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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. We didn't have any firm plans for our final day in Montenegro, so breakfast involved a bit of discussion about where we should go. Dad was interested in seeing the Roman mosaics at a place called Risan, but the guidebook didn't make it sound like there would be much else to do there. We contemplated the idea of going to Budva, but it felt like it might be a bit of a comedown after visiting Perast the day before. In the end we settled on Herceg Novi, a town on the northern Montenegrin coast that we had passed through on the way from Dubrovnik on Monday. As the decision was quite last minute, we hadn't planned the practicalities very well, so we arrived at the bus station just after a bus to Herceg Novi had departed at 10.28. That meant we had a rather long wait until the next bus departed at 11.18. The tickets to Herceg Novi were good value though, costing just €4 each, and it didn't look like there were too many people waiting for the same bus... That turned out to be a false impression, of course, because as soon as the bus in question pulled into the bus station, a horde of people seemed to appear from nowhere to elbow their way onto it. Despite having been waiting for so long, we were some of the last people to manage to get on, but luckily did manage to get some seats towards the back of the bus. It was a little disappointing that it wasn't a particularly clean bus though, so we were hardly able to see out of the windows as we wound our way around the Bay of Kotor and towards Herceg Novi. I thought the journey was supposed to be about 45 minutes, but with a slight delay at the start and a few traffic jams leaving Kotor, it was over an hour before we finally arrived at our destination. Herceg Novi is a town built on the side of a hill, with the bus station being at the top, the old town in the middle, and the sea at the bottom. Our first challenge was to follow a series of winding and sloping roads, interspersed with staircases, in what I hoped was the direction of the town. Eventually we found a square which looked promising. We climbed up the steps and walked under the tower. Although the clock looks quite new, the clocktower itself is presumably quite old. There is an inscription one side of the tower in Arabic script, dating from the time when the town was ruled by the Ottomans. Just after we walked through the clock tower, we were waylaid by a man who wanted to show us his bookshop, which at 3.8 square metres is apparently the smallest one in the world. It can sometimes get a bit tiring in Montenegro with people trying to waylay you and sell you things, but in this instance it was actually quite a welcome intrusion. Herceg Novi is a town where the Cyrillic script is quite prominent, and as soon as I went into the bookshop I saw that they had a number of books in Cyrillic. I asked the man to recommend me something, perhaps for children, and came away with two books of Serbian fairytales which are going to be great Cyrillic reading practice. I also got a book about the history of Herceg Novi in Serbian, which looks like it's going to be an interesting read. As far as I was concerned, this already meant that the hour bus journey to Herceg Novi had been worthwhile We continued our walk downwards towards to the sea, passing the town's large Serbian Orthodox church. It looks really pretty, surrounded by palm trees, and it was really beautiful when we went inside it for a quite look as well. From the church square, more steps led downwards... ...and we soon had a beautiful view of the sea. We climbed down even further, past one of the town's large fortresses... ...and finally we arrived at the bottom, next to the large statue of the Bosnian king Tvrtko, who founded the town in 1382. One of the nice things about Herceg Novi is that there is a long promenade along by the sea, which makes strolling along quite relaxing. We walked along it for a while, and were amazed by all the different cacti growing along the edge. Some looked like they were about to flower... ...and in the end we found one that was already in bloom We walked for 20 minutes or so, enjoying the beautiful views out across the water. It was 2pm by this stage though, so we decided we'd better turn around and go back to the town to find something to eat. We found a lovely little restaurant with an outside garden area, completely shaded by three large trees. They had a huge grill where they were cooking meat, and grilled meat did indeed seem to be one of the staple items on the menu. Mom and Dad went for stuffed chicken and I went for a punjena pljeskavica, which you could translate as a stuffed hamburger, but I don't think that would do it justice All our meals were enormous, and very meaty. While I was eating I even had a view of the fortress through the trees. All too soon it was time to start to climb back up the steps towards the bus station. With views like this, the uphill was almost enjoyable though We must have taken a slightly different staircase on the way back up, because we soon came across some sights which we hadn't seen before. The first was this very small church... ...and the second was this display of enormous old anchors. From there we continued to walk upwards, through some of the narrow streets of the old town... ...and soon we could look back down towards the churches that we'd seen. We also found this funny little statue of a man, although I wasn't able to work out from the Cyrillic inscription who he was or what the statue was supposed to represent. Our bus back to Kotor was due at 16.25. We were at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. When I went to the cash desk to try to buy tickets fro the bus, however, they told me that I needed to buy them on the bus itself, and pointed out to me something which only looked slightly larger than a minibus. This made us a bit anxious to make sure we got on it and we got a seat, as there wasn't another bus to Kotor until after 6pm, so we had a rather long wait hovering outside the bus. Once we got on, the bus was actually quite good though; there was plenty of leg-room and the windows were a lot cleaner than this morning's bus, so we were able to enjoy views of Perast from multiple directions as we wound our way back around the bay. The only slight inconveniences were that the air-conditioning was leaking quite badly (although luckily not onto us!) and at one point we took a corner so violently that one of the curtains was detached from its hooks and landed on Dad's head. Apart from that, the journey was uneventful and we were back in Kotor in around an hour. We spent some time sitting on our balcony, enjoying the wonderful views of the bay as the sun set. Tomorrow morning we are heading back to Dubrovnik, prior to having to go home on Saturday, so we took the opportunity to go for a final walk around the old town of Kotor in the dark. The town itself looked really pretty at this time of day... ...but we were slightly concerned by this scary looking man, who has suddenly appeared on one of the town walls. I am glad I took a picture of the reflections here yesterday, to prove that I'm not going mad and this thing definitely wasn't here 24 hours ago!
