A Travellerspoint blog

Tirana & Athens

Sorry... Dropped the Blog ball for a while there, but have just picked it back up ... Enjoy.

sunny 38 °C

There is an estimated 1.18 million traffic related deaths world wide each year. I am willing to bet that a substantial amount of those are in Albania. (This statistic also puts into perspective my fear of flying as there is a 52.6 million to 1 chance that you will actually be involved in a plane crash, let alone die.) Pat has informed me that I should 'just go with it' and 'if it's your time, it's your time' ... That shit doesn't fly with me. I am always terrified in situations that are out of my control, particuarly those that involve driving, flying or sailing. Cue Albania. We had a brief relationship with this country, three days, but it was love at first sight. Much like the time I met Pat and his way of 'picking me up' was to spill a full can of passionfruit UDL on my brand new Tony Bianco's. That's another thing that doesn't fly with me, but it was love and at first sight, none the less. Albania is a small country wedged between Montenegro, Greece and Macedonia. However small it may be, it is bursting with history and culture and having only recently opened it's borders to tourism, the country remains untouched. This brief encounter has really opened our eyes and had Pat and I kicking ourselves for not spending more time there! We came on another stinking bus. On every bus there is always a broken chair, I had the priviledge of being seated on that one broken chair while Pat enjoyed a short trip of being completely at ease and slept most of the way. The border between Montenegro and Albania was an unorganised mess. There was a kilometre long trail of cars waiting to get through. Our bus pulled out into oncoming traffic and just drove that kilometre on the opposite side of the road. Why not? All that was keeping from a major accident was our bus drivers off-sider, strolling down the road with a ciggie in his mouth, telling them all to move to the side of the road. This is Balkan high rollin' bitches. We arrived at the border and had out passports taken for stamping etc. whilst we sat waiting we noticed at the border crossing leaving Albania there were several young children, no older than eight, attempting to pry the doors open of the cars in line to Montenegro. There was one in particular, about 6, a young girl in a red T-shirt and no shoes, grabbing door handles and being dragged along the road, ducking down and sneaking to the passenger side and trying to get in. It was heartbreaking. It also had us wondering what Albania had in store. We arrived in Shkodra, there was no bus station, just mayhem. Most buses that operate within Albania are privately owned. There are no tickets, no stations and no rules! We jumped off and I ran to the nearest guy offering rides to Tirana while Pat grabbed our bags. 5 Euros, thankyou very much. Because of the private ownership, bus drivers squeeze as many passengers as possible onto their tiny little buses which meant that there were bags, and bodies, everywhere! It was a cosy 2 hour journey between Shkodra and Tirana in airconditioned comfort. There were - again, no bus stations in Tirana so we were dropped at Skanderbeg Square (The city centre) and told that this was the end of the line. Lucky, our hostel was just around a couple of corners. We followed the instructions on the booking email. We arrived at Freddy's Hostel. This was not our hostel. We presented our booking confirmation and the unfriendly man at reception made a phone call and within minutes a very loud Albanian man burst through the door with a smile from ear to ear... 'Nellie Russell!? this is you yes?' - He shoved his iphone in my face and scrolled through all his messages to find our booking. 'Yes, that's us!' A swift handshake, and a 'Aha! You come with me!' later, and we were at 'Loreni Hostel' home of the self proclaimed 'friendliest welcome in Tirana' - and I am not here to disagree. The hostel is located on the third floor of an apartment building, in a quiet area off the street but still in the heart of Skanderbeg Square. He has the floor, half of which he uses for the hostel and the other half he lives in with his wife and children. He showed us to our room with great enthusiasm. Put us in the elevator and gave us our keys, we could only just fit in there with our bags so he took the stairs, obviously not his first time, as it was three floors up and he still beat us! We were taken into our immaculately clean room. Private bathroom and small balcony. It felt more like a home than a hostel. Which is refreshing. He moved very quickly, showing us how to lock the door, where the washing machine was (I never thought I would be so happy at the sight of a washing machine! We felt ten times cleaner just looking at it!) and knocked on the doors of other rooms to show us that there were people in there (I don't really understand why, that happened to us a few times during our stay as well. We often had to walk out and say awkard 'hello's' to people who don't speak even the slightest amount of english). He then had to rush back down the stairs to let some other travellers into their rooms, but of course, was back in a matter of seconds and before I knew it we were posing for photos,'liking' his page on facebook and being shown other people who were also caught off guard at the thought of a photo after hours of bus travel on a thirty-something degree heat. A warm welcome indeed, so warm that he also volunteered to take us to the airport at the ungodly hour of 3am on the following Monday to catch our 'cheap' flight to Athens (I say 'cheap' because it was in terms of the price