Watching fishing boats return to port in Vrsar was uplifting. Gulls cried and swooped in their wake as the early morning sun reflected on their wings before Mr Word Loft and I boarded the Ancient Istria excursion minibus.

First stop: Rovinj, a small city that was originally an island. It’s steeped in Venetian heritage and influenced by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The approach is beautiful; colourful houses are stacked on the hillside to its pinnacle, where the baroque Church of St Euphemia looks regally over its people and the Adriatic Sea. And even from a distance, the unusual weathervane of its patron saint can be seen swivelling in the breeze.

Through a marketplace and up white cobbled lanes, we were greeted by shopkeepers and restauranteurs organising their business frontages for the day.

At the top, the shade outside the church was welcome as we listened to our guide and admired the vista before going inside. The altars are ornate, and under two large oil paintings, a sarcophagus contains relics of St Euphemia, the daughter of a Roman senator. The lid was closed, but it’s opened annually. Not too gory an encounter, though, as the remains are encased in wax, similar to Madame Tussaud’s figures.

With our heads full of other interesting facts about the buildings along the way, we headed back to the harbour, explored the streets and shopped. Fashions on display are in muted shades and styled in cotton and linen, while other outlets have a vast selection of lavender-fragranced items.

Lunch was organised a few miles away on a farm. The three-course meal was traditional cuisine and started with minestrone. A different recipe from the Italian version, as it is enriched with meat, and in this case, beef. Very tasty!

So onto the highlight. The location we had most looked forward to visiting before our holiday. Pula and its Amphitheatre – one of the six largest in the world outside of Rome and well preserved.

Lavender fragranced the air, and its purple sprigs gave a harmonious flash of colour against the monumental white and grey walls by the entrance.

A gladiator met us inside, and unlike real ones in the 1st century, he offered me his sword while Mr Word Loft wore his helmet for a photograph opportunity. The guide informed us that there had been female gladiators too. Fascinating. I must research this piece of trivia and find out more.

The arena is 133m long and 105m wide and impressive – no wonder it is used for sports events and musical concerts. Elton John and Robbie Williams have performed there. Now, wouldn’t that be a treat to see them?

I sat, gazed around in awe at the surroundings, and summoned the Romans’ roars in my mind. The curved limestone seats were a tad uncomfortable, but then I don’t think the spectators would have sat down long.

Below the stadium, underground, there are exhibits of amphoras, ancient maps and a basic but ingenious elevator. Pretty amazing considering the resources back then, and I imagined the gladiators’ euphoria as they appeared as if by magic before their audience.

It was a happy thought as we left to tour the rest of Pula with its remnants from Roman Times. An octagonal mausoleum, historical gateways. The Twin Gates, and the Gate of Hercules from the 1st century, both of which were unearthed in the 19th century after being hidden in the Medieval period.

The Triumphal Arch of Sergei is in the city centre and beside it is a statue of the writer James Joyce. He taught English in Pula from 1904 -1905 and worked on material for his novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Dante also stayed in Pula and wrote about it in some of his works, but there wasn’t enough time to search out his haunts.

There is so much to see that half a day isn’t long enough to take it all in, but we did manage to look around the Forum. The square is the cultural and legislative centre, with its Communal Palace, and to its right, the Temple of Augustus, one of the best examples of Roman temples.

A wedding party posed for pictures on the steps. With the backdrop of classical columns, it was a romantic scene and an enchanting end to our day.

More about our Croatian holiday in my next blog post.

Until then,
Sue X.