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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 final day of our holiday involved travelling from Dubrovnik to Split by bus. Our flight back home was at 1pm on Saturday from Split Airport and, because the travel time between Split and Dubrovnik is about 4.5 hours on the bus, we would have struggled to get to the airport the required two hours before our flight if we had stayed an extra night in Dubrovnik. We were sad to leave though, particularly because as soon as we woke up we noticed that it was the first time all week that there wasn't an enormous cruise ship sitting in the port. The journey back to Split was spectacular though, with the main road following the coast for almost the entire route. There was a great view out across the Adriatic and the experience was enlivened by the New Zealand couple sitting behind us, who were engaged in a constant dispute about which islands we were able to see. The husband was particularly excited when he got a glimpse of the island of "Mill-jet", more commonly known as Mljet (pronounced "mlyet" - all one syllable)! We arrived in Split aroun 3.30 and our first task was to locate the apartment where we would be staying for the night. This turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated when I booked an apartment a mere 900m from the main bus station. Using a Google map, we navigated to number 23 on a particular street without much difficulty; this was the location at which Google had marked the apartment but, when we arrived there, there were no signs on the door indicating that this was the correct place. A panicked consultation of the booking confirmation revealed that the apartment was actually located at number 7 on the same road... but when we wheeled our suitcases back down a very steep hill to number 7, it transpired that this was actually the address of a travel agent through which (unbeknown to us!) we were renting the apartment. We had to wait there for a few minutes while they called the actual owner of the apartment and she came to fetch us. Fortunately, the apartment was only a five minute walk away and when we eventually got there it was very clean and pleasant, but checking in did feel like it had been an unnecessary rigmarole. With a few hours of daylight left, we headed out almost straight away to explore Split. Split definitely hadn't been our favourite place in Croatia when we stayed there for a few nights last summer, but some parts of the old town, which is built within the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian's Palace, are extremely pretty. After wandering round the city centre for a bit, we headed out of town along the promenade, or Riva, which runs along the entire length of the sea front. There was a new section of promenade that had been under construction when we were here last year and when we reached the end of it and turned around we had a fantastic view back towards Split. There was just time for a final stroll under the palm trees before darkness fell and it was time to head inside for food. We went to an Italian restaurant which we remembered eating at last year, only to end up with a large jug of the only horrible wine we had encounted during any of our three holidays this year! We can't complain though - we have really had a wonderful couple of weeks in Croatia and Montenegro
  11. While we were walking the walls in Dubrovnik yesterday, we had a great view of the island of Lokrum. We noticed it when we were in Dubrovnik last year, but didn't realise that it was possible to visit it. Since then I'd found out that the island, which used to belong to the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, is supposed to be a good place to visit if you're looking to avoid the hordes of tourists elsewhere in Dubrovnik. That was exactly what we were hoping to do on our last day in the town, so we decided to give it a try. Ferries to Lokrum run from the harbour in the old town every half an hour during the daytime in summer. We paid 60 kuna each (about £6.60) each for the return journey, which wasn't too bad and included some sort of entrance fee for exploring the island. The boat journey seemed like it was going to be nice and peaceful, until a couple of minutes before departure when a large group of extremely noisy Polish tourists came on board. By the time we pulled away, it was so busy that I was starting to worry that Lokrum wouldn't be any quieter than the old town. From afar the island looks quite small, as if it wouldn't be able to absorb many visitors at all. Somehow, however, once we arrived the majority of the other passengers on the boat seemed to vanish and we didn't see them again for the duration of the trip We started to explore. The first thing we noticed is that the island has a large population of peacocks, who don't seem to have any fear of humans and in fact seemed to be terrorising some of the diners at neighbouring tables when we were eating lunch. We spotted this family of peacocks with two babies wandering around the ruins of an old monastery. The Benedictine monastery was founded in the eleventh century. Parts of it were badly damaged during a serious earthquake in 1667 and it was later deserted by the monks. We spent some time exploring the ruins and the exotic gardens laid out by Maximilian. Our boat had docked on the far side of the island, so we had an excellent view