The Istrian Peninsula is considered to be one of the most beautiful regions of Croatia, so we were looking forward to this day with great anticipation. It did not disappoint.
We began in the ancient town of Pula, located at the southern tip of the peninsula. It is best known for the Pula Arena, one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters, and one of the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world.
Constructed in 27 BC – 68 AD, it was amazing to see how much was still standing. I had experienced that same feeling of awe as when I toured the Coliseum in Rome, and the Acropolis in Greece. It was hard to wrap my mind around just how old it was and how it was built.
There was a stark contrast, though, between the ancient arena and modern, high-tech concert stage that stood in the center of all that history. It sort of ruined the mood when I tried to visualize what it must have been like prior to the year 681 when the arena was used for gladiatorial combats. (On second thought, perhaps it was just as well!)
After climbing to the upper level and exploring the views from the top, we ventured down to the underground passageways where gladiators and the wild animals they battled awaited their turn in combat. Now, it is a museum where we learned more about the history of Pula Arena and the area.
Our guide, Nada, captivated us with the stories she told about the arena and her life. It was shocking to hear how her grandfather, father, her, and her son were all born in the same hospital, but under different regimes/ countries (Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Croatia). Of course, the languages were different during the first three regime changes, and they were required to learn them each time.
Next, our group visited the picturesque and romantic coastal town of Rovinj for lunch and a tour. Once part of Venice’s mercantile empire, it has a distinctive Italian look and feel that makes it charming and quite photogenic. When I read an article about Rovinj written by Rick Steves, I knew I would fall in love with the place. It is his favorite Croatian town, so I anticipated it would be a highlight of the trip. Reflecting back, it was my favorite town of all.
Back in Opatija, we enjoyed taking a long walk after dinner along the promenade to get a feel for the bustling nightlife.