This year’s trip to Foreign lands – part I

As you may recall, last year the Bagnalls left the shores of the U.K. at half term and headed to the Veneto coast of Italy for our first taste of a Eurocamp holiday.  If you read those (there are two) entries you will realise that we thoroughly enjoyed it and although it is not quite as simple as turn up at the airport with your suitcases and passports (for example: you have to think about food a little more than the all-inclusive style holidays) it works out to be less than half the cost (with food included) than a package holiday and it encourages you to leave the resort and explore the country that you have come to visit.  Therefore, it was not long after we returned from Italy that our thoughts turned to this year’s holiday and whether booking early could give us an advantage.

The first task was to try to identify where we would like to go.  As we were aiming for the May half-term we wanted somewhere that would have a fair chance of good weather.  We looked at the usual suspects of Italy, Spain, Greece and then Croatia caught our eye.  None of us had been to Croatia before and the reports that we have had back from people we know that have been were overwhelmingly favourable.  Then it was a case of narrowing down the company that we would go with and the exact site within Croatia.

We stayed in Eurocamp accommodation while in Italy, last year, and although there was nothing wrong, per se, with the our holiday home in Pra’Delle Torri, but we did have holiday home envy with the position and more modern looking chalets operated by other companies.  After a few days’ worth of price comparisons and review reading we decided to book a SelectCamp chalet in Camping Park Umag.  Located in the north of the country on the west coast of the Istria peninsula, Camping Park Umag was rated highly on all the usual travel websites and from the pictures it looked good and at less than the cost of night’s stay in a four star hotel, we booked a chalet for nine days.

The next question was how to get there.  Usually when one books a hotel or chalet in a country, one would usually look for the nearest airport in said country and book flights.  Unfortunately, the closest airport in Croatia was Pula airport and it didn’t have flights that coincided nicely with the half-term dates and indeed with the dates we had booked.  As improbable as it sounds, and at only 15km further away from Camping Park Umag as Pula airport, the airport with the most convenient flights lay two countries away in Italy.  Thus flights were booked from Stanstead airport to Trieste; now all that was needed was a hire car to take us across two country borders.

When I booked the car, I made sure that we could cross international borders and travel two countries away.  For people from the UK it sounds quite strange to talk about cross land borders, but in Europe it is quite normal and so it proved with the hire company.  However, the paranoid side of me decided that as we will be crossing borders and travelling with the Baguettes that I would tick all the insurance boxes and make sure that I was covered for an eventuality as I would not fancy getting a tow truck to take me across the continent.

So, Thursday morning arrived and we headed off around the M25 and begun our holiday.  For once, the journey was quite smooth and before we knew it, we were pulling into Camping Park Umag, in our hired Nissan Qashqai.  The only trouble we had was at a toll where the car in front (from Austria) had no Kuna (the Croatian currency) to pay the automatic machine.  They came to us to ask if we could change some Euros as it would not accept them, and then we realised that we didn’t have any either.  We were both surprised at the generosity of a local who paid for both of our cars (about 4 Kuna each, a little less than 50p – but it was a fantastic gesture, nevertheless). We checked in, unloaded the car and headed out into the campsite for dinner.

It was about 2030 and the only restaurant that appeared to be open was the pizzeria.  It looked good so we sat at a table and beckoned the waiter over.  To our surprise he said that the kitchen was about to close so could we order quickly and could we pay for the meal with Kuna.  So, after ordering the meal I headed up to the cashpoint to with some Kuna to pay for our meal.  Sitting at the wooden table at the edge of the restaurant looking out at the sea, we idly wondered why no one was sitting on the other wooden tables at the edge of the restaurant; part way through our meal we found out why: earwigs.  As we sat we realised we were not alone.  At first it was the occasional visitor, then as the night drew in, more and more crept between the wooden slates of the table.  It was no infestation, but it was slightly off-putting for the adults and mildly terrifying for the Baguettes, so much so that Éowyn said that she wanted to leave Croatia and go home.

We headed back to the chalet and it dawned on us that because the supermarket on site was closed and we had not passed one along the way, we had no supplies for breakfast.  As we unpacked we realised something much worse, we had no toilet paper either.  We would have to head for the on-site supermarket first thing in the morning.  Breakfast would probably be an easier task as our chalet was opposite a bakers and I now had a pocketful of Kuna.

Friday, was our first full day in Croatia but after a day of travelling the previous day we decided that we would take it easy and just explore the campsite and make plans for the rest of the week.  So, after breakfast and the supermarket we walked around the campsite before finding ourselves by the pools.  There was a kiddie pool 30cm deep, replete with pirate ship in the centre and a slide at one end.  Opposite this was a circular pool, 8 metres in diameter and 110cm deep, then on a level below these two pool was a big oval pool about 20 metres across, 40 metres long and 130cm deep.  They all had one thing in common though: they were no heated and with the air temperature at around 27-30ºC it was no mean feat to summon up the courage to get into the pools.  Indeed, I went into the big pool with Éowyn and Amélie, but Amélie had to leave after five minutes because she was shivering and her teeth were chattering.

We had done precious little research about Istria before heading on holiday, life had been a little too busy to sit down and work out where we wanted to go, so we spend some of the day surfing the internet (free Wi-Fi) and attempting to plan the week or so ahead.  I had heard that Croatia had a number of well-preserved dinosaur trackways so we decided we would look to see which was the closest.  Kamenjak just outside Pula came up first in the searches.  We had wanted to visit Pula, too, so it seemed like a good excuse for a day out.  Kamenjak first, followed by Pula before heading home.

