Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Monday, November 03, 2003 05:03:22|
Central Asia 2003: 17 - Dubrovnik, Croatia, through Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia
Sunday, October 30, 2005
The morning held promise of a better day. We started off very casually, enjoying a leisurely breakfast from the acres of breakfast buffet, then exploring around the hotel and the quaint old village of Cavtat. It was apparently too rough to run the ferry for the one hour trip to Dubrovnik, so we headed off in the car, stopping at various points along way to take photos and admire the views.
Marilynn was thoroughly impressed by the size and might of the walls surrounding the old city of Dubrovnik. Today it is much as it was hundreds of years ago. It is not just a tourist attraction; it is a living, functioning city with a considerable population living within the walls. While there are some tourist shops, the residents are served by a selection of meat markets, bakeries, groceries, clothing and shoe stores. Services such as banks, internet, office supplies and other shops that you would expect in any town are also there.
These same mighty walls which resisted so many invaders over the centuries also resisted the Serbs during the Balkan's war a little over ten years ago when the city was under siege for something like a year. The Serbs had taken all the area around Dubrovnik, but the city gates were closed and barred, the walls defended, and once again the city held out against the invaders in spite of Serbian artillery on the cliffs above the city. Maps in the city show where artillery shells hit the old buildings. UNESCO paid for a lot of the restoration work, but several buildings have been left in rubble as a reminder. I heard on the news that the general who ordered the shelling is now on trial for war crimes.
We strolled the streets at a leisurely pace while Marilynn popped in and out of the many shops. Early in the game she found exactly what she was looking for in a leather coat, but some buttons were loose and one was missing. The owner of the shop was very obliging, and without even taking our names agreed to have the repairs done and the coat put away for our return later in the day.
Before noon it started to drizzle, but this did not deter our explorations of the many narrow streets, plazas and markets. We climbed the steps up the high walls, walked around the city on top then dropped down to street level to stop in one of the many welcoming restaurants for a cup of tea, spaghetti and a glass of wine. We had ordered port, which was not available, but they introduced us to a very tasty local sweet wine that substitutes very well.
In spite of being as wet as we were, we were not cold. The climate is sub-tropical, with lots of palm trees and other vegetation associated with tropical climes. With the exercise we were getting we were actually too warm in our sweaters. Another walk around after our break was followed by a session in an Internet Café, and then back to the shop to pick up Marilynn's coat.
The owner was not there - the shop was staffed by an older lady who knew about the coat and brought it out. Marilynn checked it over and found one button had been missed - it was hanging by a thread. These buttons are quite unique - it is likely that if one was lost they would all have to be replaced, so she asked that it be sewed on before she took the coat. The woman answered, "Tomorrow". Marilynn explained we would not be here tomorrow, that it would have to be today. The woman gave her the "too bad" shrug, accompanied by the "So that should be my problem?" look on her face.
We were both furious. I said, "If you want to sell the coat, sew on the button. No button, no sale!" The woman said with another shrug, "Tomorrow", and that was that. Marilynn said, "I can certainly see you are not the owner of the shop. There is no way an owner would allow a $400 sale walk out the door because of a few moments to sew on a button. You are a lousy employee, bad bad bad!" The woman gave her the full classic arms out shrug, with a very supercilious look on her face, so we left. Marilynn was so mad she was hovering above the sidewalk and leaving a trail of steam behind her! She felt that this was the perfect coat for which she had searched far and wide.
I commented that is was too bad we didn't know how to contact the owner, as I'm sure she would be very upset about losing the sale. Marilynn said, "I'm going back to get the business card of the store." We reversed course and Marilynn charged through the store entrance with a full head of steam up, while I waited outside of firing range.
When she got into the store, the woman was in the process of sewing on the button. Marilynn asked for the business card anyhow, which got the woman quite upset - her attitude had altered totally. Meanwhile I headed into the shop to see what was going on. Marilynn told me she was sewing on the button, so I took a seat.
While we were waiting three Japanese women who must have been in the store earlier came in. One picked up exactly what she wanted and went to the counter with it, taking out US dollars to pay for it. The Japanese spoke neither the local language nor English, and the shop woman kept saying you have to change the money into Croatian Kunas before you pay. There was no suggestion that a credit card be used, which the shop accepted, or that she would take the US dollars - instead she escorted the Japanese lady to the door and pointed down the street saying, "exchange, exchange".
On this street there was an exchange every three doorways, but I'm sure the Japanese lady got the impression she was being directed to another shop to make her purchase. This attitude is not uncommon in any of the countries where people grew up under the Communist system. Service was never important, one did only what was closely defined as their job, nothing more, and whether someone made a purchase or not was of no consequence. It is one of the very difficult problems that has to be overcome when changing from the Communist system to a free market economy.
Marilynn's coat was finally ready and paid for, so we returned to Cavtat, where we strolled along the harbour in front of the many small bars and cafes. Bar/cafes are very popular in the area. They have no food whatsoever, which was a surprise to us. We have adopted the Costa Rican tradition of snacking while we drink and it seemed quite strange to have all these drinking establishments where not so much as a boca was available.
