Mama No Lie

PANO_20120518_090156After seeing the glorious sunshine and coastline of Croatia/Montenegro, I felt I had no choice but to jump off the bus at Dubrovnik. Jan and Michaela didn’t want to stay that night for different reasons but continued to move on to Mostar. I’d been there before yet my last trip to Dubrovnik was too short-lived to justify it.

As I stepped off the bus I was greeted by a group of middle-aged women haggling for our money via their rented accommodation. A squat, old lady stood out. She quoted a price. I, at the time, had no idea of the exchange rate. Jan informed me it was barely 10 pounds so I took it. Other hagglers among the throng snatched out it was far from the old town but I took a punt on my old woman.

She explained on the bus to the flat she was Italian with two sons but only had poco english. Her husband  was called Bruno. I liked that. She knew everyone on the bus. She was no great vocabularist but was certainly able to confirm the same information over and over again. I have never said ok so much in my life.

I would say she was generous in her 10minute estimate to the old city. 15-20 would be more accurate. The apartment however had a sea view. She showed me round, the bathroom, kitchen and two rooms. Mama No Lie, see. I liked this place. The view confirmed Dubrovnik’s magnificent position.

I got up early to avoid the hordes of tourists, shuffling due to age and standing with confused attention as the guide talks. All walled cities are labyrinthine and Dubrovnik is one of the great surviving examples, with its smooth stone leading down lanes which are never straight. Like Kotor, it is a living city rather than a museum. Though again like Kotor, it would benefit from having some signs on the walls to highlight its history.

IMG_20120518_094722After Dubrovnik, (Mama blew me a kiss as I left) I headed north to Split and home. Its difficult to understate the beauty of the coastline. Jan met me there along with Jeremy. We wandered around the seafront, took pictures and drank a few beers. Croats are less open than their neighbours. There seems a more internalised nature to them. Split is the gateway to the island tours, advertised either as majestic or an opportunity to get shitfaced on a boat. I didn’t have time or the inclination to take part.

It was time to go home. On a trip that took me from Colombia to Canada, the US, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia, I’d seen a lot, made plenty of friends, re-met some of my favourite people, rode horses, cycled the Alps, seen coffee production first hand in Colombia, witnessed an Italian Easter in Canada, attended the Belgrade and Sarajevo derbies, saw the Yankees and the Knicks and ice hockey in Canada It was time. I returned happy, bewildered and tired. It’s been a long road…

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Montenegro Wonderland

The first time I used the term wonderland I was on the very early morning train into Slovenia from Austria three years ago. I stood staring out the window, the crispy morning air rushing in as we cut through the valleys and past the small, sleeping town towards Ljubljana. The later sights of Maribo, fields of wheat and Lake Bled merely confirmed Slovenia was a lovely looking place.

DSCF0760The same term could be applied again 3 years later as we took the bus from Sarajevo to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. The sudden snow in Bosnia, after days of plus 30C, dumped snow on the early roads heading out through the national parks of the north (home to the best rafting in Europe) to the open fields of the centre and the blue water of the coast.

After days in Sarajevo, Jan and I decided to leave the town and the country, knowing we’d be returning for the next weekend. In the hostel we met some newcomers, Julio and Michaela who’d just got in. Their plans were to stay in Sarajevo but after some quick chat and beer from the Dan and Jan show, Michaela convinced Julio to come along with us. We had a travel team. The wilted and hungover pulse lifted.

DSCF0846We got to coastal resort of Budva late, around 10pm and then proceeded to get lost finding the hostel. Jan, dressed in total black climbed the gates of someone’s house only to be confronted by a neighbour wielding a stick who quickly gave us directions to the hostel. You can’t hit a face like Jan’s. The Montenegro Freedom hostel was a classic, run by two guys, generous, smiley and chatty, they booked us in and then made the best breakfast of the whole trip, cheese and ham toasties with fresh fruit and tea. Nomnom.

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We spent the days going up and down the coast. Montenegro is tiny, nestled on the Adriatic between the old world sophistication of Dubrovnik and the old world, managed-chaos of Albania. The coast is stunning and littered with ancient forts, steep mountains, hidden bays and old, labyrinth towns. We went round Budva’s old town, to Sveti Stefan and then onto Kotor in one day. Kotor stopped me dead. I knew I had to come back to stay.

DSCF0882Julio lacked the time but the remaining three stayed over in a hostel in Kotor old town, climbed up to the fortress for some amazing views and walked around the bay trying to take pictures without the cruise liner which parked itself in the bay. It was like a tank on your front lawn. The hostel owner also turned out to be a nationalist who seemed to despise the Bosnian Muslims (only the Muslims care about the bridge in Mostar. I spit off it. Its only 5 metres). But that took little away from Kotor, a real gem town, smaller than Dubronvik but with tighter streets and knock-out views from the fortress at the top.

I’ll be back Montenegro and not just to throw that tosser off the roof.