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Exploring the World

Alumni travel stories

Last Stop: Pula

One can imagine Romans walking among the ruins of this northern Croatian city

June 30, 2011

It’s hard to believe that our magical cruise has drawn to a close!

The final day was just as jam-packed as all the others, and as always, interestingly so. I awoke earlier than usual and raced up onto the forward deck to watch the ship make its way into the harbour at Pula, a city in the northern Istrian region of Croatia, the region that is home to the limestone quarries that yielded the stone for the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

No sleepy little port town here: Pula has active, working shipyards and plenty of maritime activity. We drew closer and closer to the dock, which was right at the foot of the old city, and on the hill before us rose the arches of an ancient Roman amphitheatre, one of the six best-preserved worldwide.

During our walking tour of the city, our guide confirmed what was apparent: this was a city that had more industry than just tourism, although it still depended on the traveller’s dollars to a large extent. Thanks to its Roman ruins, the visitors should continue to arrive.

A visit to a Roman temple that honoured Augustus Caesar showed us that the Roman influence was strong once upon a time; in later times, Istria was under Venetian rule, and school children in Pula learn Italian, as well as English, from a young age.

Eventually, we came to the amphitheatre and gasped in delight as we walked through the stone arches. Before us stood a mini-Colosseum, about half the size, but well preserved. Restoration work is ongoing and the arena serves as a concert venue during the summer months, hosting everyone from Placido Domingo to James Taylor.

Back on board L’Austral, we had a special treat: a panel of three Pula natives spoke to us about life in Croatia today. Since the fall of Communism, employment has been a challenge, and everyone has had to adjust to the idea that nothing is simply handed to them. Although Istria was physically untouched by the Balkan war in the 1990s, they felt its effects in other ways. Today, however, they are hopeful that the peace will hold.

As they talked, the ship headed for its final Croatian port of call, Rovinj. A two-hour sojourn on this lush, green island allowed us all to take in a bit of local culture and offered a bit of free time for wandering, enjoying a cool drink by the water or spending the last of our kuna, the Croatian currency. Luckily, I managed to do just that with little effort!

Evening brought the captain’s farewell reception, followed by a special meal that showcased our chef’s talents, both in terms of taste and presentation. Our U of T group dined together for a final time, exchanging email addresses and promises to touch base. Young or old, working or retired, everyone agreed that the experience had been a rich one, full of beautiful sights, fascinating information and interesting travel companions. As eager as people were to sleep in their own beds once again, they were also busily planning their next outings. To which I say, Andiamo – let’s go!

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