  3. When we woke up this morning and went out onto the balcony, we were thrilled to see that there were no cruise ships blocking our view of the bay Consulting the internet showed that there was one boat due into Kotor that morning, but it turned out to be so small that we couldn't see it from our apartment. As we walked into town after breakfast we did find that there were some tour groups being offloaded from coaches, but overall the town was significantly quieter than yesterday, and we were able to enjoy an early morning wander around the almost deserted streets of the old town. There were hardly any people at all in the main square, which was wonderful. While we had been eating dinner the previous evening, we had noticed some people walking along what looked like part of the walls in front of the town. It wasn't immediately obvious how they were getting up there and there certainly weren't any signs, but then I had a flash of inspiration and remembered some steps which lead up to the terrace of a cafe, from the far corner of the main square. We followed them upwards, and sure enough we found our way onto a narrow little path along the top of the walls. As we walked along we had views of the harbour on one side... ...and views back into the old town on the other. When we looked upwards, we also had views up towards the fortress and to the church where we had climbed yesterday. The path wasn't very well maintained so you did have to be slightly careful not to trip over anything, but the views were definitely worth going up for. Eventually the wall came to a dead end, near to the Gurdić gate and it was time to turn back around. We walked back to where we had started and climbed back down to the town near to the Serbian church. Once back in the town we went to the post office to get a stamp for a postcard, stopped off at a cafe in the main square for a coffee, and then walked out of the main gate towards the waterfront. We had bought tickets for a boat tour to Perast, which was due to leave at midday. It cost €15, which included the return boat trip from Kotor to Perast plus a trip to the island Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks). We were at the boat on plenty of time and able to get a good seat. As the boat pulled out of the harbour in Kotor, we had some lovely views back towards the town. There was some commentary on the boat which gave us some interesting background about the bay of Kotor including the fact that, although in places it looks like a Norwegian fjord, in the strict technical sense it isn't a fjord because the bay here was created by movements in tectonic plates, whereas fjords are created by glaciers. After about half an hour on the boat, the small town of Perast began to come into sight on the horizon. The tall church tower in the centre of the town looked very familiar from my previous visit here last summer. Our boat deposited us on the island Gospa od Škrpjela, which is the only artificial island in the Adriatic. We had half an hour to spend there, and I was determined that this time I wanted to get inside the beautiful church of Our Lady of the Rocks. Last time I had been here there had been too many group tours, and so although I had visited the island, I had only been able to see the church from the outside. This time Perast was noticeably less busy, probably due to the lack of cruise ships moored in Kotor, and so I was in luck. We paid 1 euro to enter the church and were initially slightly disconcerted when walking inside to find it occupied by a large Slavic tour group. But they quickly moved on, and the guy who had been selling the tickets invited us to sit down while he gave us some facts about the church in English. He repeated the story which I had partially understood from my landlady in Kotor last year; that the church had been built on this location because at some point in the fifteenth century, some sailors had found a painting of Our Lady on a rock in this bit of the sea. They took it back to Perast with the intention of keeping it in the church there, but the next day it reappeared on the same rock out at sea. This kept happening, until they realised that it was a sign that they needed to build a church on this rock to house the picture. And so they set about bringing rocks out to sea to build an island, which was pretty slow work until someone hit upon the idea of strengthening the base of the island with old fishing boats. Eventually they had an island which was big enough to build a church on The other interesting story linked to the church is about a woman who embroidered a beautiful picture, partially using her own hair as the thread, while waiting for her husband to return from the sea. The embroidery is kept in a museum upstairs in the church and once the tour group ahead of us had dispersed, we were able to get a good look at it. It isn't possible to make it out in the photos, but the hair of the angels around the edges is brown in some places and grey in others, reflecting the age of the lady when she sewed it. Visiting the church and hearing all these stories was great, but the only problem was that we had nearly used up our allotted half hour on the island. We rushed out of the church and back towards our boat, which was getting ready to depart. As the boat sailed across from the island to the town of Perast, we had another lovely view of the island. Once we got to Perast we had a choice of either spending half an hour there, and returning on a boat at 14.10, or staying for two hours and returning on a boat at 16.10. We started having a walk around, and thought it was so pretty that we would stay for the two hours and have lunch there. Our boat had arrived opposite Perast's main square, which is dominated by the large church of St Nicholas. The church has an enormously high tower, which we didn't feel energetic enough to climb. As we strolled along the sea front we had a view not just of the island which we had visited, but also of the island of St George, which is home to a monastery. We walked as far as we could in one direction along the coast, until we got to the end of the village. Then we turned around to stroll back again, continuing to admire the views both out across the bay... ...and of the town of Perast itself. Perast really is a beautiful place After a while we found what looked like a good restaurant and sat at a table near the sea to have lunch. It turned out to be the best food we had had all holiday; everyone's meal was amazing, and the view was pretty stunning too. After lunch we wanted to explore the part of the town away from the sea front. We climbed up a number of staircases in the hillside and eventually found ourselves at the main road above the town, from where we had a good view back down towards it. From there we were able to walk down a slightly easier path back towards the coast. There was about half an hour left until our boat was due to depart, so we just had time for a quick stroll along the sea in the opposite direction... ...before we needed to walk back towards the harbour. The boat back was quite a bit busier than the boat we had taken out. We managed to sit on the opposite side to where we had been before though, so we had an interesting view of some of the other little settlements on the opposite side of the bay. Once back in Kotor, we retired to the apartment for a while to drink coffee and eat some Serbian chocolate (the latter does not come highly recommended!). In the evening we set out again, climbing down the steps alongside our apartment to the promenade, and having dinner outside at a restaurant beside the sea. When we arrived it was still daylight, but as we sat there twilight began to fall and the mountains were soon just dark outlines above the bay. By the time we had finished eating, the bay was in complete darkness. The way the lights reflected in the sea was amazing. We wandered back into the town to see the fortess lit up at night again as well. For me the most impressive view tonight was actually the reflection of the walls in the clear water of the sea. It's been another fantastic day in Montenegro
