The plan was to get the car back by noon and hop the 12:15 shuttle back into town to get a bus up into Italy, or at least Slovenia to make the next day's trip into Venice a shorter one. As usually happens to me, getting gas before returning a rental car proved to be a huge pain in the ass. We ended up taking 2 additional trips on the toll road and putting another 15 km on the car just to get gas, plus the additional time made us late to return the car and so we missed the shuttle. Of course the next one was 1.5 hours later, so we went out and approached a big, burly Croatian cabbie and offered him 75 Kunas (US$15) for a ride to the bus station in town. We got into a bit of a haggling war with the guy, at one point he said "For 75 Kuna you walk" and then he kept saying "Slowly, slowly" over and over again.
At this point G approached another cab to see if he'd do it for the price; to this our initial cabbie said: "Slowly, slowly... Are you crazy?!?" Finally we agreed on 100 Kuna, which was fair enough and we started to pile into his car for what would prove to be a memorable ride.
For starters, dude had his stuff spread out everywhere in the car and he took his sweet time to gather it. Sweaters here, stacks of papers there... It was like he was driving us around in his closet that just happened to have seats and a steering wheel. When I asked if I could sit in the front, he said "slowly, slowly" and swept up the myriad of newspapers, food wrappers and brochures that adorned the front passenger seat and cockpit.
"Where are you from, that you are in such rush?" he asked me.
Pausing for a moment, I answered thoughtfully "Australia".
"Ok, Australia, we go slowly. I think there is no problem."
I agreed and we pulled out. I continued chatting with him and meanwhile G and Linda let out a giggle from the backseat.
He immediately stopped talking to me and asked, abruptly and a bit harshly: "What is funny?"
From that moment until we got out of the car 10 minutes later the cabbie was staring fiercely, with apparent fire in his eyes at the girls in the rear view mirror although I was unaware of this at the time as I attempted to chat him up to make the trip go by quicker from my position in shotgun. Another strange thing was when he let out an abrupt and very strange and loud snort/laugh/cough/sneeze/chuckle sound seemingly out of nowhere. As I say, it was bizarre.
Finally we arrived at the bus station in Pula. The girls grabbed their bags and walked quickly away from the vehicle, scratch that, FLEEED the vehicle as quickly as possible. As I gathered my bag and paid the man he leaned over to me and said, "You know, in Croatia when woman laughs while man is talking we do this" and he made a gesture as if reaching back and smacking someone around. "You understand?"
I looked at him to see if he was kidding around but no, there wasn't a hint of humour in his face.
I replied, "Maybe in Croatia, but that doesn't go over too well in Australia." He said, "It's good. Sometimes, you should try." And, as I walked away from the car he gave me one last shout of advice, loud enough so the girls could hear it. "YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!?" Alrighty then: domestic abuse advice from a Croatian cabbie...check that box.
Trying to put that strange experience behind us we marched into the bus station and presented ourselves at the ticket office where the lady very politely, but with no sympathy, advised us that there were no further buses to Venice, Trieste or anywhere north for that matter and that the next bus headed out at 5am the next morning.
Stuck in Pula?! It seemed like a ground hog day scenario. OK, I guess we're not going anywhere till tomorrow so we bought tickets for the 5am Pula to Venice bus and set out to get some lunch and find accomodation nearby. We had a good old fashioned grocery store purchased lunch: bread, cheese, some cold cuts and a bottle of wine while sitting on our backpacks at the bus station after missing a connection- one of the most classic european travel experiences, in my book. We found a relatively cheap hotel near the bus station and dropped bags and changed; maybe this was our chance to get in a swim in the Adriatic. However, the pillows of the bed were too comfortable and instead of braving the cold water we all spent a few hours napping and/or reading. That night was pretty uneventful: into town for a cheap feed and then back to the hotel for an early bedtime as 4:00am wakeup call comes early no matter where you are... We just can't get enough of Pula, Croatia.