In one bar the waitress recommended a restaurant down past an ancient church, beyond the town's tourist area. We finally found it in a narrow lane and went in. We were the only customers as we had drinks, wine and a great meal of scampi. After our meal more drinks were served and the chef and his significant other, the waitress, joined us. We talked to them for a long time, getting the lowdown on their lives and on life in the area during the war and the occupation. It was a good night. We rolled home in fine spirits, full of fine spirits.
The next morning I was up early getting the last update finished, which I tried to send from the hotel but as they had no MS Word it was not possible. Instead, we filled up on breakfast, checked out of the hotel and hit the road for Montenegro and some of the special places that I wanted Marilynn to see.
The border crossing was informal and quick, we didn't even get out of the car. We then drove around the enormous inlet called Boka Kotorska, which we had skipped by taking the ferry across the entrance on our dark, inbound trip. This area is spectacularly beautiful. The road hugs a narrow bit of land right on the edge of the inlet. On the other side of the road the mountains soar thousands of feet upward. Rivers appear out of caves in the base of the mountains, crossing under the road to merge with the salt water. One high volume river gushed from the mountain, under the road bridge and over a cliff to cascade into the sea about a hundred feet below.
We passed through small, ancient towns which were built anywhere from the 13th to 18th centuries. Two islets in the bay were each completely covered by monastery-church complexes. We stopped often to marvel at sight after sight on this beautifully sunny day.
At noon we had reached the city of Kotor, where I parked the car so we could walk into the old walled city. It is a perfectly preserved, functional city just as Dubrovnik is, but a little smaller and a lot less well known. It still took a fair bit of walking to explore it, which worked up both hunger and thirst. Beer and pizza did me for lunch, while Marilynn went for wine and spaghetti. I'd stopped at an internet café within the walls to get away the emails that I'd not been able to at the hotel, so we were all caught up, happy and in good shape for time.
I have been through this area before, which helped in knowing where the worthwhile sights were, but there was a very twisty road on the map which intrigued me. It was basically one car wide, and ascended the 4,000 foot mountain above Kotor vertically through a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. When we met trucks coming down we would have to back up to where there was enough room for them to squeeze by, as it was vertically up on one side of the road and vertically down on the other.
As we climbed the view became more and more unbelievable - we stopped frequently to ooh and ah and take pictures. Marilynn handled the height much better than I thought she would, and our little Fiat car proved the perfect vehicle for the hairpin curves and sharp inclines.
When we reached the top of the cliff we entered a flatter valley where, to our surprise, there was a quite large village. Fields had been painstakingly cleared by piling rocks into walls and the village seemed to be thriving, with new construction, a couple of restaurants and a pub. Once through the village we began to climb again, now into golden forests of trees decked out in brilliant fall colours. The drive was beautiful beyond description.
We finally descended into the city of Cetinje where we connected with the route we had previously taken. In another half hour we were back in the City of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, driving around looking at the town and searching for a hotel. We stopped in three different hotels, and were amazed to find that in this very non-descript city hotel prices are through the roof. There are no travel or commercial discounts - pay the price or don't stay. We finally settled on a mid-price place, Hotel Crna Gora, right in the centre of town. It had once been a grand hotel, and though it was getting old and somewhat worn it was fairly clean and comfortable. It was the only one I found that would take a credit card - Visa only. By mid price range for Podgorica I'm talking $US 172 per night!
After the long sit in the car we were ready for a walk, so headed out to explore. The downtown core shops were all opened, and the main street closed to vehicles at 6 PM for pedestrian use. This seems to be the main shopping time. Prices were much lower than at the coast - Marilynn had been trying to get me to buy a leather coat, and while she was not successful we did find that prices here were less than half what they were at the coast. Croatian leather products are of very high quality.
Hunger began to settle in, so we went to a restaurant that Marilynn had spotted during our search for a hotel. The beer and wine were fine, but the food inedible. We picked a bit at our meat, then gave it up, paid the bill and left the meals virtually untouched. Being tired and facing an early departure, we headed back to the hotel and were in bed by 8 PM.
Saturday, November 1, 2003
The alarm clock and the hotel wake up call went off simultaneously at 5 AM. By shortly after 6 we were at the airport, which we located with no problem. The car rental fellow appeared as agreed and we settled up with no problem. When we checked in for our flight I asked what the cost would be to upgrade to business class. The station manager happened to be standing beside me and answered for the agent that the flight was totally full, so if we had economy class, we'd be flying economy class.
He then noticed my open wallet which had the business card of the station agent in Belgrade sticking out of it. He said, "That is my friend!" I told him what a nice fellow I thought he was, and that he had been a tremendous help to us. I didn't think anything of his comment that he may be able to help us too, but a short while later he called me over and presented both Marilynn and I with business class boarding passes, no charge.
The flight was very comfortable and on time. In Belgrade our friendly station agent had arranged for our luggage to be checked in when we arrived, instead of following policy and waiting until 2 hours before flight time. Six hours before the flight we had our boarding passes, our airport tax paid, our baggage checked and we were enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant. With six hours to wait leisurely is the order of the day!