We leave Postojna early in the morning under threatening skies. We are heading south for a 6 night recharge at a campsite in Pula, Croatia. We take two decrepit graffiti coated trains south, watching the gorgeous countryside fly by. I watch T find as many uncomfortable ways to sleep on the train as she possibly could.
Arriving at Pula, we leave the station and I tell the kids that I think they are capable of walking the 4.5 km with packs to the campsite, and that we will stop partway in order to have a coffee and a snack. They are better with their packs now and agree that they can do it. We walk a couple blocks and the Pula Arena rises up in front of us. We stop amazed at the site of this ancient Roman arena, one of only 5 intact ones left in the world, and make plans to visit it later in the week. Dodging the tour groups, we continue on and I glance up at the ominous sky. I suggest we stop for our snack just as the sky unleashes it’s fury. We climb up steps to a covered patio overlooking an old Roman gate and dump our packs. The weather becomes more and more unruly with thunder and lightening as we sit and sip hot drinks. I finally pull out the deck of cards as it looks like we are staying put for a bit.
After about two hours the rain looks like it is stopping so we gear up and head out. Within 3 blocks, torrents of rain start falling, the thunder and lightening renews and we are soaked both from above and the side as passing cars drive through the rivers and lakes that have formed on the roads. Repeatedly we duck into alcoves, stairwells and other coverings in hopes that the rain will lighten, but every time we get going again it seems to come down with renewed fury. I’m am hitting a low unlike anything I have experienced on the trip and I feel like swearing and crying. I realize that I’m likely in the early stages of mild hypothermia and realize we really just need to boot it to get warm and out of our clothing.
We are about a km from the campsite when a humungous mall rises up out of the hillside beside us. I laugh at how out of place it is and the rain comes down harder as we run up the slope towards it. We duck into the entrance and stand with water pooling at our feet in front of the heaters by the door. The drains, in their inability to handle the influx of water spout streams of it up into the air. The windows of the cafe by the door also appear to not be designed for this volume of water and leak copious amounts into the cafe. Towels line the floor in an attempt to stem the flow. We stand there shivering for awhile and I decide we really do need to get moving and out of the wet clothing we are standing in. With resolve, we dash from the building, just as the rain stops.
The final km to the campsite is calm, the streets have turned into rivers and lakes and T kills herself laughing when we see a storm drain shooting water 4 ft up into the air. We drip our way into reception and she takes one look at us and says of course our trailer is ready. We have to walk 10 more mins to get there and there appears to be no heat. I’m in tears as I get the kids into the shower and start pulling our dripping gear apart. Everything is soaked, it is soaked through the pack covers, through our rain coats. Water went between us and our packs soaking through the back of the packs and wetting pretty much everything inside. I strip and wait under a blanket for the kids to warm up in the shower, and then get them dressed and under blankets before taking my turn. I spend the rest of the day hanging everything. We have no food, no coffee, everything is wet. I call Derek crying and after a good pity session I buck up and drag the kids out to see if we can find food. We discover a campsite restaurant with pizza, wine and ice cream and it takes the edge off. It takes days for our shoes and packs to dry, helped by the discovery that heating was available at a cost, but they wave the fee for me as it is so cold. The sun eventually comes back 2 days later and makes the rest of our stay much better.
The next day is mostly just wandering around the peninsula and we spend a bunch of time in the big mall investing in a couple more articles of warm clothing. The kids insist on swimming even though it is freezing and people in the campsite comment that it is too cold for swimming. I’m sure the German parents whose kids saw mine swimming and begged to go in loved us. I could hear the mom repeatedly saying no to their requests.
The sun finally comes out and the kids have another day of swimming and exploring. We invest in some snorkels and they snorkel for the first time. Z takes to it pretty quick, but T has the same feeling of nervousness breathing underwater as I did when I learned to scuba dive. Eventually watching her sister enjoy seeing fish underwater motivates her, and she takes the plunge. Both kids are pros by the end of the week.
One of the places they hoped to swim, but the sea was too rough on the first couple days, was under a sea arch near our trailer. On our third day the sea calmed down enough that I let them swim and snorkel there and the water was amazingly clear and blue. I wanted to join them, but just dipping my toes in the freezing water made my heart leap into my chest and I left the swimming to them as I enjoyed sunning myself on the rocks.
One evening, one of the people in the neighbouring cabins ran up to our door and excitedly asked if we wanted to see dolphins. Of course we said yes and I ran outside with the girls. We made our way down the rocks and enjoyed a spectacular show of several dolphins fishing. This was the only time on the trip I wished that I had had my better camera. It was hard to get a good picture of these magnificent creatures, but I tried and If you squint at the pictures below, you might just see a dolphin!
So, Croatia on a whole has felt very safe. The people funny, kind and welcoming. I have had no sense of danger, or concern while travelling here, so what follows came as a surprise… though violence happens everywhere, so I suppose this could have happened anywhere.
We decided we would spend one of our days exploring the ruins and old town in Pula. Setting off in the morning by foot we get to the edge of town when we hear the loud sound and pumping base of a live band. Following the sound up the hill we discover what looks like some kind of graduation celebration, as it’s all young adults. There is a live rock band and the young people are tossing paint and shaving cream at each other. It looks joyful and fun and we watch for awhile amused. Soon the kids are bored so we move on, heading in the direction of old town.
I’m walking down the street a few blocks further on and I hear shouting and yelling and suddenly two huge burly men are running towards us. One is carrying a police baton, extended and he is rapidly approaching. I freeze. He gets within 2 meters of us and tosses the baton in our direction, then turns and starts running the other way. “This seems a little unsafe” I say to the kids, grabbing hands and dragging them forcefully to the other side of the street. “Mom, that black stick said police on it” T comments. “Uh huh” I respond walking rapidly my mind racing trying to decide which way to go. We walk a couple more feet and are at an intersection, I glance downhill and see a huge fight, what looks like chaos, at least 10 – 15 huge men all wearing the same biker jackets, engaged in a scuffle with many police. One person stands near me in the road, cell phone out recording. Another woman is on the phone, to what I hope is more police. People poke their heads out of the shops nervously and all I can think is “Get away.” We keep going straight and hit a park. I decide not to go into the park, as I figure it is the perfect escape/hideout place for the bad guys and backtrack a block. We turn down this block and a car screams past us. The man in the passenger seat makes eye contact…it’s one of the guys. The car stops across from me and my heart leaps into my chest as I try to drag the kids along faster. Some guy runs out of an alley, dives headfirst into the car and it screams down the street in the oncoming lane, hops the curb a block down and then all the guys jump out and scatter. Moments later an armoured police van passes us going in the same direction. We continue and there are police everywhere. They have people stopped and are checking ID’s but they look at my face and must see my terror, and wave me by.
At this point I am hopelessly lost and turned around, but keep walking. Eventually T asks where we are going and I stop, breathe and realize how glad I am that we brought a portable wifi device. I get the internet up and going, and orient ourselves towards downtown. As soon as we hit old town and are surrounded by tourists, I duck into a coffee shop and order cake and coffee for all, while I try and calm my racing heart.
We spend the rest of the day exploring old town, and the Roman arena. The rest of the day is fabulous, but it is hard to shake the unease, and I find myself tense and alert.
We spend the rest of this part of the trip out in the peninsula, away from town. The kids snorkel lots, we play lots of cards and just generally relax the rest of the week. It is hard to get up and going on our last day. We have several hours to kill in town and spend it playing cards in a park, playing cards in a cafe and playing cards at the train station. The kids are getting good at rummy 500.