  4. Our plan for today was to explore Kotor, so we were able to have a bit of a lie-in until 07.30, before heading down the steps towards the sea to buy bread. Having breakfast on our balcony with a view across the Bay of Kotor was beautiful, although we were slightly disappointed to find that there was not just one cruise ship but two cruise ships in the town this morning! Kotor is only a small place and it was clear that each cruise ship held several thousand passengers, so it had the potential to get very busy in the old town indeed. For that reason, when we walked into town after breakfast we decided to skip the main gate and walk along the outside of the town walls to the Gurdić gate at the south of the end of the town. I figured there would be fewer people going in this way, and happily I was right As we walked through the gate, we realised there was a place where we could climb up onto the walls... ...and have a better view out across the bay. We walked through some of the narrow streets of the old town... ...and saw the first of many churches which we were going to encounter in Kotor that day. We also came across sign saying "Ulaz u tvrđavu", pointing towards the entrance to Kotor's fortress. I know from past visits to Kotor that the climb to the top of this fortress is a very tiring experience, especially on a hot sunny day, so we hadn't been planning to do it. When we were standing there we started to feel tempted though... and the entrance fee was only €3... so in the end we decided to pay it and just go part of the way up. We bought our tickets and began the climb. The list of rules was slightly concerning, especially the part about encountering reptiles! This was a different entrance to the fortress to the one which I have used when I've climbed it on previous occasions, and the path started off quite gently. We didn't have to climb far before we already had a great view of the harbour... ...as well as a great view of one of the huge cruise ships, of course! Rather than just being relentless stone steps, this route took us along the mountainside via a more conventional path for a while. We had a great view of the mountains. For a while we walked alongside a high wall, where we could peer through narrow windows to the town below. In this picture you can just make out Kotor's huge Serbian Orthodox church. Eventually we came to a flattish viewpoint area, where the path we had been walking on joined with the steeper path I've taken before. Only one path led upwards from here, and so it was time for us to tackle the rocky steps which I remember so well from previous visits. Climbing up them was hard work, but with every corner that we turned we could see further and further out into the bay. In addition to trying to avoid dying from exhaustion/sunstroke/an encounter with a reptile, one of the major challenges today was that the path was incredibly busy! One of the cruise ships, which seemed to be Norwegian, was evidently having a shore excursion for some passengers to go to the top of the fortress. They must have started out quite early, because as we were trying to come up the steps they were streaming down in groups. Because the steps are so narrow, and in places the stony path alongside them is too steep to step across onto, we kept having to wait until there was a break in the crowd to be able to get onto steps at all. This did give us a good opportunity to catch our breath though. After a while we began to have a fantastic view down onto the red roofs of Kotor's old town. We were all getting pretty tired by this point, but decided to keep going until we reached the church, which is perhaps just under halfway up. This is the Crkva Gospe od Zdravlja... ...and this is the amazing view it has. We were thrilled to have got this far up, and once we'd taken some pictures of the view, took advantage of the cool shade inside the church to recover for a bit, before deciding that this was definitely as high as we were going to go today and beginning our descent. As we set off back down the steps, we kept peering up the mountainside behind us to see how far from the church we had come. The further down we progressed, the clearer it became how the church really is just perched on the edge of the rocks, and also the more justified we felt in feeling tired after climbing up to it. Eventually we were down! We started to wander around the streets of Kotor, looking for a likely place to have lunch. Eventually we found an restaurant which looked promising in the square outside the cathedral of St Tryphon. It was a beautiful location in which to have lunch, but the most memorable part of the whole experience was probably an English man sitting a few tables away, who announced to a rather confused Montenegrin waiter than he wanted a shandy. The poor waiter clearly had no idea what a shandy might be, so the man started explaining to him that it was beer with lemonade. The waiter became increasingly bemused: "You want me to put lemon juice in your beer?". Having disappeared into the restaurant, he emerged a few minutes later with two beers and a shot of lemon juice The man then started trying to explain to him that it needed to be a fizzy sort of lemonade. "Fanta??!" In the end they seemed to reach a compromise whereby the waiter bought him a bottle of Sprite, which he proceeded to try and pour into his beer. Once lunch was over, we set off to explore some of the churches within the walled town. The cathedral of St Tryphon is actually more impressive inside than out; you have to pay €2.50 for a ticket to get in, then enter some sort of museum which might be very interesting if you had any idea what the various exhibits actually were, but unfortunately rather than having descriptions next to each object, they had instead just given them a number. The numbers presumably corresponded to explanations in a guidebook which they were selling, but we didn't feel like forking out additional money for that. The church with the most spectacular interior was definitely the Serbian Orthodox church of St Nicholas, which had all kinds of exotic decorations inside. We also visited the tiny Montnegrin Orthodox church of St Peter of Cetinje. I never worked out what this church was called, but I loved the shape of its roof... ...and the fact that, if you look carefully, you can see the fortress church on the hillside in the gap between its two towers. There was one more gate out of the town left for us to explore. There was a good view up to the fortress from just outside this gate. Just looking at it was making us feel tired at this point, so we decided to head back to the apartment to cool down and have a bit of a rest. Once we had recovered from our exertions a bit, we decided to go out for an afternoon stroll down to the beach below our accommodation to dip our toes in the Adriatic. This sounded like a fun idea, but you have to remember that there is no such thing as sandy beach in this part of the world; beaches are either rocky or pebbly. This was a pebble beach and I naively assumed that the pebbles must not actually be that uncomfortable under foot... but I was wrong! We walked to the edge of the sea and took off our shoes, instantly confirming that the pebbles are actually very, very sharp! I decided to try and paddle anyway but was quite taken aback when, upon stepping into the sea, my foot began sinking into a very unstable mass of pebbles. I had imagined that they would be quite solid underfoot, but that definitely wasn't the case. I think Dad enjoyed himself anyway though We decided that beaches aren't really for us, and went for a less pain-inducing walk along the promenade instead. Both cruise ships had left now, and so the views were wonderful. In the evening we walked into the old town, where we had a lovely pizza sitting outside in the main square. Darkness had fallen by the time we had finished, and so walking back we were able to enjoy the beautiful sight of the fortress all illuminated for the night. It was a perfect end to the day