we paid for it, but we 'paid' for it, I say 'paid' because we paid a price in terms of having to be out of bed at 230am to catch it) We spent the next three days wandering the city, we even spent a good two hours in the Museum of Albanian History. But we were finding it very difficult to tear ourselves away from it. Albania was used as a battle ground throughout the World Wars and is still considerably dangerous at some of it's borders and roads less travelled, due to landmines remaining from the more recent wars. It is still a developing country and still trying to find it's own identity, and though it is beginning to welcome tourism we were often met with stares from the locals who were obviously unsure of what we were doing there. None of the signage is in English nor are the menu's. We would just go to places that had pictures, or just point at something and hope it was tasty! Albania still uses their own currency, Leke, but the Euro is still widely accepted, though you get things cheaper using Leke. If you do find yourself in Albania, don't change any more than you need, as it isn't accepted at currency exchange outside of the country, though you don't need much at all to get by. We only changed 100 Euro for the three days that we spent there and that was just enough - and we enjoyed a life of luxury while we were there. Even though there isn't a strong english speaking culture in Tirana, there is a world of hospitality. We spent Saturday night at 'Kaon' a restaurant and brew house that specialises in traditional Albanian cuisine and also brews their own beer, which you can get by the 'tower load' and poor yourself at your table! - Towers come in three sizes, 2 litres, 3 litres and 5 litres. Pat & I enjoyed two of the 2 litre towers (Saturday night!!) and two main meals with a complimentary bread, for a modest fourteen euros. Another place worth seeing is 'Era' this place is renowned for it's hopsitality and also specialises in traditional Albanian Cuisine, which was inexpensive, homely and delicious!! We then spent about four hours looking for a bar that Pat had read about in Lonely Planet, appropriately named 'Radio' due to all the antique radios on display throughout. There were no two chairs that matched and the room was filled with tartan and jazz music. What a wonderful place to spend a Sunday afternoon, and well worth the 4 hours spent looking for it. I have often heard of some places around the world being referred to as 'the cities that don't sleep' - Tirana is not one of these cities. The days are filled with bustling traffic, with horns that beep for anything and everything! They beep when they are mad, when they are happy, when there is a bridal car driving around (often followed by another beeping car with a man and a camera hanging out the window) They beep to say thanks, and they beep to say 'Get the fuck out of the way!!' My best advice to you when you hear that beep is to do as it's saying! pedestrians have no place on the road and you can bet that if you don't move, they will simply run you over. By the time the night starts to fall the traffic has calmed and the busy people running have been replaced by old men, sitting crosslegged in couples with pipes and cards in the grass surrounding the square. It's little things like that, that make the city so endearing. Theres so much warmth in Tirana that doesn't seem to exist in other cities. While there isn't alot of sight seeing or attractions, the city has a personality and a heart which is enough to make it worth the visit.
We went home on Sunday evening so we could squeeze in a few hours sleep before having to be up at 2:30am to leave for the airport at 3am for our plane to Athens. We were taken by our hostel owner. The city was desserted and we had almost a complete free reign of the roads, though we did come accross a car pulled over by the police, when we asked why, we were told it's because the speed limit is 60kmph. I had sneaky glance at the speedo and noticed we were travelling at 120kmph and it was probably best to put my seatbelt on.
We arrived at the Tirana International Airport in one piece, checked in and waited to board our flight. We flew with Belleair and after the 120minute flight, a little time in customs, an hour on the bus followed by 35 minutes of walking and losing an hour in time difference, we had arrived!
Welcome to Athens!
Our accommodation centered in the trendy Exarchion district. Right around the corner from the uni and therefore, the place where all the uni students come to play, though rather than sitting at one of the many little bars or coffee shops, you would usually find them sitting in groups drinking cheap beer in the park. Obvi, Uni' students are the same in every country! Something that we noticed when looking around at them all, the heavy metal look has well and truly made a comeback! The guys were covered in tattoos and had hair that was longer than mine. They were slinking around the park in those black band t-shirts that had 'Slipknot' and 'Metallica' along with dead animals or a zombie looking thing printed on them. The girls were all wearing black, with hair often in dreadlocks pulled back in ponytails. They wore platform black boots and those stripey leggings that made them look like 'Witchy Poo' from the television show 'HR Puffinstuff. I was always extremely thankful that I wasn't old enough to remember this style the first time it came into play, I am very disappointed that it has made such a strong comeback in Athens, and that I happened to be there when it did, but I am not a convert! You'll never catch me spending anytime in a CD shop names 'Serial Killer Record & CD Shop' (FYI. That shop exists). We