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Phespirit goes to Croatia
Pula     July 2012

Mad heat. Stifling. Airless. So it was in Pula when Phespirit arrived. Temperatures only 31°C, but an oppressive 31°C. All the more so for a traveller from England where chill-tinged relentless rains had washed away summer in its entirety. The Croatian sky was without so much as a gossamer wisp of cloud. The shiftless Adriatic offered up no breeze to disturb the thick air hanging in the streets and along the quayside. And Phespirit's hotel room had no air conditioning.

On his first afternoon's acquaintance with the city, Phespirit got familiarised if not aclimatised. Pula is a significant working port on the Istrian peninsula with a historical centre that is nicely compact. The remnants of its ancient Roman past are quite magnificant yet little time is needed to shuttle between them all. Phespirit drafted himself a plan for the next three days, and then returned to his hotel room, cast off all the bed clothes, cast off his own clothes, and gently suffocated to sleep.

The next morning he set about visiting all the central attractions. Within four and a half hours he had seen the lot. Last stop was the iconic Roman amphitheatre, a complete (restored) oval with a high bank of seating in situ along one side, a central open space that was hosting the Pula Film Festival (later to host Tom Jones), and a small subterranean museum. With half a day left to fill, Phespirit returned to his hotel for a swift shower then set off for a long trek to the southern headlands of Verudela and west around the coast. Rocky, heavily wooded, and home to five old fortresses, this area is now primarily the domain of holidaymakers and resort hotels.

Nine o'clock the following morning Phespirit was on a bus bound for Premantura. This village stands at the entrance to Rt Kamenjak: a 9.5km-long rocky finger of land that is now a protected wilderness at the southernmost tip of Istria. There are no tarmac roads or permanent dwellings here, just dusty tracks and a handful of beach bars. Phespirit whiled away six hours rock-hopping around the rugged coast, which alternated from being utterly deserted to occupied by noisy clusters of families. On this day, mercifully, the heavy clammy air was swept aside by brisk winds. It would have been hard toil otherwise.

On his last day Phesprit took a return boat trip from Pula to Veliki Brijun, largest of the Brijuni islands. Activities here included a look around Josip Broz Tito's old summer residence (now filled with stuffed animals and photos of Tito with visiting world leaders), a noddy train ride through Tito's old safari park, a walk among Roman ruins, and finally a little swim. On the journey back, Phespirit watched with increasing awe as a forest fire took hold on the Istrian mainland opposite the island. A patch of black smoke grew wider at its source and soon had a wall of flame at its heart. By the time he reached Pula the smoke was smudging a quarter of the horizon. A Boeing jet swung around in a broad arc to avoid passing through it.

Mad heat followed by brisk winds. Dangerous conditions when an ember falls on tinder. Testing too for an unprepared Briton abroad. But ultimately Phespirit's days in Croatia were good and he left pleased with a time well spent.

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