Exploring Pula, Croatia

As I’m looking through photos for this post, I still can’t believe how beautiful Croatia is. Although the timeline of our trip only gave us a few days there, I’m so glad we had the experience and could witness the beauty.

When we woke up on our second morning in Croatia, we were both a little exhausted from not sleeping well after the incident the night before. We grabbed breakfast on the hotel balcony overlooking the water again.

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We spent the morning relaxing by the pool and the sea, swimming often. Again, the sea was crystal clear and the views around the beach were breathtaking.

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We felt very lucky because so many people in the world can’t or don’t make time to experience moments like that – to see the world, to find a beautiful place, to just enjoy a moment. I value my time and don’t take it for granted.

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We shared pizza for lunch outside and swam for a long time in the pool. It was hot enough outside that my hair would dry after swimming within minutes. By mid-afternoon, I headed to the room to clean up and get out of the sun. After resting for a short time, we decided to head out into town and explore the city Pula. We both agree that when one travels, it is so important to break out of the tourist bubble and put in the effort to actually see the place you’re visiting – not just the hotel and tourist section. So we found a bus stop and figured out how to get to the center of the city, just 45 minutes away. It was really hot and stuffy on the bus, but we were able to see some of the smaller towns of the area and where and how locals actually live. We were the only tourists on the bus. When we got off at the main station, we started exploring and walking around. We didn’t have a map or plan – we just walked.

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The city is so beautiful! We found the famous Pula Arena – the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders completely preserved. The arena was built between 27BC and 68AD. Today the area is used for concerts, theater performances, cinematic showings, and even a few sporting events.

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As we kept walking around, we had no idea where to go so we walked along the harbor’s edge and looked at the stunning architecture and views.

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And we stumbled upon this establishment:

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Anyways, we were hungry and wanted dinner. My advice for finding somewhere to go when you’re lost and looking for dinner – find other tourists if you can and follow them. We noticed an American family and overheard them talking about dinner. They seemed to have an idea of where to go, so we walked behind them casually for a while and they led us right to the section of town that’s lined with restaurants and shops – the smaller touristy section of that part of town. As we walked through, men were cat calling at us, telling us how beautiful we are and trying to hit on us – whatever, we weren’t into it.

We picked a smaller restaurant where no one was standing outside harassing us to sit down. We were able to sit outside and take everything in.

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Unfortunately, our dinner was taken over by some very rude people sitting next to us. They had a large group of people, probably just a few years older than Katharina and I, and one of the couple’s had a small child as well. So people say that stereotypes exist because there is some truth behind them – and this group did not let anyone down with how the rest of the world stereotypically sees Germans. This German group was so incredibly rude and obnoxious with sending food back, complaining about dishes, giving the server terrible attitude, and they were nasty to the child as well. They were outrageously arrogant. Poor Katharina was so embarrassed because, as a German, being even remotely associated with people like that bothered her terribly. It’s always interesting when you travel to see how stereotypes or ideas about other cultures and even your own culture and nationality play out. Eventually, the owner of this little restaurant stormed out from the kitchen and told them if they had such a problem with her place then they could leave. I was kind of happy when she did because their attitude nearly ruined our dinner. You would never see a manager or owner talk to a customer like that in America, but sometimes maybe it’s not such a bad thing to put people in their place.

But regardless of that, the food was great!

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When we needed to pay, they told us the credit card machine was broken – another reason why it’s always important to have some cash around with you when you travel in other countries. But we were prepared.

After dinner, we ran into a parade of people dressed in traditional clothes with all sorts of props, which was exciting to see. This was the second time on the trip that we accidentally stumbled upon a parade like this!

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We slowly headed back to the bus station, and it was ridiculously crowded and hard to walk because of a concert at the arena. When we got to the station, we were a little confused where our bus would be. Sometimes things aren’t so clear in other countries. We stood where we believed the bus would be and waited and waited and waited. After a long time, we both got nervous that maybe we had missed the bus or had been waiting in the wrong spot. We finally asked a man if we were in the right place and he assured us that we were, but for some reason the bus was late. We know from our other travels there that the bus timeline isn’t always accurate. Eventually the bus pulled in and we figured it out. The reason the bus was so delayed was because of the concert in the arena – the traffic was worse than LA! It took us twice as long to get back to the hotel because of it. When we got back, we quickly packed up and organized all of our things and went straight to bed because we had a big day coming up!

Waking Up In Croatia

I was so excited when I woke up and realized where I was. I made sure to get up early around 7 in the morning so I could grab some good spots by the hotel’s pool because I knew it would get crowded early on with the 100+ degree weather. We enjoyed a great breakfast on a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean – so beautiful! The food was excellent and we had the best chocolate croissants of all time.