stayed in a hotel run by a middle-aged Greek man, with a 24 hour check in, who, so graciously let us check into our room 2 hours early. Bliss! He gave us a map and told us where all the sights were, gave us our WIFI code and offered his assistance if we needed anything. He was so friendly, but in complete contrast whenever we came down from our fifth floor abode, we could hear him shouting from the second we entered the lift! Always in greek. Sometimes he would shout down the phone, sometimes at his employees or a man fixing the air-conditioner and sometimes at randoms outside. But as soon as the lift would 'Ding' he would turn or slam down the phone and greet us with a warm and welcoming smile, asking how we were today and where we were off to and offering to get our room cleaned. We would leave our key, he would wave us off at the door and then as soon as he thought we were out of earshot - begin yelling again. Every. Single. Time. It was hilarious, and never got old.
Greece has been getting a bad rap lately, and it's no secret that it's in financial turmoil. Having recently been faced with an upsettingly large tax bill myself, I know how easy it is to hate your own goverment, and want to rally in the street carrying on and throwing things. But I have to say, following a conversation with an Australian man who moved to Athens twelve years ago after falling in love with a babe of a greek woman, opening a cafe with really great ice-cream and having some kids, that the rioters are clever little buggers! They are well aware that their most fruitful season is Summer, tourists from everywhere flock there on Summer holidays to see the sights and use Athens as a hub to get to the Islands, so there are no riots. Because scaring their tourists, is scaring off whats left of their income! Sneaky devils! We saw no violence, no riots and no demonstrations at all during our five night stay, but the city was awash with police, guards and riot buses. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have guessed there was a problem (had it not been highly publicised, obviously). I haven't ever met a person who has been to Greece and hated it. Despite all it's troubles, the magic is still well and truly alive! We were lucky to be staying in a safe area of the city, though the surrounding areas - Omonia Square in particular - are dotted with junkies and prostitutes. As a country town girl, I have never been subjected to people shooting up and passing out before my very eyes and I was often scolded by Pat for staring, but I couldn't help it. I find it amazing that nobody else does! The city and it's occupants are so used to such scenes, that they just keep walking, not batting an eyelid. I have never felt so sheltered! The streets are covered in graffiti and street art. The only places in the city that you will find without it are the archeological sites, but some of the work is so intricate and well done, that you can almost spend a day just walking around looking at it, the same way you do with the acropolis. Which we did. We also spent some time seeing the sites, doing the 'touristy' thing, we got a two day pass on a 'Hop on - Hop off' bus, which BTW was one of the most costly things we have done on the whole trip. But worth it. We went up and visited the Parthenon on the hottest day EVER. This is another time when it sounds like I am embellishing, but I'm not. We had a bottle of water, and it boiled in my hands. I unknowingly sipped it, and it burnt my tongue. Anyway, It is up very high, and there is nothing but dirt and rocks surrounding it, it was a stuggle to walk it in havi's, but you can always bet in Europe there will be several idiot women doing it in wedges or five inch heels! There were a million people all doing the same thing at the same time, scrambling to get photos and ruining all of ours. There was scaffolding and men at work accross the whole site, restoring it. The damage had been done in the early 1940's from the last time they tried to 'restore' it. It's my personal opinion (and we all love those!) that restoration is much like plastic surgery, excluding boob jobs and the old 'deviated septum' line, used by most celebrities to cover the fact that they have had a nose job. Shit always looks better BEFORE you try to fix it, your face didn't need that lift, and the acropolis don't need yo' cheap sandstone brick. Now you look like a human cat lady and the acropolis is falling to pieces after it stood it's ground perfectly fine for thousands of years.
Moving on, Seeing the sights and travelling Greece has always been a dream of mine and it has lived up to every expectation. The people are friendly and hospitable - and we found ourselves often being treated to a free beer, dessert or bread. As I mentioned previously, you would never know that they are struggling. I love the Greeks! They are loud, happy and filled with so much warmth and this is just Athens... The Islands next. I get a hangover just thinking about them. Thank goodness for our new found love 'Gyros' those bad boys have got us through some pretty sketchy times. Now for those of you wondering, Gyros is heaven sent. It is a popular Greek food and can be purchased anywhere for about 2-3 euros. It's either chicken, pork, lamb or beef (like kebab meat) smothered in tzatziki, with fresh tomato, cucumber, capsicum or peppers, onion and hot chips wrapped in a pitta and devoured in seconds. I have been known to have more than one per day and I'm pretty sure they are the reason my shorts are harder to do up and my shirts feel tighter, but I wouldn't take any of them back! The best Gyros to date, was from 'Porkys' in Ios. But that, my friends, is another story...