out to sea but were unable to see Dubrovnik. We set of on a quest around the island in the hope of getting to the other side and finding a view back towards the old town. En route we found a salty lake, known as the dead sea, which some people seemed to be swimming in. It looked rather rocky to us! The island was very rocky in general and some of the paths were quite hard going. We climbed steeply upwards for some time and just when I was starting to give up hope, the path opened out and we got the view I'd been hoping for We managed to walk around almost the entire perimeter of the island, before heading back to the monastery where there is an outdoor restaurant to get some lunch. I tried ćevapčići, a Balkan dish consisting of pieces of grilled minced meat. The overall effect is a bit like eating sausages and they were really nice. The meal was made slightly stressful, however, by the high number of wasps and the aggressive stance of some of the peacocks, who were clearly expecting to be fed. By the time we'd finished eating the day was starting to turn cloudy, so it was time to head back to Dubrovnik on the boat. The sea was starting to get a bit choppy and there were a couple of enormous waves that made our stomachs churn as if we were on a rollercoaster. I'm glad I won't be sleeping on a cruise ship tonight
  12. We woke up on Tuesday morning in Dubrovnik to two unpleasant surprises: firstly, that it was pouring with rain and secondly that one of the cruise ships which had been in Kotor the previous day had followed us here. Postponing a visit to the town walls until Wednesday in the hope of better weather, we instead enjoyed a relaxing day exploring the Lapad suburb where our apartment was situated. While buying stamps to send our postcards in the local post office, we chanced across a display of extremely cheap books in Croatian and ended up with four for about £10, which ought to keep me going for several months with my current reading speed probably being that of a six-year-old. Fortunately there was a dramatic improvement in the weather on Wednesday, with brilliant sunshine and temperatures soaring back up to 34 degrees. We wanted to make the earliest possible start into the old town to enjoy the atmosphere before the narrow streets became swamped by cruise ship passengers. Although we got up promptly at 7am, we ended up setting off somewhat later than we had hoped because it turned out that the supermarket where we needed to buy bread for breakfast wasn't open until 8am. I figured we had until about 10am before the centre of town became unbearably crowded, which turned out to be a fairly accurate prediction. The sun was already starting to beat down as we made our way into the city. It was about 3km from our apartment to the old town and while most of that seemed to be uphill, towards the end we were rewarded with this magnificent view of the sea. The streets of the old town were still relatively deserted as we strolled around, with shopkeepers and waiters setting up for the day ahead. It was great to be able to appreciate some of the beautiful buildings without being trampled out of the way by herds of tourists on guided tours. We made it all the way to the old town harbour without encountering more than a handful of people. The view out to sea was fantastic, though at times we were in danger of being splashed as occasional waves leapt over the harbour walls. From there it was a race against time to get back across town to the entrance to the city walls before the cruise ship passengers struck. We made it - just! The many coaches which transport passengers from the main ferry port to the old town were starting to deposit their loads outside the main gate, but the tour guides were still busy trying to marshall people into the correct excursion groups. The walls were still reasonably busy, but nowhere near as bad as I'm sure they became later in the day. It's impossible to describe the amazing views as you walk the walls, so we have put together a slideshow instead. It takes about an hour to walk the walls and by the time we were getting towards the end of our journey, it was becoming increasingly busy. We skipped climbing to the top of the final fortress tower because we couldn't bear the thought of pushing up a narrow spiral staircase in a queue of people. When we emerged back down into Dubrovnik once more it was madness; completely overrun by thousands and thousands of cruise passengers. We left them to it, confident that we'd had far more fun exploring on our own this morning than they would following their leaders' parasols
  13. Our day at the Plitvice lakes was amazing and exhausting in equal quantities. The scenery was so fantastic that it was tempting just to keep walking and walking in order to see as much as possible, and by the end of the day we had walked 15 miles and climbed the equivalent of 120 staircases. We were both extremely tired, and Tim had developed a sore foot after being unfortunate enough to tread on a sea urchin while at Kornati on Monday, so we decided to spend a less strenuous day in Zadar on Wednesday. After a leisurely breakfast on our balcony, we went for a walk along the coast and into the town. Our ultimate destination was the bus station, where I wanted to make an advance purchase of our bus tickets for the following day when we would be travelling to Dubrovnik. There are only a handful of buses which run directly