Let me start off by saying that having had +2 months to reflect on this trip, what we did was quite naive and honestly stupid. I came up with the random idea of biking across parts of Croatia and somehow, it actually happened. Literally, I googled PULA BIKES (where we had booked our flight to), found PULABIKE and exchanged a couple of emails with this guy named Florian. If it weren’t for the fact that Pula Bike did not provide roadside assistance outside of Istra, we would have seriously biked to Plitvace Lakes, and that would have been a TERRIBLE idea (we probably would never have even made it there). We were a bit nervous about booking the bikes via email (not having paid and all) and meeting Florian and the hostel, but he pulled through!
That being said, biking across Istra was one of the most breathtaking and amazing things I ever did. In Pula, we stayed at the Pula Art Hostel, which while slightly outside of city center, was super, super cheap. Incidentally, the hostel was run by a Croatian man and his Chinese wife from Shenzhen [kaching!]. Being Chinese and all, a sister’s gotta help out another sister. She upgraded us to a 6 person room where our only other roommate was a guy from Texas. The hostel’s lady’s husband ended up convincing us to change course- instead of biking directly to Labin, we should take a detour to the “most gorgeous city in all of Istra- Rovinj”. And that is how we ended up in Rovinj.
Of course, we grossly underestimated how long it would take for us to get to Rovinj. We figured because it would take only about an hour by car, we’d just have to double the time for the bike ride. WRONG. It took us about 4 hours….
PULA TO ROVINJ
You could never tell from the photographs, but we got seriously lost along the way, despite Angela having a phone with data (aka GPS). Unfortunately, the map never indicated that we were biking to a military training ground and so we had to backtrack back a bit to Barbariga and back onto a highway. But the ride through the backroads was filled with lavender fields, groves of olive trees, and just simple countryside splendor.
Rovinj is a seaside city with a large Italian presence. It is truly gorgeous, with the characteristic Croatian cliffs and rocks that align the ocean waters. There are no sandy beaches here, but swimming in the sea feels like you’re swimming on a remote island somewhere in the Mediterranean. The people here are also super nice and even though we stopped along a random restaurant in tourist central, we had such a great meal. The fish here is really fresh catch so simply having them grilled with a squirt of lemon was such a treat.
Given how long it took to get here, we decided to stay in Rovinj for the night since the leg from Rovinj to Labin would be the longest. Yes, genius us thought that we could bike to Pula to Rovinj in the morning and then bike across the peninsula to Labin, all in the same day. Well, we got a huge surprise when we found out that there are no hostels in Rovinj because it’s too small of a city for one. Angela ended up going into this random agency by the bus stop (we had considered busing there but somehow we missed the bus) where they helped us book a studio inside this elderly lady’s home. It was just such an interesting yet quaint experience.
Overall, we were super happy that we made the detour, despite the slight panic as we were looking for accommodation. Rovinj ended up being my favorite leg of the trip. It was exactly what I imagined swimming in the Mediterranean would feel like. In fact, I was a bit disappointed when we went to the Eastern Coast of Istra and the beaches were less rocky and more sandy.
BIKING IN ISTRA
Pula Bikes equipped us with a mountain bike and pannier. We had locks that enabled us to keep the bikes within the city center (Croatia is a big biking country and is relatively safe; we were assured that it’d be unlikely for someone to take your tire or bikeseat). Carrying our backpacks and gear wasn’t too difficult on this leg but got seriously tiring as we encountered elevation. That being said, the bikes handled SUPER well and the seat was amazing. In fact, my bum was quite unsatisfied sitting on a CitiBike the week after in NYC. We did rent a pump and a spare tire and even had roadside assistance coverage, which is partially refunded if you don’t use it. We had thought roadside assistance meant they would come get you if you had a flat tire, but nay, it was basically for times when you were seriously unable to get out of a jam. We did consider calling roadside assistance when we got lost though. Florian would have freaked!