Posted by patnell 24.08.2012 12:47 Archived in Albania Tagged greece hotel bus drink athens parthenon holiday australian hot europe greek montenegro tirana albania acropolis eat souvlaki eurotrip gyros Comments (0)

Budva

Budva to Ulcinj and all thats in between

sunny 33 °C

So the story goes, that Budva is one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic Coast & was founded by Kadmo, the son of Phoenician king Agenor, the ruler of the Illyrians, after he was exiled from Thebes. He and his wife Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite, went in search of the most beautiful place in the world to grow old together. He built the city in honour of his wife (he was the only mortal to ever marry a goddess - clearly punching above his weight, he had to do something to keep her interested.) Long story short, he asked the gods to turn him into a serpent, Harmonia chose to share his fate and they lived happily ever after in the Adriatic around Budva. The locals believe this is why Budva is so beautiful. This belief is obviously shared, Budva is where all the beautiful people come to holiday and party. You'll find most of the people floating around in the Summer are German, Serbian, Russian or from neighbouring Albania or Macedonia - very few english speaking tourists. Pat and I were unable to book any accommodation at a reasonable price in the heart of Budva, so we got a great little bargain in one of the newer hotels in Becici which is about 3km's and a taxi ride that can cost anywhere between 3 - 9 Euros, depending on traffic and how fast your drivers numbers seem to increase! Of course, we were right up the top of a great big hill, there is no other way to be in the Balkans. Always at the top of a hill, which I will go into more detail about shortly. It was quiet and the view from the third floor balcony was worth WAY more than the 18 Euros each we paid for it (per night) We were greeted upon arrival by a lad, no older than twelve, who spoke relatively good english. He showed us to our room, carried our bags and gave us all the information we needed to enjoy our stay. We changed into our swimmers ready to hit the beach! There is a strip of 'sandy' beach down the bottom of the enormous hill we were perched at the top of which backs onto a highway and has beach clubs all the way along it. However, the 'sand' is obviously a Montenegrin slang for 'tiny rocks that look like sand from a distance, but don't be fooled they will give you 2nd degree burns & sting like millions of tiny ants biting all over your feet'. There are umbrellas and deck chairs for hire all the way along the beach, and the price will vary depending on which part of the beach you're on. Being povo backpackers, we just chucked our shit on the ground and ran to the water where it was brought to my attention that there is a complete lack of sun safety in Europe. There was noone else blindingly pale like myself and noone was swimming in the water, they were swimming in coconut oil instead. Obviously, Eastern Europe hasn't got the memo that everything gives you cancer. Namely, smoking & sunbaking, which are both hugely popular over here. Pat can't be still for very long, so while i worked on my 'tan' he went for a walk along the beach to find somewhere for a sneaky pre-lunch beer, instead he came back with an epiphany. We were in the middle of the Geordie/Jersey Shore of Eastern Europe. He invited me to take a walk to one of the bars to have a drink and see if I agreed. I couldn't even bring myself to walk in! The bar itself, was great! all open, music so loud that it could be heard from our mountain lair, it was all white curtains and timber, so light and breezy. There was just one problem, we were completely over dressed! From our observation, we have come to the conclusion that there must be a dress code on the beach. Men must have to wear the smallest speedo's they can find, because the less you wear, the more even your tan will be and the more muscles you'll show - and even better, if you can get one in a fluro colour, more chicks will look at your package! It seems women must wear... nothing! and high heels. I'm a five foot tall albino midget, and because of the freakishly long legs that all these girls seem to have, their butts are always at eye level. The idea of sitting in a bar trying to enjoy my vodka, while some girls g-string clad ass is waving in my face and her heels are stepping all over my havianas is just not a good time. However, we did get a kick out of seeing them attempt a sexy strut on the 'sand' in 5 inch heels.