  5. 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
  6. It was a beautifully sunny morning in Kotor today when we got up and had a final breakfast of burek on the terrace. Our friendly landlady arrived at 9am for a final chat and some advice on English grammar, and then we were off on our way to the bus station. There are only two buses a day between Kotor and Žabljak, a town high up in the Durmitor National Park. We had tickets for the 09.40 bus, which I had bought online before we came. There was a large sign in English in Kotor's bus station though, announcing that anyone who had bought a ticket online had to pay a surcharge of €1 for the bus station to check the ticket, otherwise it wasn't valid for travel. This seemed a bit unfair, but I assumed was because the bus station doesn't want to lose out on loads of revenue if people start buying tickets online. We got to the station on plenty of time to go to the counter and sort this out, but when I asked the lady about it she said no, we didn't need to pay. Whether this was because I'd asked her in Croatian and this is only a tax on English-speaking people I'm not sure In what must be a first for this holiday, the bus arrived on time. We had been allocated seats 17 and 18 and it was a 30-seater bus which was a good start, although the beginning of the route was in Budva so there were already two people sitting in our seats when we got on. It didn't seem worth having a dispute about though, as the bus wasn't completely full. We sat in seats 15 and 16 in the end and no one raised any objections. It's a four-hour journey from Kotor to Žabljak, so I was relieved to see that although the bus looked quite battered from the outside, it was reasonably comfortable on the inside. None of the seats were broken at least (an improvement on the bus to Herceg Novi!) and there was air-conditiong of a sort. The first part of the journey took us along the Bay of Kotor following the same coastal road as yesterday. Before we got as far as Herceg Novi, the bus took a sharp turn upwards into the mountains and we had some truly spectacular views back out across the sea as we climbed higher and higher. We were able to see all the way back to Perast and make out the two islands in the middle of the bay, before we finally entered a tunnel and passed through to the other side of the mountains. The views were so impressive that I was too busy admiring them to remember to take any photos! But as you can probably imagine from the photos we've taken of the scenery around Kotor over the past few days, the mountains were incredibly steep and rocky. At times it seemed touch and go as to whether the rather antiquated bus was going to make it to the top of the pass; we passed some road signs announcing that the speed limit was 80km/h, but we certainly weren't in any danger of reaching that! We got there in the end though, and from then on the road became a little more level, though the countryside we were passing through was still dramatic. About two hours into the journey, the bus descended towards the town of Nikšič, Montenegro's second city. Calling it Montenegro's second city makes it sound quite impressive, but actually with only around 50,000 inhabitants it is smaller than Nuneaton. There was a 10-minute pause there anyway before we were off on our way again, climbing back into the mountains towards Žabljak. We were due to arrive in Žabljak at 13.30 and the bus actually surpassed itself, arriving nearly 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We were lucky that this was the terminus of the bus and that everyone was getting off here, because there was actually nothing to indicate that this was Žabljak. Normally when I arrive in a place I expect to see some sort of sign confirming the name of a town. Or when I get off a bus I expect to see some sort of structure approximating a bus station. In Žabljak there appeared to be nothing; the driver just pulled up in what appeared to be a car park and indicated that everyone should get off. At least we had a map of Žabljak with the bus station and our apartment marked on. Check-in was possible from noon, so we were planning to head straight there. The map we had printed made it all look quite straightforward, and in particular all the key roads were nicely marked with names. Road names are normally a very useful feature in navigating, but unfortunately in this instance they were rendered completely useless by the fact that there are absolutely no signs with street names on in the whole of Žabljak at all. Oh dear. The other tool which is normally quite useful in locating a specific house property is its number. Unfortunately we were out of luck here too, because the place we were looking for was labelled as "bb" which stands for "bez broja" (without a number). How the post office ever manages to deliver anything to anybody I'm not sure! In the absence of other options, we started walking down what we hoped was the main street in the overall general direction of the apartment. Within a few minutes we thought we'd struck lucky, catching sight of a sign indicating the apartment name and pointing up a side street. When we went up the side street, however, we couldn't see anything that looked remotely like the place we were looking for, and there were no more signs of any description. We decided to adopt the tactic of walking up all the surrounding streets, on the lookout for a building that resembled the photo on booking.com, but the turns we tried either appeared to become dead ends or quickly degenerate into gravel tracks. In the end we were saved by a man standing outside the town's backpacker hostel, who could see us confusedly consulting a map and offered assistance. It turned out the apartment was indeed just around the corner, up a bumpy gravel track which was clearly not designed for pulling suitcases. The building didn't look terribly auspicious from the outside, but I kept reminding myself that this was graded 9.2 on booking.com so it must be okay inside! Tim soon managed to track down the owner, who showed us into a cosy little apartment which seemed almost Swiss with all its wood-panelling. Phew. I wasn't entirely sure whether it was safe to drink the water in Žabljak, so once we had unpacked a little our first aim was to track down a supermarket. The issue of whether you can drink the water in Montenegro is a bit of a confusing one, with the answer tending to be that it's safe to drink, except when it isn't. The Bradt guidebook had said that the water was mainly drinkable, except in the coastal towns during the summer, but then went on to mention something about an unreliable supply of drinking water in Žabljak. We had been erring on the side of caution in Kotor, stocking up with water from the supermarket every time we walked past it. Fortunately bottled water in Montenegro is very cheap, and when we did eventually find the supermarket in Žabljak we were able to buy bottles of 1.5 litres for 45 cents each Finding the supermarket was a slight challenge though. This is the main street in Žabljak and it isn't entirely clear where the centre of town might be. We walked in that direction first, establishing that there was nothing but a petrol station and the bus station/car park. The town centre was the opposite way. As we walked towards the centre, we got temporarily distracted by the fact that what looked like an alien spaceship appeared to have landed in a field behind the town. Upon closer inspection, this turned out to be a Yugoslav memorial to Partisan fighters during the Second World War. The monument was raised up on a bit of a mound, so we got a good view of the mountains behind the town. It looked like a storm would be upon us soon though! Žabljak is at 1,460 metres, so it already felt a lot cooler here than it did in Kotor. We eventually did find the supermarket and bought our water, then started looking for a restaurant for a belated lunch. We found one not far from where we were staying, where the menu seemed to consist entirely of variations on the theme of grilled meat. Tim ordered some promising-sounding sausages, which unfortunately turned out to be Frankfurters, while I had a "punjena pljeskavica", which is like a large flat burger, folded in half and stuffed with cheese and ham. We just about managed to finish our meal and get back to the apartment before the heavens opened and it began to pour torrentially for the rest of the afternoon. Hopefully the weather will improve tomorrow, because it looks like it will be a really pretty place in the sunshine
