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  1. Today it was unfortunately time for us to leave Montenegro behind and return to Croatia, on our way back home. I had bought tickets online for the 10.10 bus from Kotor to Dubrovnik, and when I spoke to the daughter of the lady who owns the apartment the other day, I had asked her if she could arrange us a taxi to pick us up and take us to the bus station at 09.30. She said that she would do it, but something seems to have gone wrong somewhere, because when we were standing outside the apartment today with our luggage, after a final breakfast on our balcony overlooking the Bay of Kotor, there was no sign of any taxi. Initially I thought it was maybe just late, but as the minutes ticked by it became increasingly clear that it wasn't going to come, and so eventually I had to admit defeat and go and track down the lady who owns the apartments. She said she would call us a taxi straight away and that it would come within five minutes, which turned out to be the case, but in the midst of all this confusion we nearly ended up with a taxi all the way to Dubrovnik rather than just to the bus station! Eventually it was all sorted out and a beautifully air-conditioned taxi arrived to take us to the bus station, for the bargain price of €2.20. We were still there on plenty of time for our bus, which according to the timetable was due to arrive in Kotor at 10.00, so around that time we began anxiously standing near the entrance to the platforms, hoping to be among the first to get onto the bus. This bus was originating in Budva, so we knew there was the potential for it to already be quite full when it pulled into Kotor, and judging by our experience on Monday it didn't seem like there was much chance of us getting our reserved seats. 10 am came and went with no bus, as did 10.10 and 10.20. Finally, around 10.30, the bus pulled into the station. Mom made a mad dash for the luggage hold and we did indeed manage to be the first people to pay for our luggage. We didn't get our seats, but we did get seats quite close to them, and we were very glad that we had rushed when we later observed other people wandering up and down the bus, unable to find anywhere to sit. The bus driver did eventually manage to cram everyone in somewhere, and we were off. It took a while to get out of Kotor, but then we were once more on the beautiful road around the bay, admiring the views of Perast one more time, and then passing through Herceg Novi. A few miles outside Herceg Novi we suddenly came to a halt in a line of traffic, and I was worried that this could be an exceptionally long queue for the border, which was around 4 miles away at this point. We must have sat in the traffic jam for 20 minutes or so, but ultimately the traffic started moving again so we think it must just have been an accident somewhere further up the road. It all added on to the delay that our already delayed bus was experiencing though! Crossing the border was a different experience this time to on the way there. Both at the Montenegrin checkpoint and at the Croatian one, we all had to get off the bus one by one and show our passports individually to a policeman at a desk. This seemed like it took a long time, but it was actually better than having the passports collected up and taken off the bus; firstly because we don't like being seperated from our passports, and secondly because it gave us an opportunity to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. All in all it probably still took an hour to get across the border though, and so by the time our bus finally arrived into Dubrovnik it was about 14.15. That was just slightly later than its scheduled arrival time of 12.30, but that was actually good for us because we couldn't check into the apartment until 14.00 anyway. As we are just staying in Dubrovnik one night this time and leaving quite early tomorrow morning to get a bus to the airport, we had chosen an apartment near to the main bus station. It was quite easy to find, only a 5 minute walk away, although our hearts did sink when we saw that there was a huge flight of steps up to the door. We were met by the owner of the apartment, who gave us a quick tour and then asked us to sit down while he poured us a glass of the orangest looking orange juice you have ever seen. Closer inspection later revealed it to be orange and carrot juice! It wasn't very nice at all, but we all sat politely sipping it while he talked and talked about the best way to get to town, the best way to get to the airport etc. Eventually he left, and we were able to relax a bit before setting out to walk into Dubrovnik. It was a couple of miles into Dubrovnik from where we were and it was an incredibly hot day today, but after hours of sitting on the bus we really enjoyed the walk. It was particularly great to get the views out across the sea again, complete with flowering cacti. There were several cruise ships docked in Dubrovnik today, but when we got to the Pile Gate it wasn't actually too busy, because lots of people were leaving rather than arriving. The main motivation for us walking into town was that I wanted to use my spare kunas to stock up on some Croatian reading materials. From being in Dubrovnik last summer, I knew that there were two bookshops on the Stradun. We walked to the furthest one - Algoritam - first of all, where I was hoping to be able to pick up some translations of easy English books; perhaps something like Agatha Christies. I was surprised when we got to the front of the store that it looked closed, although according to the opening hours on the door, it looked as though it ought to have been open. Then we noticed that all the windows were papered over and it didn't look like there were actually any books inside... it must have closed down for good! That was a surprise, but luckily there was still the other bookshop, which is admittedly smaller but has a better quality selection of books. It also had very good air-conditioning, so we all spent a while inside browsing and after a helpful chat with the shop assistant, I came away with ten new books I asked her what had happened to the other bookshop and she explained that the chain had recently got bust, being unable to pay its debts! So it's not just the Algoritam shop in Dubrovnik which has closed down, but all their shops across Croatia. Laden down with books, we set off into the sun once more. We went for a walk around the old harbour... ...had a final view of Mount Srđ... ...and across to Lokrum too. It seemed amazingly busy in the harbour this evening, with dozens of little boats coming and going, and a mixture of locals swimming and fishing. We sat on a bench for a while to enjoy the views and then headed back into the town. We decided that for our last meal we wanted to go to a restaurant in Lapad which we had eaten at earlier in the week. It seemed like a good idea and the map showed that it was only 2.3 miles away, but it felt like much longer in the heat. Eventually we made it and settled down for another enormous meal. Mom and I decided we would order a bottle of Graševina wine, which we had tried one night in Montenegro and really enjoyed, although at 150 kuna for a bottle it felt quite expensive. I asked the waitress and she slightly confused me by asking me whether we wanted half a litre or a litre (it was only on the menu as a 0.75cl bottle). We went for half a litre, which appeared in a carafe and was delicious. Imagine our surprise when we got the bill and saw that we had only been charged 40 kuna! Perhaps asking for the wine in Croatian had helped Feeling very full, we strolled back through Lapad and along the harbour to the apartment, watching the sun set in the distance. It's been another lovely day, and we've had a brilliant holiday together in Croatia and Montenegro. We've packed so much in that it's difficult to decide whether our favourite bit was walking around the shady woods of Lokrum... ...strolling around the bay in Cavtat... ...walking around the walls in Dubrovnik... ...looking down on Dubrovnik from the top of Srđ... ...sitting on our balcony with this view of the bay of Kotor... ...climbing up to the church within Kotor's mountain fortress... ...attempting to paddle in the Adriatic... ...taking the boat to Perast... ...or exploring the old town of Herceg Novi. Each place has been different, but beautiful in its own way and I think it's fair to say that we have all had a great time
  2. It was another beautiful sunny day when we woke up in Dubrovnik this morning, with hardly a cloud in the sky as we sat on the terrace having breakfast. Our bus to Kotor was at 10am and the owner of our apartment had offered to arrange a taxi to pick us up just across the road from the apartment at 9. We were ready well in advance of the taxi, and stood by the side of the road, trying to find some shade under a palm tree while we waited for the taxi to arrive. It turned up exactly on time and whizzed us to the bus station in record time, following a series of shortcuts and narrow side roads which seemed more direct than the route which we had walked the previous day. The end result was that we arrived at the bus station around 09.15, so with plenty of time to wait before our bus to Kotor! We found a shady bench to sit on while we waited, and it wasn't actually too long before our bus arrived in its appointed slot. I assumed it wouldn't be possible for us to load our luggage and board until much nearer the departure time, but as a queue of people without luggage started to build up outside the door of the bus, I eventually realised that the driver was loading luggage onto the opposite side of the bus, and we needed to get a move on. He turned out to be the grumpiest bus driver that I have ever encountered. The man in front of us was obviously a bit confused about the concept of having to pay extra to put his baggage in the hold, and had a small bag which seemed to be attached to the side of a larger one. He had paid his €1 for the first bag and the driver had affixed a baggage label onto that, but when he then attempted to put both bags into the hold together, the driver went ballistic at him because he needed to pay another Euro for the second bag. It took a while before this misunderstanding was ironed out and we were able to get our bags in. The bus company was from Montenegro and I realised belatedly that he was charging people in Euros rather than kuna for the luggage, but fortunately when I asked him if we could pay in kuna that wasn't a problem. What did turn out to be a problem was getting our assigned seats on the bus. I had reserved 7 and 8 (next to each other) and 11 (behind) all on the same side of the bus, from where we ought to have a good view of the Bay of Kotor. Unfortunately it seemed to be one of those buses where people weren't obeying the proper seat numbers, and although we managed to get two of the reserved seats, number 11 already had a girl sitting in it. We tried suggested she move but then a slightly scary conductor lady who was sitting at the front of the bus checking the tickets intervened and told us that the numbers didn't mean anything and we just needed to sit wherever. Oh well! It was a beautiful journey anyway, with the bus firstly travelling up into the hills above Dubrovnik and giving us one more spectacular view of Lokrum and the old town as we drove past. Then we travelled through the Croatian countryside, towards the Montenegrin border. According to the timetable, the bus was supposed to arrive in Kotor around midday, but I don't think that had factored in the fact that there might be a wait at the border. I had indicated when booking the accommodation that we would arrive at 1pm, as I was expecting a delay of 20 - 30 minutes. It turned out to be quite a bit longer than that! We arrived at the Croatian side of the border first and pulled up into a lane behind several other buses. The bus driver disappeared off somewhere, perhaps to have a cigarette as he seemed to have a bit of a chain-smoking problem. Wherever he went, he had closed the door of the bus and we suddenly became aware of a bit of a commotion, as an American backpacker came to the front of the bus and was desperately trying to get off... because he'd just realised that he'd forgotten his passport!!! The bus driver returned shortly afterwards and there was a bit of an altercation, as the American tried to explain to him what had happened. As you can imagine, the driver was singularly unimpressed. There was much swearing and waving of hands, which culminated in the American having his luggage removed from the bus and being left at the side of the road as we all moved on across the border. Goodness knows how he was going to make it back to Dubrovnik! The Croatian police boarded the bus and took our passports away. After what felt like a long wait they were returned to the driver who passed them to the guy in the front seat, but then shouted at him when he made a move to start handing them back out. We drove through the brief stretch of no man's land which separates the Croatian border control from the Montenegrin one, with this guy holding an enormous pile of passports, and then the driver took them back to hand them over the the Montenegrin police at the other end. The drama continued at the Montenegrin border control. The bus pulled up into a lane and the driver started shouting and pointing that there was a toilet here. Numerous people got off the bus to take advantage of it. A Montenegrin policeman then started shouting and waving his arms, indicating that our bus was in the wrong lane and that it needed to join an adjacent lane behind several other buses. The bus reversed and drove to this other checkpoint, which was quite a way from where he had dropped passengers off to use the toilet. We can only imagine how some of them must have panicked when they emerged and found the bus was nowhere near where they had left it! There was another long wait here while all the passports were checked and stamped. The queue in the opposite direction, coming from Montenegro back into Croatia, was even longer and while we were waiting we saw one woman who seemed to be having some serious problems with her car. When she was nearly at the control point, ominous smoke started emerging from her vehicle, which got worse when she got out and lifted the bonnet up. A Montenegrin policeman came over and after a heated conversation, she was made to leave the queue and drive back in the direction she had come from; hopefully towards a garage! Finally the passports were returned and the entire pile passed down the bus for people to try and find their own. I think we all felt happier once we were safely reunited with ours! The entire process had taken around an hour, so it was already midday as the bus started driving away from the border and towards the first real town on the Montenegrin side; Herceg Novi. The driver seemed to have used up any goodwill he might have felt to mankind by this point, so our progress through Herceg Novi and then around the Bay of Kotor was punctuated by much honking of the horn and chain-smoking. The views were spectacular though, especially as we passed Perast, and the fact that he was driving with one hand while talking on the phone with the other was only slightly distracting, as we wound around the narrow bends alongside the sea. It was 1pm by the time we arrived in Kotor. I wasn't completely sure how far away from the main town our apartment was located, on account of it being one of those "bez broja" (numberless) buildings that are difficult to reliably locate on Google maps. There were various hopeful looking taxi drivers lurking outside the station. We went with the second one who approached us saying "taksi", and agreed a price of €5 to the apartment, which didn't seem unreasonable. The taxi turned out to be ridiculously hot, but the good news was that the apartment wasn't too far away, and 10 minutes or so later we were pulling up on the drive of the apartment. Before we had even finished unloading our cases from the back of the taxi, we were approached by the owner, who was quite flustered to see us as she thought we were going to be arriving at 4. I've got no idea how this confusion can have arisen, because I was sent an email by booking.com last week with a link to click and input our arrival time, and I know I had definitely said 1pm. But anyway, they seemed to have had some other guests checking out later, and they hadn't quite finished getting the apartment ready for us. The lady was very apologetic and brought us up to sit on the terrace while they finished cleaning the room. It was hard to complain when the view from the terrace was like this. They brought us a refreshing glass of orange, and we were quite happy to sit and drink it while admiring the view of the bay. It wasn't long before all the cleaning was finished, and we were able to get a proper look at the apartment. It turns out to be huge, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus an enormous living room which features unusual decorations that include what appears to be a gun mounted to the wall. The most impressive thing was that we have our own water machine, a miniature version of the sort you would get in an office, complete with a new barrel of water to fix onto it when the old one runs out. This was a great surprise and is going to save us a lot effort in not having to buy bottled water and carry it back to the apartment. The apartment is in a very scenic location; this is the view from my bedroom And this is definitely the best view I've ever had from a bathroom! Once we had settled in, we set out for a walk to see if we could find some shops. The lady had explained to me that we could walk down a staircase by the side of the house, then down a small road to where there is a promenade with restaurants along by the sea. I was really glad she had told us about it because I had never found this promenade on previous visits to Kotor, and the steps looked quite private so I don't think we would ever have walked down them without knowing. We followed the instructions though and were able to have a very pleasant stroll along by the sea. Unfortunately there was a large cruise ship in the bay, slightly spoiling the view in the other direction. We found a small shop where we could get some milk, then later walked into the town to do some more serious shopping in the main supermarket. By the time we returned to the apartment after this, the cruise ship was just getting ready to depart, and we were able to watch little boats being hauled up to it, hear the announcements from the ship's captain, and finally watch it sail away in the distance, on its way towards Greece. The view of the bay without it was 100 times better In the evening we walked towards the old town and got our first views up towards the imposing fortress. We walked as far as the main square, where we sat outside and ate a very tasty meal of punjena piletina (chicken wrapped in bacon, and stuffed with cheese and ham). It was absolutely beautiful, and a nice relaxing end to our first day in Montenegro