Budva is about an hour in a bus (without aircon however, it feels like a lifetime) away from Kotor. Montenegro is a small country so all the main attractions along the coast are within a couple of hours from one another. We arrived mid-morning after leaving our lovely hostess in Kotor, who had made us some deep fried cheese and wrapped it in a napkin so we could take it on the bus incase we got hungry. So after our big day at the beach and the walk to and from the worlds highest mountain (on top of which, our hotel was located), we were pretty exhausted. Which brings me to another point that has been common for us in recent weeks, we are always at the top of a bloody big hill! Everywhere is extremely hilly, or cliffy with winding roads or a million stairs. I think, this is partially the reason why everyone who lives in the Balkans has long legs. They have to, like mountain goats. I'm not entirely sure of the length of a mountain goats legs, but I know that they are made for the rocky terrain that they live in. They have special hooves or something. I could google it but I'm swamped at the moment. Anyway, people that live here have long legs, this means that they can take bigger steps and can walk up the hill with more ease, than say, Pat or myself. We do not have long legs and we do not walk up or down hills with ease, but on the upside to that - every cloud has a silver lining - when we actually arrive at our destination, we really feel like we have earnt to be there and also would have shed a few kg's on the walk so a celebratory beer is a-ok!
We spent the evening resting in the aircon with beers, applying aloe vera to my attempt at a tan and watching the Olympic Games opening ceremony. We had originally intended to go into the Stari Grad to watch the games, but we didnt want to go down that hill again. The next day we decided to suss out the Old Town and have a look around Budva. We walked to the bottom of the hill (whinging and whining the whole time, I'm pretty sure there words 'You'll have to go on without me' got thrown around a bit - Patrick) and caught a taxi the rest of the way in. It is possible to walk to the Budva Old Town from Becici, my guess is it would probably take about an hour. But there are no real footpaths for alot of the journey and traffic is crazy! The cars only stop for pedestrians if the pedestrian in question is one of the aformentioned bikini bum girls from the beach. Why walk when you can cab? ... Plus Pat & I walked down the hill, we had earnt the cab ride anyway. The Stari Grad is much the same as the others. The paths are slightly more narrow and there is a port surrounding two sides a beach on another and a promenade on the other. There are an array of expensive boats lining the harbour, and bars and restaurants all around the outside and inside of the walls. All the bars and clubs around the Stari Grad aren't allowed to play music after 1am but there are nightclubs that are open from about midnight through to the early morning with laser lights beaming into the sky until all hours - as if in competition with each other to see who can blind the most airplane pilots. We had to close our curtains all the way out in Becici because they were so bright we couldn't sleep! It is very obvious that this place is made for tourism, people do not come here for the culture, they come to party and lay on the beach. We spent the week in Becici and were a little disappointed. Budva is the ideal place to come if you're with a group of friends and have an endless supply of cash. We found an Irish pub in the Stari Grad and spent some time there, it's owned by an Irish guy who offers Summer jobs to other Irish guys, so they were easy to talk