A couple of weeks before my 25th birthday, I found myself with some time to spare. Having seen off my notice period at the museum where I’d worked for the past two years, and with Nathan out of town for work, I had five days to fill and a sense of restlessness to satisfy.
Hoping to capitalise on the cheaper flights before schools broke for summer, I turned to Google and took the proverbial spin of the globe. I booked a single air ticket to Pula, Croatia, a sunny peninsular city on the Adriatic sea, well known for its Roman history and good wine. With my hiking boots, camera equipment and swimming gear packed into my backpack, I boarded an early morning flight to mainland Europe and two hours later, landed in Pula cramped and sleepy, with the imprint of Jet2’s inflight magazine on my cheeks. I pushed through the arrivals hall to the small airport cafe, where I purchased my first iced coffee of many and sat by the sliding doors, organising my belongings and wrapping my head around Croatian currency.
One of the most exciting first hurdles in a foreign country is finding your way on the public transport system but with few Kuna and the ill-advised inclination to walk in the 34 degree heat with a heavy hiking pack, I set off by foot to the center of town. Trundling along the dusty highway, I had my first look at the sprawling city of Pula. Organised in rows of stonewashed beige apartment complexes, Pula’s suburbs stretch out towards the port, where the Adriatic glistens between creaking cargo ships and brightly painted fishing vessels. Nods to the city’s rich history are very much present as you move away from the suburban salmon pink high rise buildings and Tabac carts towards the old town. The ancient Roman Amphitheatre commands an impressive spot in the heart of the city and the Corinthian columns of the Temple of Augustus stand in a sundrenched square a few yards further up the hill. Along winding cobbled streets, you can lose yourself for hours in the sights and sounds of coastal city life.
Having sampled the city center, I made my way slowly out of town and towards Gregovica, a neighbourhood to the south where I would meet Nikoli, my apartment host and exclamation mark enthusiast. Gazing up at the apartment towers on the street outside under the watchful eye of the Tobacconist, I tried to distinguish the pink complex Nokoli had described in his check in notes.
‘’The pink one to your left!!!!!” Nikolai assured me via Whatsapp. “My cousin will meet you!!!”. I sent an assortment of pictures of my surroundings back, hopeful.
I sat on the corner of the road, taking in the heat and the bustle, until a short blonde woman hurried over, her hand outstretched in greeting and a small bottle of almond liqueur swinging in a small plastic bag from her hand. We gathered my belongings, and hauled them up the stairs to a small, wood panelled apartment on the 6th floor. Then she left as quickly as she had appeared, leaving me to settle into what I hoped was Nikoli’s apartment and my home for the next few days.
When I sat down to book my Croatia trip, my expectations were gleaned from my first trip to the Adriatic years earlier. The aquamarine water and the rich green rocky peninsulas of Dubrovnik from my memory were stoked as I travelled along the coastline of Pula and I was eager to make my way immediately to the water. I sought out Stoja beach on the map, calculating that I could be sipping a beer by the sea in less than an hour if I caught the next bus from the central station. I packed a small day back, relieving myself of my huge travellers rucksack, and hurried out of the apartment.
Stoja is a city beach to the North of Pula, made up of a sprawling campsite to the east and a stretch of rocky coastal path to the west. Freshly delivered from the air conditioned bus, I made my way to the water through a dense pine forest, thick with the sound of Cicadas and birdsong. I sought out a secluded spot on a rocky plateau and lay my towel down, quickly stripping to my swimwear and skipping over the pebbles to the surf. There really is no objective way to measure the simple pleasure of jumping into the ocean after a long day of travel and in those first seconds underwater, I felt my nerves at being in an unfamiliar country by myself shrink, replaced by a feeling that told me I was in the right place, and the next few days in Croatia were going to be exactly the tonic I had needed.
Thanks very much for reading. If you’d like to see more of my trip, you can watch the video I made below, Hannah x