European itinerary: Pula

Since Game of Thrones introduced the magic of Croatia, it has quickly become a hot-spot European destination. And while the classics of exploring fortresses in Dubrovnik and sailing through Split are all the current rage, there is one Croatian city that has been overlooked.

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Pula is the most underrated city (in my humble opinion) in Croatia and needs to be put on your European bucket-list immediately! The city has everything you could want in a Croatian vacation, and here is everything you need to know to make the most out of your trip!

Getting there:

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Croatia is not part of the EU, so you will need to go through customs before entering. The easiest and most scenic route to get to Pula is via a car, so make sure to reserve one from your point of origin. And because Pula is only a few hours from the borders of Germany, Italy and Slovenia, be prepared to wait an up to an extra two hours to get through on a sunny day. But I promise the long wait is well worth it.

Currency:

Croatia is on the Kuna currency. In general, Croatia is a rather inexpensive country but it is handy to have cash as the national parks are cash only.

Accommodation:

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As with any city, the best way to experience it is through a local’s eye. AirBNB is extremely popular in Pula and you are guaranteed to find accommodation in walking distance from the sea.

Historic spots:

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Pula is one of the oldest Croatian cities and was also home to the Romans. In fact, Pula is home to the original coliseum before one was ever built in Rome! You can take tours of this ancient beauty during the day or enjoy a concert there in the evening.

The coliseum is located in the center of Old Town and is located right near the ocean front (so according to my standards, kicks the Roman coliseum’s butt!)

But the coliseum is not the only thing Old Town has to offer. Make sure to explore their many food shops and old bars along the way.

Beaches:

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I initially chose to visit Pula because of the reputation of their beaches/cliff jumping. And it did not disappoint!

Literally impossible to not find a pristine bathing spot, as according to local’s “the beach is every way”, Pula is full of coastline beauty and sparkling blue waters.

You will have your selection of mermaid pools to lounge in on the rocky coast or select from numerous sandy spots. And while local’s utilize their city’s magic coastline, it is likely you will always get to enjoy a section of it to yourself!

National Parks:

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To one-up Pula’s central bathing spots is their spectacular national park Premantura. Paying what is equivalent to $5 euros will give you access to the best kept secret in all of Pula. Take your pick of which cliff to jump off of and which secluded tanning spot you would like.

After a morning full of sunbathing and cliff jumping, make sure to rejuvenate at the Pirates Bar, which offers shady eating spots hidden among the grass and a swing set that allows you to swing over the Mediterranean.

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The Final European Adventure (for now): Slovenia and Croatia

It’s crazy to think that it has been two years since I first stepped foot into Europe and fallen in love with the culture, lifestyle, and scenery. Life has been an adventure in Europe and it is so hard to believe that I have actually gotten to visit sixty-nine cities in sixteen different countries: from the vineyards of Tuscany, the beaches of the South of France, the top of Austrian mountains, the rural towns of Romania, the cobblestone roads of the UK, and the beer gardens of Germany. It was only fitting that I end my final days in Europe with one last adventure to two places that had remained on my European bucket list since day one—Slovenia and Croatia.

Radovlijca, Slovenia:

As soon as I was done with my final exam of my program, I hopped in the car with my friends and went straight for the autobahn towards Slovenia on the A10.

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The drive was stunning. After passing through the Bavarian Alps and the Austrian border, there was a seven kilometer tunnel to drive through before passing into Slovenia.

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To our surprise there were some very expensive toll routes—eleven euros to pass through—but as soon as we were out of the tunnel, all of our mouths dropped open at the priceless view of the Slovenian scenery. For the rest of the drive we were completely surrounded by breathtaking mountains and rivers.

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It was only four hours from Munich before we hit our first destination of the road trip: Lake Bled, Slovenia. As there were no “student priced” accommodations in Lake Bled, we decided to book an Airbnb in this Radovlijca and we couldn’t have gotten any luckier with the location! We were treated to a view of the rolling green hills and Lake Bled in the distance—a view that could be enjoyed on the terrace with the complimentary breakfast that was included in our stay!

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Lake Bled, Slovenia:

After checking into our accommodations in Radovlijca, we quickly changed into our swim suits and headed to Lake Bled, only a 10km drive from where we were staying, for an afternoon of swimming. I was lucky enough to meet one of my friends and former teammates, who is from Lake Bled, for a local’s tour. As soon as Lake Bled came into our sight, all of us screamed with excitement. I mean, who wouldn’t do the same with this kind of stunning view?!

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It didn’t take long before we were diving into the water, playing with paddle boards, and rowing in boats around the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria, which has been there since the 17th century.

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The church is especially important for couples who have just gotten married in Lake Bled. It is tradition that the bride and groom go to the church, where the groom is to then carry his bride up the 100 steps. And we were lucky enough to get to witness this in action!

