Wednesday 7th September 2022
Camping Arena Stoja – Pula
Croatia is chock-a-block full! We have had a dickens of a job to find places to stay, and when we have we didn’t like them. It seems that most of Northern Europe feel the same as us, and after two years of lock-downs, everyone is heading for some Autumn sunshine. Most of those seem to have all headed for Croatia. You cannot find a pitch for love nor money as they are already taken, mostly by Germans, Austrians and some Dutch. There are very few British vans around.
We left Portoroz on Monday and headed south, further down the Istrian coast into Croatia. The border was only a couple of miles from the campsite and we drove past a long line of salt pans which are a famous local industry as they are still producing salt from sea water in a way unchanged for hundreds of years. Croatia isn’t in the Schengen area of the EU until January 2023 so there was a 30 minute-long queue at the border to show our passports. This was especially important for Andy and Lesley as they had to get their passport stamped to show that they were leaving Schengen as they would otherwise fall foul of the 90 days in 180 rule that Johnson has landed us with as part of his marvellous Brexit deal.
An hour on from the border and we came to Camping Polari, a vast site where we had been promised two pitches next to each other. The lady at reception pointed out the areas on the camp plan where we could pitch and told us to go and stop anywhere. There wasn’t anywhere! The place looked like a festival campground with everyone living cheek by jowl, and when we found we were next door to the nudist area it was cheeks by plenty of other things and most of them not pleasant!
So we had a quick chat and we were all of the same view, we are not staying here! I rang a site an hour further south, at Pula, and they did have space. Farewell Polari, Hello Camping Arena Stoja!
Stoja turned out to be lovely, on a promontory sticking out from the side of Pula, all but an island, covered in pine trees and very reminiscent of one of our all time favourite campsites, le Tedey in Lacanau, South West France. The site had once been a military fort, built by the Austrians in 1884, as one of a chain that encircled Pula which they had made their main naval base, both a harbour and centre of ship building. It has great access to the water for the dogs to swim as well as plenty of folk paddle boarding and snorkelling. The temperature is in the low thirties so it is good for the dogs to be able to have a dip. Enzo and Bryn seemed to have developed a collaborative approach to fetching a ball from the sea. Enzo does most of the heavy lifting by swimming out to get the ball, he brings it half way back and then gives it to Bryn, who completes the job by dropping it at my feet for the reward. They both seem pretty pleased with themselves though.
We held a pow wow on Tuesday morning, after breakfast as we were increasingly concerned about finding campsites. It seems that due to the large number of grey haired travellers this year, the days of being able to roll up at a site and find a pitch are over for the time being. We used the campsites good Wi-Fi (one of the masts was in front of A & L’s van) and tried to book all the sights we need for the rest of the Croatian leg of our tour; nine more nights. In the end it took two hours to get every night booked in. The Croatian campsites are really rammed. Wendy and I were a little disappointed that two of our favourite campsites from our 2018 visit were full, so we are not able to show the Fozzies their charms; but hopefully we have some more delights to discover as we move down the country.
The ridiculous amount of time we had spent on booking sites meant that we had missed our chance of joining a walking tour around the old town centre of Pula, but it was also becoming blisteringly hot again so it was time for swimming and sunbathing and we managed to book on to an evening tour when hopefully it will be a little bit cooler.
It was much cooler. We hopped on to the No. 1 bus that stopped right out side the campsite and it dropped us of right in the centre of the city. Bryn and Enzo coped like the old hands they are now a this public transport malarkey and no muzzles required either. Croatia is a very dog friendly country.
Sasha, our guide, met us at the sailor statue just below the amphitheatre. For the next two hours he took us around all the sights of the old town centre and through three millenniums’ worth of Pula and the Istrian Peninsular’s history. Including the amphitheatre, which was built in the first century AD (or CE if you are more modern than I am) and has the best preserved outer wall of all amphitheatre’s including the Coliseum, which was built at the same time; and finishing with the government’s closure of the ship building industry three years ago. (did you know that the word ‘arena’ comes from the latin word for the sand the romans used to absorb the blood and guts spilled in the amphitheatre, or our word ‘cravat’ comes from the neckwear worn by the Croatians in the Napoleonic wars – apparently old Boney rather fancied himself in one?) Sasha then recommended the best place for us to eat in town, and if you are ever in Pula we will recommend the Pizzeria Jupiter on Castropola ulica too! Not just pizzas, but great traditional Croatian food including locally caught fish, and the good local wine was only €5 a carafe!
After four days on the coast, tomorrow (Wednesday) we head inland, to the mountainous forests of the Croatian interior.