Posted: 10/18/2008
Title: TURTLES, TRUFFLES, AND ELVIS IN CROATIA

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     Pula, in the extreme southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula was the naval port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and also has Greco-Roman history and sites. I was lucky enough, on arriving at the bus station, to quickly find a pleasant apartment 500 metres away towards town and then another 500 metres to the Roman Arena and the Adriatic Sea.

      I  took a short bus ride to the Aquarium at Verudela, a pine forested area with small coves and beaches. The aquarium is on two floors of the former Hapsburg fort, built with thick walls, and contains about 40 sea-water pools containing Adriatic fish, crustaceans, urchins and venomous sea snakes. I was the only visitor at the time, towards the end of the season, and had the place to myself to tickle the sting rays and wonder around the moat and tunnels where the armoury was located.

     There was a marine turtle rescue centre and two patients were in separate tanks; Leonardo a 2 year old turtle found with a damaged foot, and 40 year old Kanatic recovering from pneumonia. In the small town centre is a Temple of Augustus, the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, where the old town begins, the Hercules Gate, Roman Theatre, Franciscan Monestary and more, and Jelena,the lady in the tourist office was a great help. There is a huge ship building company Uljanik, that was founded in Hapsburg times and still operating.

      Istria is famous for truffles, which are mushroom like tubers that are dug up by specially trained dogs, and are loved by many. An hour north in a small town is the centre of industry for truffles, with tourists converging from all over Europe. There are white truffles, very rare, and black truffles, not so rare but still pricey. I was given directions to Kantina, a restaurant near the splendid indoor and outdoor market and in a converted military barracks.

     This was it, my first and possibly only taste of truffles.  I was brought a small plate of cheese and vegetable dip with crisp toast bread followed by the main course of pasta with very thin slivers of black truffles. It must be an aquired taste, and is very salty and tastes like-maybe sweaty socks!! I had a fine local white wine with it followed by a Pula special dessert, chocolate pancakes.

     So, to the afternoon match at the small 3,000 seat Stadium Veruda of NK Istra 1961, a Druga HNL second division club that has changed names and uniform colours a bunch of times in recent years. ENOUGH, proclaimed their fans. If you don't keep Istra in the name and the town colours of green and yellow, then we will stop coming.  Before the kick-off I chatted with Sport Director Ivan Kurtovic, who used to play for Rijeka in the top league not long ago. He promised that coach Elvis Scoria would have his boys play an exciting match, and was enthusiastic about their move next season to a new 13,000 seat soccer specific stadium in the middle of town. They had lost in the Croatian Cup Final to famous Hajduk Split 5 years ago, and hoped to be back in the top tier soon,after being relegated two seasons ago.

     They are playing at a multi sports facility with a track around it, and on the far side about 200 spectators watched for free from the roof of the car park attached to the indoor arena. and there were also two huge apartment blocks overlooking which also provided comfortable viewing.  Inside we had maybe 1,000 fans including about 80 standing on the south-west curve, singing and chanting; the PULEZINI ULTRAS, for which 5 of the stadium's 8 security guys were assigned, but there were no problems as true to Ivan's word, Istra hammered 5 goals without reply past the hapless NK Vinogradar in a display of attacking football that was a delight to see, and enjoy. There was an old guy in a baseball hat 'Spring Training Arizona 2004' selling peanuts, chips, soft drinks and candy from a basket.

    Star of the show was the only non Croatian player, Mohamed Kalilou Toure from Mali, who I nicknamed 'twinkle toes'. He delighted the crowd with his skills and had a hand (or foot) in most of the goals. Let the show continue.

 

     

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