This is the fifth in a series of posts about a trip to Europe in the summer of 2016
I have a very embarrassing admission to make. The first time I heard about Croatia was when I was 13. We were watching the Ms. World contest and a ‘Ms. Croatia’ was announced. Of course I feigned I had heard the word before, but I hadn’t. So now that you know I was one ignorant teen I can stop pretending I know much history or background about these countries I visited.
Because of its recent tumultuous history, I frankly did not have very lofty expectations of the place. I expected it to be a little burnt around the edges, and it was. But I didn’t realize just exactly how charming that would be. Croatia is all sun-drenched alleys, old-world windows with wooden slats, a touch of the east well blended with the west, beautiful women on shimmering beaches, frolicking children feeding seagulls, sandcastles in the air and some in the sand and great sea food.
We stayed the first two nights in a quaint little coastal town called Pula. We swam in the Adriatic a couple of times and my memory of it can be most aptly described in one word: soothing. There is nothing like surrendering to the Adriatic- that moment when you are adrift in the clear sea, staring at the azure sky with not a care in the world.
A half hour drive from Pula was another coastal town called Fazana from where we caught the ferry to Brujini Island. You know all those trite sayings like ‘travel sets you free’ blah blah? Trust me they are all true. What can I tell you about Fazana? It was a dreamy place. The coast all lined with houses not greater than three-storeys high, the characteristic wooden slatted window with intricate wood carvings, narrow pebbled alleys that stretch out like a maze all over this small town busy playing the light-and-shadow game, rows of cafes all boasting the freshest catch of the day, children licking greedily at the dripping gelato and this whole scene thronged with hordes of tourist, fishermen, waiters and touts. The frenzy in the air was electrifying.
We stayed at the Apartment Borghese in Pula. Not very happy with the choice. The place was old fashioned and also very cramped. The décor, with all four walls of the room painted a deep lavender, was stifling. But we were out almost the whole day, so it didn’t bother us as much. The Pula city center has two must-see sights – the amphitheatre and the Golden Door aka the Arch Sergii. And the seafood in this place, I’m sorry but I cannot begin to describe the depth of flavor that was my shrimp truffle pasta in white sauce.
After two picnicky days in Pula, we headed to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. After the vacation-year-round Pula, Zagreb felt like a stern elder sister with an ambition. It was a carefully laid-out city, filled with white-collar workers. Even though we were visiting on a Sunday we felt the city wore a somber air. Here we stayed at Studio Jospino, which was amazing, totally brand new. Great hospitality and very patient people. There was an episode where we locked ourselves out of the apartment and called the number on the card. Even on a Sunday they arranged for someone to let us in. The only drawback was that it was on the fourth floor (something that was not mentioned on the website). In the evening we found ourselves in the city proper, we visited the yet another St. Stephen’s cathedral (I believe Europe has a million of these) and roamed the main square. The hunt for the best gelato is always on, and Zagreb was no exceptionl.
Croatia is not as polished and slick as Western Europe. It is comparatively less sophisticated. But it wears its war wounds with dignity, even though they are as fresh and recent as the 90s. The resilience of this country is something that was a take-home message for us, and lends further to its characteristic elegance.
Don’t unfasten that seatbelt, next stop/post – Budapest!