  7. One of the reasons that Kotor is a good place to base yourself in Montenegro - beyond the fact that it is exceptionally beautiful - is that it's also well-situated for transport links, with regular bus services to lots of places in Montenegro and beyond. We therefore had lots of options for places we could go to on a day trip today, and after weighing it up we decided to visit Herceg Novi, a coastal town near the Croatian border which we had passed through on the way from Dubrovnik on Saturday. First of all though we needed to walk into Kotor and visit the post office. We wanted to buy some stamps for our postcards and Tim also needed to post a parcel of books to a friend who lives in Serbia. After breakfast on the terrace, we left the apartment and set off for the town. Imagine our dismay when we found not just one but two cruise ships sitting out in the bay! There's only space for one to dock at Kotor's harbour, so people were being ferried from the second one in a succession of small boats. This Cunard one was the larger of the two, towering over the walls of the old town. Look at how long it is!! As you can imagine, there was chaos inside the relatively small old town of Kotor with so many people descending. We fought our way through the hordes to the post office and successfully completed our transactions, before setting off for the bus station. It's only a 10 minute walk from the old town to the bus station, but as we walked we could see that we might be in for a rather long wait at the bus station once we arrived. The entire main road along the coast was grid-locked, seemingly mainly because of all the people disembarking from the cruise ships. Everyone who gets off the ships has to cross the main road to get into the old town, and there was a policeman controlling the zebra crossing, alternately letting batches of people and vehicles across. We bought tickets to Herceg Novi (€4 each) for a bus which was due to arrive at 11.18. As suspected, it didn't arrive at anything approximating 11.18; it was closer to midday when the bus finally pulled into the station. We had been allocated seats 20 and 21 so I was eager to see whether the bus actually contained 21 seats (not a given in this part of the world!). Happily it did, although none of them were numbered, so we just sat in a couple which were free The journey was beautiful, travelling around the Bay of Kotor again, past Perast where we had been yesterday and then onwards towards Herceg Novi. The traffic jams in Kotor were still causing chaos though, with the result that a journey which was supposed to take just under an hour ended up taking more like 90 minutes. It was around 13.20 by the time we arrived in Herceg Novi. The history of Herceg Novi seems quite complicated. The town was founded by the Bosnian king Tvrtko in 1382, who called it "Novi" on the basis that it was "new". The "Herceg" part was added later, being a corruption of the German "Herzog", the title of a subsequent rule who expanded the town. Herceg Novi was captured by the Ottomans in 1482 and they ruled it for 200 years, with a break in the middle when it was ruled by the Spanish. After that it followed the rest of the region in being ruled by the Venetians, the Austrians, the French, the Italians and the various incarnations of Yugoslavia. The part with the Spanish completely confused me, but they left behind the Tvrđava Španjola (Spanish Fortress). The fortress is not far from the bus station, in the highest part of the town. It only cost €2 to get in and explore. Nowadays the inside of the fortress is mostly used as a venue for outdoor theatre and cinema. It's in an amazing location, with views of the whole of Herceg Novi and the coast. We could see some buildings in the town which looked worth exploring later, including what looked like it must be the dome of another Orthodox church. We spent a while walking around the fortress. We particularly wanted to make the most of the views of the sea, because tomorrow we will be heading inland for our final destination of Žabljak. Then it was time to head down into the town. The main part of Herceg Novi is quite a long way below the fortress, and we followed a series of streets that were more like staircases than anything else to get down towards the sea. Once in the centre of town, we quickly found the Serbian Orthodox church which we had seen from up high. It looked beautiful, especially flanked by palm trees. We followed some more tiny streets through the old town... ...and found the church of St Jerome, which is the town's Catholic church. From here there was still a bit further down to go... ...until we found a second fortress close to the sea. On the sea front there is also an enormous statue of the town's founder, King Tvrtko. The view from behind him is possibly more impressive with the fortress. One advantage which Herceg Novi has over Perast is that it has a proper promenade path where you can walk beside the sea. We strolled along for a while, before finding a cheap restaurant on the sea front for a (rather late) lunch. As you can see, it was a beautiful location Once we'd finished eating it was time to start the long climb back up towards the bus station for a bus back to Kotor. We arrived at the bus station and I was about to go to the counter to buy a ticket, when we were intercepted by the driver of one of the buses which was sitting waiting outside the station. Happily for us, his bus was going to Kotor and he told us that we could get in and buy a ticket from him instead. Presumably it was some sort of attempt to defraud the bus station (who take a cut of the tickets they sell) but it worked out well because he charged us €3.50, which was less than what we had paid on the way there. With the benefit of hindsight we might rather have paid the extra 50 cents and had a slightly calmer driver. His driving style turned out to be somewhat aggressive, with a particularly memorable incident when he overtook three cars in a row, accompanied by much beeping of his horn! We made it back in one piece though, and were able to enjoy a final sit on the terrace before packing our bags for tomorrow's trip to Žabljak