  3. We tried to make an early start again this morning, having breakfast on the patio in the sun, entertained by the antics of the apartment owner's kittens We were at the Pile Gate before 9am and today we were successful in beating the hordes Sunday was supposed to be the quietest day of our stay in Dubrovnik, with only one cruise ship (carrying approximately 2,000 passengers) being in the port. We could really tell the difference compared to Friday and Saturday, with the Stradun looking beautifully empty for a change The price of a ticket for the Dubrovnik walls has increased this season to 150 kuna. This doesn't seem to have deterred any visitors though, and we were certainly willing to pay that price. I bought our tickets and then we began the climb up the very steep steps at the entrance. The first thing you see as you emerge out onto the walls is a close-up view of the Franciscan monastery. As we walked a bit further we could see that the Stradun was still really peaceful We soon got our first view of the beautiful Fort Lovrijenac. The latest craze in Dubrovnik this summer seems to be sea-kayaking, and we could soon see a number of people setting off on this potentially dangerous activity from the bottom of the fort. The walls continued to lead uphill from this point, closely following the edge of the cliff. When we turned around at this point we had a great view back towards Mount Srđ, which we were hoping to go up via the cable car later in the day. We rounded the next corner and had the first of many beautiful views out to sea, in the direction of Lokrum. After a while we thought we could just about make out Cavtat on the horizon as well. The walls were starting to get a bit busier by this point, with the first of the tour groups well on their way. What we found though was that they were all walking so quickly, seemingly in an attempt to get through their tour in the shortest possible time, that we were able to just step to one side and let them pass us, then enjoy the views in peace again until the next tour marched by. After Lokrum, the path around the walls became more level for a while and led around the edge of the old town harbour. We were able to look down on the places where we had been catching boats to Lokrum and Cavtat for the previous two days. We could also see rows of smaller boats lined up in the port. At one point as a tour group were pushing past us, our attention was caught by this shot; you can just see the statue of a bishop from the top of one of the town's churches, peeping up over the top of this red roof. At this point we turned another corner on the walls and the main views began to be towards the centre of the town rather than out across the sea. Although I've been here several times before, everything is so beautiful that it's hard to stop taking photos By this point we were approaching the final stage of the walls, which lead up towards the highpoint of the Minčeta Tower. As we climbed higher we had views which encompassed the entire town, plus the harbour and Lokrum for good measure. In the opposite direction we were now able to see Fort Lovrijenac again. Climbing up the tower itself is a little nervewracking, as this is the one part of the walls where there isn't a one-way system in place, so there are people coming up and down the same staircase at the same time. We managed to be strategic though, placing ourselves behind other groups of people going up and down so that they cleared a path and we were able to just follow in their wake! It was definitely worth climbing up there for the views. Eventually it was time to begin our descent back towards the Stradun. It was about 11.30 by this point, so not late enough to go into a restaurant for lunch, but we were all feeling pretty hungry after our exertions. Mom remembered that she had seen a bakery not far from the Pile Gate, so we headed back out in that direction and sat on a bench eating burek, before setting off for our afternoon activity: the cable car. I had thought this might be less busy than the walls, but it possibly turned out to be busier! Or, at least, because the cable car can obviously only accommodate a certain number of people on each trip up the mountain, quite a long queue had built up at the base station. The length of the queue wasn't helped by the fact that the one cruise ship in the port obviously had the cable car as one of its shore excursions, as there was at least one guided group of cruise passengers ahead of us in the line. We probably had to wait for around 30 minutes in the end and the journey in the cable car itself was quite short, but when we ultimately got up to the top of the mountain, the views were spectacular. It was impossible to get tired of looking at Lokrum in one direction... ...and the red roofs of Dubrovnik in the other. After admiring the views for a while, we stopped for a drink in the slightly posh terrace restaurant. We didn't join the waiting list for a table overlooking the town, but the view of the sea was pretty amazing from where we were sitting anyway. Suitably refreshed, we explored the top of the hill a little further. Once you turned your back on the sea, there were some beautiful views inland also. We realised belatedly that the strip of Croatia that Dubrovnik is situated on is actually quite small and that we were probably looking across to mountains in Bosnia. We followed a little track across the top of the mountain for a while, until it came to a dead end at this beautiful view of the Elaphiti islands. There was another path you could follow which went a bit further, but it looked like it would be rather dusty because it was being used as the track for the "buggy safari" which seems to be a new attraction on the top of Srđ. We went back the way we had come instead. There was just time for one last look at the view before it was time to get in the cable car back down to Dubrovnik. Once down, we went back to the apartment for a short break and then set off again towards the main bus station. I had booked the bus tickets for tomorrow's journey to Kotor in advance, using the website of Dubrovnik's bus station, and this seemed to have worked well. However, rather than being issued with an e-ticket at the end of the transaction, I was given a bar code which I was then told to take to the bus station and exchange for the actual ticket. Never having used this website before, I wasn't quite sure how this exchange was going to work out, and I thought it would be better to encounter any potential problems this evening rather than 10 minutes before the bus was due to depart tomorrow morning. I had thought the walk to the bus station would be around 30 minutes, but it was was further than I had thought. We did get a nice view though when we arrived at the harbour, even with the cruise ship on the horizon. In the end everything worked like clockwork; I successfully exchanged the bar code for our tickets, and we are all set for our trip to Kotor tomorrow. We've had a great few days in Croatia, so here's hoping that Montenegro will be just as much fun
  4. We woke up early this morning with the aim of getting into Dubrovnik early enough to beat the hordes onto the town walls. We hadn't reckoned though with the fact that because some of the cruise ships were leaving Dubrovnik in the early afternoon, they would be making a correspondingly early start to their excursions. We were at the main Pile Gate into the old town around 9am, but numerous coaches had beaten us to it, and several tour groups were already following their leader towards the walls. The climb up the initial steps looked pretty busy already, so we decided that it might be better to give the walls a miss for today and escape the old town for another, quieter destination. When we had been getting a lift from the owner of our apartment on Thursday evening, he had mentioned that Cavtat (pronounced "tsavtat") was a nice place for an excursion. I'd never been there before, although I was aware that it was a small seaside town not far from Dubrovnik airport. You can get to Cavtat on a public bus which departs from somewhere in the vicinity of the main Dubrovnik port, but we decided to go for the more exciting option of taking a boat. When we were queuing up for the boat to Lokrum yesterday, we noticed that there were also smaller - and less busy - boats departing for Cavtat. When we arrived this morning there were a row of competing vendors selling Cavtat tickets at the entrance to the old town harbour. I opted for one which looked like it had a fairly frequent timetable, and we were able to buy return tickets for 100 kuna each. The guy who was selling the tickets gave us a timetable which helpfully had the names of the boats which belonged to this particularly company written on it for future reference. The next boat was at 09.45, so we had a bit of time to take a stroll around the harbour while we waited. We walked right to the end of the harbour where there is a small pier jutting out into the sea. From here we had a good view out towards Lokrum. There was a bench right at the very end of the pier... ...where we were able to sit and admire this view. After a while we headed back to the harbour to wait for our boat to arrive. There were quite a few different boats coming and going so it took a while before we saw one of the boats named on our timetable approach. Our first thoughts were that it seemed a little small, but the good news was that there weren't many other people. Soon we were off, pulling away from the old town. We sailed past Lokrum... ...and out into the open sea. The journey seemed to take somewhere between half an hour and 40 minutes on the way there, and we had some beautiful views as we made our way down the Croatian coast towards Cavtat. We passed some unusual-looking islands, which seemed to be smaller and rockier versions of Lokrum. Eventually we arrived in Cavtat, which seemed to be a pleasant seaside town, complete with a promenade lined with palm trees and cafes. We tried going inside the town's church, but didn't stay for long because they seemed to be preparing for some sort of ceremony; we couldn't work out whether or not it was going to be a wedding. The town is also home to a monastery. We went inside the church here and found it had a rather disturbing pulpit, with a random hand clutching a cross protruding from the side of the railing. A path lead past the monastery and around onto the wooded headline which Cavtat is situated next to. As we started to walk along this path, we had some views back towards the town. The path was very shady and pleasant, and we had some great views of the sea as well. It was really cool to see the way cactuses were just growing in the wild by the edge of the water. After we'd been walking around the coast for a while, we realised that we had a view back towards Lokrum and Dubrovnik. It was so far away that zooming in with the camera didn't massively help, but it looked a bit clearer in real life. Lokrum is the green strip of an island towards the centre of the photo, and the walled city of Dubrovnik is the brown splodge to the right of it. We thought we'd walked a really long way and would soon have to turn back and head back to Cavtat. We rounded a corner though and found ourselves in a car park, which initially didn't look very promising, but once we had walked through it we found ourselves in almost the same spot where we had started our walk earlier in the morning. Without realising, we had managed to do a circular walk, along one side of the headland and then back round the other to the town. It was about midday by this point and before we investigated options for lunch, we decided that it would be best to explore what is (apparently!) Cavtat's main attraction; the Račić family mausoleum. This was sign-posted from the main town, along a path which initially went a bit uphill and then degenerated into a succession of staircases up the side of a hill. It was quite tiring, but once you got most of the way up, you did have a nice view back towards the town. It costs 20 kuna to go into the mausoleum itself, which is a strange white building right at the top of the hill. We decided to give it a miss. The mausoleum is situated in the middle of a graveyard, and it is true that there were some pretty spectacular views from there of the coast. It felt a bit strange taking pictures from a graveyard though, even though it was a very attractive one. We managed to take a different path down which avoided most of the steps, and found ourselves back at a point partway along the wooded headland. There was a really nice restaurant there where we were able to sit outside and have lunch, although quite a strong wind seemed to be blowing in our direction from out at sea, so by the end of the meal we were all probably looking a bit windswept. Disaster almost struck when Dad put our 300 kuna inside the wallet with the bill to hand back over to the waiter, and somehow the wind was so strong that it blew the wallet back open and our kuna went flying towards a neighbouring table. Luckily it didn't blow them too far and we were able to retrieve them! We walked back to the centre of town, had a post-lunch ice-cream on a very sunny bench, and then started to follow a path which led around the other headland of the bay. From this path we had a view towards the mausoleum that we had climbed to earlier (it's the white blob you can make out at the top of the hill!). The views of Cavtat were particularly beautiful from here. Unfortunately, after a while this path turned into a bit of a dead end, with the only way to progress further being to climb another rather steep looking set of stairs. It was time to retrace our steps and head back to town. The timetable we'd been given said that there was one boat back to Dubrovnik from Cavtat at 15.00 and another at 16.00. We were just a couple of minutes too late to get on the 15.00 boat, although as we saw it pull away it looked far too busy for us to cram onto anyway. I assumed we would have to wait unil 16.00, but as we were strolling along the waterfront we saw another boat which was going to Cavtat at 15.30. The name matched one of those in the list we'd been given, so I figured it was just an extra service they were putting on at a busy time. We went for a quick drink at a nearby cafe, returning with plenty of time to catch the boat. This one turned out to be nowhere near as busy as the preceding one, which was good news. We sat down and made ourselves comfortable as the boat pulled off. We enjoyed the journey for a few minutes, and then we realised that the boat didn't seem to be going in the same direction that we had come from this morning. First of all the boat pulled into a small settlement on the edge of a bay opposite Cavtat, where it picked up a couple of passengers, and then it preceded in the correct general direction of Dubrovnik, but very close to the coast. We couldn't work out whether this was because it was a slow boat which was scheduled to stop in lots of places - hence not being on the official timetable we'd been given - or whether it was because the sea was actually getting quite choppy and it might be calmer nearer the shore. It didn't stop anywhere else in the end, perhaps partly because the coast is so rocky that there wasn't really anywhere else you could stop even if you had wanted to. But it did take a much slower route, with the final journey time to Dubrovnik being nearer an hour. We really enjoyed it and had some fascinating views of the coast before we found ourselves back in Dubrovnik once more. Evening was starting to fall as we made our way back towards the apartment, where we cooled down for a bit before going out for an evening meal. At the end of a tiring day there was just one more obstacle to negotiate; the steps down to our "ground-floor" apartment