to and therefore easy to drink at, particuarly for Pat who managed to find his pissy pants there one evening. He started to do that thing which a lot of people reading this would be familiar with. He got heaps loud and demanded pizza, I suggested it was home time and he kept running away, hiding in crowds and pushing in lines to order pizza, even though he was already holding two pieces. I don't know how people holiday with children. Anyway, in conversation with the owner of Chest O'sheas, we were told that whilst Budva is a raging party during the Summer months, it is painfully dull during the rest of the year, people have come to Budva to retire, but left after six months because they were so bored. This may be a good time to come as accommodation is much cheaper. However, Montenegros temperatures flucuate quite a bit and can get as low as 5 degrees during the Winter, so I guess there is nothing wrong with them wanting to milk as much of an income as they can when they can.
I cannot fault the Montenegrin hospitality, they are some of the friendliest people we have come across, always willing to help and will offer when they see you struggling or looking lost, which is most of the time for us. Google-piece-of-shit-maps. After discovering the best part of Budva on our last night there, the Promenade, we almost wanted to stay another night and were kicking ourselves for waiting so long to check it out! There is a strip of restaurants mixed with night clubs, fast food places with giant pieces of pizza for 1 euro, games, pool halls and even a place to ride go carts! There was also a small fair with some pretty sweet rides - which btw, not a good idea to go on one with a belly full of wine and chinese food. But we left the next day on a bus to Ulcinj - (pronounced oolchini) a much smaller town close to the Albanian border and mostly populated by Albanians. It takes about two hours on a bus to get there and is worth spending a couple of nights. We had booked accommodation that day, and made our way to the old town. When people see you with a backpack they always come up and offer a place to stay. It's the kind of place you can go to and know that no matter what, you'll end up with a roof over your head. May not be fancy, but rooms can come as cheap as 5 Euros per person per night. The Old Town is much different, it doesnt appear as well preserved and alot of the buildings in there have been re-built following a devastating earthquake in 1979. It is one of the oldest settlements in Montenegro and right on the ocean. We had made our reservation through booking.com but when we arrived, the person we were supposed to be staying with informed us that he doesn't accept bookings on the same day, as he only checks his email once a day and had already given the room away. No biggie. He gave us a water while he made a few calls and found us another place to stay around the corner. His cousin also had rooms available, with a balcony overlooking the ocean. Perfect! We stayed for two nights. The old town in Ulcinj is much different from the others, it's mainly residential with a few small resturaunts that people run from their homes. They have the best views and the cheapest seafood and are always up for a chat! Hari, the owner of the restaurant below us, goes out on his boat and catches his own fish to serve. Doesn't get much fresher than that! When it came time to leave we came accross our very helpful friend from booking.com when we were walking with our big stupid backpacks to get a cab to the bus station. 'Hey Australia! You going to the bus station?' - Well yes, actually we are. He works just down the road, and offered us a ride. He is Albanian, and happy to hear that Tirana (the capital of Albania) is where we were headed, he told us about the history of his country and his family and would not accept payment of any kind for the ride to the station. This brings me to today, we are about to board a bus to Tirana to spend three nights experiencing some Albania before jumping on a cheap flight to Athens at 5am (sigh) Monday and a month hopping and skipping through the Greek Islands. Life is tough.

