After two long weeks apart, I joined Neda in Croatia. She's very happy that she's able to see her mom every day during visiting hours at the hospital, and now that I'm here, her support system is complete. We missed our 10th wedding anniversary while I was in Peru. :(
Pula is Neda's hometown in the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. The town is over 3,000 years old having been a part of the Roman Empire, the Italian Ostrogoths, the Germanic tribe of the Franks, the Venicians, then became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then united with the Republic of Yugoslavia in 1947. All the signage in Pula is in both Croatian and Italian to reflect its roots, and also to cater to the large number of Italian tourists that visit the peninsula every summer. Neda learnt Italian when she was growing up here by watching TV programs that leaked across the airwaves of the Adriatic sea, which is how she was able to pick up Spanish so easily while we were in Latin America. At least that's my excuse...
View of Arena from the Pula Marina
Pula's claim to fame is the Roman-built Arena, which rivals the Coliseum in Rome for size and history. While gladiators fought orcs and minotaurs in the olden days, now big stars like Sting and Norah Jones come into town to hold concerts here. This summer, Joss Stone and Lauryn Hill are slated to play here. Neda showed me all the places along the wall of Arena where she and her friends used to hop over the fence and sneak in to avoid paying the entrance fee.
View of Pula Harbor through the walls of Arena
Every summer, there is a Gladiator show twice a week in Arena. Here, the cast is literally hanging out before the show.
Ship-building is Pula's other claim-to-fame. Neda's mom used to work here, and her uncle and many other relatives still do
Golden Gates (or the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi) is another notable landmark in Pula
I've been to Pula many times in the past, but most of the time, it was to visit family. Now that we're here for a longer period of time, Neda is able to properly show me all the places that she used to roam around when she was a kid. We are in the middle of the European summer vacations, so the town is over-run with tourists from Italy, Slovenia, Germany, and all over Europe. Tourism is Pula's other main industry, and the town's narrow streets are inundated with foot and vehicle traffic that will all but disappear by the beginning of September.
Shadows of tourists walk past the buildings in the old historic centre of Pula
While Neda is happy to share her hometown with me, she is also excited that I'll document Pula properly on the blog. She's very proud of this town that holds so many memories for her. I hope I do this very pretty place justice. One thing she doesn't like are all the crowds. Everywhere we go, she shakes her head at the congestion clogging up her city streets.
This guy came out to talk to us when he spied us gawking at his motorcycle. Our bikes are going to be quite a long time arriving in Europe, and we are starting to miss having easy transportation with us. It's fortunate that we are staying in Neda's mom's apartment close to the city centre so almost everything is within walking distance.
Tourist central - old historic Pula
Bikes are allowed to park anywhere in the old city.
When we get our bikes, we're going to ride the 400 meters to the historic centre, park there and watch people gawk at our motos!
As is tradition, I always try to find an indigenous person to take a picture of when I go out with my camera
Arts and crafts for sale in the tourist centre of Pula
I ask Neda why she doesn't poke around the little curio stores in town, and she replies angrily, "That's what tourists do! I'm not a tourist!" The funny thing is these are *exactly* the same kinds of places that she loves going to when we're traveling. Like... EXACTLY! I stared hard at my new surroundings: the fresh paint on old buildings, new and expensive restaurants, bars and stores in the shells of Corinthian-styled edifices, the UNESCO-type-attraction of Arena that draws all the cameras and wallets out...
I told Neda, "Pula is a total GringoTrail town!" Her eyes widened, "OMG, I never realized it!"
Walking the city streets
Settling into Pula - I stake out my Man-Cave (Man-Corner)
It feels good to have a permanent place where we can settle down again. Neda is happy that there is a kitchen that she can use to cook, and we eat all of her favorite Croatian dishes now that the ingredients are all close at hand. The fridge is pretty much empty as she goes to the market every morning to get fresh groceries before visiting her mom in the hospital. One of Neda's friends is a musician and she lent me her guitar while we're here, which was really nice. Neda's old high-school friends are so compassionate and warm, taking us out almost every evening to keep us company and to keep Neda's thoughts and her mood positive while she attends to her mom.
More indigenous food, handed down from generation to generation - stuffed peppers
IndigeNeda takes me to all "The Best" places in town. This is "The Best" place in Pula for Burek, a traditional Bosnian cheese pastry
Bust of one of the National Heroes of Yugoslavia
Near the hospital where Neda visits her mom is this interesting-looking building from the communist era. It used to be a military base for the Yugoslavian Army. When the former republic fell apart, the building fell into disuse and was set up as a refugee centre during the war in the mid 90s. Today it is being used as a very funky community centre, with many of its rooms being used by musicians, artists and various other clubs.
Courtyard of the community centre - still has a lot of the old-world communist feel to it
Karlo Rojc Community Centre
Pula hosts quite a lot of festivals and special events each summer. The most well known is the Pula Film Festival, which is mainly an outdoor event held at various locations in the city, including Arena. Unfortunately, Neda and I brought the RideDOT.com rains to Croatia, and it has been unseasonably wet and cold this summer. We attended a couple of films during the festival and one of them got rained out.
Pula Rain Festival
Arena is all lit up for a drier night at the Pula Film Festival
Fireworks over the city kick off the Pula Film Festival
Smoke from the lengthy fireworks display floats past the lights of the Arena,
making it look like a cool flying saucer
Cranes above the shipyard are lit up every night in the summer for the tourists, just like a GringoTrail town