Exiting the Venice Airport, my daughter Pam and I are pleased to see a man holding a sign indicating he is there to pick us up. This begins the last leg of travel before we start a weekâ€™s tour of three Balkan countriesâ€”Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Tired as we are after our travel odyssey, which took us this Thanksgiving week from Chicago to Madrid to Venice, we are relieved that our travel connections have gone smoothly.
We climb aboard the coach that will take us and our fellow travelers to our hotel in Opatija, Croatia, located at the base of a mountain on the Gulf of Kvarner. Others from our tour group are already there. We wait a short period before the last members of our tour group arrive, and we begin the trip to Opatija about 96 miles away.
Much of the coach trip to our hotel takes us through somewhat boring, flat, Italian farmland dotted with vineyards. And some passes through Slovenia, which we will visit later in the week.
Where is Croatia? It is located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy on the Balkan Peninsula. A crossroads of southeastern Europe, Croatia has a deep history with many cultures and countries passing through it. "Neanderthal bones discovered in a cave in northern Croatia show that the area has been inhabited for at least 130,00 years." (1) The country expects to become a member of the European on July 1, 2013. Besides encompassing many historical sites, Croatia is a beautiful country sculpted with waterways and mountains
In the evening, we meet our fellow travelers at a dinner in the hotel. They all turn out to be interesting and considerate travel mates. We also exchange U.S. dollars for Croatian kuna at an ATM located near the hotel
The next morning finds most in our group taking a tour of the Istrian Peninsula, a wedge-shaped landmass in the Northwestern part of the country that juts into the Adriatic Sea. Our first stop is the seaside town of Pula, which has a long history, including the influx of the Romans about 177 BCE. Located on the west coast of the peninsula, Pula has a Mediterranean climate.
Arriving in Pula, we meet our guide Nada who takes us on a tour of the ground floor of the townâ€™s huge Roman amphitheater.
A small area of the Roman Amphitheater in Pula. The place was so massive that I couldnâ€™t get a more inclusive photo while on the ground.
After our tour of the Amphitheater, we have free time to explore the rest of the city. Pam and I head toward the old city and stop outside the entryway to snap photos.
Constructed in the first century BCE by the Sergi family, the Triumphal Arch of Sergius serves as the entrance to the old city.
We go through the arch and walk the narrow street through the old city. Afterwards, heading for other sections of Pula, we come upon a familiar sight.
CocaCola signs are common in Croatia.
Every Croatian town we visit seems to have one or more outdoor markets. We pass two in Pula.
Fresh produce at a busy outdoor market in Pula.
Nada had given us directions to a three-dimensional map of Pula in a park near the harbor. Since itâ€™s close to the time when we are to meet our coach at the waterfront, we head toward the park.
Three-dimensional map of Pula. Situated a little to the right of center, the Roman amphitheater rises above the rest of the city
At Pulaâ€™s harbor, we encounter a jumble of boats of varying sizes.
Boats crowd Pulaâ€™s harbor.
Our coach arrives and we board it for our next Croatian adventure, which will take us further north on the Istrian Peninsula to the town of Porec.
1. Abraham, Rudolf. National Geographic Traveler: Croatia. 2011, p 26