A week or two after returning from Riga there had been a very minor snow fall over the south of England, certainly no more than a flake or two, but predictably this had resulted in total travel chaos and the motorways and the airports had been brought to a ridiculous standstill. I had contrasted this with the heavy snowfall in Riga on the day that we arrived that had been dealt with quickly, efficiently and caused no disruption to transport arrangements at all.
I mention this because as we sat in the departure lounge waiting to go to Pula, in Croatia, there was a little sprinkling of snow and I was concerned that this may result in an unwanted flight delay. Thankfully however the airport ground crew were able to deal with the quarter of a centimetre or so on the runway and we took off precisely on time.
The flights to Pula were an irresistible bargain at only £16 return, which effectively meant that they were being subsidised by Ryanair because we didn’t even have to pay the full Government flight taxes. Sitting next to us was a couple from Kenilworth who had an impressive capacity for drinks from the sky-bar. They loaded up with beers and whiskey on its first pass down the aisle and they restocked when it returned back the other way. I like a gin and tonic to help pass the flight but I couldn’t possibly compete with these two heavyweight boozers.
It was a good flight and we enjoyed clear views of the snow capped Alps that ended dramatically as the land levelled out into the flat plains of Northern Italy and Trieste with colourful patchwork fields all waiting for the crops that would soon be growing there. It was picture-book stuff with high fluffy white clouds and a vivid turquoise Adriatic Sea punctuated liberally by vivid green islands each with a vivid halo of sparkling white beach.
It is an interesting fact that that there are approximately one thousand two hundred and fifty Croatian islands in the Adriatic, which compares to about one thousand four hundred Greek Islands. Only seventy-nine are inhabited however compared with nearly three times as many (two hundred and twenty seven) in Greece. The plane flew in over the nature reserve of the Brijuni National Park where the Yugoslavian war hero and President Tito had created a wildlife safari park and built his personal holiday home.
It was only a small airport but the passport control officers were unusually officious and made a thorough inspection of our passports which they carefully reconciled to our faces and then completed the process with a theatrical application of a customs stamp on one of the document’s blank pages. I liked that, you don’t see this very often these days and it made me feel like a serious traveller.
The sun was shining when we left the airport and we quickly found a taxi that took us the short journey into the city and to the Hotel Galija. This was a pleasantly refurbished accommodation with a nautical theme in the public areas including an impressive model ship in a glass case in the dining room (Galija means Galley) and with bright and spacious rooms that overlooked the terracotta tiled roofs of the surrounding buildings and after we had settled in we went out to visit the city.
The most important and most impressive building in Pula is the first century Roman Amphitheatre that is the sixth largest in the world and one of the best-preserved examples of its kind. The Coliseum in Rome was the biggest Roman Amphitheatre and could seat a massive fifty-thousand spectators (Some estimates suggest eighty thousand but generally about fifty thousand is the agreed capacity of the stadium), the second largest was Capua, also in Italy but now sadly in ruin, which had only a slightly smaller capacity, and the third was in El Djem in Tunisia with a capacity of thirty-five thousand. The Amphitheatre in Pula was designed for about twenty-five thousand and there were similar sized stadiums in Verona in Italy and at Nimes and Arles in Southern France so this was more of a Championship rather than a Premiership Ground.
We walked around the external walls and I was immediately struck by the grandeur and magnificence of the building. I have been to Rome and seen the Coliseum and in my opinion nothing can compare with that but this magnificent building made that assessment a close run thing. It towered mightily above us reaching up into the clear blue sky and looking proud and strong. The area around it is open and accessible and that makes viewing it in many ways easier than looking at the Coliseum surrounded as that is by a busy main road and a constant throng of tourists jostling for photographic opportunities.
As it was about lunchtime we decided to postpone the visit to the inside until the afternoon and we walked back towards the city centre to look for somewhere to eat.