  5. Tim and I decided to take a different approach with our first holiday this year, so while he is off on holiday in Fuerteventura with his extended family, I have come to Croatia with my parents We flew to Dubrovnik from Birmingham yesterday afternoon with Monarch, in what was possibly the aircraft with the world's least leg room. Apart from the slightly cramped conditions it was a nice flight, although the weather was a bit hazy, so we didn't have as clear a view of the Croatian coast as we might otherwise have done. The sun was just setting as we landed in Dubrovnik and were picked up by the owner of the apartment we had booked to stay in. He drove us the 20km or so from the airport to the suburb of Lapad where we were staying, and we got our first (admittedly slightly dark) glimpses of the sea and the old town through the car windows. It was a bit strange arriving at the apartment in complete darkness - especially because there was a rather vigorous chorus of insects outside - but when we woke up this morning we were able to see that it is in a really pretty location. After an excursion to the nearby supermarket, we sat outside and had breakfast on our terrace, which is beneath an enormous fig tree. While we ate we were entertained by the antics of some of the local cats and kittens. We knew that today was going to be a busy day for cruise ship tourists in Dubrovnik, with over 7,000 people due to visit the town. We had therefore decided last night that the best strategy might be to ignore the old town and walls for today, and escape to the island of Lokrum instead. The apartment is about half an hour's walk outside the old town of Dubrovnik, so we set off in that direction, heading for the old town port where we would be able to catch the boat. On the way we passed this beautiful viewpoint outside the town. This was our first proper look at the sea It was fairly busy once we arrived at the town, in particular outside the Pile Gate, but once we started walking down the Stradun it wasn't actually too bad. We made it to the harbour and saw that there was a boat to Lokrum getting ready to set off, but I was surprised to see that there was quite a significant queue. When I went to Lokrum last autumn, I don't remember having to queue at all and I think we were more or less able to have our choice of seats on the boat. I'm not sure whether it was busier today because we were a bit later or because some of the cruise ship companies might have added Lokrum to their list of excursions, but the queue to get tickets was an absolute rabble. We got stuck behind a large bunch of Polish people who had bought some sort of group ticket and were trying to explain in a mixture of Polish and broken English that they wanted us to give them €14 to be included on it. While we were trying to disentangle ourselves from that confusion, several other people started to push in front of us in the queue, which was a bit frustrating. But we made it on to the boat in the end and actually got quite a good position to stand, where we were able to enjoy views firstly of the harbour... ...and then out to sea. The boat officially runs from Dubrovnik to Lokrum every 30 minutes, although it felt today more like it was running every time they got to the point that they couldn't cram another single person onto it. Lokrum isn't very far away from Dubrovnik, so it wasn't long before we had our first view of the island. There was quite a crush of people when we disembarked from the boat, but we soon lost them the minute we struck out on one of the smaller paths away from the harbour. We started following signs towards the slightly strangely named "Pigeon's cave". When we got there we found we could only just about see the cave... ...and there were no pigeons in sight! But there was a beautiful rocky viewpoint. From there we followed signs to 'Mrtvo More' (The Dead Sea), which is a small salt-water lake. Last time I came here it was almost empty, but today it was a popular location for swimmers and sunbathers. We were quite hungry by this point so started walking back in the direction of the ruined monastery towards the centre of the island, where I thought there might be some restaurants. On the way we passed a family peacocks, complete with very fluffy babies. I knew there were lots of peacocks on Lokrum, but I'd never seen one that was as adventurous as this one before; somehow it had hopped it's way up into this tree! We found a little snackbar where we were able to sit in the shade and relax with a drink and a sandwich. Then we set off again, this time along the so-called "paradise path", which is actually an extremely steep path which leads up to the highest point on the island. As one of the tourists who had stopped for breath alongside us commented at one point, perhaps they call it the paradise path because when you get to the top you want to die There's a fortress at the top of the path, which isn't particularly worth seeing, but what really is worth coming up for is the views on the way down. First of all we had some beautiful views of the sea... ...and then as we kept walking we had some amazing views back towards Dubrovnik itself. Unfortunately it is quite a long way away in camera terms, and so if I tried to zoom too much the pictures became quite blurred. It was fantastic to be able to see the entire perimeter of the walls in one shot though Once we had got the (rather rocky) downhill path out of the way, we continued on a flat and shady path around the edge of the island. We had some views of parts of the Dubrovnik walls from here too... ... as well as wider views of Mount Srđ and the Dubrovnik coastline. This path took us back to the harbour where we had originally started. We stopped for a slightly disappointing iced coffee at the snackbar (too much cream, not enough coffee!) before catching the boat back towards Dubrovnik again. Once again we managed to get a good standing position and were rewarded with some excellent views of the town's fortifications as we got closer. Mom and I decided to try and take a selife... possibly we need a bit more practice The closer to Dubrovnik we got, the better the views became... ...until finally we were back in the old town harbour once more. We walked back to our apartment to cool off for a while, before heading out to a nearby restaurant which served nice Italian food. I thought I was doing well asking in Croatian for my pizza to come without olives... until I realised that the "with olives" option only resulted in everyone else's pizza coming with one single solitary olive! It was a lovely meal though, and a good end to what has been a fun but tiring first day in Croatia
  6. Today we were leaving Croatia behind and travelling onwards to our next destination: Kotor, in Montenegro. The bus to Kotor wasn't until 10am, but I set the alarm for 7am so that we had plenty of time to pack. In particular, we needed to experiment with ways to fit the 20+ Croatian books which we purchased in Dubrovnik into our luggage! Happily we did manage this in the end, though Tim ended up with a very heavy backpack and even heavier suitcase. We checked out just before 9 and walked around the waterfront to Dubrovnik's bus station, which is a fair distance outside the town, past the port. There were two large cruise ships in the port today, with hundreds of people busy unloading into coaches as we walked past. When we eventually arrived at the bus station it appeared quite quiet in comparison! I was a little bit nervous about today's bus journey for several reasons. Firstly because I had decided to book the bus tickets online in advance, using a new website called busticket4.me. This is a revolution in the world of Montenegrin bus tickets which, as the website explains, aims to make it possible for people to get information about bus timetables without actually having to visit bus stations to look at them on the wall!! A limited number of tickets for certain buses are also available for sale online and I had experimented with purchasing ones for this journey, because I knew from previous experiences of trying to travel between Croatia and Montenegro that the limited number of buses can be extremely busy. Now I was starting to have regrets about this though, in case this whole concept of online bus timetables was struggling to catch on and the driver might accuse me of not having a proper ticket when I tried to board the bus with a barcode printed from the Internet. The other thing I was slightly concerned about was that the website had automatically allocated us seats 1 and 2 on the bus. This might not seem like a major problem, but there seems to be some sort of unwritten etiquette of Balkan buses which means that the driver doesn't want anyone to sit in the first few seats. Usually he makes this clear by strewing a random assortment of bags and belongings across seats 1 to 4, moving them only in cases of extreme need. So I was also worried that we'd struggle to sit in our allocated seats, then struggle to find any other available seat to sit in, because the Dubrovnik to Montenegro buses are mostly used by tourists and tourists, unlike locals, tend to want to sit in the seats assigned to them on their tickets. In the end it turned out that I needn't have worried and everything worked out fine The bus driver looked like he was at the end of his tether dealing with people speaking to him in English (our personal favourite was a girl who addressed him with "Is this the right bus?"), so I think we instantly became his favourite passengers when we greeted him with "Dobar dan!" and paid for our luggage in Croatian. He didn't bat an eyelid at the online bus ticket (phew!) and although he did have a strategically positioned sports bag on seats 1 and 2, he didn't say anything when we moved it to sit down. We were lucky that the system hadn't allocated us seats 3 and 4, as he had laid out a full suit of clothes across those seats!! The benefit of being at the front of the bus was that we had a fantastic view of the countryside throughout the journey. The bus started off by travelling uphill into the mountains above Dubrovnik, so that we had a bird's eye view of the old town and the island of Lokrum as we drove past. Sadly we weren't on the right side of the bus to get photos of that, but we did get some beautiful views through the windscreen of the bus as we then made our way south towards the Montenegrin border. The border crossing itself was a bit different to last time we came. When the bus got to the Croatian border, everyone had to get off and individually present their passports to a policeman in a little booth, just like at the airport. Once everyone's passport had been checked, the bus drove past the control point and we were all allowed to get back on. The bus continued down the road for another mile or so until it came to the Montenegrin border checkpoint. Here the bus driver had to collect up all our passports and take them to the border guard for him to check and stamp. The driver managed to do it very efficiently though, managing to the hand all the passports back in the same order in which he'd collected them, and as there were no queues at the border today, we probably only had to wait for 10 minutes or so before we were reunited with our passports Now that we were in Montenegro, the landscape quickly became more mountainous. We had a quick stop in the town of Herceg Novi not far from the border, memorable for three tourists who incurred the wrath of the driver by managing to ignore his multiple announcements to the effect that we were now in Herceg Novi (which is where they wanted to get off) so that he had to get up and hunt them down. After Herceg Novi, the bus began to follow the coastal road around the bay of Kotor. The bus drives really close to the edge of the water in places and there are a lot of twists and turns. We finally arrived in Kotor around 12.30, which was around half an hour behind schedule, but that just meant we didn't have quite as much time to kill before we could check in to our apartment. We passed the time with a drink in the Kotor bus station cafe, an amazing establishment where the first five or so items on the menu are different types of rakija and pretty much everything you order turns out to cost 1 euro. I had an Americano for 1 euro and Tim had a beer, also for 1 euro It wasn't too far to walk from the bus station to the apartment, although I had forgotten that the last part of the journey involves negotiating some staircases; not ideal with our suitcases now laden down with books! We got there in the end though and met the very friendly landlady who we remembered from our previous visit here. Her English is quite limited so she was very excited that we could communicate in Croatian and chattered incessantly as she showed us around the apartment and brought us some drinks to cool off on the terrace. She told me about how she has been trying to learn English to communicate with her visitors and had a hilarious story about how she'd now got a cleaning lady to help her with the apartments and that she'd been saying to guests for several months that her "wife" did the cleaning ("wife" and "woman" are the same word in Croatian/Serbian) until someone had eventually corrected her and now she realised all her guests must have thought she was gay We relaxed on our terrace for a while, enjoying the view of the sea and the mountains. Then we walked into the old town to get some food and it was really beautiful, but both of us managed to forget to brng our cameras with us, so photos will have to wait until tomorrow! I had a slightly odd Hawaiian pizza (the topping was olives and pineapple rather than ham and pineapple) and Tim had a burger, at a restaurant in one of the main squares and it cost us less than €20 including the drinks. I don't know what we are going to do with the €50 notes that I only realised today the Post Office has lumbered us with! We went back and read on the terrace for a while, then set out for another stroll in the evening. It was lovely wandering around the little streets of the old town in the twilight. But what we had come out to see was the view of the town fortifications lit up at night. Beautiful, but they look so high! We'll have to see what the weather is like in the morning before we decide whether we have got the energy to climb them or not!
  7. The weather forecast was mixed again today so we decided not to stray too far away from Dubrovnik. We didn't have quite such an early start as yesterday, but we were out of the apartment by 9am and walking towards the old town again. A few spots of rain started to fall as we initially left Lapad, but the sky seemed to brighten up a bit the closer we got to the main town. Our plan was to catch the 10am boat across to the island of Lokrum. Lokrum is the green island we had the great views of yesterday while walking around the city walls and the whole island is a sort of nature park. There is a boat to the island every half an hour from the old town port in Dubrovnik, and the journey only takes around 15 minutes. You can buy tickets for the boat from a little stall in the harbour and it costs 100 kuna (about £11 each), which includes the return boat trip and a fee for entry to the nature reserve. The boat can hold a couple of hundred people, so initially when it lands on the island there is a little bit of a crowd, which takes a while to disperse. Overall the island is more than big enough to swallow all the visitors up, so for the majority of the time we were there we didn't really encounter any other people at all. When we first got off the boat though we were keen to get away from everyone else as soon as possible, so we started walking rather quickly in a direction which didn't seem to be terribly popular. After we'd been going for about 10 minutes, we realised why when the path turned out to be a dead end which ended in this sign. Oops! We hastily turned around and made our way back to the port to try again. You can buy a map of Lokrum but you don't really need to because there are helpful little signs pointing you in the direction of all the key sights. The first sign we followed was to the slightly strangely named "Pigeon's cave". We have absolutely no idea what it had to do with pigeons, but the path lead us to a lovely viewpoint. We could just about see the beginning of a cave in the rocks. We had been to Lokrum before in 2013, but one of the things I seemed to have blanked from my memory from that visit was quite how rocky some of the paths are. Next time I think I will come in my walking shoes! From the cave the path led us to the so-called "Mrtvo More" (Dead Sea), which is actually a small salt-water lake. The island of Lokrum used to be a holiday home for the Habsburg Archduke Maximillian and he introduced families of peacocks, apparently from the Canary Islands. They seemed to take to living on Lokrum very successfully and their descendants are still roaming the island today. It's difficult to go anywhere on the island without running into a family of peacocks. Some of them had very small chicks indeed. Something I don't remember from last time is that the island also seems to be home to a population of extremely tame rabbits, who seem to be completely unbothered by tourists walking past them. Later in the day we even came across this lady who had managed to get a rabbit to eat out of her hand! The Benedictines had a monastery on the island from the eleventh century until the early nineteenth century and you can still see the remnants of it today. There was some renovation work being done at the moment though so we weren't able to walk about as much as previously. Instead we set off into the forests which cover most of the island. There were signs everywhere about being vigilent against forest fires, and smoking is strictly forbidden everywhere on the island. We soon found ourselves on the path known as "Rajski put" (Paradise path) which was part of the landscaping done for Maximillian. It's quite steep but once you get to the top of it there are some beautiful views. By this stage we were at the highest point of the island, which is where the Royal Fort is situated. As we followed the path down from here we had some spectacular views back towards the walled town of Dubrovnik. The path was still quite steep and rocky though, so I had to spend as much time looking at my feet as at the view! Luckily we sound found ourselves on a much flatter path where the views were just as good It was pretty cool that yesterday we had been walking around the city walls in Dubrovnik looking at views of Lokrum, and today we were walking around Lokrum looking at views of Dubrovnik Another interesting feature of the island is its botanical garden, which features some unusual species of tropical plants, originally imported from Australia and South America. I particularly liked the cactuses. Especially these ones which appeared to be flowering. By the time we had finished walking around the island it was early afternoon and we were starting to get pretty hungry. There is a sort of restaurant on the island, but it's quite expensive - I guess because it has a captive audience - and last time we tried to eat there we kept getting pestered by hungry peacocks the whole time! We decided it was time to head back to Dubrovnik, so made our way back to the harbour. We had just missed a boat (they seemed to be running with a blatant disregard for the published timetable!!) so we had to sit and wait for a while. It was a very pretty location in which to wait though Luckily another boat soon arrived - also not in line with the timetable - and so we were soon on our way. We managed to get seats outside near the front of the boat and so had some fantastic views of the approach to Dubrovnik. It may be worth going to Lokrum just to be able to see Dubrovnik from the sea. In about 15 minutes we were back, then had to battle our way through a very busy old town to get back to the road we needed to follow to Lapad. Within an hour or so we were back at the same restaurant where we'd eaten yesterday, where we managed to have a lovely late lunch/early dinner, this time for only about £17 We've had a brilliant first week of our holiday in Croatia. Tomorrow we are off to Kotor in Montenegro for the second part of our trip. Assuming that everything works okay with the bus!
