By Nicole Peña
Large Uljanik ships float in the clear blue water of the Adriatic Sea in Pula, Croatia. When arriving into the center of the city, you see the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi. The locals in Pula call this arch the Golden Gate, because of its decorative arch. Next to the gate there are four buildings that represent layers of Pula’s past. The closest building to the arch was built under Austro-Hungarian rule, the next Venetian, the third Fascist Italian, and the last Yugoslav Communist. The last important structure here is the market, which is of the Austrian era.
Pula is located on the Istrian Peninsula, which the Romans conquered in 177 BC. Now thousands of years later, Pula thrives with remnants from its former Roman ruled past. Pula is not just a historical destination, but also one that travelers can visit in order to relax without dealing with a mass of other tourists.
When arriving into Pula, you will notice Uljanik ships lined along the shore. Uljanik is important to Pula because 2,000 people from Pula work in this shipyard. The historic shipyard is controversial, Mariam Abdelghani, tour guide, says, “A lot of people say here, that we should close the shipyard or move the shipyard to a different location outside the city, so we can make a nice promenade. I hope not, because there is a reason that there is a shipyard here on this spot. That is a fantastic Pula bay.” The Romans actually chose to build a city in Pula, because of this bay. In fact, the Romans initially had their own shipyard in Pula during their rule. Uljanik shows that Pula is also an industrial city in addition to one full of history.
The most obvious structure in Pula is the Amphitheatre. While it is not the size of the Coliseum in Italy, it is the best-preserved Roman amphitheater in Europe. This limestone design should only be called the amphitheater, because the coliseum is exclusive to Italy and arenas are part of all amphitheaters. The amphitheater was built as a place to hold gladiator shows, which served as entertainment for the people of the Roman era. This is why the arena in the amphitheater is covered in sand, because it is easier to clean. In the auditorium, people would sit based on social class. The amphitheater was very accommodating to people, as it was the first to allow public toilets.
After touring the amphitheater, you can stop for dinner at Jupiter Pizzeria to enjoy Italian cuisine, which is prominent in the area. Jupiter Pizzeria, a 5-minute walk from the Pula amphitheater, had a mix of locals and travelers. The famous Pula pizzeria has been around for twenty-six years. After asking the server what the most popular dish was, she said it is definitely the Istriana pizza. This pizza has tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula and cherry tomatoes. One can get a small pizza that will be plenty for two for 39 Kn ($5.80 USD).
For a place to stay, the Hotel Veli Jože, which is only a 20-minute walk from Jupiter is a suitable choice. The grey stone walls of the hotel are accented by light blue windows and doors, making it easy to recognize. Blue is the dominant accent color in the Veli Jože, with blue carpet, curtains, blankets, tiled floors and shower curtains. The historic hotel, which is in a 19th century monument, provides guests with free Wi-Fi and breakfast, while also having a great location.
If you want to relax and enjoy lunch and a drink, you can take a 15 to 20-minute walk over to Šumi More café on the beach. Sit in the sun and enjoy a blueberry mojito, or “blueborito” as the server liked to call it, or an assortment of other cold drinks for around 35 Kn ($5.21 USD). If you decide you want to lie down or get in the water, you can walk over to an empty space and enjoy the beach. Unlike the typical sand beaches common in the United States, the beaches in Istria are rocky. There are still plenty of flat spots to lie down on, and the pebbles in the water are smooth enough to walk on barefoot.
If you have the time to explore any other towns in Istria, Rovinj and Poreč can be visited in a day. Rovinj has history and fully embraces its Italian and Croatian past. With colorful buildings and an old Roman side of the town that is rich in history. In Poreč there is a variety of fresh seafood and Italian restaurants. There is also the Euphrasian Basilica (Eufrazijeva bazilika) that makes you feel like you are back in time, since it was built in the sixth century and is a UNESCO historical site.
While making a quick stop in Motovun (hour drive from Pula), one can learn about Istria’s huge truffle industry. To find truffles, people train dogs to be truffle hunters, but as Goran Cvek, tour guide, says ,“honestly it’s not difficult to teach them [dogs] how to find it, the difficult part is to teach them how to find it and not eat it before you manage to get there and take it from their mouth, especially because the price depends not only on the size and on the weight but also on the preservation of the truffle.” In Pula, many restaurants have dishes with truffles, truffle oil or shaved truffles.
Pula is a city rich in history and culture, but that does not mean that it has to be a purely educational trip. There is so much to experience from sight seeing to relaxing at the beach. Pula is a laid back city, so you can take it at your own pace while knowing there are plenty of things to see and do.