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Tim
Tim

Day 12: Bar to Belgrade

We got up nice and early ... though not as early as we would've had to. We were going to travel to Podgorica by train, but our landlady advised Clare that one of the truisms of Montenegrin transport is that trains don't always come and so we should take a bus. The bus left an hour or so later than the train would have, and so we had an easier start.

That gave me a little more time to play with my new friend. People have different attitudes in this part of the world towards animals than we do back at home, and so during our stay I'd made a point of befriending a feral kitten. She is a beautiful brown tabby, probably about 12 weeks old. I'd seen her mother on the first evening, thinking her a kitten too (she's so much smaller than our girls, but I suppose that most cats are) and a pet too, but I just got swatted for my trouble. But the next day I discovered that this tiny cat was a mother to two kittens, and so I started work taming the more courageous of the two. It's amazing what can be achieved with a stick, a little bit of patience and later on some ham, but I was soon allowed to pick up Tabbycat and she would come to me whenever I called her. Kittens are ace. Not long after her sister was brave enough to come for food too, though we never crossed the bridge of picking her up. I wasn't bothered - I only had eyes for Tabbycat, and so now I said goodbye to her. She'd make a lovely pet, though no doubt she'll have kittens of her own before too long. A shame, that. Lovely cat.

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Our helpful landlady, Vilka, decided that she would drop us off at the bus stop and so we loaded up her car and got ready to board the bus. She presented Clare with some oranges from the garden (which should more accurately be called yellows) to add to the four from the previous day that we hadn't eaten and had snuck into our bags so that we could dispose of them without leaving any evidence. Then we said goodbye and boarded the relatively empty bus to Podgorica, on which we had a reasonably free choice of seats. Seconds into the journey, we started lurching backwards and forwards. It seemed as though we'd hit a new low with regards to potholes, only the road was perfect whilst we continued to emulate a rollercoaster, the seats swaying back and forth.

When the vehicle stopped moving (and a second or two later so did the seats) we moved to the row behind and then saw the nature of the problem: it was possible to move the seats by hand, since they weren't bolted down! A chap came on board and I thought "He's going for that one, he's going straight for it." My Serbian isn't good at all, but I managed to say "Ovoj nisu dobri", which may or may not mean "Those aren't good", and gave it a push and pull to demonstrate. He responded "It is fine" and sat down. Well, two minutes later he got up and relocated without saying a word - I guess they weren't so fine after all!

The journey was otherwise uneventful, save Clare's recognising where we'd been the day before, and we got to the bus station in Podgorica with plenty of time to spare before making our connection to Belgrade.

Everything seemed to be going fine. Our bus turned up in good time ready to set off at 09:45, we were at the front of the very small queue for luggage, and although the bus was nearly full, seats 24 and 25 were visibly free, ready and waiting for us as indicated on our tickets.

As we sat down, somebody started shouting at us from the outside. I ignored it but then he did so again and I asked Clare what he was saying. Clearly he didn't like us. Clare said that he was saying that those seats belonged to him and his girlfriend, and so I descended to show him that they weren't. He said something loudly and rapidly with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Who cares what the ticket says? You sit where you want and we were there first." I didn't want an argument but I don't mind having one when I'm in the right and our tickets indicated that we were, and so we headed in the direction of the bus driver and Clare explained that she didn't understand that our tickets indicated 24 and 25 and yet -" The driver immediately responded that the seat numbers meant nothing! So what was all this about having to have a reservation? The upshot was that we had to sit where we could. In my case, it was next to a big man who had no concept of personal space and so whose arms held across his chest were coming into contact with mine whilst his leg crossed the middle. I hate making bodily contact with strangers and so pulled away, with one foot hanging out of the aisle. He also had one of those disgusting coffee breaths when he yawned and so I resolved that I would change seats at the nearest opportunity. It would have the bonus of getting me away from the teenagers on the back row (the row behind me) who thought the world needed to hear their awful music and pointless conversation too. I caught myself thinking I wish I'd had a couple of days to teach Tabbycat to attack on demand and brought her with me. Aw, Tabbycat ...

I thought I'd glimpsed the opportunity to get Clare and me a seat together when a couple stood up as we apporoached a stop. Sure enough, they got off the vehicle but in the three seconds it took me to get out of my seat and head there, a cushion was thrown into the seat by a woman sitting nearer. She and her friend both decided that they wanted a pair of seats to themselves and my pitiful protestations of "me and my wife" whilst pointing at the seats got me nowhere. These two witches were determined that they were going to have their pair of seats each and I had to return to the teenage music and bad breath at the back. I hated those witches.