  8. The weather forecast once again looked a bit mixed for today when we checked it yesterday evening, but we decided to set our alarms for an early start anyway and see what the weather looked like when we woke up. For once we were in luck; when we got out of bed around 7am there was a beautiful bright blue sky, which was significantly better than what had been forecast. We had breakfast as quickly as we could and before 8am we were on our way into the centre of Dubrovnik. It's about a 40 minute walk from where we're staying to the old town. There is a bus which runs from the street outside the apartment to the Pile Gate at the entrance to the old town, but we've never caught it because it always looks ridiculously jam-packed with tourists. The walk is a bit uphill at first, but it's worth the climb because after 20 minutes or so you reach the top of the hill and are rewarded with a viewpoint like this. The reason we were setting out so early is that we wanted to beat the worst of the crowds to Dubrovnik's city walls. As we left the apartment we could see that there was only one cruise ship in the port this morning, which isn't too bad by Dubrovnik standards, but it can still get very busy during the day. The walls open at 8am at this time of year and the cruise ship visitors don't tend to arrive until about 09.30, so our plan was to see as much as possible before they descended. Walking round the walls is also quite tiring because there are a few steep staircases and very little shade, so going early in the day also means you can get round before the sun gets unbearably hot. It was about 08.30 in the end before we arrived at the Pile Gate. It costs 120 kuna (about £13.50) to go around the walls, which is quite expensive but definitely worth it. For the avoidance of doubt, several signs in the ticket office proclaim that you have to pay for your tickets in Croatian kuna There's a strict one-way system around the walls, which helps ensure that there isn't complete chaos. After you climb up the staircase to begin walking around, there is a great view behind you to Srđ, the mountain which towers above Dubrovnik. The next thing you see as you go around the first corner is the impressive Fort Lovrijenac. From here the walls lead uphill, alongside the sea... ...and you can start to get some views of the town and the rest of the walls. Once you get to the next corner, the island of Lokrum appears on the horizon... ...and there are some beautiful views of the rest of the Croatian coast, towards Montenegro. The cliffs which the walls are built on are very, very steep! One of the unusual things about walking round the walls is that you realise people's houses are built right up against them. As we made our way round we passed private gardens, school playgrounds and even a basketball pitch. It must be a bit strange to have a constant procession of people walking past your windows though. We soon came to the old town harbour, which is really pretty. These days only small boats leave from here, with the main cruise ships and ferries leaving from the larger port, not far from where we're staying in Lapad. From this part of the walls you start to get a good view over the rest of the town. On the final stretch there are beautiful views of all the red roofs and domes of various churches. I particularly liked this view, where you can see the town and the harbour and Lokrum... ...as well as this one where you can see Fort Lovrijenac again. Finally you come to the Minčeta Tower, which is the highest point that you can climb to on the walls. This bit doesn't have a one-way system (there's just one staircase for up and down) so it's definitely good to be here when it's not too busy. The views from here are incredible... ...in every direction... ...though it was a bit windy up there, as you can see from my hair!! Finally it was time to start climbing down. By this point we could see that the first part of the walls was already very busy, quickly becoming a long procession of people as the first of the cruise ship tours started off. It had taken us just over an hour to walk around, so although we felt like it we'd had a day's activity by now, we still had plenty of time to explore the rest of Dubrovnik The city is beautiful inside the walls as well... ...and it still wasn't too busy at this point in the day. We walked around some of the main streets for a while and then set off in search of bookshops. I was quite lucky with last year's holiday that we went to both Zagreb and Rijeka, two large cities which are home to some of Croatia's biggest bookshops. On this holiday we've mostly been in smaller places, so Dubrovnik seemed like the best bet for stocking up on Croatian reading material this year. On the main street we found a branch of Algoritam, which is a well-known publisher of books in Croatian, so assumed that would be te best place to try. When we got inside I was quite disappointed though; about a third of the bookshop seemed to be given over to selling books in English, presumably aimed at tourists. About another third seemed to be mainly children's books, which left a comparatively small space for actual novels. Even worse, once I started going through them it became clear that the vast majority were just translations of English or American fiction. So if you wanted a complete hardbound set of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trilogy in Croatian, you were in luck, but if you actually wanted to read something by a Croatian author then your choices were few and far between! We spent quite a while in there going through the shelves in detail and eventually did manage to find some things which looked interesting, but it was a bit of a struggle. We emerged into the sunshine once more and were just strolling down the main street, when Tim noticed another bookshop called Algebra. We went into this one and it was like stepping into a different universe! The girl behind the counter was really helpful, and when I asked her if she could recommend me some books by Croatian authors, she started running all over the bookshop making piles of interesting things. Unlike the first bookshop, this one was full of Croatian literature and so I was spoilt for choice. We ultimately came away with such a massive pile of stuff (paid for by Tim - to be my birthday and Christmas presents) that I'm now a bit concerned about how we're going to fit it all in our suitcases to get home Once our shopping was complete, we went for a stroll round to the old harbour to enjoy the views there. It's a comparatively peaceful part of Dubrovnik, so we were able to sit on a shady bench for a while and watch the boats coming and going. Then it was time to start the walk back to Lapad, and after leaving the books at the apartment, to find somewhere to get a late lunch. Food can be quite expensive in Dubrovnik compared to the rest of Croatia, but we found an amazingly cheap place just off the main restaurant street, where I had a beautiful bolognese pizza, Tim had some Mexican food (it was a rather wide-ranging menu which covered everything from burritos to pizza/pasta to ćevapčići!), we had some very nice wine and somehow the bill still came to less than 200 kuna We've had a brilliant day today, and while the weather forecast is suggesting rain for tomorrow again, I'm hoping they might be as wrong about that as they were about the rain today!
  9. When we woke up this morning it was still quite blustery. The good news is that it wasn't raining, so we were just about able to eat breakfast on the balcony, but the wind was pretty strong and the sea looked rather choppy. We were due to travel from Korčula to Dubrovnik today on another catamaran, departing just after 10am. We had seen that there had been a long queue for the catamaran yesterday when we were looking for the boat to Orebić, so we had decided to make sure we were waiting at the harbour at least half an hour in advance. It was a good job that we did, because when we got to the harbour just after 09.30, we found there was already quite a large group of people queuing. The queue was a bit chaotic and got progressively longer and longer until it was spreading out of the harbour area and round the corner. I was starting to wonder whether we were all going to fit on, because the boat was starting in Split originally, so would already have people on it by the time it got to Korčula. In the end it didn't arrive until about 10.15 and although it looked like quite a large catamaran, we could see through the windows that it did indeed already look pretty full. Ultimately we did manage to find two seats (though not together) but we were quite lucky because some people had to stand or sit on the floor for the duration of the trip. The journey to Dubrovnik took about two hours, with a stop halfway on the island of Mljet, which looked very pretty. Fortunately the sea had calmed down a bit from when we first woke up so it didn't feel particularly choppy, but as we got closer to Dubrovnik we could see that it had started to rain again. The boat was due to get to Dubrovnik at midday, but it was around 12.30 by the time it had arrived and everyone had managed to retrieve their luggage. That was fine for us, because we couldn't check in to our next apartment until 14.00, so it just reduced the amount of time we had to kill with our baggage We had booked to stay at some nice apartments where we've stayed twice before, in the Lapad suburb of Dubrovnik. Lapad is located about 3km outside Dubrovnik's old town, about a kilometre or so from the port and bus station. There are quite a few restaurants scattered over the course of that kilometre, and we managed to find one that didn't look too busy. It was run by a slightly scary lady who seemed to spend a lot of time running around shouting orders at other people, but she let us leave our suitcases behind the door which was useful, and we both ordered spaghetti bolognese. We were slightly confused a few minutes later when the scary lady presented us with two empty plates, but we had also been given a basket of bread, so I thought perhaps it was to stop us getting crumbs everywhere! A bit later all became clear, when the waitress brought out spaghetti bolognese for two in a large casserole dish, with a spoon for us to serve ourselves. Spaghetti bolognese is probably the least easy meal in the world to serve yourself to without making a mess, but it was a really tasty one and there was lots of parmasan cheese The restaurant had become busier while we were eating, so once we finished we were hoping to catch the eye of the waitress to be able to pay. We had been sitting for a while in vain when the scary lady shouted an order at the waitress and the next thing we knew we were being presented with two glasses of some sort of spirits. Tim's favourite The first glass was a clear liquid which smelled (and tasted) highly alcoholic; definitely rakija! The second glass was more the colour of red wine and we have absolutely no idea what it was. Tim thought it tasted like alcoholic cough medicine and I thought it tasted more like alcoholic turkish delight. It was quite sweet anyway, and definitely less alcoholic than the rakija. We didn't see anyone else getting offered similar drinks while we were there, so we can only assume that the scary lady appreciated our efforts to speak Croatian! By the time we emerged from the restaurant the rain had eased off and so we were able to make our way to the apartment without any difficulties. We settled in for a while, before setting out for a walk around the suburb. From where we are staying it's about a 10 minute walk to a large pedestrianised area with lots of restaurants and hotels. At the end of the pedestrianised street, there's a beach and some lovely views out to sea. We saw a signpost for a footpath and decided to follow it around the coast for a while. As we walked, we could see a few tiny bits of blue sky trying to break through the clouds in the distance. The whole coastline was very rocky and we had views of some interesting rock formations out at sea. Eventually the footpath came to an end near some large hotels, so we turned around and retraced our steps back to Lapad. There's a large supermarket nearby, so we popped in for some supplies before heading back to the apartment for the evening. There were several bits of blue sky visible at this point, so let's hope that means there's going to be an improvement in the weather again tomorrow!