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We headed back to our room so we could get ready to spend the day in the ocean and by the pool (something we had been looking forward to the whole trip). It was so hot outside it was hard to breathe, the air felt so thick. We don’t get weather like that in Buffalo. We had to go in and out of the water all the time to handle being out there – not that either of us were complaining!

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I can’t tell you how good it felt to swim in that crystal clear water and walk along the smooth rocks that line the sea. Even better, it wasn’t crowded and we felt very safe in the water. This may come as a surprise considering how much I travel and some of the crazy things I’ve done in my life, but I’m a little scared of swimming in open water and don’t actually do it very often. But this I couldn’t resist and it was so warm, yet totally refreshing.

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The pool’s salt water felt so good to swim in. We did water aerobics with a group and had a lot of fun!

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It was a blast of a day and we were able to eat lunch outside too!

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But a long morning in that heat and sun was more than enough for me and by the early afternoon I definitely needed to take a break and rest inside a little. I enjoyed just being able to lie down and not have to run somewhere or sit on a train. I was able to talk some with family and friends from back home. It’s amazing how much you can stay in contact with people now. I remember as a kid when we would visit family in Sweden for the entire summer without cell phones and only dial up internet that one of us could use at a time. Things have definitely changed and improved with staying connected to those across the world!

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So we got dressed up and went out for an early dinner. We ate seafood right next to the ocean. It was delicious and we had the best views!

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They cooked the food in this little open kitchen right in front of us:

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When our bill was brought out, we were also given two shots. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely ever drink anything alcoholic, it’s just not my thing. We hadn’t had any drinks the whole trip and we both felt like we didn’t want to be rude by not taking what was given to us – so we each took a shot. So we left and started walking along the beautiful water and watched the sun set.

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But all of a sudden the shot hit me. It hit me really hard. Because I don’t often drink, it’s not uncommon for one drink to affect me, but this was a lot more than that. And when I looked over at my cousin, I realized it wasn’t just me feeling it. She was breathing hard and holding her stomach as she walked. I asked if she was okay, she said no, and I said me neither. We both needed to sit down and suddenly I couldn’t see straight and felt really dizzy and ill. Katharina thought maybe it was food poisoning, but I was sure it was the shots. I began to worry that we had been drugged because it all happened very quickly and we both felt it within the same minute. Although I don’t drink much, I have never in my life felt so sick from any amount of drinking, let alone one drink. I decided we needed to try to get back to the hotel before things got worse so we were at least somewhere safe if we were in fact drugged. We had to walk slowly though and it felt like it took ten times longer than it had the way there. We stopped a few times to catch our breath on the beach. I was very relieved when we finally made it back safely to the hotel. We sat out by the pool for a little while to stay in the fresh outside air.

I don’t know what happened to us after dinner. I don’t know if it was just a really strong shot, if there was something else mixed in, or if just the combination of the heat with dehydration and the alcohol was what did it, but I do know that it was scary and not at all worth it. Turns out in some situations being polite is totally overrated. It’s not always a good idea to drink in foreign countries.

We rested and hung out for a little while and eventually started to feel normal again. We decided to go out once more to get some fresh air and we felt like walking around would be good after what had happened, especially since that was our original plan for the night before the shot incident. So we walked down the promenade and looked at different shops and restaurants.

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And we got some popsicles because, even though it was late at night, it was still so hot outside! We enjoyed looking at the water and taking in the beautiful scenery.

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We got back to the hotel and saw that a band was playing music out by the pool. It was a great way end to the night, being able to sit and listen for a few moments, before heading to bed.

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Although we had a long day and both felt exhausted, neither of us were able to sleep well. It had been quite a day!

Our Journey to Croatia

It has been my dream to see Croatia since I can remember. The original reason we organized this entire trip was because of this dream – so we just looked at a map and planned from there.

We were relieved at the train station when our bus pulled up and was large, spacious, and had this magical invention called air conditioning. The bus was not crowded at all, which made it even better. They say the best way to see a country is to drive through it, so I was excited to have some time off a train and to be on a bus. It was a great experience to look at little towns as we drove through and to see other parts of Slovenia.

We got off the bus as this little train station, Divaca, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. We had an hour to wait until our next train would be leaving. We later found out that the train waited for the next bus from Ljubljana, so if we had taken the later bus, we would have been fine. But we couldn’t have known that before and it’s better to be safe and prepared. So for this hour we hung out in the heat because there was nothing to do around there. Inside the station there was one person working who didn’t speak any English and there were no other waiting passengers, shops, or anything going on. So we sat outside and talked with two French girls who were hiking and camping around different parts of Europe. We were happy when our train finally arrived – that is, until we got on board – because it was very warm, humid, and uncomfortable. I fell asleep for most of the hour long ride.

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At the next station, where we were to switch onto another train, the next train was there waiting for this one to arrive – something I’ve never seen before. Their whole system waits for buses and trains because there are so few passengers – if one train is late and the next one does not wait, they barely have any passengers to make it worth leaving on time.