from Zadar to Dubrovnik (without having to change in Split) and I was keen to make sure we had a place on the 10am one. Booking a day in advance paid off, as we were allocated seats 3 and 4 at the front of the bus and so had a fantastic view of the coast for almost the whole 8.5 hours of the journey. We spent the rest of Wednesday relaxing, before heading out for a final walk around the old town in the evening. We stopped on the way to feed some ducks in a local park, before being rowed across the sea to the old town by one of the Boatmen of Zadar. Our last night in Zadar turned out to be our first meal out of the holiday (not counting a burger in Split bus station!) and we enjoyed pizza in the centre of the old town as we watched the sun set on Zadar. Almost the whole of Thursday was spent travelling. We got on the bus in Zadar at 10am and finally left it in Dubrovnik at 18.30. It was nowhere near as painful as spending 8.5 hours on a bus sounds like it ought to be though. The bus itself was nicely air-conditioned and, as mentioned, we had ended up with the best seats. The view was superb as we travelled down the coast, with mountains on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other. We passed so many pretty towns and villages on our way that we began to contemplate hiring a car during our next holiday so that we would be able to visit some of them. We passed through the little strip of Bosnia's coast too, showing passports to a very bored-looking policeman, and arrived in Dubrovnik a few minutes ahead of schedule. We weren't actually planning to stay for more than a night in Dubrovnik on this occasion, the apartments where we stayed last year being full until Monday, and so were heading to Kotor in Montenegro for a long weekend. There is a daily bus between Dubrovnik and Kotor, but the Internet suggested that catching it could be fraught with problems. The infrequency of the timetable might mean all the seats were already sold out, for a start. Some online comments suggested that it could turn up an hour late, others that it might not turn up at all, and none implied that travelling on it would be a particularly restful experience. The first thing we did upon getting off the bus in Dubrovnik then was to attempt to purchase tickets, a process which went far more smoothly than expected. We ended up with seats 31 and 32 this time, so people evidently had been booking in advance. Panic over (at least for now!) we located the apartment where we were stopping for the night, a mere few hundred yards from the bus station. Another pizza plus an early night and we were ready to start our Montenegrin adventure! The bus to Kotor was due at 10am. We were pleasantly surprised, upon arriving at the bus station at 09.35, to find that it was there before us and there had been no need to worry at all. The only remaining mystery was how long the journey was going to take, as online reports had suggested that it depended greatly on how big the queue at the border was. The journey from Zadar to Dubrovnik had been beautiful, but the journey from Dubrovnik to Kotor was extraordinary. As we pulled away from Dubrovnik there was a fantastic view back towards the old city but this was really just the warm-up for the scenery which awaited us once we had crossed the border and began to make our way around the Bay of Kotor. We were lucky that there wasn't much of a queue when we got to the border, but it still seemed to take an awfully long time. First we stopped on the Croatian side and a policeman boarded the bus, collecting up our passports and taking them away. I hate being separated from my passport and really can't see why it was necessary now that Croatia is in the EU. About 15 minutes later the passports of the entire bus were returned, but seemingly not in the same order in which they had been taken. One particular energetic passenger volunteered to hand them back out and spent several minutes dashing up and down the bus calling out different nationalities. We had all just been happily reunited with our documents... when we arrived at the Montenegrin side of the border and another policeman boarded the bus to take them off us again! The waiting time at the Montenegrin side seemed frustratingly long but, when we eventually got our passports back for the second time, we did find they had been stamped which was a bonus As we drove through the border town of Herceg Novi and towards Kotor, the mountains became steeper and more foreboding and the road was squeezed into an increasingly small strip of land between the mountains and the sea. I think we had a glimpse of Kotor from quite a long way away, but the journey to it took some time as we wove in and out of the intricate inlets of the bay. It looked very much like I imagine a fjord looks, although the Montenegro guidebook informs me that it isn't a fjord but a ria. We arrived in Kotor at 1pm and weren't able to check into our apartment until 2, so ordered a coffee in the bus station cafe to kill some time. Oh dear. I think that was my first experience of drinking Turkish Coffee, and not one I will be keen to repeat. I nearly had a fit when I got an unexpected mouthful of granules towards the end of the cup! When we did check into the apartment, we found it was a little small but amazing value for £32/night given that it includes a terrace with a view like this
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