  10. The good news is that when we woke up this morning the weather was a million times better than last night. The sun was shining, there was a clear blue sky and you wouldn't know that there had ever been a storm at all. We sat out on the balcony to have breakfast; a beautiful meat burek which Tim had got fresh from the nearby supermarket. We wanted to make the most of the good weather, so straight after breakfast we set off for a walk around town. Everywhere looked gorgeous with a blue sky Our plan for today was to catch a boat across to the town of Orebić, which is on the peninsular of the mainland just across from Korčula. We could see the town in the distance as we walked around the outskirts of Korčula. From what I'd seen on the Internet, I understood there was a passenger ferry which goes once an hour from Korčula's harbour to the centre of Orebić, a journey which only takes about 15 minutes. The next boat was due to depart at 11am, so we had a bit more time to spare walking around Korčula. When we walked round the corner of the harbour about 10.40 though, we saw that a small boat had pulled up with an "Orebić" sign on its side. When I say small, I guess it would have seated about 12 people comfortably, plus the two guys who appeared to be driving it. I was a bit surprised because the picture that I'd seen online suggested something which looked more like a small passenger ferry, but the sign definitely said "Orebić", so we climbed aboard. I became further confused, however, when the boat set off towards Orebić almost immediately, seemingly with a complete disregard for the timetable which said it was supposed to depart at 11. How strange. The price did, at least, agree to what I had seen on the Internet (15 kunas - not much more than £1.50 each) which seemed like a bargain. We had some stunning views of Korčula as the boat pulled away from the harbour. We hadn't really been able to see the approach to the town from the catamaran on Sunday, so it was great to be able to see the fortifications from the sea. As the boat pulled further away it was also clear just how forested the island of Korčula is. It didn't seem long before we were arriving at Orebić on the other side of the coast. The town is built right up beside the mountains that we had seen from Korčula. There are views to other mountains further down the coast too... ...as well as back towards Korčula of course. We followed a pretty coastal path which led along the sea front for a while... ...then went to explore the town a bit. It's only quite small, so that didn't take long! Another coastal path led in the opposite direction. From here we could see what appeared to be a church or monastery on a small island in the middle of the sea. The path led towards Orebić's beach, which is supposed to be very sandy by Croatian standards. If you look closely though you can see it's not really sand, but gravel. Still, definitely less rocky than most Croatian beaches! It was a really beautiful location. When the path came to an end, we turned around and walked back into the town. We found the local church, which looked very pretty. The effects of our burek had worn off by this point so we decided to search for some lunch. A lot of the restaurants along the sea front were serving fish, unfortunately, but we found one where they let us order the children's menu, which was chicken schnitzel and chips It's probably the most scenic chicken schnitzel and chips that we've ever had Once we'd finished eating and admiring the views, it was time to track down the boat back across to the island. Imagine my surprise when we got to the harbour and found a rather large boat - a ferry that looked like it could seat in excess of 100 people - just about to depart for Korčula. This looked suspiciously like the boat whose picture I had seen on the Internet - the official boat connection between Korčula and Orebić - and it appeared to be running to the published timetable too. It seems like the boat we caught in the morning was some sort of unofficial taxi boat running in competition to the proper ferry. We had great views though, and they only charged the same price as the official ferry. As the afternoon progressed, the skies became cloudier until this evening another big storm started up. The weather forecast doesn't look great for the next seven days, but we've definitely had a fantastic time today
  11. The weather forecast had said it was going to rain all day today, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I woke up this morning. Tim had already woken up at the crack of dawn and been able to sit on the balcony and watch the sunrise. The photos look beautiful but there wasn't much chance of me being up at that time of the morning when on holiday At that point in the morning it seems like it was still quite dry, but by the time I had got up, had breakfast and was ready for a walk around the town, it was already starting to look quite grey. Sure enough, it wasn't long before the first drops of rain started to fall. Luckily things started to clear up a bit again mid-morning, so around noon we were able to head out and explore a bit more again. We went for a stroll round the coast, in the opposite direction to the old town. Once we got a little way beyond the town, we saw a sign for the town park. We followed a little path up the hillside and into quite a dense forest. Korčula is quite a forested island, and I think this particular bit of forest must have been designated a park just because it had a few paths through it Every so often we came to a clearing where we could get a brief view of the coast through the trees. At one point we came across a little grotto on the hillside... ..and further on we came across a memorial commerorating soldiers from the island who had died in the first world war. After a while we emerged from the woods to walk alongside the sea again. There was a pretty little inlet of water which we were able to walk around. At some points the weather almost seemed sunny We couldn't see back as far as the old town from here, but there were still some beautiful views of the sea... ...and back towards the mainland as well. We didn't want to get caught out in a storm, so eventually we decided we'd better turn around and head back towards the town. We just about made it there by around 3pm when the heavens opened! Luckily there is a pizzeria next door to our apartment, so we went in there for a meal and only had a short dash back home once we'd finished. The rain has continued throughout the rest of the afternoon, turning into a proper storm with lightning and a very strong wind, so we definitely chose the optimum time for a walk
  12. We had an early start this morning, albeit nowhere near as early as yesterday morning, with the alarm going off at 07.30. We had tickets booked on the 09.15 boat from Split to the island of Korčula and as this was the first time we had caught a passenger ferry in Croatia, I had no idea how far in advance of the boat departing we needed to be at the terminal. Luckily our apartment in Split was very conveniently placed for the harbour and so once we had packed and had breakfast, we only had a 10 minute walk down to the seafront. The port in Split is fairly enormous though and houses everything from tiny fishing boats to expensive private yachts, from gigantic cruise ships cruising the Adriatic to car ferries crossing the sea to Italy. We were looking for a fairly modestly sized catamaran run by Croatia's state shipping company, Jadrolinija, and while you can easily buy boat tickets online via the Jadrolinija website, once you've bought them you don't get any kind of instructions about where you might find your boat. As we dodged in and out of groups of cruise ship passengers being herded towards the sights of Split, I was glad that we had set out with plenty of time to spare! We eventually found the information board which announced that the boat to Korčula was due to depart from bay 11, and with the help of a map of the port on the wall we made our way to the end of a long quay where a small queue of people was forming. The journey from Split to Korčula takes about 2 hours 45 minutes and cost 140 kuna (about £15) each. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the catamaran as I knew you can't go outside on them and was worried that the inside might be a bit dark and cramped, having seen it described online as being like the inside of an aeroplane. Whoever came up with that description obviously wasn't accustomed to flying Ryanair, because when we got on board we were pleasantly surprised to find a bright spacious room set up with rows of very comfy seats which had a lot of legroom Turning up early had definitely been helpful as we even managed to get seats by a window, although unfortunately it wasn't possible to take any photos because the window itself was covered in a thin black mesh, through which it was possible to see out, but which would have been rather a barrier to a camera. It was a really lovely journey though as we left Split behind us and travelled first to the island of Hvar, where more than half of the boat's passengers got off. It looked really beautiful there, with some sort of fortress set on a hill above the old town. About another hour and a very strong espresso from the boat's cafe later, we finally arrived in Korčula Our first task was to find our apartment. I knew the owner was expecting us because she had phoned me last night to check which boat we were coming on, but I was a bit worried we were going to struggle to find the right building, because the street which was given as the address didn't seem to feature on Google Map's view of Korčula. We knew it wasn't far from the harbour though and the apartment's page on booking.com showed a picture of the seafront with a big red circle around the correct building, so I was hoping we would be able to recognise it from that! Luckily Tim spotted what seemed to be the right building almost straight away, though when we got to it I couldn't see any signs about apartments. I rang the lady I'd spoken to yesterday again, and she assured us me that we were in the right place and that she'd be with us in a few minutes. Sure enough she was, and she and her husband showed us through a side entrance, up some stairs and into an extremely nice apartment We've got a kitchen/dining/living room with strong air-con and a nice spacious bedroom. But the best thing is probably the view from the balcony Once we had settled in and enjoyed the balcony for a bit, we went out to explore the town. We were staying in Korčula town, which is the largest town on the island of the same name. We started with a stroll along the coast... ...and soon had an amazing view back towards the fortified old town. Part of the reason I wanted to come to this island was that I had seen some beautiful shots of it on a Croatian soap opera that I'm watching, so I was pleased to see that it looked just as beautiful in real life We decided to stop and have some lunch before exploring the old town in more detail. We found a nice place where we had ćevapčići (grilled sausage-like things made of minced meat, which are popular all over the Balkans) and chips in the sun A little later we climbed up through the gate and into the centre of town. The old town is full of narrow little streets. The cathedral of St Mark dominates the main square... ...though we did find some smaller churches as well Around the edges of the town were remnants of what must once have been very impressive town walls... ...and you could imagine that any potential invaders approaching from the sea would have been put off by towers like this. In the evening we strolled along the coast once more... ...to enjoy another view of the town from a distance. As we walked along the coastal road we passed a pretty monastery too. The hills in the background are actually on the Croatian mainland; although it took us about three hours to get here on a boat from Split, there is a long thin peninsula called Pelješac which is only a few kilometres across the sea from Korčula. The weather isn't forecast to be perfect for the next few days so we don't have any firm plans, but we have definitely had a wonderful time walking around Korčula today
  13. I think we may have broken a record on this holiday for the earliest getting up ever when our alarms went off at 01.30 this morning. We had a 06.25 flight from Stansted to Split, which I can only assume seemed like a good idea at the point at which I booked it! It certainly didn't feel like a good idea when we had to drag ourselves out of bed after only a few hours' sleep and begin the long trek down to Stansted. Stansted did, however, seem like a dream airport after flying from Luton last week (we managed to get breakfast - yay!) and we were also surprised by how good flying with Easyjet was. Everything from the check-in to boarding seemed to run just a little bit more smoothly than on Ryanair; we didn't get penned into any confined spaces, there were no aggressive fights in the queue from people refusing to accept that their hand baggage had to be put in the hold, and I even ended up with a window seat Split airport isn't very big but I think it must rank as one of the most impressive airports I've ever landed at. The plane flew from the coast of Italy across the Adriatic and then over numerous Croatian islands as got closer to Split. It's one of those airports where almost right up until the moment you land, you can't actually see anywhere that looks either flat enough or dry enough for a plane to land, as the mountains come almost right down to the sea It looked like a beautiful bright sunny day and as soon as we stepped off the aircraft we were hit by a wave of heat. Wow, it was hot - immediately it felt hotter than it had been even when we were in Spain and France in June! Within less than fifteen minutes we were through the (very casual) passport control, had collected our baggage and were out in the sunshine looking for the airport shuttle bus. Things seemed to have progressed a bit in Split since we last flew here in 2013. At that time the airport shuttle bus only met flights of Croatia Airlines, so if you weren't flying with them, in order to get into the centre of Split you didn't have any option but to pay for a private taxi transfer. Now the airport shuttle appears to meet every flight and it's even possible to buy tickets online, although there isn't anything approaching a timetable on the website; just a message announcing that a bus will depart about 20 minutes after each flight lands. The airport is situated about 25km outside Split, and so I wasn't expecting the bus journey to take very long. In the end it took nearly an hour, because there were some roadworks on the main coastal road. We were probably the only passengers who were happy about this, because we were trying to kill some time until it was possible to check into our apartment. Officially the check-in wasn't supposed to have been until 2pm, but I had contacted the apartment owner a few days ago to see whether we could turn up earlier, and he had agreed we could come at midday. It was about 09.30 when our plane landed and about 10.45 when we finally pulled in the bus station in Split, so there wasn't too much time left to kill. We found a cafe not far from the bus station where we could stop for a drink and look over the walking instructions to the apartment. We were sitting partly in the shade under some sort of parasol but within 10 minutes I started to feel like I was already starting to turn an interesting shade of pink. I also had the realisation that I'd forgotten to pack my hat, which wasn't very clever of me! Some of the reviews on booking.com had indicated that the apartment was difficult to find, but one of the reviewers had recommended turning off up a staircase next to a kebab shop and although that didn't sound terribly inspiring, when we did just that we found ourselves on a pretty little street and next to a big orange sign announcing the name of the apartments we were looking for. We were met by the owner who expressed surprise that I'd emailed him in Croatian and spoke to us in a mixture of English and Croatian as he told us a bit about Split and the apartment. Beautiful as Split is, our first priority was to turn up the air-conditioning and have a nap! It was later in the afternoon by the time we ventured out for a stroll along the Riva (the promenade which runs along the sea front). As always, Split has some very impressive palm trees The further you walk around the sea front, the better the view you have of the city... ...and of the mountains beyond. We enjoyed the view for a while before heading back into the old town. The main streets of Split are often very busy and cluttered up with market stalls selling sunglasses and flip-flops and other seaside accessories. Normally these are an annoyance but today they turned out to be useful because I managed to buy a cheap hat It didn't take long to reach the centre of the old town, where the cathedral of St Domnius towers above everything. There was something going on with Roman re-enactments today, and so in the square outside we found two men dressed as Roman soldiers. We enjoyed wandering round the old streets for a while. The centre of Split is built among the ruins of the Roman emperor Diocletian's palace, and there are interesting buildings at every turn. Every now and again you come to gaps in the town walls, through which you can get a tantalising glimpse down to the sea. Breakfast had been at 5am and we had missed lunch altogether, so by this time we were starting to feel pretty hungry. We decided to try and look for a pizzeria which we had eaten in last time we were in Split. We found it, and then remembered that last time we'd eaten there we'd had a jug of wine that was so horrible we couldn't actually drink it! When we had a proper look at the menu today we figured out why; we must have chosen the very cheapest "stolno vino" (table wine) as opposed to the wine which for only a few kunas more was labelled as "kvalitetno vino" (quality wine!). I decided to go for a glass of the kvalitetno vino today, and it turned out to be much nicer Split is a very convenient place to travel to and it's been fun to visit it today. Tomorrow we are moving on though, via catamaran, to the island of Korčula