  8. When I was chatting to the landlady last night she had made some suggestions about places we ought to go in Montenegro. Not all of them sounded like things we would enjoy, but one of her suggestions sounded promising: a trip to Perast. Perast is a small town on the Bay of Kotor, about 15km north of Kotor itself. You can get there as a stop on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour which operates around Kotor for €20 each. Or you can do what our landlady recommended and take the public bus for €1 each. We decided to take the second approach The bus to Perast is supposed to leave from outside the main shopping centre in Kotor at quarter past each hour, so we were there and waiting at 10.15. There's no way we would have known of the existence of the bus if they landlady hadn't told me, because while there is something approximating a bus stop outside the shopping centre, there are no timetables or signs on it about what sort of buses might be departing from there or when. I was glad when a small crowd of other people materialised at the stop, presumably waiting for the same bus, because 10.15 came and went without any sign of a bus, as did 10.20, 10.25 and 10.30. Sometime around 10.35, the bus finally arrived - phew! The driver wasn't very communicative but the fare did indeed seem to be a Euro each, which was good. The only problem now was that the bus was already quite full and so we weren't able to get a seat. We managed to find space to stand and spent the next 20 minutes desperately hanging onto poles as the bus sped around the hairpin bends of the bay at lightning speed. There didn't really seem to be many defined bus stops along the route and so the passengers, many of whom were old ladies, just shouted loudly at the driver when they wanted to get off and he pulled over at the side of the road. Luckily there were quite a few people who wanted to get off in Perast and he stopped in a reasonable location on the edge of the town. Perast is just a small village today but during the days of the Venetian empire it was an important harbour with a fleet of Venetian ships being stationed there. As a result, there is some beautiful architecture in the town, with numerous houses and palaces that were built by the Venetians. It's also in a beautiful natural location. We started to walk along the main street towards the town. The main road is literally right next to the sea, and there are no pavements, so you had to be on your guard as you walked to make sure you weren't mown down by any Montenegrin driving! Soon we had reached Perast's main square. St Nicholas' church is in the middle with its huge bell tower. There were some smaller churches in the town too. The most impressive views though are out to sea. The reason that lots of tourists visit Perast is because of two islands in the bay not far off the coast of the town. The first is Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe (Island of St. George). This island is home to a Benedictine monastery which dates from the twelfth century and is closed to tourists. The second is the island of Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks), which is the only artificial island in the whole of the Adriatic. This second island is open to visits by the public and there are rows of boats on the waterfront of Perast waiting to take tourists across. Our landlady had advised us that the going rate was €5 per person for a return fare and that we shouldn't pay more than that. We strolled along the promenade to the far end of Perast to admire the view. One man approached us, interrupting a conversation we were having, to ask if we wanted a boat trip. We said no to him as he thought he was a bit presumptious, but yes to another man who approached us much more politely a few minutes later. He confirmed that the price for a trip to the island was €5 and soon we were on our way. We soon had some beautiful views of Perast as the boat pulled away from the shore... ..and got closer to the islands. First we got a brilliant view of the monastery on the island of St George... ...and soon we had a brilliant view of Our Lady of the Rocks too. When we arrived on the island, the captain asked how long we wanted to stay and agreed to come and pick us back up in half an hour or so. We thought that ought to be enough time, because the island is really quite small. The main building on the island is the church of Our Lady of the Rocks. The landlady had told me the story of the church last night. As far as I understood it (and this may not be 100% accurate because she speaks Montenegrin quite fast!), some sailors in the fifteenth century had seen an apparition of Our Lady who had asked them to build a church on a small rock in the middle of the Bay of Kotor. The rock wasn't big enough to build a church on, so over the years the locals sailed out into the bay with boats full of rocks to build up a proper island. Eventually a solid artificial island emerged from the sea and a church was built on it. The current church was constructed in 1632. There is a festival in Perast every summer where locals still row out with boats full of stones to help support the island. The church is supposed to be really interesting inside as well. Our landlady was telling me that there is a famous embroidered icon in there which was made by a local lady, waiting for her sailor husband to return from a long voyage. She sewed some of the tapestry with her own hair, which is what makes it particularly famous. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see it because we weren't able to get inside the church! Unbeknown to us, this is a "shore excursion" for some of the cruise ships which dock in Kotor and there were several large boats which arrived at the same time as us, disgorging large groups of passengers on tours who were queuing to get inside the church in organised groups. We didn't stand a chance! Instead we made the best of the views from all around the island... ...and back across to Perast. We located the boat we'd come out of and began our journey back to the town. There were some more brilliant views Once we were back in the town we strolled up and down the sea front once more, looking for a likely place for lunch. There are some quite expensive hotels and restaurants in Perast, but eventually we managed to find a reasonably priced place from where we had a lovely view out to sea. Later in the afternoon it was time to head back to Kotor. From what the landlady had said to me, I understood that the bus back was supposed to arrive in Perast around half past each hour, so we went to stand in the main square at the appointed time. As on the way out, we waited and waited and waited, and again about 20 minutes late a bus arrived. This time we even managed to get a seat, so we were able to enjoy the views as we sped back to Kotor
  9. It seemed to have rained overnight but it looked like the weather was set to improve for the rest of the day when we got up around 8am this morning. After a breakfast of delicious meat burek on our terrace, we set off for the short walk into the old town. We wanted to see a bit of the town before the cruise ship hordes descended and also complete the steep climb up to the fortifications before it got too sunny. The city walls in Kotor are completely different to those in Dubrovnik because they don't just surround the town itself. The ramparts continue up on the mountain beind Kotor, culminating in the fortress of St John high above the town. In the photo below, you can see the normal town walls in the foreground and then hopefully just make out the ramparts zigzagging up the hillside. The Church of Our Lady of Remedy, which I tried to convince myself was halfway up when we got to it, is a bit under halfway really, the highest point being past the top of the trees. The more we looked up at the fortress the more daunting it seemed, so we decided to stroll around the old town first for a bit of a warm up. We went through the main gate in the walls... ...and into the main square with its clock tower. The old town is full of beautiful little streets and it's possible to wander around for ages. There are lots of attractive little churches too.. ...although the one which towers above the town is the Serbian Orthodox church. The way up to the fortress starts from the far end of the town. It costs €3 each, though before you pay you need to know what you're letting yourself in for; a series of rocky staircases in the mountainside with approximately 1,400 steps before you get to the top. The scenary is amazing though and almost as soon as you start off you get a view over the red roofs of the town. Within approximately three minutes we already felt out of breath, and the possibly halfway point of the church was still a long way off! The higher we climbed, the better the view we got of the Serbian Orthodox church though. We could also see the Catholic cathedral, which we had taken a photo of from the town yesterday evening. Kotor began to fade further into the distance... ...and eventually we had made it to the church! The church was built in 1518, at which time Kotor was part of the Venetian