Thursday, September 27, 2001

It's Croatia and the sun is shining.

It shone yesterday too, except for one big damn black cloud which pissed down almighty. As you would expect, both myself and Simon were in the process of lugging our backpacks about looking for accommodation, and got right royally soaked.

Ok, so I'm now in a pleasant town of about 50000 people called Pula. On the coast as you might imagine. Go check out your maps and take a look at Croatia. It's just one big giant coastline, totally ripping off poor Bosnia. Look really close and you'll see that just to take the piss, they've given Bosnia the most tiny of coastlines. We've decided to go there later on, because we feel sorry for Bosnia's lack of coast.

So, it's been Piran to Buzet (in Croatia) and now Pula. It's all been great so far, and already I know the next couple of days are going to be pretty full.

Piran then. After my last entry, we stayed a couple more days, but not at the youth hostel but at a much cheaper campsite. We'd only booked the hostel for two days and wanted to stay longer, but a heap of damn schoolkids had infested the building so we were forced to evacuate. So that morning, we went to reception, paid our money and were literally about to walk out the door, when in walked Tammy.

Unable to bear the thought of not seeing me again, she'd gone to Piran to find me. That'd be the explanation if I was writing the script, but it had turned out she'd got her ice-cream selling job in the very nearby town of Portoroz, so had left Koper and gone into Piran to find somewhere to stay. So we all headed to the campsite, which was full of caravans with fences round them, and we set up camp next to yet more damn Kiwis and Ozzies. They're like a plague abroad, absolutely everywhere.

Anyway, we hung around for a while, fending off a mass attack of cats who sensed the tuna presence eminating from our tent, and met up with Tammy for a football match. It was Saturday, and NK Piran-Portoroz were playing the might of Kosona. Fixtures don't get bigger, and when speaking to a barman before heading to the match to get information, he just said "Jesus Christ" and we derived from him that NK Piran were "about 4th division".

This probably explained why the total number of spectators (ncluding the freeloaders who watched from the old town wall towers hat overlooked the pitch) was approximately 50. Tammy being female and Canadian, it was her first ever time to witness football played firsthand. We seem to have a habit of introducing Canadian females to football - Laura back in Trencin watched Trencin's glorious 2-0 victory over Slovan Bratislava.

This game was, however, less than glorious. It became evident after about 15 seconds that the level of ability involved was roughly equal to... well, a 4th division Slovenian football team. Oh yes, it was amateur, it was scrappy, and it certainly lacked the ferocity of Hungary vs Romania. One fan seemed somewhat electrically charged throughout the game, at one point leaping onto the spectator fencing, but of the remaining 49 spectators, I'm not exaggerating when I say the three of us were the most enthusistic. That is, Simon clapped, I groaned, and Tammy just made a lot of strange "hmming" noises.

The game ended 0-0. It rained all second half. A Piran player got sent off for dissent and there were a couple of nice saves and a couple more quite atrocious misses, but I'm afraid I got what I asked for when I went and saw a 4th division Slovenian football match.

EXCEPT - the referee had a mullet! And a good one too.

After th game then, we were wet, cold and hungry, so there simply was no choice but to get some food and get drunk. So a happy ending.

Yeah, so it was raining, and we were camping. Two things that seem to go hand in hand currently. We woke the next morning with that familar sound of loud drumming on our tent by heavy rain. I was feeling restless, so made the very foolish decision to go on a wander down the street (which was basically just a series of aggressive streams charging down the cobbled roads) and so fully deserved getting soaked utterly and comprehensively. I returned, very wet, to the tent, changed my clothes, and realised the tent was letting in increasing amounts of water, so we shifted it all under a sheltered area. And then we sat, and waited for the rain to ease.

Anyway, this is all completely irrelevant detail. I'm just meandering here. Basically, to soothe the pain of being soaked, we went out that evening with Tammy for some food, and then got drunk again. This time we managed to acquire an old alcoholic Slovenian woman who spoke no English, called Vera. She had one small hand, but was still quite good at arm-wrestling with the other, though I showed no mercy of course and beat her. We bought her drink and cigarettes the whole night, which in hindsight does seem a little irresponsible, but she seemed happy enough with the deal. She read Tammy's palm, with the barman translating, and was startlingly honest, beginning with the words "You will have an accident..." We stayed in the bar till about 3am (the joy of continental pub closing times) talking the universal language of alcohol.