  14. It was a nice sunny morning when we woke up in Zagreb today. We didn't have to check out of the hotel until midday, so after breakfast we went out for a final stroll around the city. Just down the road from the main train station are the botanical gardens, which belong to Zagreb university. They're an attractive place to walk around and include a pond which is full of little turtles... ...as well as some pretty flowers and fountains. From the botanical gardens it isn't far to the impressive building of the Croatian national theatre. We had a look in a couple more bookshops, which led us into Preradović square, named after the Croatian poet Petar Preradović. Zagreb's Serbian Orthodox cathedral is situated in the square. As we were walking back towards the hotel to pack up our things, my eye was caught by a plaque on the side of one of the buildings we passed. This building housed the editors of the first Esperanto magazine in Croatia - "Kroata Esperantisto" - which was first produced in 1909. The plaque commemorates its 80th anniversary of its publication. We were quite surprised to find this memorial, as yet again we had no idea that it was here! Our train to Ljubljana departed Zagreb at 12.35. Buying the tickets was a slightly surreal experience as the lady behind the counter had to write them out for us by hand, using carbon paper to take copies! The journey took around 2.5 hours, although it could have taken a lot less time if the train hadn't sat at the border for around 40 minutes. Our passports were checked first by Croatian police and then by Slovenian police. The only difference that Croatia joining the EU seems to have made is that the Croatian police don't stamp passports any more. We arrived in Ljubljana just after 15.00 and quickly located our apartment, which turns out to be really comfy It's 64 EUR per night including the city tax, which makes it one of our more expensive apartments, but it's in a really good location right by the river in Ljubljana. And we were even provided with some basic groceries, including bread, cheese, coffee and wine! We were starving by this point so went out for a meal and then had a preliminary stroll around Ljubljana. We walked along the river Ljubljanica... ...and could see Ljubljana castle looming high above everything. In the main square, Prešernov trg, there is a beautiful pink Franciscan church. There was an even better view of the castle from here. In the middle of the square there is a statue of Prešeren, a famous Slovene poet. We found a 3D map of Ljubljana, similar to the one we saw yesterday in Zagreb, but this didn't feature any Esperanto. So far Slovenia is an Esperanto-free zone. On the far side of the river we caught sight of Ljubljana's cathedral. We walked a little further down the river to my favourite bridge, Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge). The weather isn't scheduled to be perfect over the next few days, but Slovenia is beautiful so I'm sure we will manage to have a good time regardless
  15. Today involved our longest journey of this holiday as we travelled from Cres to Zagreb via Rijeka. It was a fairly early start, with our first bus from Cres to Rijeka at 08.10. Having purchased the tickets well in advance, we did have reserved seats for this bus but when we got on we found that persons unknown had strewn all sorts of baggage across them. The bus was fairly empty so it didn't seem worth trying to argue about it and we went and sat in some empty seats further down the bus. As we made our way back across the island we had some amazing views of the coast. At times the road was quite close to the edge. It was hard to capture the views from a (very bumpy!) moving bus but it was beautiful. Within around 45 minutes we were back at the tip of the island, ready for the ferry back to the mainland. We arrived in Rijeka just after 10.30. The bus station there was rather chaotic, with the bus timetable not indicating the platform that the buses would depart from. We stood at the platform indicated on our tickets, hoping that there hadn't been any last minute changes, but grew increasingly anxious as the time for the bus to depart (11.00) came and went without any sign of the bus. Of course, it was operating on Croatian time and it eventually rolled up around 11.10. Unfortunately Rijeka wasn't the start of its route and that meant that the majority of the seats were already taken, including the ones we had allegedly reserved. In the mayhem of boarding the bus we just had to settle with being happy to get any seats at all, and eventually found two separate ones towards the back of the bus. The scenery on the journey from Rijeka to Zagreb was less dramatic, although we did still pass through some forested, hilly countryside. We arrived in the Croatian capital around 13.45 and made our way straight to our hotel, which is one that we have stayed at many times before and so knew was going to be comfortable After a brief rest we set out for a stroll around the city. The weather had improved significantly since we had left Cres and it was now a warm and increasingly sunny day. Leaving our hotel, we walked past the main train station and into Trg Kralja Tomislava (King Tomislav Square). Tomislav, featured above on a horse, was king of Croatia from around 910 to 928. He was the first real Croatian king and founded the first united Croatian state. His square is very pretty at this time of year with flowers and fountains. The yellow building in the photo is the art pavillion, built in 1898. Walking a little further, we found a statue of the Croatian author August Šenoa. I got a complete set of his works for Christmas last year, but still need to work up the courage to start reading them! There are lots of attractive leafy squares in this part of Zagreb. Last time we were here this one was full of Christmas lights and stalls selling mulled wine; it looked quite different today in the sunshine. Before long we were in Zagreb's main square, Trg bana Jelačića. Jelačić was the Ban of Croatian between 1848 and 1859 and tried to advance the cause of Croatian independence by playing the Austrians and Hungarians off against each other. He's a national hero in Croatia, although not terribly popular in Hungary! We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner in one of the restaurants above the main square, and marvelled at how inexpensive Zagreb prices appeared to be compared to tourist prices on the coast. By the time we had finished eating the remainder of the clouds appeared to have dispersed and there was a bright blue sky as we climbed up towards Zagreb cathedral. Unfortunately they are still doing renovation works on the facade. The renovation works are necessary because the stone originally used to build the cathedral has significantly eroded over time. The picture below shows what has happened to one of the original bits of the cathedral. In the background of the photo you can also see a clock, which stopped during the Zagreb earthquake of 1880 which also destroyed a lot of the cathedral. Zagreb is built on two hills, and having visited the one on which the cathedral is situated we headed back down in order to climb up the second one, where the government quarter is. This is where you can find one of Zagreb's most memorable sights, St Mark's Church. No matter how many times we come here, we never get tired of looking at the roof A little further downhill from the church is Lotrščak Tower, which was built in the thirteenth century as part of the defences of the old town walls. Every day at midday a cannon is still fired from the top of the tower. We heard it last time we were here and can confirm that it is very loud indeed! Fortunately all was more peaceful today From here you can see for miles out across Zagreb. Having seen the main sights, my main plan for the rest of the afternoon was a tour of Zagreb's bookshops. But before we embarked on that, we wanted to track down a tiny mention of Esperanto which we had encountered on a previous visit. Not far from the main square there is a big 3D model of the city. It's very intricate and fun to look at and work out where you've been. Here is the cathedral square for example. The bit we were looking for was a little ball on the edge of the map which says welcome in different languages... including Esperanto Mission accomplished, it was time to hit the bookshops! We spent a happy hour or so browsing and picking up a mixture of textbooks and fiction. Packing for the flight home is going to be interesting to make sure we have both our bags below 15kg We set off back to the hotel with our purchases to relax for the rest of the evening. It wasn't destined to be an evening of uninterrupted rest, however, as around half past eight there was a brief, unexpected shake accompanied by a loud rumbling sound. Our hotel is almost opposite the station, so at first I thought it might have been a train passing underground, although it eventually occurred to me that we shouldn't really be able to feel that from the third floor! A quick check on the internet confirmed the only other possible explanation: a small earthquake of 3.2 on the Richter scale had been recorded on the outskirts of the city! Earthquakes aside, Zagreb is a really pleasant city and it's been nice to be back here, however briefly Tomorrow we are continuing our travels, this time by train to Ljubljana.
  16. Day 9: Cres

    When we woke up in Cres this morning, it seemed that the weather forecasts predicting a storm for today had been correct. Although the sky still looked blue and cloudless in places, there were some ominous darker clouds gathering above the mountains and the trees outside our apartment were being blown quite strongly in the wind. Happily it was still warm enough to sit outside and have breakfast on the patio We decided we'd better make the best of the relatively calm weather before things took a turn for the worse, and so straight after breakfast began walking down into Cres town. We found one of the historical gates into the old town, complete with its Venetian lion. We also found this castle tower which looked like perhaps it had once been part of the town walls, although it is now standing on its own. After wandering around the town, we descended to the sea front and began walking along the coast in the opposite direction to the way we had gone yesterday evening. There is quite a long wide path in this direction and we were able to walk for several hours. The sea, which had been remarkably calm yesterday, was starting to look rather choppy. At times the waves were so large that they were splashing up onto the path and we got slightly wet a couple of times. There were some beautiful views of the island though as we walked further away from the town. After a while we came to a bright red lighthouse. We rounded a corner of the coast and suddenly found ourselves in a part of the bay which was completely sheltered from all the wind. There were even some brave souls out sunbathing. Eventually the path led us slightly upwards and towards some olive tree plantations. Growing olives is a significant source of employment on Cres. The sea was becoming choppier again here. We passed a beach with some steps for swimmers to descend into the water, but it didn't look like anybody would be using them today! The path came to an end on a gravelly little beach beneath the olive groves. It was time to turn around and head back to town again. As you can see, I was starting to look rather windswept! The winds were even stronger on the way back. We stopped at a little cafe on the edge of the town for a coffee and we had some fantastic views of the waves crashing up onto the promenade. We found an Italian restaurant in a comparatively sheltered spot to get lunch. I was extremely happy to see that they had miš-maš (a mixture between red wine and fanta) on the menu. It was starting to look increasingly cloudy, so we went straight back to the apartment after lunch. We had only been sitting and reading for a while when I heard a loud banging sound, which turned out to be the fence between our patio and the landlady's patio blowing open. Soon her entire family emerged to try and prop it back up again, eventually succeeding with the help of our patio table to support it. Not long afterwards the heavens opened and it began to rain torrentially. We haven't had the best weather for our stay in Cres, but we have enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. It was fun to walk by the sea today, even though it was rough Tomorrow we will be leaving the sea behind as we head to Zagreb for a brief overnight stop and then onwards to Slovenia.
  17. Today we were scheduled to travel from Opatija to our next base on the island of Cres (pronounced "tsress" not "cress"!). I had been extremely impressed when planning the holiday a few months ago to find that the Croatian bus company Autotrans now has a modern website where it is possible to buy tickets online and download them as e-tickets to print. As this was a key part of our travel arrangements, I had jumped at the opportunity to buy the tickets in advance. The journey to Cres from Opatija takes just over two hours (including around twenty minutes on the ferry) and there was a conveniently-timed bus leaving Opatija at 10.20. One of the main reasons we chose to add Cres to our itinerary in preference to any of the other nearby islands was how accessible it was as a result of this bus. I was therefore disappointed to say the least when I checked my email yesterday evening to find a message from Autotrans saying that the bus had been cancelled! No reason was given but we were informed that we could use our tickets on an earlier bus from Opatija or a later bus from Rijeka. It seemed like a lot of hassle to get ourselves to Rijeka again only to catch a bus which would have to drive through Opatija on its way to Cres, so we decided we'd have to go with the earlier bus directly from Opatija. The only slight problem was that the early bus was departing at 07.20. It would arrive in Cres town (the main town on the island of Cres) at 09.30 but according to our reservation we wouldn't be able to check into our apartment until 16.00. That was going to be a lot of time to kill in Cres whilst being laden down with suitcases! I went on booking.com to find the email address of the apartment and sent them a message in Croatian, explaining what had happened and asking them what the earliest we would be able to check into the apartment was. It was a bit of a gamble as it was quite late on Saturday evening by this point and there was no guarantee that anyone was going to pick up the message before we needed to depart on Sunday morning... but luckily it was a gamble that paid off and within an hour I got an email back saying that we could check in at 12.00. Phew We set our alarms for 05.30 in the morning to give us time to have some breakfast and pack our remaining things before setting off for the bus station. We were treated to some wonderful views of sunrise in Opatija on our way. We were surprised by how quickly we could see the sun moving in the sky. We arrived at the bus station with plenty of time to spare before the bus, but began to get a bit unnerved when 07.20 came and went and it hadn't arrived. If there's anything worse than having to get up for a 07.20 bus then it would be getting up for a 07.20 bus which doesn't come! But eventually around 07.30 it rolled up and the driver didn't raise any objections when I explained to him that our tickets were for the later bus which had been cancelled. Our journey took us along the coast to a place called Brestova, from where the ferries to Cres depart. The crossing was so smooth we hardly felt like we were moving, and before the ferry was docking on Cres. Wow. First impressions were that the island was like a mini-version of Montenegro. Steep mountains rose up directly from the coast and the bus began winding up a steep mountain road, which in places was only one lane wide. We had some amazing views back down to the sea, and passed a series of rather bewildered looking sheep at the side of the road. We arrived in the town of Cres around 09.30 as promised. It was starting to become a beautifully sunny day and found a bench where we could sit and read while we waited to check into our apartment. It was a bit of a wait, but with a view like this we couldn't really complain. It seemed like Cres was a very small town, but in a beautiful location. As it got nearer to midday we set off to find the apartment. It didn't take too long for us to find the correct building indicated on our reservation, but when we arrived there there were about 10 door bells and no clue as to which might be the correct one to ring. In the end I had to phone the number on the reservation, which luckily resulted in me getting through to the lady who owned the apartment and she came downstairs to meet us. The apartment turned out to be absolutely lovely, with a spacious living/dining area that opens out onto a little terrace. And there are two lots of air-conditioning, which we were particularly grateful for on such a boiling hot day Once we had settled in we went out into the town to track down a restaurant where we could get lunch. We soon found a lovely place near the sea front where we were able to tuck into a huge plate of miješano meso (like a Croatian mixed grill). After lunch we had a preliminary stroll around the town, quickly locating the main square. We strolled along a coastal path for a while and enjoyed views back towards the centre of town. We also found probably the closest thing to a beach we've seen in Croatia this year (though it's gravel rather than sand!) The day was still incredibly hot so we went back to the apartment for a while, setting out again for another stroll once the sun was less intense. We walked along the coast in the opposite direction this time and it was just as pretty. There were some beautiful views of the sun starting to set over the water. We walked for about 45 minutes until we had rounded a corner and the town was on the opposite side of the bay from us. Then it was time to head back to the apartment for the night before the sun set completely.