empire. The fortifications in their current form were built during this period too, although there had been some sort of fortification on the mountain since the sixth century. The intention of the Venetians was to deter attacks by the Ottomans, although the Ottomans did have two successful sieges and occupations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the end of the seventeenth century, Kotor transferred to the Austro-Hungarian empire and the fortress was last used for military purposes by the Austrian up until 1918. The path continued steeply uphill from behind the church. The path is essentially like this the whole way up; on one side there are steps and on the other side a rocky track. Some people seemed to prefer the rocks, but we found the steps much easier and only stepped onto the rocks when we needed to let other people pass. Now we were definitely halfway... ...although there was still a fair way to go. By this stage we had some brilliant views around the Bay of Kotor, though they would have been even better if it had been a clearer day. Eventually we seemed to be getting nearer to the highest part of the ramparts. There was just a bit further to go... ...and a bit further (the flag is the top). It really is a tough climb and we were glad to see other tourists struggling as much as we were, even though the sun wasn't as strong as it could have been. It was slightly less encouraging though when we were passed by an enterprising local who was jogging up in his flip-flops with a large cool box on his shoulder, full of cold drinks to sell to the tourists! Just when we thought we couldn't take another step, we got to the top The views of the bay were breathtaking. Even the large cruise ship in the port looked tiny from up here The distinctive Montenegrin flag was flying high above everything. There isn't a lot to see of the fortress itself once you get to the top, as no real maintenance has been done since the Austrians pulled out in 1918. There was also a strong earthquake in Kotor in 1979, so in places you can see some serious holes and cracks. Once we'd finished admiring the views, it was time to set off back down to Kotor. The good news is that it is a lot easier going down than up! Though another reason why it's good to go up earlier in the day is that there are fewer people. On the way down we had a lot of stepping on and off the rocks to enable people to pass us. Some nationalities were more helpful with this than others! Soon we were back down at a level where we could appreciate the true size of the cruise ship! All in all I think the trip took us about two and a half hours, with over an hour to get to the top. When we got back down to the town we were amused to see a map on the wall which we had missed before we went up. It may be difficult to make our here, but the blue path up as far as the church at number 14 is described as "relatively safe walking path" while the pathways above there are described as "zone of increased risk" (yellow) and "high risk zone" (red), by which I'm guessing they mean there aren't any safety railings and it's your own problem if you fall off. They also comment that "You are advised to use caution on the trail and consider your physical condition" which seemed like sound advice Actually I don't think the path is particularly dangerous; it wasn't slippery even thoug it had rained overnight, and all the stone steps are quite solid and don't move when you step on them. The thing I was most worried about were snakes, as Montenegro is home to some nasty biting varieties and I had read that they like to sleep in cracks in the stones. We didn't encounter any at all in the end though, which was a relief Once we had recovered from the morning's exertions, we had another stroll around the town. There were fewer clouds now and so we were able to get a nice photo of the Orthodox church with a blue sky behind. All of the restaurants in the old town are quite expensive by Montenegro standards, though still reasonably priced by Western European standards. We sat in a restaurant in the main square and had a beautiful late lunch/early dinner of "punjena piletina" (stuffed chicken). It was a chicken breast, somehow rolled up and stuffed with ham and cheese; absolutely beautiful Finally it was time to return to our apartment to relax and read on the terrace. After a while we were ambushed by the friendly landlady who brought us a cup of strong Turkish coffee plus a plate of delicious cherry cake, while she gave me some tips on where to go tomorrow, as well as some hilarious anecdotes about her neighbour (who we mustn't say hello to, because they're having a building dispute!) and who apparently doesn't understand a word of English, so the guests who stay in her apartments have to try and communicate with her by writing things down and drawing pictures. It was great practice for my Croatian and overall a really great day, albeit quite a tiring one!
  10. 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!
  11. Sunday was a relaxing day in Kotor. We were slightly perplexed when we woke up and found that there was no electricity, but our landlady soon appeared and reassured us that there had been a power cut in the whole area. I was glad that in an idle moment I had memorised the obscure phrase "Is the heating gas or electric?" from the "Renting a flat in Zagreb" chapter of one of my Croatian textbooks, or I wouldn't have had a clue that "struja" was the word for electricity. Our landlady was amazingly friendly but had taken my admission that I spoke a little bit of the language as a licence to carry on detailed conversations at full speed! My Croatian/Montenegrin was at the stage where I could almost always get the gist of what she was saying, but found it difficult to reply coherently in real time. We managed to communciate though, and the only time she lapsed into broken English was half an hour later when, with the power back on, she reappeared to say that she was baking us burek, but we needed to sit on the terrace for an hour and wait for it. The confusion on my face was more a result of the surprise that she was offering us a burek than that I hadn't understood what she meant, and the general confusion only became greater when she translated this into English as "My cake is ready at one clock" (the word "sat" in Croatian means both "hour" and "clock/watch"). When the burek appeared they were amazing; enormous, still warm and filled with cheese. The view from our terrace during the day was marred somewhat by the arrival of a massive cruise ship in the Bay of Kotor. I looked up the name of the ship on the Internet and found it had space for almost 3,000 passengers; a shocking number given that the population of Kotor itself is around 5,000. The majority of those 3,000 people spent the day traipsing around the old town in organised excursion groups and presumably being pleased that they could spend their Euros here after the inconvenience of them not being accepted in Dubrovnik. Montenegro doesn't have its own currency and, after a spell of using the Deutschmark, has adopted the Euro despite not yet being a member of the European Union. I doubt many of the cruise tourists made it to the top of the fortress and I bet even fewer of them were able to pronounce the word for fortress (tvrđava), which is probably one of the most difficult words I have tried to say this holiday! They certainly all missed the spectacular sight of the fortress walls being illuminated as dusk fell across the bay. We got a bit complacent about booking bus tickets after our successes on the holiday so far and didn't head out to the bus station a couple of kilometres away until late afternoon in order to book our tickets to Dubrovnik the next day. Imagine our horror then at finding that what we believed to be the only bus of the day - at 14.45 - was already sold out! Thankfully, it turned out that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays there is an additional bus which runs at 15.55 