unique

We decided to explore the town on foot so we parked the car back at the apartment and made our way in. Although we expected to see a lot more buzz, it was a pleasant and calm walk. Once in the center, the pace became livelier. We decided on trying some local baked goods and pastries. Croatians know how to make coffee. Everywhere we went, wherever we ordered from, the coffee was fantastic. The people of Pula were a mixed breed. They seemed to not really want us around and even the waitress at the cafe seemed condescending, as if she was bothered by us in some way. There was eye rolling and what seemed like sarcasm when we tried to engage with her. It was at that point, we decided that we would keep any interaction to a minimum. I think it is important to note here that on all our travels, both my husband and I were sociable and we liked speaking to the locals. Never intrusive but just for the purpose of a cultural exchange or learning more about our surroundings. In Pula, we retreated to our space and avoided talking with any of them unless we had to. The nicest people we met there was the owner of our apartment, a young girl at the ice-cream parlour and the taxi driver that took us back to our haven.

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Gladiator Arena

The amphitheatre or arena in Pula was the attraction. I could imagine the Gladiators as I stood right next to the gates and underpasses where they would be waiting to meet their fate. My mind and φαντασία (fantasia) took a stroll and I wondered about them and their families. How many of them ever really made it out of there? Were there stooges and inexperienced young men and women? I could taste the fear and cruelty that must have occurred right there at that very spot. It made me melancholic. We didn’t stay to watch the orchestra although I am sure the acoustics would have been amazing. Knowing me, I would have heard screams and cries blended in with it.

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Risotto with scampi…yum

Over the next two nights, we would explore Croatian cuisine which is very similar to Italian. We ventured out to Rovinj, in particular, a wonderful restaurant called La Perla where we felt very welcomed. The owner was all smiles and whenever he spoke to my husband, he touched his back warmly. The service was excellent too and the food sumptuous and delicious. Some of the best risotto I have ever tasted.

We also visited Farabuto in Pula on our last night there and this left us feeling good because the proprietors of this family owned restaurant were definitely people who had exposure and a little more sophistication in their approach and handling of their guests. The fish soup…mama mia…to die for!

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Croatian Beer

Next stop…Plitvice. A three hour or so drive from Pula. We stayed at a typical Croatian cottage the first night but because it was dusty and my sinuses were doing the fandango, we left and found a hotel about 30 minutes away for our second night. From here, we visited the Plitvice Lakes which we paid GBP 40.00 to see.

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Plitvice Waterfalls

Was it beautiful? Hell yeah. Could we swim in the lakes on that hot summers day? No. They were a UNESCO protected site and us humans would have just messed the balance of everything with our rubbish left everywhere, tanning oils and the like. I didn’t think that the price was fair. Only because everyone should be able to visit. What about those who cannot afford that? It was only the next day in Rijeka, that I learnt from a nice man whilst lounging by the sea, that if we had driven 20 minutes in another direction from the lakes, we would have crossed over into Bosnia and there we could see waterfalls and lakes just like those of Plitvice, for free. To top it off, swimming was permitted. He also told us that drinking a beer in Bosnia was as cheap as two Kuna! Just to give you a comparison – they were an average of 25 Kuna in Croatia.

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Plitvice Lakes

Arriving in Rijeka was a great choice! We loved the place and the people. The town was much bigger than the likes of Pula but it wasn’t that. It was the whole vibe of the place with its quaint restaurants and superb food plus service, pretty squares and architecture. I loved the doors and stone walls. This was a place I could see myself visiting again for a long laid back weekend. The hotel itself was a lovely place to stay because it gave us the sea as our own private swimming pool. We literally walked down a set of steps and there were sun chairs and umbrellas on one side and then steps leading into the ocean. This made up for all those days without having our time in the Adriatic sea.

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The full moon view from our balcony

As if the universe was rewarding us, we got to sit by a full moon on our first night there and be greeted by a huge fish in the middle of the ocean that came to the surface twice and went back under. It was so exciting because it was like it could feel us and we could feel it.

That’s why I love journeys into the unknown because you never really know what you are going to get and it really becomes an exploration. Enjoying the experience with one of my partners in crime is a bonus of course because nothing would have been the same without him. Even if we couldn’t relate to our surroundings all the time, we at least had each other. Rijeka was the icing on our cake and besides eating and drinking Malvazia wine, all we did was to take in the rays, feel immense gratitude and dive deep into the big brilliant blue.

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Our balcony into the sea

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