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Pula, a seafront city on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, is known for its beaches and Roman ruins.
Pula, a step back in time
As I left the Flixbus, I felt the heat hit me. I decided to take a slow walk to my hostel to get a better feel for the area. I was beginning to think walking was a bad idea as I practically melted on the spot though. Quaint little side streets and some cute cats kept a smile on my face, so the 20-min walk didn’t feel too strenuous in the end.
Approaching the Cinema Rooms, it was a little difficult to see where I needed to go. As you walk up the hill, there's a plain building ahead. You need to cross the road, where you then see a black iron gate. There is a small gold plaque indicating 'PJ Cinema House'.
The host answered the door promptly, enthusiastically welcomed me in, whilst simultaneously apologising that he was trying to book in two others already inside. Once these were seen to, he came back to me and led me to my single room: a shower and toilet room to the right, opening up to a sizeable space consisting of a single bed, wardrobe, and desk. This lead directly on to a private terrace. The terrace had a sun lounger, table, and a chair, with views out to an olive grove.
A knowledgeable local, my host rattled off a list of sights and their directions, and, without batting an eyelid, caught a mosquito mid-air, finishing his sentence as though nothing had happened. As I stood their gawping in awe, he chuckled, acknowledging his Mr Miyagi ninja-skills. I’ve never seen anyone kill a mosquito in such a smooth manner. I have a lot to learn, my usual style is banshee-screaming, running round the room with a flip-flop.
Pizzeria Delfin was my chosen spot for dinner on arrival, I opted for chips and mini kebabs (similar to Romanian mici). The waiters were shocked to see me eating alone but tickled by my seemingly insatiable appetite as I asked for more. Every time I walked back past, they jokingly ran to pull out a chair and wave a menu at me, shouting “again?!”. They made it a great experience, despite the language barrier. Be aware that they do not accept card payments here. There is an ATM a short walk away though.
Further along, gelato and candy can be found in abundance, so dessert was cherry picked as I walked. My eyes were bigger than my belly by the time I made it through the old town, especially with the additional free scoop a certain charming gentleman insisted on. After overindulging in gelato and beer, that evening was spent slouching on the terrace at the hostel, watching the bats.
I made a point of visiting a bakery and picking up some of the local specialities. I recommend trying the “ripped pants" (poderane gaće), but try as much as possible. Variety is the spice of life, or so I tell myself every time I eat something else.
If a beach day is what you’re after, I recommend Valkane Beach. This is a short bus ride from the Cinema Rooms, though I chose to walk. It even has a wheelchair accessible section. There is a small bar, with food and ice cream adjacent to the beach.
From here, you can walk round to Kraljevske Stolice and Gortan Cove. If you go in the opposite direction, there's Zelenika Beach, Beach AC Stoja and Valovine Beach.
With the sea crystal clear, you will find ample opportunities to swim and snorkel. Just be mindful of the sea urchins, they love the clean water. Valovine Beach has a Rental Spot for water activities.
I spent my day in this area alternating lounging on a rock, swimming and frequenting the bars, making my way round the coastline and back. Between Valkane and Zelenika Beach, you will pass Plaza na Klaonici. Just a heads up, this is a “clothing-optional” area, I was oblivious until I turned my head and realised there was a man’s genitals in my eyeline. He just waved and dived in, a normal day for him.
Continuing the sea-theme, I opted for a romantic sunset cruise for one with the Burin. I was solo, much to Pedja’s dismay: he personally introduced me to the crew by name. They all ensured that my 3-course meal was far from lonely once they realised I was alone amongst the couples. I had a lovely evening watching pods of dolphins frolicking in the waves, eating fresh mackerel and sampling various wines. I also had the most incredible encounter watching an erratic fin swim ever closer, only to see a large shark swim directly underneath where I was seated. It was like something out of the movies, and I couldn’t have been seated in a better spot.
Throughout Pula, you will find many historic buildings and monuments. My highlight was the amphitheatre. A breathtaking sight, it is a testament to the skill of the Romans that it has stood the test of time as well as it has. I was fortunate enough to be there on the 24th July 2022, as the International Sound & Film Music Festival marked the 22nd anniversary of Ridley Scott’s historical masterpiece Gladiator, showing it inside Pula Arena. I have goosebumps recalling the atmosphere that night.
Roman ruins can be found at every turn but be sure to make the effort to find “The Punishment of Dirce", it is an incredibly well preserved mosaic. The Temple of Augustus and the Arch of the Sergii are worth a look and all located within a short walk of each other.
Some other favourites include; Church of Our Lady of the Sea (Mornaricka crkva, Pula Cathedral, and the Military Cemetery. The incessant noise of the cicadas provided a raucous symphony to contrast the peaceful location, though even these provided me with another fascinating point of interest.
From delicate green and pink buildings dominating the street view, to historic towers and churches breaching the treeline, you cannot argue with the fact that this town has beautiful architecture in all directions. I found myself happily lost in time, soaking up the sights and wondering how it would’ve looked back in its heyday.
Pula Train Station
I had arrived with two hours to spare because it was too hot, I didn’t want to rush, and I had been told there was a bar. I wasn’t disappointed, there were plenty of drinks on offer, a lovely view of the sea in the distance and some tables set back in the shade.
The train was delayed though that didn’t bother me. I was drinking Ozujsko and chatting with the barmaid about cheaper beauty services in Turkey, and the multiple uses of the word “molim”.
The delay changed to a partial bus replacement, running two hours late. I bonded with a couple over our assortment of backpack snacks, and we whiled the hours away discussing random topics and unusual foods. Wildfires stopped us at the main border crossing and we were turned away. We eventually found an alternative crossing that allowed the bus through with some ‘persuasion’. We parted ways at the station, and I eventually made it to my hostel in Trieste, Italy, around 10PM.
When in Pula… I had to buy an “I love Pula” keyring, much to my Romanian friends’ amusement! Again, NSFW, but Google the translation on your personal phone. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Pula. From the wealth of historical monuments to the incredible natural beauty of the coast, I had no end of entertainment in one form or another.
If you have doubts, don’t. Pula is a stunning location with friendly locals and cheap prices. As a solo female traveller, I felt incredibly safe at all hours and had no issues in any establishments. Knowing how to ask for chocolate ice cream helped!
From what I could see, there were plenty of family-friendly activities, too. Did I prefer this to Rome? That is certainly a close call. Why not visit and decide for yourself. Happy travels!