and there were plenty of seats left on that one. That meant we had almost another day to spend in Montenegro, so the next morning after kissing goodbye to the wonderful landlady and getting permission to leave our suitcases in her garage until later, we set off on an excursion to the nearby town of Budva. Or, perhaps more accurately, we tried to set off on an excursion to the nearby town of Budva... The timetable at the bus station in Kotor indicated that there were several buses to Budva every hour. Arriving just after ten, I purchased tickets for us on the 10.17 bus and we stood on the platform waiting for it to arrive. Our tickets indicated that we had been allocated seat numbers 33 and 34. No bus appeared at 10.17, but being aware of the relaxed attitude to time-keeping which is prevalent in this part of the world, I wasn't unduly concerned. About 10.25, a minibus pulled into the station. In appearance it was similar to a Ukrainian marshrutka (ie. twenty years past its best!) and, while it did display a small sign on the front indicating that it was going to Budva, it also clearly indicated on the door that it had a capacity of 27+1 people. It couldn't be our bus, then, because we had seats 33 and 34. There wasn't much space left on it anyway and there was a big queue of people trying to pile on, so we decided to ignore it and hope that our bus would arrive soon. A few minutes later another bus did arrive. This one was also a minibus, but much emptier, and also displayed a sign on the front which, at first glance, suggested it was going to Budva. Perhaps this was ours, then. Unfortunately, when I approached the bus driver to confirm, he explained that this bus had come from Budva and was going to Herceg Novi. We should have got on the other bus, which had just departed. Oh dear. Tim went back into the bus station to seek clarification from the woman in the ticket office. When she stated that the 10.17 bus had already left, he explained that there wasn't enough space; we had seats 33 and 34 but there was only place for 27. She shouted back at him in English that the numbers didn't refer to the number of seats on the bus but to the number of tickets which she had sold, ie. she had sold 34 tickets to a 27-seater bus. Right. Okay. In our defence, the numbers did appear next to the word for "seat", but there was nothing for it except to buy two more tickets for the 10.44 bus! The 10.44 bus, when it arrived, actually resembled a proper bus and had enough space for all the passengers to have a seat. Within half an hour, we had arrived in the seaside town of Budva. We had been motivated to visit it after seeing a beautiful postcard picture of its old town, although the Montenegro guidebook did warn us that it was a busy coastal resort and extremely popular with Russians and Ukrainians on package holidays. The guidebook's adjective "Eurotrashy" was probably a bit unkind, but it was immediately clear that it wasn't quite such a classy resort as Kotor. The extended sprawl of the town gave the impression that anybody who owned a small patch of grass was in the process of selling it to build holiday apartments. There were various signs for strip clubs and the like which gave the impression that it could be a bit seedy after dark. The driving around town was nothing short of manic and the best strategy for crossing the road seemed to be to say a prayer to the Orthodox God and just start walking in the hope that some vehicles might stop. That said, the old town itself was impressing, with big foreboding walls like in Kotor. The majority of the historical buildings were destroyed in a serious earthquake in 1979 and the town spent the best part of a decade rebuilding them. The stonework on this little church certainly looked rather new. Some of the little streets were still very atmospheric though. The day was a bit cloudy, but from the edge of the old town there was still a lovely view out to sea. Once we'd seen the main sites, we decided it was better to be safe than sorry and jumped on an early bus back to Kotor. It was a minibus this time, but we managed to get a seat after the driver made two Americans move their oversided rucksacks into the boot. We arrived in Kotor with plenty of time to have lunch, retrieve our suitcases and get back to the bus station for our 15.55 bus to Dubrovnik.
  12. In this part of the world the sun sets earlier than back home and so we knew that come 8 o'clock there wouldn't be much light. We'd already been into the old town in the afternoon on our first day and were tired after the prevous days' travelling, so we decided to stay in and watch Jurassic Park, complete with Croatian subtitles. We knew that the following morning would be hard work, since we intended to do a lot of climbing early in the day before the sun became too hot and the cruise ships inundated the place with tourists, so a leisurely night in was especially welcome. As usual I was up bright and early the next morning and so set off to track down the breakfast, which we ate on our terrace. Who can blame us when it looks like this? Before too long we were ready to tackle the morning's odyssey, a steep climb from the Old Town to the high point behind it. The climb reflects the fact that the Old Town had city walls and fortresses higher up, and it's the paths to the fortresses that we were planning to take. As we approached the Old Town we were given a sharp reminder of how prominent the walls were back in the old days: We surveyed what was in front of us, a zigzag pattern of steep slopes: That's incredibly daunting! It didn't look any easier from other angles either: To our credit, we didn't bottle out of the challenge and so headed through the gates into the Old Town: We were treated to some sights as we walked through. There was, for instance, a little church, which although blending in with the local buildings stood out to us because we tend to find colossal structures. In such a small Old Town as this, though, it really wouldn't have been possible to erect anything imposing. In the same square we found a slightly larger church, standing out more from its background because it was isolated from the other buildings. This was a Serbian one, the give-away being not only the flag but particularly the presence of the "four C" emblem in the centre. This is a nationalist insignia meaning "Only Unity Saves the Serbs" (Само слога Србина спасава/Samo sloga Srbina spasava). It struck us a strange thing to be so eminently displayed, until Radio pointed out that in the referendum about whether to break away from Serbia and become an independent state the yes vote was only 52%, and so around half of the population see themselves as tied to Serbia. Having walked the streets of the Old Town in only a few minutes we had to end our prevarication and get on with the job of climbing. It was only a little after 10 and already the sun was draining our energy. The climb was extremely steep and no fun at all. Clare and I will never win a medal for our athletic prowess, but we walk a lot on holidays and have never been so tired so quickly as here. We were treated to some nice views along the way, though: And here's one of the Old Town, giving an idea of just how small and crammed together it is: After maybe an hour's climbing we made it to the summit. I quite like that it hasn't been touched up or regenerated - it retains its historical look so much more convincingly like that. Unfortunately, the downside of there being no shop is that we had nowhere from which to purchase refreshments, which we sorely needed after our exertions and under that extraordinarily hot sky. The way down was, of course, much easier and was done relatively quickly. We decided to grab a drink in one of the squares and then do a little bit of shopping on the way home so that I could prepare lunch and allow us to slip into a relaxing afternoon of doing not very much.
  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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