Kim had determined the itinerary for today and had plotted a pleasant stroll to the coast with navigational assistance that was optimistically restricted to an aerial photograph on a tourist information pamphlet. From the outset this looked rather challenging and an ordinance survey map would have been far more helpful but we decided to trust to a natural sense of direction and we set off on our chosen route.
The walk was quite interesting and we strolled through some city suburbs with unappealing grey concrete apartment blocks, obviously constructed during the communist years and allocated to grateful state workers in return for back breaking labour in the ship yard. It was obvious even from the outside that they would be equally as dour on the inside as well. They were harsh and unattractive and the grimness of the rows of tiny balconies was only partly relieved by the lines of colourful washing flapping and dripping in the gentle breeze, which at least made each one a little bit distinct from their neighbours.
Further out the standard of the buildings and the environment did begin to improve and the drabness of the apartment blocks gave way to houses and gardens with blossom trees, wild spring flowers and an abundance of rosemary shrubs. Some of the houses were not in great shape with crumbling render, rotting wooden shutters and in need of some urgent attention.
After walking for an hour or so it became clear that we were not making the sort of progress towards the beach that we could see on the photograph quite as we had anticipated, the dockyards seemed to be in the wrong place and the sun was behind us when it should have been in front. We lamented not having a proper map but carried on regardless until we were shocked to emerge from a side street underneath the walls of the amphitheatre. We had been walking in completely the wrong direction and by a circuitous route had ended up practically where we had started.
We never did complete the walk and get to the coast so I am not sure if we missed anything important. Instead we walked for a while along what has to be said was a disappointing sea front not least because it was completely devoid of bars for a refreshment stopover. I suppose this is to be expected of course because Pula is not a tourist marina but a fully working shipyard with a lot of activity breaking down old ocean going tankers that were so large there huge bulk overshadowed the adjoining town. In the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire this was a principal naval base that I am sure would have been familiar to Captain Von Trapp ( of Sound of Music fame) before he was pensioned off and sent off to Salzburg.
We returned to the old town square that had once been the centre of the Roman city and marvelled at the one remaining temple next to the town hall and in remarkably good shape for its age. I couldn’t help wondering why some ancient buildings remain intact and spared medieval demolition when so many others are dismantled and reused for subsequent construction projects.
Next to the square was an open space that had also been an important part of the Roman city and the site was littered with artefacts that were left carelessly and randomly across the park. Nearby there was a museum and this posed another question, why are their so many Roman statues in our museums and where are their heads? They have all been decapitated as though they had been victims of the French Revolution.
Well, (I saw this in a television programme recently) the answer seems to be that the statues were built with interchangeable heads so if someone fell from favour or there was a new elected politician or even a new emperor then the old head could be swiftly removed and a new one put in its place virtually overnight. What a brilliant solution which could be achieved at a fraction of the time required to carve a complete new statue.
In a more modern part of the city we chanced across a pleasant little square with a water fountain and lined with nineteenth century buildings that had once been the bourgeois commercial centre at the height of the Austrian Empire. In this square was the City Post Office which was a much later twentieth century addition built in 1933 and although unremarkable from the outside had hidden inside a magnificent Antoni Gaudi like spiral staircase which rose majestically from the ground floor to the top of the building in an extravagant crimson sweep that oozed style and grandeur.
The building was designed by Angiolo Mazzoni del Grande who was the chief architect for the Ministry of Communications and for the State Railways under the Mussolini regime. He was one of the most outstanding Italian architects of the modern period and was responsible for the design of many public buildings and railway stations across Italy that were characteristic of the Fascist building boom. It was an unusual discovery and it would be much better housed in a more important building but this was a hidden gem of Pula and I am glad that we found it.