Coming into another stop I saw another chance. A lady who was sitting on her own picked up her bag and got off the bus leaving nothing behind, so I sped in front again and jealously guarded those seats until Clare joined me. We settled in, sharing stories about unwanted body contact with strangers whose legs passed the halfway mark when I felt suddenly deflated; the lady who had vacated the seat came back on board having presumably got off for a cigarette. I stood up and in my broken and limited Serbian apologised for stealing her seat: "Žao mi je. Vaša." And she waved it off with a smile and sat down next to Halitosis Joe, no doubt feeling sorry for me because of what happened before with the witches! Finally - someone who wasn't a totally selfish cretin on that bus!

Speaking of the witches, there was a telling moment later on in the journey. A young man came on board and there being rather limited options, asked one of the witches to move her bags so that he could sit there. She told him she wouldn't, so he shrugged his shoulders and stood in the aisle. The driver stopped the bus and came up to tell him he wasn't allowed to stand and he explained quite clearly that he asked to sit down and the witch wouldn't move her stuff - so the driver moved it himself! And a little later the other witch had to share her seat too, and so the pair of them through entirely selfish reasons went from sitting with a friend to sitting with a stranger. Ha!

There wasn't much more of note during the ten or so hours that we were on the road, aside from the fact that we observed how much confusion was absolutely unnecessary. OK, we can accept that maybe the seat numbers on the tickets don't mean anything, but it's presposterous to see that every time new passengers come on and find what appears to be a free seat, somebody comes back from a cigarette break to say "That's mine". They all accept it, but could it really be the case that they're not in general intelligent enough to think "If you vacate a seat, leave a magazine or water bottle behind to show that it's in use"? Surely a system like that should've evolved, even if the basic approach of "go by what it says on the ticket" seems too complicated. The idiot who had our seats went through this same routine at every stop ... although we laughed when he didn't make it back to the bus on time after a break and it set off without him, with his girlfriend looking frantic but not knowing what to do so choosing to do nothing. (The solution, idiot, is to say "Stop, please! My boyfriend's not here!") Unfortunately he materialised out of somewhere a couple of minutes later and so our Schadenfreude came to a swift end. Bother.

The light descended very quickly and our reading had to stop because though we pressed the buttons in the overhead panel, the driver hadn't initiated whatever he had to to trigger them. Since we were the only two who appeared to read anything during the entire journey, I don't suppose there was ever a reason to think he should. (How do people not read? Especially over the course of a ten-hour journey where there's little else to distract you from unwanted body contact and bad breath?) We were still outside of Belgrade and not on course to arrive on time. Plus Clare's phone, which had been fully charged the night before and on which was stored the contact number for our apartment, died. We had the office phone number on the reservation, but that wasn't going to be much good at 20:00 when we finally rolled in. We hoped that the person meeting us would stay a little later.

We'd decided in advance that we would break with tradition and use a taxi to get to the apartment, and so we went with the first person who approached us. We agreed the price and set off over the road, whereupon he asked us to wait whilst he went to retrieve his car. I suppose the fact that it wasn't with all the other taxis should have been a sign. He pulled up in a banger. And not only that, but he'd driven the wrong way down a one-way street! He loaded up the car and proceeded to reverse a hundred metres or so, backing out onto a main road and following the directions that his satnav instructed. He jibber-jabbered all journey long and somehow Clare not only understood it all, but she replied too!

After a few detours (including driving on a pavement following an illegal u-turn!) he got us to the destination, a rather grimy building. Crucially, there was nobody there waiting for us ...

We tried ringing the office number that was on our reservation using my phone. No luck at all; it simply wouldn't ring. We charged up Clare's phone using my laptop to retrieve the contact number she'd stored there ... and it turned out to be the same number. Great. We tried using her phone too with no luck. A kindly lady took pity on us and confirmed that it appeared to be a genuine number (complete with the correct country code). She flagged down a young chap who was on his way out for the evening to say how terrible it was for us and he looked over the reservation too. We explained that the number was an office number and didn't work, and he corrected us, saying that it was a mobile number! And with that, the lady went to get her Yellow Pages to see whether the office number was there, whilst this fellow rang the number from his own phone ... and got through first time!

He had a chat for a few seconds and then explained that the person on the other end was on holiday in Greece and would make a phone call to have somebody come and meet us immediately. We weren't homeless! We thanked this helpful chap (there's a beer with his name on it if I see him) and sat down to wait in the darkness for what would be about half an hour or so.

"Sorry, have you been waiting long?" "Yes." came the reply in unison. I'm usually that direct - Clare wasn't in the mood to do the very English "everything's fine" thing, since her phone had now been recharged and we could see that they hadn't made any effort to contact us during our delay. It seems that they hadn't been there as arranged at all. This certainly became believable when we paid the bill - we'd added an extra night and it wasn't there! Clare even showed the lady the email she'd sent (in Serbian) and confirmation response received. Fortunately, the room was vacant for that extra night so we avoided having to locate a new apartment at the last minute and settled up.

Drama averted, we set out at 22:00 for our first proper meal of the day ... and came back to find the aircon is faulty and had dripped all over the floor:

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What a day. At least tomorrow can only be an improvement.

Edited by Tim




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