Return to Pula – Day One in Istria

It’s been a hectic few weeks getting ready to participate in the next round of the Share Istria event. I had already scheduled my June with breaks to stay home and write and relax so adding 10 days of travel in has been quite a feat, but I immediately knew it was worth it when I finally arrived back in Pula – almost nine years to the day from when I left.

My travel to get to Croatia was not going to be easy. The trip required leaving my house at 9:00 am C.S.T., an hour and a half flight from Bloomington, Illinois, to Atlanta, Georgia. A four hour layover in Atlanta, followed by a nine and a half hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, a one hour flight to Zagreb, Croatia, a two and a half hour car ride to Pula, and then, finally, a boat ride to the Porec Lighthouse!

The weather was beautiful when I left Champaign, Illinois, and my flight to Atlanta stayed pretty much on schedule. Delta upgraded me in one of their economy comfort seats and, despite the fact that it was a small plane, it was actually very comfortable.

I arrived in Atlanta airport – not one of my favorites because it’s always packed – and headed right to a restaurant to have lunch and get some work done.

I managed to finish two stories and a veggie wrap before I called my mom and daughter one last time before I left the country.

At the gate I checked on my possible upgrade from Air France, but I was told the plane was full so I resigned myself to sitting in economy.

I know this definitely sounds like I’m spoiled, but the fact is I hadn’t flown economy to Europe in years, unless you count the exit rows American lets me pick when they can’t upgrade (I have status with American).

It was quite an experience, especially since they were flying an old Delta plane that actually had telephone connections under the seats instead of power outlets!

I do have to say, despite the fact that it was so cramped that I couldn’t even recline, the service on the Air France flight was very good and the food wasn’t bad.

I had a tortellini in a cheese sauce, salad, and a packaged brownie, then an egg sandwich for breakfast. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t offer anything in between to drink or eat as I didn’t sleep at all.

I did get to finally watch some movies (“Black and White” and “The Second Best Marigold Hotel”) and probably dozed for about an hour.

I didn’t realize until I arrived in Frankfort that I had a short layover two terminals away. I only stopped for a quick bathroom break before heading to the gate for my Air Croatia flight.

We made a stop in the park to enjoy some playful time at the bar/playground there before we headed down to the boat dock.
It turned out I didn’t have to rush as a problem with the computers delayed the flight. Once onboard, it was a bit more comfortable than the last flight and we were served crackers and our choice of drinks, including wine and beer.

Since my flight was late, my friend, Lynn, and Goran from the Istria Tourism Board were already waiting for me. I got a bottle of cold water and we were on our way.

The ride was long, but very scenic. The last time I had come to Croatia I had driven through Slovenia and hadn’t seen this area.

It continued to get more beautiful as we hit the sea shore and Goran started telling us more about Istria.

We finally arrived in Pula, tired and hungry, but very excited.

Our first stop was for lunch at Park Plaza Histria. It is a modern hotel on the Adriatic Sea with breathtaking views that reminded me just how beautiful this land is.

It was here that we first met the two other teams that would join Lynn and mShare Istria journey: Rocky Casale, an American who has lived in Europe most of the last few years, and Frenchmen Nicholas Wagner; and Hungarians Andras Jokuti and Gyorgy Povaai.
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Even though we were all technically competing, we instantly got along and started to get to know each other through an (Istrian) wine filled lunch.

As I suspected in this seaside region, seafood was filling the menu.  The men had octopus and then sea bass.

Since Lynn and I are both allergic, we had a layered caprese salad for an appetizer followed by beef with potatoes and vegetables. It was all delicious.

Dessert was a vanilla mousse with a chocolate coated bottom. It was light and amazing. We followed it with cappuccinos as we started to fade from all the travel.

The original schedule called for us to see the Spectacia Antiqua performance at the arena in Pula. Goran realized how tired we all were and instead said he would take us straight to our accommodations.

Now, that was no easy task. We were spending the night in a lighthouse on a private island. To get there, we had a long, rugged drive through a nature park, a short hike up to the beach, then a boat to the island.

Goran told us that there were often dolphins in the water and we were excited to try to spot them, but the water was rough and we quickly became happy just to make it to the lighthouse.

It was a beautiful site when we pulled up. Everyone was tired and I was exhausted, having had an hour’s sleep in two days.

They politely let us, as the only women, pick the apartment we wanted and we took the one in the front as I saw the sun shining in a bedroom and knew that would be a sunset view shortly.

Lynn was in a bedroom next to me with bunk beds (she had a double on the bottom). We also had a bathroom and a kitchen, but it was quite muggy and there was no air conditioning in this old building.

I opened up the windows and enjoyed the sea air. By 8;30 pm, I was out cold for what I had expected to be a long night’s sleep.

Please follow the daily journey through Croatia on social media -- @Spiritstraveler on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also search and share all posts by the team of Lynn and me -- #ShareIstriaUSA1.

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