Sunday, October 11, 2009

Donna meets us in Zagreb

We have checked out the Slovenian website and we do need to purchase a vignette. Didn't get one yesterday as we were travelling the back back roads and no sign of needing one - but today we will be using the fastest and therefore motorways and major routes to go over to Zagreb one and a half hours away. This morning it is dark! Well, after all it is only 7 am when we get out of bed - the earliest we have been up in absolutely months!

Breakfast was the best we have seen in ages - a great selection of fresh fruits, cereals, breads, meats, cheeses, tomatoes and preserved veges, then scrambled eggs and sausages. Juice and coffee and criossants - a different sort, not as rich and buttery as those in France, but still nice and fresh.

We set out from the Hotel Hum to go to Zagreb in Croatia to meet Donna's plane around 10 am for the 1½ drive to the airport. We stop for fuel and to get the vignette and to Michael's great relief the station attendants all spoke good English. It really is becoming the universal language over here. Slovenia is turning out to be a right little gem. It is very picturesque and looks beautiful in the crisp clear clean air this morning. At one point we pass this lake within the river and see about 20 fishermen all busy with their rods and nets - and all spaced equidistance apart! Quite a sight in the morning sunshine! And on the opposite side of the road, there are houses perched on the high ledge with farmed plots running down the hill.

Alls well until we get to the border. Slovenian officials rather disinterestedly stamp our passports as we leave, then we go another 100 m and the Croatian officials take a little more interest but stamp them as well with no hassles. Then we go another 100 m and there is another official standing there in a different uniform. We are not sure if we need to stop or not and when I stop about 4 feet passed the line on the road, Michael asks if we need to stop. A curt response in Croatian. So I reverse back that precious metre and a bit. More in Croatian and Michael responds with "Sorry we dont understand". "Ah, English friends." "You could see me standing here. Why did you stop up there?" the beligernat young man says. "Do you need our passports?" asks Michael. "Ah, Australians. Down Under. Aussies" in a drawn out derisive tone. "What are you doing in Croatia? How long are you staying? Oh. OK, well have a nice stay." Put a uniform on them and they all important! There is a lots of road building going on in Croatia and they do not have a vignette system so we stop and pay tolls regularly. I don't mind really, the new roads are really great.

Donna arrived in Zagreb this morning after flying from Sydney via Singapore and Paris. She looks like she could use a damn good holiday - but for God's sake don't tell her I said that !! It was great to see her. We arrived just about the same time that her plane landed (thankfully we were not going into Slovenia at the border - they were stopping every car and going through all the luggage - and as Hels knows, our car is chockers!!). She is on the other side of a glass partition waiting for her luggage, but its not long before we are hugging hello. Gosh, its nice to have her here.

So back out to the car that we only parked about 10 minutes before and we head out of Zagreb. I have booked accommodation in Split, a 4 hour drive away and I know Donna will be tired, so we get on the road straight away. At first she is taken with the colours of autumn and the stretches of Dolomite Mountains that we can see. Just wait till she sees the ones I know are south of here! She has bought a book on Croatia withe her and is full of interesting things to see and do. Gosh, she has done more research than we have! As we head down the road about an hour into the trip she sees signs for Pula - "Wow," she says, "there is a Roman amphitheatre there." And that was where the fun began.

I headed west off the motorway towards Pula and after a while changed Kate's destination to Pula because she kept wanting me to turn around so we could head for Split. And once Pula was the destination, I looked at Points of Interest near the destination to see if we could pick up the amphitheatre. It does, so we select it and continue on our way. Now we pass one turnoff for Pula, but Kate wants me to continue down the road for another 6 kms before turning off. Maybe it is not in the city. We actually head down a road towards Trieste (Italy) and we are back at the Slovenian border. Strange, I thought. I thought Pula was more to the south. So border formalities leaving Croatia and back into Slovenia. A few miles down the road and check Kate again - this time with my glasses on. Wow, won't that teach me. We are headed to the Roman Amphitheatre in Trieste! Uh oh. So we turn back around and go back to the border. I am waiting for the twnety questions and the request to step out of the vehicle and open our bags as we head back across the borders only ten minutes later. But no, they hardly even look up. In fact they don't even check the passports to see when we last left or entered. Rather, they just add yet more stamps and send us on our way. And the customs official this time is much more pleasant.

We have lost the better part of an hour, but this time we head back to the first turn off and into Pula which is still 24 kms down the road. And as we expect, we do find the amphitheatre in Kate's databank once we are in town. And yes, it is smack bacng in the centre of town and the new town has grown, radiating out from it.

Like Hels at Verona, Donna is stunned by the size and age of the complex. There are not many of the seating banks remaining, but certainly enough to give her a good idea of what it was all about. We can still see where the caged animals were led out to the arena as well as some of the amazing capping stones that once graced the entire upper perimeter far above us. We also see the foundations of a lot of the rooms that would have existed - canteens, bars, toilets, change rooms etc.

But we are not finished yet. In the sub-structure under the whole complex where the animals were once housed and the gladiators spent time before they combatted for the crowds above, there are now two exhibtions. One relates to the later use of this area as an olive oil processing operation and we see not only the grind stones used to crush the olives, but also the stone gutters that were installed to allow the oil to run into collection areas, and hundreds of amphora that were used to store the oil. Very interesting!

The other exhibiton relates to the Amphitheatre on its site and former, now lost, Roman buildings in the city. There is heaps of archaelogical information and there are aerial photos of the current city with the siting of the former Roman theatres, temples and large houses in line drawing over them. Very interesting.

But we now must push on. Pula is much further north than I expected and we are now 5½ hours from Split - and it is almost 5 pm! I phone Apartments Johnny where we have made our booking to let the know of our late arrival, but he is unconcerned, thankfully! We set off, knowing that we will have to stop and have dinner somewhere en-route. We make one quikc stop to take a couple of photos where we first get a glimpe of the Adriatic Sea and the islands of Croatia that lie just off the coast. We eventually do stop about 7:30 pm for fuel and a toasted sandwich on long yummy crispy flat rolls. Then we push forward.

Eventually Donna sleeps. In fits and starts - I mean, it is 3 am her body time and she said she only got about 4 hours sleep in total on the flights. By now of course it is dark and we can't see the areas through which we pass. But it is a journey for much of the time underground as we travel through tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. The longest is 5,760 metres at Mala Kapela followed by 5,681 at Sveti Rok. Impressive, even in the dark.

We eventually pull in to the driveway at Apartments Johnny just before 11 am, well and truly ready for bed! We are going to see if we can stay here for another couple of nights.

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