  18. Day 7: Rijeka

    Our plan for today was to visit Croatia's third biggest city, Rijeka. Tim looked like he thought I had taken leave of my senses last night when, having spent some time trying to research bus timetables to Rijeka, I turned around to him and suggested that we travel on something called the "Tourist Bus". Had all that travelling on the tourist train in Brijuni gone to my head?! No, but the tourist bus, which runs from Opatija to Rijeka and back several times a day, seemed like quite an attractive proposition. The tickets were 50 kuna each return (about £5) and there was an optional commentary in eight languages. In addition, trying to navigate the timetables for the local bus company which operates normal buses between Rijeka and Opatija was turning out to be somewhat of a challenge. I couldn't quite establish from the internet where to catch the buses from, which zone Opatija was in and hence how much the tickets would cost, and where to buy the tickets in the first place. We had seen the local bus driving past us the previous day and being full to standing, whereas a bit of googling revealed an article about the tourist bus in a local newspaper complaining that Rijeka taxpayers' money was being spent on subsidising it while the average number of tourists per each journey it made was six. It sounded like we might have a better chance of getting a seat on the tourist bus We arrived at the bus station at 09.30 ready to catch the first tourist bus of the day. It turned out to be a colourful open-top double decker, and the number of tourists was seemingly below average as there was only an elderly German couple in addition to us! We were able to get a good seat and enjoy the sea views as we made our way along the coast to Rijeka. I listened to the commentary in Croatian which was fun and it was quite informative, pointing out the key sights that we were driving past and explaining a bit about the history of Rijeka. I knew that Rijeka (also called Fiume) was quite an industrial city, with a large port and several ship-building yards, but the commentary also explained that the factory which made the world's first torpedo was located in Rijeka, as was the first oil refinery in Europe. We were hoping to discover some more scenic parts of Rijeka than that, so we stayed on the bus until its highest stop at Trsat, in the hills above the city. There are two things to see in Trsat, the first being the Church of Our Lady of Trsat. The church is an important shrine in Croatia as it is believed that in the thirteenth century the house of Mary was transported here from Nazareth before eventually being moved to its current location in Loreto, Italy. In the grounds there is a statue of Pope John Paul II who visited the church in 2003. The second sight in Trsat is the castle, which stands on the site of an old Roman fortress and was constructed in the thirteenth century. The castle fell into decay in the seventeenth century once the threat to the region from the Venetian and Ottoman empires had reduced. Rijeka was also struck by a significant earthquake in 1750 which destroyed most of the town, including parts of the castle. There were some beautiful views from the ramparts to the sea beyond. There were also some rather scary statues which looked like a cross between a dragon and a chicken! From the castle we headed down into the main part of Rijeka. There is a staircase of over 500 steps which leads from the town to Trsat, so it was definitely preferable to walk down them rather than up! One of the first thing we found was the cathedral of St Vitus, the patron saint of Rijeka, which is unusual for being such a round sort of shape. We also found this church, which has a leaning bell tower. Walking through the town we came across this pretty square which has a baroque clock tower. When you walk through the arch under the clock tower you come out onto the Korzo, Rijeka's main street. And guess what we found there?! Yep, that's right; we were just innocently walking down the street when I saw a plaque with the outline of a green star on it. We went over to have a closer look, and found that this building had been the headquarters of the Adriatic Esperanto League, the first Esperanto organisation in Rijeka and in Croatia, when it was founded in 1907. It seems like we're going to have to try a bit harder to have a completely Esperanto-free holiday Not all of Rijeka was scenic (it has some tower blocks which Birmingham would be proud of!) but one advantage of being in a big city is that there were lots of bookshops. It was fun to browse them and pick up some new Croatian novels to take home with me. I deliberately left lots of space in my suitcase on the way out Once we had finished shopping and exploring, we found a nice Italian restauarant near the waterfront and sat outside eating pizza. It was fun to visit Rijeka and there are definitely some things worth seeing there, but overall we were happy with the decision to choose Opatija as our base in this part of Croatia
  19. Our intention for today was to explore a bit more of Opatija and walk along the sea to Lovran, the next village down the coast. As we discovered yesterday, Opatija is a bit like Bridgnorth (in terms of the number of staircases to get one from part of town to the next!) but unlike Bridgnorth it doesn't have the benefit of having a cliff railway. We therefore wanted to make the most of the fact that we were already at a reasonably high elevation from our apartment, and see the hilliest sights before descending down to sea level. We had read in the guidebook that there was a pleasant woodland walk above Opatija and from a map we saw in town yesterday it looked like the trail started not far away from our street. What we hadn't taken into account was that what looked like an innocuous road on the map was actually a long staircase, and so we unexpectedly found ourselves climbing even higher. We were soon rewarded with some beautiful views out to sea though. Before too long we found ourselves on the forest path. The path is called Šetalište Carmen Sylva and has an interesting story attached to it, as it was created at the end of the nineteenth century at the request of the Romanian King Carol. Having come on holiday to Opatija, he had gone riding in the woods above the town and quickly found he was completely lost. The next day he went to the local authorities to complain about the fact that none of the paths were marked. They explained (rather cunningly!) that they didn't have enough money to do that, which resulted in the king making a large donation towards path-marking. The money was eventually used to create the path, which was named after the king's wife Carmen Sylva. It was a nice shady walk through the trees, but there was arguably a bit too much woodland and not enough viewpoints. It was only occassionally that we got some glimpses of the sea. When we had finished walking through the forest we decided to head back towards the town and get a closer look at the domed church we had seem from afar the day before. We could see it from miles away now we were further up the hill, but it took us a while to find the right road to get to it. The church, which is called Crkva Marijina Navještenja (the church of the annunciation), was constructed in the early twentieth century when tourism in Opatija had really taken off and the existing parish church was deemed to be too small to meet the needs of all the visitors. It's in a beautiful location, with views across Opatija and down to the sea... ...and it also has some turrets which look like they would be more at home on a castle! Mission accomplished, we headed back down to ground level in Opatija and found a nice restaurant to have lunch. Tim had a mixed grill while I had ćevapčići and we followed it up with some nutella pancakes. The lady who served us was friendly and at the end of the meal she unexpectedly brought us two glasses of rakija, whiche she explained in Croatian were on the house. It was very kind of her and would have been rude to refuse, but there was a slight problem in even the faintest sniff of spirits makes Tim feel unwell. Rakija doesn't actually have much of a smell, so he had a little taste of it but wasn't able to take more than a sip. I ended up drinking both so as not to cause offence but wow, it was strong! As soon as I put the glass to my mouth to take a sip my lips started tingling and it soon felt like my throat was on fire. The lady didn't seem to be offering free rakija to any of the other guests in the restaurant, all of whom seemed to be speaking to her in German, so perhaps this is an unexpected hazard of speaking to people in Croatian which we need to be aware of! The plan for the afternoon was to walk along the coast to Lovran. There is a path which runs for 12km along the coast between Volovsko and Lovran, known in Croatian as "Obalno Šetalište Franza Josefa" and in Italian by the slightly prettier name "Lungomare". Work began on constructing the pathway in 1885, with the aim of providing a scenic seaside walk for the increasing number of tourists who were coming to Opatija as a health resort. The section from Opatija to Lovran was completed in 1911. Needless to say, there were some wonderful views of the sea as we walked along the coast. There were a few other people taking a stroll and walking dogs, but overall it was quite peaceful and not too busy. The walk certainly made it clear that Opatija isn't a good destination for anyone looking for a beach holiday; the coastline is very rocky. There were some people sunbathing on the rocky outcrops, but they didn't look terribly comfortable to us. As we progressed around the coast, we could see Lovran appearing in the distance. We also had a view of a large island which we *think* is Cres, the island which we will be travelling to on Sunday. We stopped for a drink in Lovran before turning around and walking back to Opatija. It was a pretty walk, although it felt a little longer on the way back. In total we walked 13 miles today, so we were glad to get back to the apartment and have a rest!
  20. This morning it was time to say goodbye to Pula and move on to our next destination: Opatija. Opatija is a small town on the eastern coast of the Istrian peninsula, famous for being the first spa town in Croatia. We had added it to our itinerary firstly because it looked like a pleasant place in its own right, and secondly because it is quite close to the city of Rijeka which we decided we would like to visit, but not necessarily stay in. The journey from Pula to Opatija took around two hours by bus. When we bought our tickets in the bus station in Pula, we were charged a couple of kuna extra for seat reservations and allocated seats 33 and 34. Once the bus arrived it took us a few minutes to pay the driver for our luggage, and so by the time we eventually climbed aboard we weren't completely surprised to see that another passenger had already made herself comfortable in seat 33. In what may be the greatest language success of the holiday, I told her in Croatian that we had these seats and she actually moved! Although not without first complaining at me in Croatian that there were plenty of other seats free and we could just sit in some of those. It's true that there were other seats free, but we didn't want to sit in someone else's seat and then have them come along and ask us to move. Seating issues resolved, the bus journey was actually very pleasant as we made our way out of Pula and into the more hilly countryside beyond. The closer we got to Opatija the more mountainous the landscape seemed to become, and we had some beautiful views out across the sea as we made our way around the coast. We arrived in Opatija around 1pm and started following the directions to our apartment. It was only a kilometre away from the bus station according to the map we'd printed, but one of the downsides of Google maps is that they don't show contours! There isn't very much of Opatija which is flat, and so we found ourselves lugging our suitcases up a succession of rather steep staircases in the hillside. It was hard work, but by the time we got up high enough to find the street we were looking for there was a beautiful view out to sea. We checked into the apartment and were pleased to see that it was really nice and spacious. A staircase leads up from the living room to a little mezzanine level which is home to the bed. The space is literally just long enough for the bed! Once we had settled in we headed out to explore Opatija. The town started out as a small fishing village but became popular as a holiday destination for the Austrian royal family and nobility during the nineteenth century. A number of very grand hotels and villas were constructed around this time, as well as some formal gardens and a 12-km promenade along the coast to the nearby village of Lovran, which we hope to explore tomorrow. This afternoon we settled for having a stroll around the various parks and gardens... ...and admiring some of the more ornate villas. We found the church of St Jakov, originally constructed in the fifteenth century as a Benedictine monastary. We walked along the coast for a while and saw Opatija's most famous statue, "Djevojka s galebom" (The girl with the seagull). After a while we came to Villa Angiolina, which stands in the grounds of a botanical garden. There were some very pretty displays of flowers in the gardens. We walked a little further along by the sea before turning back towards the main town. It was a bit windy today and the water was quite choppy. Another stroll along the main street in Opatija revealed how grand some of the hotels are. It looks like a place where it would be possible to spend a lot on accommodation if you wanted to! As we walked back upwards towards our apartment, we caught a glimpse of an interesting domed church in the background. Perhaps we will be able to explore it in more detail tomorrow
  21. After a long day trekking in the Brijuni islands which involved not having lunch until nearly 17:00, you might have thought we'd have chosen to stop in for the evening. Since that's what we do every evening you'd have normally been correct, but there was an exceptional situation tonight: gladiatorial combat at the amphitheatre, and so off we travelled. Any second thoughts were vanquished the second we caught a glimpse of the amphitheatre by night: We took our seats where the original spectators would've sat two millennia ago: The master of ceremonies (speaking English, which came as a surprise) used a team of mimes to illustate his descriptions: And then the trumpets blared as the emperor made his appearance: We were treated to a performance by some fire jugglers: Prior to the gladiatorial bouts two trainees were given a practice run using wooden weapons: The result was inconclusive! After the warm-up, the real gladiators were paraded: And then battle commenced: Followed by a battle between two other gladiators: After a further bout, this time involving four fighters, we were treated to some more pyrotechnics: And then the fighting resumed: There was a clear winner in this battle: And after the final bout the emperor refused mercy to the loser. His opponent had to dispatch him: After which the games came to an end and we got to get a gladiator's-eye view from the arena floor: That was a fabulous piece of entertainment and something that I'd love to do again!