After spending most of the day by the pool we decided to leave the campsite and explore the local area before heading to the south of the peninsular the following day.  Camping Park Umag is situated between the towns of Umag and Novigrad and we decided to head south and to Novigrad for dinner.  It was a good choice.  Novigrad is a beautiful little fishing and tourist town on its own peninsular.  It retains much of its medieval structure with narrow, winding street and small shops.  Many of its buildings belie its Venetian heritage, for it was a part of the Venetian republic until Venice fell in the 18th century.  We ate gelatos on the front watching the fishing boats unload their wares before walking around the village.  We then headed back to the campsite for our evening meal, perhaps foolishly eschewing the Novigrad restaurants.

Kamenjak, is a national park located at the south of the Istria peninsular.  We took a leisurely drive there, parked up and easily found the dinosaur path.  The actual dinosaur footprints are on a slab of rock overlooking a bay with the most beautiful crystal clear sea.  We spent some time soaking in the beautiful surroundings and marvelling at the fact that those footprints are 10’s, if not 100’s of million years old.  We climbed back into the car and 10 metres down the road were greeted with a warning light on the dashboard: low tyre pressure.  I recalled that when I initially sat in the car and changed the menu to English that it had warned me that the tyre pressure was a little low on the rear driver’s side, so I dismissed the warning and resolved to find a garage and pump the tyre up on the way.

We arrived in Pula without passing a garage, parked the car and headed into the town centre.  It was approximately 1400 on a Saturday afternoon and we had not had lunch so we kept an eye out for a decent looking restaurant.  To our dismiss, Saturday is half day closing in Croatia (Sundays shops are generally closed, and we also discovered that Wednesday’s were restricted hours too), at least it saved the Baguettes from spending their money too quickly.  We found a restaurant and probably had our worst meal of the holiday and then ventured further into the tourist area.  Here, shops were open and Amélie spied what she wanted to spend her money on: a purple skateboard with flashing lights.  In fairness to Amélie, this was no passing fad, she had asked to buy one last year in Italy and had brought it up on a number of occasions since, so when she could afford one with her holiday money, we let her buy it.  Ezra, then wanted to buy something and a couple of shops later he saw an action figure and got out his Kuna.

Pula, is the largest city in the area (the 8th largest in Croatia) and has been inhabited by human(oids) for the last million years.  It was conquered in 177BC by the Romans and became a significant Roman port with a large area under its jurisdiction.  The Romans also supplied the city with a water supply and sewage systems. They fortified the city with a wall with ten gates, a few of these gates still remain and between 27BC and 68AD they build the Pula Arena, a large amphitheatre.  So, once Amélie and Ezra had sated their retail urges we headed to said amphitheatre.  I thought that maybe the Baguettes would be a little bored, but not a jot.  All three were taken in by the majesty and once we explained what it would have been used as they decided they would act out a gladiatorial contest with Ezra playing the part of the tiger, you can see in the photo below.

After exploring the remainder of the town we headed back to car with the notion of stopping in Novigrad for dinner.  I turned the car on and the warning light came on and the pressure of the tyre was even less than it had when we parked.  We had a slow puncture so we headed to the nearest garage.  After filling the tyre up we continued on our way for about 30km before the warning light came back on.  Thankfully, we were a short distance from the next garage and so I filled the tyre up again and we continued again.  We needed to fill up once more before getting back to Camping Park Umag.  This, was where we were hoping that there was no small print in the car hire agreement which meant that we were libel for a large bill.

Sunday morning I took a look at the tyre and it was completely flat, there was no way I was going to be able to drive the car to the nearest garage, we needed help.  As it was a Sunday the offices were closed (the 24 hour breakdown service was available but they would only tow you to a garage so there was no point calling on their services).  It would have to wait until Monday, so we decided to change our week’s plan about: Sunday would be another day by the pool and Monday I would sort the tyre out.  While we were sitting on our veranda a hawker came round offering a day trip on a boat that would sail down the coast to Rovinj.  It sounded like a good way to scope out the towns along the coast, especially since it could be possible that we would be without a car.  We signed ourselves up and paid the deposit.  The week was taking shape.

So, after a lazy Sunday spent by the pool, Monday was going to be the day of reckoning, was this going to be an expensive holiday?

There are times when being slightly paranoid is handy.  I phoned the hire company and we were covered.  They would tow the car to the nearest Nissan garage, who would repair or replace the tyre.  So Lucinda took the Baguettes to the pool while I rode in a tow truck with a Croatian who knew no English (and in fairness I could not get a grasp of even the basic of Croatian) to the town of Žminj and the nearest Nissan garage.  He explained, in Croatian, to the mechanic who looked at the tyre and said that he could repair it while I waited.  An hour later and 100 Kuna (about £12) lighter the tyre was repaired and I was driving back to Camping Park Umag.  It had taken half a day out of our holiday but we were mobile again and could concentrate on enjoying ourselves.

On the journey back to Camping Park Umag, I wanted to listen to some music so I looked through the DAB stations and found, what has become my new favourite radio station, Rock Radio Slovenia.  It became the soundtrack of our holiday from then on.

An evening in Novigrad rounded off Monday nicely and we then had an early night ready for our early start the next morning and our boat trip down the coast of Istria.  You will have to wait for the next installment to find out about that and the rest of the holiday.

Peace and Love