The next morning our intent was to head to Pula, Croatia, a long bus journey of about 6 hours. After the conflicts in this region, the old Yugoslavia was finally chopped up into smaller counties. But each demanded, and needed, coastal access. So Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia each made concessions and, though Croatia wound up with the lion's share of the coastline, a journey down the Dalmatian coast does require a traveler to briefly leave, enter another country and then, a few kilometers on, re-enter Croatia. On our way today we were to pass briefly through Slovenia. A new country! But before that we had to get drive through an hour and a half across Italy and cross the border into Croatia.
|This is a photo taken the next day actually. Note the snow|
at the side of the road.
We got within 15 km of the border with Croatia when traffic came to a complete halt. Slowly inching forward for the next 3 hours we seldom went more than 5-10 mph. It took us two hours to go 3 km. Our schedule was shot to hell and we were not allowed to use the bathroom on the bus. Some explanation was given that, though this bus was built in Germany, here in Croatia, the bathroom can not be used. What? Oh, well. So our fearless leader, told the tour guide that this decision would have to mean more stops along the way so folks could use a public bathroom. We crept on through snow, sleet, rain and an
ice storm. The freeway was closed at times and be had to drive across country, sometimes along hair raising cliffs on an icy road. Finally, we got back on the freeway only to drive passed miles of semi trucks all stopped in the slow lane. We kept going somehow. Our guise was a nervous wreck. Or driver looked as cool as a cucumber!
|One of several tunnels we passed through. This one was|
four km long. Note the icy road surface
We finally pulled over in some small town after Leslie insisted it was time for a bathroom stop. The guide was far less accommodating than the Venice guide but she relented.
The snow kept falling. More slow highway speeds. We continued to creep along sliding occasionally but making slow, steady progress. The guide called ahead. The city tour had to be canceled due to our lateness of arrival. Then we started figuring out whether or not we'd have to drive right to the concert!
By around 1:30 the bus finally edged across the border into Slovenia. A new country! At the border we had to stop for a few minutes while a border guard came aboard and stamped all our passports which excited all of us since that doesn't often happen in Europe anymore except at arrival and departure in an airport. Right across the border our driver pulled over in front of a roadside restaurant. It looked questionable but turned out to be the best food we'd had up until then. Skafye was its name. I had an insalada di pulpo, octopus salad. Perfectly cooked octopus on a bed of greens and I dressed it with the traditional olive oil, red wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Others at my table had pastas with various sauces--bolognese, and a delicious truffle sauce that was the winner.
Having had a meal in Slovenia, we could officially claim that we had been to that new country.
Late in the afternoon, the weather began to clear and moderate. We finally arrived in Pula and our hotel. The hotel was supposed to be a resort. If it is it is more like what I would imagine an East German or Russian resort from the communist era would look like. Spartan furnishings, hard beds, the heat was turned off at a certain hour. At one point we turned the water on in the bathroom sink and out ran brown water! I was glad we didn't get up to get a drink in the middle of the night!
Dressed in their formal wear the choir re-boarded the bus for the drive to the church for the first exchange concert, this one with a choir from the University of Pula. It had gotten dark and we had to walk a quarter mile or so up hill to the the performance site--the Franciscan Church of Pula. It looked very old, was all stone with a wooden beamed ceiling and very little ornamentation. It had heat but you'd never know it. It was VERY cold! Our guide told us she didn't think many people would show up since it was so cold. She was so wrong, the church was 3/4 filled with a very enthusiastic crowd.
The Pula choir was made up of about 20 singers only 5 of whom were men. They sang Croatian music which was fun to hear. They only sang for 10 minutes.
The WWU choir took the stage and wowed the crowd with 45 minutes of outstanding music from a wide variety of periods. Of course, the audience was especially appreciative of the American selections. They ended their performance with Hall Johnson's arrangement of, Ain't Got Time to Die. The audience applauded wildly.
Following an informal meeting between the two choirs we walked the short distance to our bus (this time down hill) and were whisked back to the hotel for a late supper. It was welcome but reaffirmed my feeling that we were staying in an old communist era hotel. The food had been sitting on the steam tables all evening and was dried out, pretty basic fare, too. When something ran out it was not replaced. We had to argue with the staff before finally getting a carafe of tap water.
Many students stayed up late in the bar area having fun with other hotel residence, many of whom seemed to be their age. We headed off to bed. Whether an accident or planned, we wound up in a two bedroom apartment. All I can say, beyond what I said earlier about the decor, was that it was big.
After a rather fitful night's sleep on the hard bed, the alarm awoke us for second day in Croatia. We'd packed the night before so we could sleep in a bit more. Breakfast was in the same hotel cafeteria in which we'd had the previous evening's supper. The breakfast didn't change my opinion of the place.
We drove into Pula for a short morning of sightseeing before heading to our next destination. We had a walking tour through the old town ending with the not-to-be-missed Roman amphitheater. That is what they insisted upon calling it and it is how it is used today, but its history is most definitely that of an coliseum complete with animals and gladiators. Built in 1 A.D., it is either well preserved or well restored, depending on the explanation you listen too. Today it is used only for summer concerts. We took a group photo in the center of the old coliseum, and then went down the ancient steps leading under the arena floor where the animals were kept and the gladiators prepared. Today it is a museum explaining the architecture and housing relics from the period including lots of ancient amphora. Not having been to Rome yet, this was a real thrill for me to see. Definitely a highlight of the trip.
Back on the bus we braced ourselves for the 6 hour journey ahead to the region of the Dalmatian coast where we would spend a couple of days in the city of Zadar. We made stops every couple of hours for toilet breaks or to have lunch. Our drive took us through the mountains which were covered with the fresh new snow we'd experienced in the ice storm the previous day. Today it was cold, crisp but sunny and beautiful.
Our travel day finally came to an end when we arrived in front of our hotel in Zadar. It was a beautiful resort hotel sitting right across the street from the Adriatic Sea. Our room had a view of the beach and out onto the sea. Even the room was lovely. Nothing like the communist era accommodations of our previous night. This room reflected the place. It had a nautical look with lots of warm wood accents and was very nicely appointed.
|Amphora in the "basement" of the coliseum in Pula.|
The choir was surprised by being greeted in the hotel lobby by several members of the choir they will share a performance with tomorrow night. What a kind thing to do. They were warm and happy to see us. They insisted on taking us on a walk around the old town center, a 10 minute walk from the hotel. Leslie and a former WWU grad student, along on this trip as a member of the tour choir, accepted their invitation and headed off within minutes of our arrival. I chose to stay in for the evening to catch up on my journaling and process the photos I'd taken so far.I was fine with it. I find I get to a point where I just need a break from people from time to time and relish the peace and quiet, the calm, the by-myself-time. Leslie is very supportive of my odd
|The view out our hotel window in Pula.|
She rolled in a few hours later having had a wonderful time and chattering away about what she'd seen. We slept very well that night and awakened this next morning to a mild, sunny day which would be filled with a walking tour of old Pula and what would turn out to be a special experience at that evening's concert.