  22. When we originally planned the holiday, our intention for today was to visit the town of Poreč, a bit further up the coast from Rovinj. It looked like a pretty place in photos, but one of the guidebooks I read later suggested that it was overwhelmed by tourists on package holidays, so I began to wonder whether it was such a good idea after all. Looking at the map for inspiration of other places that would make good day trips from Pula, my eye was caught by the Brijuni National Park. Brijuni is a group of 14 small islands not far off the coast from a little fishing village called Fažana. I had read about the islands recently in a Croatian novel, which had explained how the former Yugoslavian leader Tito had had his summer residence there. I knew that he had created some sort of safari park there, full of exotic animals which had been donated to him by other world leaders, but that was about all. A bit of googling later, it seemed that the islands looked really pretty so we decided to abandon plans to go to Poreč and give Brijuni a try instead. Because the islands are a national park, you can only visit them via a special boat that runs from Fažana. This is an important point to be aware of, because there are lots of tour companies in Pula and surrounding towns trying to sell "Brijuni" boat trips, but the majority of these simply circle the islands, giving you a panoramic view of them. That might be nice, but landing on them sounded a lot more fun to us. There is a local bus which runs from the centre of Pula to Fažana, but unfortunately the timetable is a bit erratic, so we had to make an early start this morning, catching a bus at 9am, although we weren't actually due to get a boat until 11.30. Because the national park boats can only accommodate a certain number of people per day, you have to contact the national park office a day or so in advance to reserve a place. I had originally emailed asking to reserve spaces on the boat leaving at 10am, but the lady at the national park office had informed me that they only had a German guided tour leaving at 10am and that if I got the boat at 11.30, I could go on the Croatian guided tour instead. The Croatian tourist industry seems big on the idea of guided tours and organised excursions, and Brijuni was no exception. You have to pay 200 kuna (about £20) to enter the national park, but this includes your return boat fare to the islands as well as panoramic circuit around the island on a tourist train and some sort of guided walks. This isn't normally the sort of thing we would sign up for, but we had to pay the 200 kuna regardless of whether we went on the tour or not, so in the end we decided to give it a go. I would probably have understood a lot more of the German guided tour at 10am, but trying it in Croatian sounded like an interesting challenge So it was that we arrived in Fažana at 09.30 with two hours to kill before our boat. Two things quickly became clear: Fažana is very picturesque, but very small. Within a couple of minutes we had found the village church and main square. We had a stroll around the waterfront. There was a pier sticking out into the sea which we were able to walk along and get some beautiful views back towards the town. Within about 20 minutes we had seen all there was to see, so we found a cafe with a lovely view where we were able to sit drinking coffee until it was time for our boat. At 11am we set off for the national park office to purchase our tickets and then queue up for the boat. There were more lovely views of Fažana as we pulled out to sea. The boat was taking us to the island of Veliki Brijun, which is the largest island in the group and the only one which tourists are routinely allowed to visit. It was a short journey (around 20 minutes) and as we pulled into the harbour we could see the tourist train waiting for us! We piled into the carriages and soon left the boat behind as the train began its trip around the island. Our first stop was the safari park, housing the descendents of some of the animals which were donated to Tito. There were ostriches... ...zebras... ...various sorts of donkeys... ...and even an elephant. I had expected that all of the animals would have been gifts from African or Asian leaders - and many of them were - but the guide also pointed out to us an enclosure of Shetland ponies which had been a gift from Queen Elizabeth! It may not have been the most exciting safari park from the point of view of the animals, but this probably does win the prize for the safari park with the best view ever. After a short break to stroll around and enjoy it, we were back on the train for the next leg of our tour. This took us round the various official residences, including those where Tito himself stayed and those where he housed his foreign visitors, which over the years included figures as diverse as Haile Selassie, Willy Brandt, the Queen, Sophia Loren and Elizbeth Taylor. Today the residences are still owned by the Croatian government and used from time to time by the president. They are all surrounded by very high fences and guarded by Croatian soldiers who look like they would spring to life if you started trying to take a photograph of them. The surrounding countryside is very pretty though. The train then took us past the remains of a Roman settlement and the guide started explaining a bit more about the islands' history. Originally settled by Istrian tribes, the islands eventually became part of the Roman empire and we were looking at the remains of a large Roman villa. Along with the rest of the region, the islands spent a long time in the possession of Venice, but became completely uninhabited because of problems with malara. The Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser purchased the islands in the nineteenth century and hired a scientist to help eradicate the mosquitos which were carrying the malaria. He then proceeded to turn the islands into a fashionable holiday resort for the Austrian aristocracy, building several hotels and even a golf course. The golf course is still there today, although the guide explained that it was hard work for them to keep the grass in suitable condition for golf, as the fact that the island is now part of a national park means that they aren't allowed to use any ferilisers or pesticides. This concluded our panoramic train ride. The rest of the guided tour was going to continue on foot, starting with a 15 minute tour around the island's chapel. We'd survived the tourist train, but the thought of following someone holding a sign around on foot for the next three hours didn't really appeal, so while everyone was disembarking from the train we decided to slip away an explore on our own. It wasn't obligatory to participate in the excursion, though we did need to make sure we were back at the harbour on time for our boat at 4pm. The train had been quite crowded, but as soon as we had left it behind we were able to see just how deserted the island is. Although there are some hotels where tourists can stay overnight, no one lives on the island and once you get off the track which the train takes you can walk for ages without meeting another tourist. We didn't have a map of the island but there were helpful signs and arrows indicating the way to the main attractions. We started with a visit to the Mediteranean botanical gardens. They were really beautiful, and surprisingly green considering how hot the Croatian climate is. From there we retraced part of the train route until we found our way back to the Roman ruins. The remains of the settlement are situated in a little bay which the Romans were able to use as a natural harbour. The guide had explained that due to the changing level of the ground over the centuries, there were even more ruins which were now under the water and which could only be seen by diving. There was hardly anyone else around, so we were able to explore to our hearts content. Unfortunately there was no explanation of exactly what we were looking at, but we could see the remains of lots of walls, seemingly separating different rooms. There were also lots of little pillars... ...and a very ornate column. The blue of the sea made a beautiful backdrop for everything. Once we had finished exploring the ruins, there was one more thing on Brijuni which we really wanted to see: the dinosaur footprints! Apparently over 200 dinosaur footprints have been found on the island, and there's some sort of museum where you can see them. We retraced our steps until we found a signpost which indicated the correct direction, and began to walk that way. We weren't sure exactly where the footprints were, but we still had plenty of time until the boat. Frustratingly though, after we'd been walking for about half an hour or so we came to another set of signposts, which listed everything else that was supposed to be in the direction we were going except for the dinosaur footprints. We were a bit annoyed but kept walking anyway, enjoying the views of the island. On our way we stumbled across the ruins of a Byzantine palace. This wasn't something which seemed to feature on the guided tour at all, so we had it completely to ourselves. We continued walking through the forest, and after a while I could here some strange rustling sounds. If this had been a Lithuanian forest then I might have been a bit concerned, but the guide had explained that the biggest animals native to the islands were deer. It's a bit difficult to make out from the photographs, but as we peeked through the trees we caught sight of a little family of deer A little further along we came across some cactuses. I thought the guide this morning had said that they were donated by India and that the Croatians had found a way to make rakija out of them, but both these facts seem so odd that I'm not completely sure whether I understood correctly! Shortly after the cactuses we got a little excited again when we found another sign mentioning the dinosaur footprints. Perhaps we were going in the right direction after all! We walked along the coastline for a bit... ...but eventually came to a dead end outside the safari park and had to turn back. It's a shame that the footprints proved to be so elusive (and that the signs were so confusing!). Next time we will have to come back with a proper map! We made it back to the harbour around 3.30, with just time to grab a cold drink before our boat set sail back to the mainland. By this point we were absolutely starving, so we found a nice restaurant with a view back towards Brijuni and enjoyed a rather late lunch of pizza. The Brijuni islands are beautiful and we would definitely go back, although once in a lifetime is probably enough for the tourist train
  23. Day 3: Rovinj

    Our destination for today was the town of Rovinj, approximately 25 miles north of Pula. There was a bus scheduled for 10am, with the journey due to take around 40 minutes, so we made sure we were at the bus station in plenty of time to buy our tickets. We needn't have bothered The bus driver evidentally had a rather relaxed approach to the timetable and arrived around 10 past 10. The bus, which looked like it had just come from picking people up from the airport, eventually arrived around 10.15. Good job we weren't in a particular hurry! It was around 11am when we eventually arrived in Rovinj and began strolling from the bus station towards the old town. Rovinj is renowned for being one of the prettiest towns in Croatia, and it didn't take long for us to see why as we got our first glimpse of the old town. We walked around the sea front for a while, successfully avoiding people trying to sell us over-priced excursions in boats. There definitely seemed to be a lot of (mainly German) tourists in Rovinj. The town is only small and before long we had walked around to the far side, where we were able to look back on this wonderful view of the old town. It was amazing how the houses were built straight up against the sea. In some ways it was quite reminiscent of Venice, which perhaps shouldn't be a surprise because Rovinj was governed by Venice for 500 years. What did surprise us was that the town actually used to be on an island, but the channel which separated it from the mainland was filled in in 1763. Having admired the old town from a distance, it was time to start exploring it from within. This proved to be surprisingly problematic, as the narrow streets were paved with a peculiarly slippery type of stone. It was okay when walking on the flat, but when the paths were on a slope it was quite tricky! There were some beautiful views back down to the sea from the gaps in between the houses. After a while we came out at a viewpoint with what seemed like a small lighthouse looking out over the sea. The sea was a gorgeous shade of blue and sparkling in the sunshine. We climbed higher towards the church of St Euphemia. It's an enormous church which can be seen from all over Rovinj. From there the only way was down (on the slippery stones!) Eventually we made it and passed through the old town gate, complete with Venetian lion on the top. The gate led out into the new town, which is very attractive too. The clock tower of the town hall also has a Venetian lion. We were fairly hot by this point so we found a cafe where we could sit outside and have a drink to cool down. It was one of those cafes where you get served very quickly and then it takes a very long time before you are able to pay. With views like this it didn't really matter though. We had another stroll around the town to make the most of the views... ...before finding a nice restaurant where we could have a late lunch. Luckily they aren't as rigid about serving times in Croatia as they are in Italy, because we'd had a rather large meat burek for breakfast and so it had take us until nearly 3pm to work up an appetite for lunch! The journey back to Pula was uneventful, although it did take us a while to buy the bus tickets because of a confusing system where you have to buy the ticket from the counter of the company which is operating the bus, but the timetable doesn't indicate which company is operating the bus at which time. Rovinj is a beautiful town though and definitely worth a day trip from Pula
  24. Day 2: Pula

    We didn't make a particularly early start this morning, so when we stepped out of our apartment around 10am we found that a cruise ship had docked and the hordes had already descended on the Arch of Sergii. As you can see, it was just a little bit busier there than it was yesterday! Luckily the cruise ship tourists seemed just to be walking in a straight line down the main street, so we were able to avoid them by turning off onto side streets every now and again. Our first stop was the chapel of St Mary of Formosa, which was built in the sixth century. It once formed part of a large Byzantine basilica, but it fell into disrepair and much of the stone was used by the Venetians, who ruled Pula from 1331 to 1797, as building materials elsewhere. We wandered down some of the quiet side streets in the old town, which seemingly weren't on the itinerary for any cruise ship tours. It was interesting to see how all of the street signs were billingual in Croatian and Italian, a reflection of the mixed cultural heritage of the region. After the end of Venetian rule, Pula became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and flourished as Austria's main naval base and ship-building centre. However, after the end of the First World War the whole of Istria was returned to Italy, who held onto it until the end of the Second World War when it eventually became part of Yugoslavia. At that time the majority of the population was Italian-speaking and although many Italians subsequently emigrated, Pula officially remains a billingual city. Our next plan was to track down Pula's Roman mosaics. Our hunt started promisingly as we followed a large sign from the main street. This took us down a side street, where were proceeded to follow a series of progressively smaller signs, culminating in a handwritten poster labelled "Rimski Mozaik" which led us across a car park and up an alleyway next to a shop. This is what we found. The mosaics are believed to date from the third century AD, when they would have been part of the floor of a Roman villa. They were only discovered after a bombing raid destroyed the houses above them during the Second World War. The cruise ship passengers definitely hadn't made it this far, so we were able to enjoy them in peace before heading into Pula's main square. The more modern-looking building is the town hall... ...while this spectacular building is the Temple of Augustus, thought to have been built between 2BC and 14AD You wouldn't guess from looking at it, but it was almost completely destroyed during a bombing raid in 1944, before being reconstructed piece by piece in 1947. Around the corner from the main square, we found the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, originally built in the fifth century, but enlarged and reconstructed several times since then. Walking a little further through town, we found the Twin Gate, which dates from the second or third century and now forms the entrance to Pula's archaelogical museum. It was far too nice a day to spend in a museum though, so we set off to have a proper look at Pula's main attraction: the Roman amphitheatre. It's hard to convey in photos just how large this amphitheatre is, although we definitely struggled to fit all of it into one photo. Originally used for gladitorial combats, after the fall of the Roman empire it began to fall into disrepair and at one point the Venetians proposed dismantling it and reassmebling it in Venice! Happily that didn't happen, and restoration began during Napoleon's brief conquest of the region. These days it is commonly used for concerts and theatrical performances. Behind the Arena we caught sight of the tower of another church. This was the church of St Anthony, which looks deceptively old. Work only actually started on building it in 1931 to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of St Anthony. We had a little stroll beside the sea and then headed back to our apartment to cool off for a while. After a delicious lunch in a restaurant a few feet away from the apartment we decided to walk to Verudela, a peninsula just to the south of Pula. We walked through the outskirts of the town for a while, eventually entering some shady pine forests and getting a glimpse of the sea. There seems to be a large tourist complex of hotels and apartments in Verudela, but we skirted that, passed a few signs advising us to be careful of falling from a height, and found the cliffs Some of us took the warnings not to go near the edge more seriously than others There were some wonderful views out to sea and of the nearby Stoja peninsula. Pula is beautiful and we've had a great first day of the holiday. Tomorrow we're hoping to head up the coast a bit and visit the town of Rovinj.
  25. It barely felt like five minutes since we had got back from Prague, but yesterday it was time to start packing to go away again; this time for our second two-week trip of the year to Croatia and Slovenia. Although we have been to Croatia many times before, our plan this time was to visit the region of Istria, which has been a notable omission in our travels so far, mainly because it's a popular tourist destination and the flights are correspondingly expensive. Somehow we got lucky this year though and managed to find some reasonably-priced flights from Stansted to Pula We were flying at 06.55, so it was another early start for us. Stansted seemed a bit calmer on a Sunday morning than a Saturday morning and the Ryanair check-in was surprisingly civilised. We had a pleasant flight and landed in a sunny Pula shortly after 10am. Pula Aiport is only a few kilometres outside the main city of Pula and we had pre-booked tickets on an airport shuttle bus which was leaving at 10.40. I expected the journey to take about 10 minutes, but impressively the driver managed to make it last 55 minutes, driving first to the nearby town of Medulin to drop two passengers off at a hotel there, then embarking on a convoluted route around the outskirts of Pula to drop two more passengers off at a hotel there. It wasn't a problem for us, because we weren't able to check into our apartment until 2pm anyway, but it's good to know for future reference in case we come again and need to make a connecting bus! We strolled from the main bus station into the centre of Pula and got our first tantalising glimpse of the Pula Arena, the city's enormous Roman amphitheatre. A little further and we were in the centre of town. We stopped to get some lunch with a view of the Arch of Sergii, an ancient Roman triumphal arch thought to have been constructed in 29 BC. We'd struggled a bit to find a restaurant, walking past lots of places with outdoor tables which looked promising from a distance, but then upon closer inspection turned out to be serving only icecream and coffee, so we were relieved to find this place and sat down without paying much attention to the menu. It was therefore with consternation that I eventually opened it and saw, among the multiple pages of drinks, only two pages of food headed "Riba" (Fish) and "Salata" (Salad). Oh dear! Right at this point the waiter came over and asked whether we wanted to order anything. In desperation I asked him if that was everything that was on the menu and he burst out laughing, saying "Isn't that enough?!". Once he had finished having hysterics it transpired that the two pages of our menu featuring meat and pasta had become stuck together so I had missed them. Oops! After lunch we took a slow walk towards our accommodation, which was just around the corner. We had arranged to meet the lady who owned the apartment at 2pm, but when we arrived at approximately that time she wasn't there. The entrance to the apartments was in an alley way with a small souvenir shop, and the lady who ran it started trying to help us out. She actually caused more confusion, trying to ring what she thought was the number of the apartment we were going to be staying in and establishing that there was another guest in it. It was starting to feel vaguely reminiscent of the problems we had checking into our apartment in Belgrade last year, but fortunately the panic only lasted a couple of minutes before the lady we were waiting for turned up. She had just been slightly delayed, and we were staying in a different apartment which was happily vacant Check-in went smoothly after that and the apartment was nice and roomy, with excellent air-conditioning We were pretty tired by this point so had a bit of a rest and then set off for a preliminary stroll around Pula. First impressions are that there are some really beautiful buildings here. Eventually we found the sea! Most of our holidays this year have been quite land-locked, so this seemed especially exciting today We're looking forward to exploring Pula in more detail tomorrow