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But playing in the water isn’t the only way to enjoy Lake Bled. Behind the rowing building is a hiking trail called Blejsko jezero, and within fifteen minutes we were at the top and treated to some of the most spectacular views I have ever exerienced!

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After the sun set and the views of Bled began to become hidden with the dark skies, we indulged in some local food. Lake Bled is known for two things: pizza and Bled cake. A typical pizza in Bled comes with Tuna on top, but being a vegetarian I opted for the four-cheese pizza. Once we had finished off the whole pizza (yes, there was absolutely nothing left), we tried the Bled cake—a deliciously moist cream cake that is deceivingly filling!

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Pula, Croatia:

After an amazing afternoon in Slovenia, my friends and I woke up early the next morning to begin our trip to Croatia. Typically the drive from Lake Bled to Pula is about two and a half hours, but with the combination of perfect weekend weather and several accidents on the one-lane E61 highway, the trip doubled in time due to traffic. What was even more hilarious was that by the time we had reached customs, there was only one checkpoint open, so only one person was checking passports! But even being stopped in traffic for two extra hours was worth what we would soon get to experience.

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When we got to Pula, we were all itching to jump in the ocean. As we were trying to find the way to the beach, we stopped to ask a local for directions. The man simply laughed and said, “You are in Pula, every direction is the beach”. Feeling quite embarrassed for our apparently silly question, we kept walking and about five minutes later this view came into sight:download (33)

Most people who go to Croatia tend to want to go and visit Dubrovnik or Zagreb , but most people overlook many of the smaller cities such as Pula. This old port town offers breathtaking coastline, and while there is no golden sand beach, the coastline of Pula is filled with white cliffs and mermaid lagoons to lounge in the sun. This is even better than golden sand because we were able to jump off the cliffs into the water whenever we wanted to cool off.

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We had booked another AirBnb for our stay in Pula and once again our expectations were surpassed in terms of location. Our apartment ended up being only a fifteen minute walk to the beach and a ten minute walk to the city. And once we were in our apartment for dinner the sun started to set, and it might have been the most beautiful sunset I have ever witnessed. Nothing is better than watching a pink sky with great friends.

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It was then off to explore the Old Town of Pula. There has been evidence found in caves near Pula that this city was inhabited during the Neolithic Period (6000-2000 BC). During the Ancient Roman period the Pula Arena–which is one of the six largest Roman arenas that still stand today– and ten gates to fortify the city were built.  It was a humbling and exciting experience to get to walk these ancient streets.

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Premantura, Croatia:

Our host in Pula had suggested we go to the National Park at Premantura, which lies at the bottom tip of Pula. The next morning she went above and beyond as an Airbnb host and woke up at 7:30AM to lead us to this hidden gem of Pula. A fifteen minute drive south of Pula, Premantura was the biggest and best surprise of the trip.

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This park is full of wildlife and the entire area is very-well cared for. It is five euros to enter the park by car—so most local take their bikes into the park— but regardless of how one gets there, it is definitely worth it to make the trip: the water is crystal clear, the views are gorgeous, and there are endless options of cliffs to jump off of. The best location is near the Safari Bar, which is found at the very bottom of the park by following the dirt road straight from the entrance. This bar is full of grass huts and swings to lounge in the shade when a break from the sun is needed.And from there it is only a short walk down the hill before we found this view:

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Because we had gotten there early in the morning, we got to enjoy having the cliffs all to ourselves (aside from the seals that typically hang out in the nearby caves!)

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After spending three hours on this heavenly coastline we were back in the car to start our long journey back to Munich.

Ljubjlana, Slovenia:

A three hour drive north from Premantura lies Ljubjlana—the capital of Slovenia. It is nestled in the summit of the surrounding mountains, and is an old and beautiful town that much resembles buildings in Prague.

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Through the city runs the Ljubjlana river (where the name of the city was inspired from) and at the very top of the hill is the old castle. The climb to this 11th century castle is quite difficult, but the views are worth it.

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After a quick lunch in the capital city in Slovenia, which is home to 272,000 people, it was back in the car for the journey home.

Berchtesgaden, Germany:

The final stop of the road trip before back in Munich was to Berchtesgaden to check out Dokumentation Obersalzburg, where Hitler’s berghaus (mountain home) and bunker used to be, along with some incredible mountain views.

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We got there just in time for sunset, and after darkness had covered the mountains, we went down to the city to enjoy a Bavarian meal at Hofbrauhaus Berchtesgaden.

We had started the final day of the trip at 7:30 AM, and even with three long stops, were back in Munich before midnight—just in time to enjoy my last few hours in Munich.

Munich, Germany:

I spent my final hours in Munich with the people I love the most there. We collected all of my favorite Bavarian goodies—radlers, bretzels, obetzda, paprika chips, kartoffelsalat, and Milka—and headed for a picnic in the English garden.

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We laid in the English Gardens until evening started to creep up and then it was off to the airport! After a very tearful goodbye to one of my most beloved cities, it was on the plane and off to New Zealand for my next grand adventure!

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