Tuesday started out cloudy with the threat of rain, and the tour buses and campers were pouring into Rovinj. This town is lovely when the visitors are at a manageable level, but trying to cram another few hundred people into the narrow streets and seaside promenade makes things damn unpleasant. We fled.
To Pula, where the crowds were almost as intense, but at least they’re more spread out. Pula boasts several remainders of the Roman occupation, and is the largest city in Istria. Entering the city is a bit depressing, as Soviet-style grim apartment blocks are the first thing you see, and then a huge shipyard. I had marked several parking lots on my Google map (I always spend a good period of time setting up maps for where we’re traveling, it really helps manage the “where the hell are we, what’s interesting in the neighborhood, where can we park, and where can we eat lunch” stress. Usually. More on that later.) We followed the shoreline and parked in a lot near the Market, wedging the car into the narrow space the attendant indicated. I was amused that one of his functions was to get cars into and out of spaces when the drivers couldn’t manage it.
We walked down the pedestrian zone and found the Temple of Augustus. Larry peered inside and quickly decided it wasn’t worth the kunas for admittance, so we admired it from outside and went in search of a borek. Unlike every other town in Istria, there did not seem to be a bakery on every corner in Pula. Found a bakery, no borek. The horror.
As we continued uphill, we saw the top of the 1st century Arena, the 6th largest amphitheatre in the world. Workers inside were busily setting up for a musical event for that night, so the space was taken up by trailers, equipment, and scurrying men. Huge space, with a beautiful view of the sea beyond. Those Romans knew how to pick real estate.
We continued on, ticking off more antiquities on our list–the Gemini Gate, beyond which were the tunnels dug to shelter people during WWII, and then called into use during the war in the 90’s. We decided to not visit the nearby archaeological museum. We followed the streams of hot, sweaty people wearing headsets through the pedestrian zone, and finally found a borek. Lots of people sitting in the cafes, and we stopped to admire the Triumphal Arch of the Sergii built in 29 BC.
I had really wanted to see the Roman mosaics that my map told me were near the market. We walked over, and looked round in confusion at the supermarket and office building at the address. We called up Google World, and yup, that was the corner we were on–no mosaics in sight. We walked around a bit, asked in a shop, and still no mosaics. My guidebook said it was near a particular church, but Google Maps couldn’t find that church either.
Ah well, we were at the Market. We went into the fish pavilion, which was filled with many vendors and a dizzying variety of fish and shellfish. Here you see Larry wondering why he can’t get sushi-fresh tuna at home for $10 a pound.
We got a pound of shrimp, and then went outside the the produce area, picked up some vegetables and fruit from a lovely woman whose Italian was better than my English. And oh yeah, they sell honey, grappa and truffle products as well.
Walked through the Arch back towards the car. And look–a little sign pointing the way to mosaics. We turned left, and found ourselves in a parking lot with another confused couple. Saw a handmade sign pointing left, and crossed the lot toward an ugly green apartment building.
And there in front, 3rd century Roman mosaics just as they’d been uncovered after the Allied bombing in WWII. In the middle of the floor is a mythological scene of the “Punishment of Dirce” Amphion and Zethus are tying Dirce to an enraged bull, since out of envy Dirce had been cruel to their mother Antiope. Families, what can you do.
(And now Larry is emailing to update Google Maps, which I had no idea was crowd-sourced. Interesting and rather concerning.)
By now it was hot and sticky, black clouds were forming overhead, so we collected the car (which needed me directing Larry inching out of the parking space that now was almost totally closed off). As we followed the road back up to Rovinj, I had noticed a group of newly constructed stone huts, similar to the trulli of Puglia that we’d seen last year. We stopped for a photo (in between the German tourists pouring off a tour bus) and to read the sign–they’re called Kazun , a traditional countryside building in the area, generally built in the 18-19th century. Further down the road I spotted an older one in a field. It took turning around twice, parking across the road and dodging trucks, but I finally got a photo.
Back home, there were still troops of beach-deprived tourists wandering the streets, so we took refuge inside Piassa Grande at a table near the window for a late light lunch and some wine. It was fun to just watch people take photos of each other and shop for made-in China trinkets, including the carved candles I’d last seen in the late 70’s and the toy collapsing spheres my kids played with 10 years ago. Is there some warehouse they’ve been collecting until they could be sold to Croatian shopkeepers? In any case, lunch was good with octopus salad and yummy grilled polenta topped with a truffle sauce.
Spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging around reading, watching out the windows at the wet tourists scurrying out of town. Our chatty landlord Zjelko came over to collect our cash balance, dropped off some chocolates, but still does not have the parking permit for the paid lot. (fortunately he’d shown us where the free parking is up the hill, which has been fine)
Using this kitchen is challenging, as only two electric burners work, the counter slopes toward you so water drips down your shirt, and there is little in the way f cooking utensils. We managed, after spending far too much time getting water to boil, then having to dump it out because of the nasty scum on the water (and this was after I’d rinsed the pot before using, my usual method in rentals) and starting over. Eventually made linguini with shrimp, zucchini and tomatoes for dinner. Great shrimp.