The next day was warm and dry, and it was time for us to finally leave Piran. Our planned destination was Rovinj in Croatia, and we noted the bus departed at 4.45pm. So before that we packed up our stuff, and hung around with Tammy for a while. After sitting by the sea, we moved onto a cafe-bar we'd been to the day before, and should have realised our mistake immediately.

Tammy had meant to leave Piran the day before, to go to Ljubljana, but we'd all gone down to this one particular cafe where they sell pancakes, and she'd ended up missing her bus by 5 minutes, so had stayed the extra day. So to return there the day after was simply tempting fate, and fate was having none of it. We sat, had a drink, played a couple of games of chess (I'm up 4-2 in the series) and went to get our bus.

Discovering it left at 4.25pm, and not 4.45pm.

It is a little crazy how a simple thing as me misreading a bus timetable (the previous day in the pouring rain) and thus missing the bus, can have such repercussions on the overall trip. Because if we'd made the bus, we'd have got to Rovinj and a whole different series of events would likely have occurred. We'd have met various different people and various different things would have happened. But now, because of the missed bus, we're not bothering with Rovinj at all, and as a consequence of last night in Pula, our plans have taken another right angle turn.

More on that later. Back to the bus stop, and we simply got a bus to the bigger town of Koper to have more options of travel. Due to us getting there quite late, the only bus to Croatia was to some utterly unheard of town calld Buzet. Which we of course took, arriving there in darkness at 9pm, and quite fortunately having a hotel right in front of us upon getting off the bus - the only hotel in town. And it wasn't too expensive (12 quid, not cheap, but not breaking the bank). It had a TV too, and I got a double bed (which didn't have to be shared with Simon, thank God).

Buzet basically acted as chillout time for us. After days of drinking and camping in rain, it was great to have a comfortable hotel room, with a shower and bath (albeit very poor). I even got round to shaving my head and trimming my beard again. The beard especially was looking somewhat "fluffy".

Buzet was just a small town, but a town of two halves. One half - the old half - was perched on a big hill, and was full of winding streets Piran-style, and half the buildings wre crumbling. Some streets were eerily quiet. But it had a curious charm and I liked it (despite the fact I couldn't climb the big churchtower - come on people, sort this out). The other half - the new half - was below the hill and was just an unfocussed sprawl of buildings, with no recognisable town centre. But the weather was pleasant and I got about 8 hours sleep and was recharged.

The hotel owner very kindly drove us to the train station (strangely located about 5 miles out of town, hidden in a hill) in the second morning of our Buzet stay, and we got the train to Pula, accompanied by a pile of schoolkids. By a combination of bad luck and gross stupidity, we managed to spend about 4 hours finding the youth hostel, getting pissed on in the process. However, it was worth the effort, as it's a good hostel, by the beach in a very attractive bay, and with an all-important (outside) bar.

Me and Simon spent the evening in town, looking at stuff, and headed back to hostel about 9pm. In our dormitory room were two foreigners. Hiding my disgust, we spoke to them - a German called Maurice (or however it's spelt) and a Finn called Thomas. "A few drinks?" we suggested, and just as we were about to head outside two Americans and an Irishman arrived. Jack and Nick, the Americans, and Brendan the quite impossibly Irish Irishman. Seriously, Brendan was just too Irish. Wild dark hair and chirpy face. No way he's real. I must have imagined him.

So we all went outside, joined by two Croatian girls (Nina and Josipa) who had been working in America for a year and were with the Americans to show them some of Croatia. And suddenly more people arrived - an Irish girl and an Australian girl. Fortunately the table was full by this point, so no other damn foreigners joined us.

All this was against a backdrop of about 50 German schoolkids on a school outing, making a load of noise. Some of the girls were pretty good looking too, but they were all 18 so it's legal ok?

So our large group talked for hours, a big mass of conversation, and everyone got on well. To the conclusion that our plans have now changed and tomorrow we head to Zagreb where the Croatian girls live and they're going to show us where the good bars and pubs are. Both them and the Americans are pretty cool, so it should be a good night out. I also had an extensive argument with Nina about the Croatians stealing the Bosnian coastline, to the extent that we were within minutes of a Scotland-Croatia war, but fortunately matters were resolved.

That was all last night, and now we're onto today, where me and Simon have wandered about town, and into the mightily impressive 2000 year old Roman ampitheatre, where we met the American guys and the Croatian girls. It's a great day outside, and after I finish this I'm lkely going to have a swin in the sea outside the youth hostel. And then tomorrow - Zagreb, and don't ask me where the hell we're going to be after that.

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