If you're into quiet cities and Roman architecture you're going to want to visit the coastal city of Pula whilst you're in Croatia. Located on the southernmost tip of the Istra peninsula I started my Croatian journey there after spending time in Slovenia. It was a wonderful introduction to this newish (I visited Zagreb a couple of years ago) country and I enjoyed wandering the streets, testing out the Croatian postal system (I've been sending out zines from all over Europe this summer) and, of course, exploring the Roman amphitheatre which is located right in the middle of the city.
Exploring the amphitheatre brought back memories of my trip to Rome when I was 17 and studying ancient history - I was a terrible student but I had a great teacher for that subject and my interest in all things Roman has stuck with me ever since. I'm still just as easily distracted now as I was back then though but really who could resist spending time trying to photograph this adorable pup?
After much walking in the midday sun my stomach was grumbling and I headed towards the only eat-in location on Happy Cow Fresh Sandwich and Salad Bar. You know how I feel about most salads so sandwiches were really the only option and thankfully they had two kinds to choose from; Smoked Tofu and Olive Tapenade and Hummus with Salad. Nick and I ordered both to share but I had my eye on the tofu tapenade. This is also where I'll try to shoehorn this post neatly into today's Vegan MoFo theme - Recreate a Meal From Your Childhood. I ate sandwiches as a child! These are sandwiches! Boom!
Thankfully Nick preferred the sandwich with the hummus and salad (just lettuce really) so I was able to chow down on the majority of the better sandwich. Win! Our next stop was Zelena, another Happy Cow find, and somewhere we were hoping to find the usual array of mock meats, cheese slices and chocolate bars. Instead we found somewhere altogether more interesting, this little organic vegetarian shop whose name translates to "Green" stocks organic fruits and veggies as well as a plethora of home-made products.
When I enquired about whether they had any chickpea flour the guy I was chatting to grabbed a bag of chickpeas and told me he could grind me some in 15 minutes! Amazing. As well as the chickpea flour I picked up two locally made dark chocolate bars, one with rosemary and one with rosemary and garlic. The rosemary bar was fantastic and I've been stashing the rosemary garlic bar in the fridge for a chocolate emergency but I bet it's delicious and I'm fascinated by the combination of ingredients. I also picked up a freshly squeezed peach and pear juice to drink on the way back to the campsite as well as some kale chips (okay, those were Nick's). Zelena is a great store that I'd highly recommend you check out whilst you're in the region - the people working there really went above and beyond to help us and I really hope that their little store is still going strong next time I'm able to re-visit Pula.
Our base whilst we were in Pula was Camping Stoja where we found a great shady pitch in-between some trees. Truthfully we chose this campsite because it looked like it was by the beach but thanks to a lack of understanding on our part about this part of the country the beach wasn't so much a beach as a slightly hard to get down to rocky outcrop. Not the most comfortable place to soak up the sun unless, like some campsite regulars, you had the foresight to bring a chair.
Still, the pitch was cute, we took cute pictures and I enjoyed a peaceful early morning walk on the beach / rocky outcrop when the light was at it's best. Beautiful.
Our next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the places that inspired this road trip and an interesting lesson in what to do when your dreams don't live up to your experience. I'll start with the good - Camp Borje, the site closest to Plitvice Lakes National Park was a dream. It was quiet with no marked pitches and a little shop that sold bread and wafers, two of our road trip essentials! There was also an adorable dog who just kept coming back to me for cuddles and pats. At first I assumed that she belonged to some fellow campers but it transpired that nope, she just lives at the campsite and really enjoys socialising with different campers every day. Certainly not the worst life for a stray pup.
That's pretty much the only good thing I have to say about Plitvice. I'm kidding. Kinda. Our first shock upon arrival was the enormous queue... I hadn't set an alarm for 7am to stand in the biggest queue I'd seen since Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. I stood in that queue alone for an hour because it took Nick that long to find parking, realise he'd left his reusable water bottle at the campsite, turn around, go get it, and then park again. It was a tedious beginning to the day but I was still excited, I made it to the front of the queue and look how cute the ticket is? Well yeah, it had better be cute for £17! £17 to visit a park!! Complete madness. I was kinda pleased to discover that this included a ride on both an electric boat and an electric bus because damn, I woulda been pretty pissed if I'd had to pay £17 and then pay even more to get around the park!
The boat was cute. Nick and I skipped the next 30 minute long line for the bus by deciding to visit the park in the opposite direction than the signs suggested. This meant we were afforded a peaceful ride across one of the lakes by electric boat which, whilst every seat was full, was the most most serene moment of the day.
I loved how clear the water was. I loved seeing the ducks bobbing about and being able to see their little feet through the water!
I did not love how overrun this place was. There was a whole hour when we walked the trail through the central part of the lakes when I was never less than a foot from someone else's back. You couldn't even really stop to look around without being that totally obnoxious jerk who's holding everyone up. I've visited plenty of national parks in my time but nothing has ever come close to the madness of Plitvice.
If you do want to visit I would highly recommend avoiding peak tourist season completely. Not only is it horribly busy but they also jack the price up from £10 to £17 during July and August (who doesn't want to pay more to have a crappier experience?!). The car parking sitch' is ridiculous too because when you've had enough of all of the people and are desperate to get the hell outa there you have to stand in another enormous queue to pay for your parking! My other tip (especially if you're going to ignore tip number one) is to treat this as a theme park rather than a park park, kinda like a less terrifying Jurassic Park. Thirdly the park opens at 7, if you want any semblance of peace and normality get there at 6:30.
I have no idea how it would be possible to limit the amount of tourists coming into a park but holy wow do they need to get on that, if the people in charge don't reign in the visitor numbers somehow they're selling the park short and stealing away some of it's natural beauty which is such a shame.