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We had thought the last train was uncomfortably hot, but we had spoken too soon. This next train was over a hundred degrees inside without any sort of fan or air conditioning system. It was close to one hundred degrees outside, so with the greenhouse effect happening and the heat having nowhere to escape from this train, it was brutal. I didn’t think it was possible, but it was even worse than the trains on the previous day. On the ride, we went through pitch darkness at one point as we passed through a tunnel without any lights, which was a little creepy. I stood most of the ride to keep my face against the open window, desperate for fresh air. This train ride was a little different than our other experiences on trains this trip. Despite the heat, there were beautiful views as we entered Croatia.

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It was so exciting to finally see the ocean appear – our energy returned almost as quickly as it had disappeared earlier.

When we got off the train in Pula, we arrived at another very small train station with only one employee working who was extremely rude, indifferent, and unhelpful. She didn’t know or care to answer any of our questions and was too busy looking at Facebook to be interested. So we decided to call a taxi because there were no other buildings nearby and the walk to a bus stop was far enough that it didn’t feel worth it in the heat. It turned out our hotel was a bit further than we had expected from the train station, so the taxi ended up making much more sense in the long run. We had a really nice driver who showed us around and talked about the city and gave us great advice. It’s always nice to meet people who take real pride in their towns. His hands and arms were badly deformed from burns, and I wonder if those scars were from the war.

When we finally arrived at our hotel after a full day of buses, trains, walking, and car rides, it was such a relief! Our hotel was so beautiful and different from the other hotels we had been at because it is much more for families and sits right on the beach. It is slightly outside of Pula in a town called Medulin. We picked this area in Croatia because it was pretty easily accessible from the rest of our trip, it is famous for its beautiful beaches, and Katharina remembered being there as a child and said it was the perfect spot to end the trip.

We had to wait to checkin because a British woman was throwing such a fit at the front desk that it required all the staff’s attention. She claimed something was wrong with her bill. But once we finally checked in and walked around to look at the hotel, we were so excited and happy to be there – like just look at this!

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We got settled in and immediately went for a swim in the pool because we both needed to relax and cool off after the long day we had been having. Behind the pool was a stone beach and a long promenade full of shops and restaurants. After we cleaned up, we took a walk along the water to find dinner and chose a small Italian place right on the beach. It was a five minute walk from the hotel and a fifth of the price of the hotel restaurant – sometimes in touristy areas it’s worth exploring to find cheaper options.

We were so happy to get back to our room and get some sleep in the air conditioning after the long day. It felt good to be settled in and finally be in the country I’d been wanting to see for so long.

Our Brief Time In Ljubljana Before Visiting Croatia

I don’t think either of us had woken up feeling as refreshed as we did on our morning in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It’s those hard days of traveling, the ones that push you past your limits, that make you appreciate the good moments that much more. We looked outside and were excited to see such beautiful weather! So we got ready and made our way downstairs to have breakfast in the hotel and it was so good!

There were so many options available:

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And the thickest hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life – basically just melted chocolate!

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Ljubljana is such a beautiful city! And yes that’s a real place – (my friends all asked me if I sat on my keyboard when I texted them where I was). Many people told me it was turning into a game of Where’s Waldo except Where’s Shiri because we moved around so often on this trip!

The city is full of mountains and truly stunning old European style buildings. The city was located at the middle of the trade route between the northern Adriatic Sea and the Danube region. This city has kind of a similar vibe to Bratislava in that it felt like Old Europe with less tourists, but it was a lot fancier in the area we explored.

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We stumbled upon some really goofy things in this city. Like this small section that had it’s “own weather” because it mysteriously rained right there and only there:

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It was so refreshing in the morning heat!

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Or this random chandelier hanging in the middle of the street for no apparent reason:

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So we looked around different shops and made our way up to the castle – which turned out to be more of a hike than we expected! We certainly got our morning workout on this walk. We had to go up the mountain on very steep roads that residents must walk daily, like this one:

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But once we made our way up, the views of the city were amazing!

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And the castle was lovely as well! The castle is estimated to have been built during the 11th century and was rebuilt in the 12th century.

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Unfortunately, our visit in Ljubljana was very short because we had to leave in a few hours for Croatia. We had planned on having more time the day before, but with the craziness of our journey to the city, we lost out on a lot of time. You have to expect the unexpected when you travel though and try your to make the best of it, which we definitely did. So we had to head back down those steep roads and walk through the city very quickly, grab some food and necessities for our next part of the trip, and just explore for only a short time. But what we saw was so worth it!

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And I loved this because it’s one of my favorite quotes!

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So we made our way back to the hotel (totally bummed we had to leave already because it was the best hotel of the trip!) and we headed to the train and bus station to figure out how exactly to get to Croatia from here.