Posted by patnell 03.08.2012 02:23 Archived in Montenegro Tagged accommodation beach bus mountain drink walk busy holiday hill hostel cliff cheap hot sunny nightlife ulcinj montenegro albania friendly budva nightclub Comments (2)

Kotor

Favourite place so far

sunny 31 °C

I have always looked at 'backpacking through Europe' as a really romantic adventure. I think everyone knows that it isn't going to be all 'croissants and Eiffel Towers, sipping wine and feeling free and going wherever your heart desires' but noone ever seems to voice it. It's like camping. I hate camping. I hate waking up stinking hot in a stupid tent, with some creepy animal making noises seeming much closer than it actually is. Even when it's freezing cold outside, you always wake up sweating. What is with that? Someone needs to tell people that 'backpacking' & 'camping' are the same. But instead of a creepy animal, it's a creepy drunk foreigner lurking outside.
I will admit, we haven't exactly been 'roughing it' over the last three weeks, and it is still very early days right now, but I do miss that feeling of being just completely clean. The last week has been particuarly hard as we have actually been in hostels. We arrived back in Split and stayed for one night before heading down to Kotor in Montenegro on Monday afternoon. We arrived off the Catamaran, booked our bus and found our hostel - just around the old town, where the buildings are hundreds of years old. We were four storeys up, in a dark alley behind a poorly lit park, the only person I saw in that park - and I'm not even lying - a small frail old man on a park bench in suspenders and a hat. Creepy? Creepy.
We made the most of the day that we had in Stari Grad (which means 'Old Town') Exploring the walls and spending the afternoon in the castle basement, which was not only beautiful, but a feat of engineering, as it has stood the test of time for hundreds and hundreds of years. They just don't build shit like that anymore. It was a stinker of a day, the basement was cool and it was nice to get some culture when all we had been doing thus far was eating and drinking way too much. The day seemed to quickly transform into night so, we made our way back to the room after dinner & ice cream. The hostel had no aircon, so we had to sleep with the window open, but even with the door shut, there was a gap which was just large enough to whistle when the wind blew all night long and the floor boards creaked when we did so little as take a breath, or it was a ghost or something, who would know.
The following day was spent lazing around Split's Stari Grad and we eventually made our way to the bus station by the port. Our tickets were not in english and neither was any of the signage, thankyou Google, a flawless translation from Croatian to English and a quick conv with a bus driver got us to where we needed to be... Our bus on the other hand, not so much. Buses run every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday to Kotor from Split but having not had to catch one yet, Pat & I naively advised our hostel in Kotor that we would be arriving around 11pm. Seeing as how the bus was half an hour late arriving to the station in the first place and running in complete chaos, it was clear that this wouldn't be the case. It is supposedly a six hour bus trip and there are three border crossings between Split & Kotor, Croatia, Bosnia & of course, Montenegro. This is the main cause for confusion for all on board the bus (including the drivers who apparently do this on a daily basis? but they also text while they drive you over cliffs as high as everest and smoke like chimneys the entire time, oh well!) The bad weather continued throughout the journey and was particuarly bad over the cliffs outisde Dubrovnik (yes, we went back there. On the up side, realised where we went wrong on the drive to Split in the first place! One wrong turn is apparently all it takes. Live and Learn) and even worse following the second pick up at Dubrovnik where the bus had clearly been overbooked and there were a number of passengers standing or kids sitting on their parents laps. The sky was spectacuarly lit with lightning, to the point where for small amounts of time, it seemed like it was daylight again. Alot of the road over the Montenegrin border was non-existent and was simply a cross country drive through wilderness and dirt roads. It was so cliche. The overcrowded bus, the storm, the whistling windows and the crying baby. There was even a young guy in front of me doing the hail mary. No kidding. You can't make this stuff up.
When we finally arrived in Kotor after eight and a half hours on a bus (yes, 2 1/2 hours longer & later than we originally thought, thank god for 24hour check-in, lets breeze past it and move on) we caught a 2 euro taxi to our hostel, which will remain nameless, as we are not here to point fingers. We were well and truly ready for bed! Mr. Personality at the counter wasted no time in telling us how lucky we were as we had been 'upgaded' to a room much better than the one we had originally booked, as it had apparently been overbooked.
Okay, fine, whatever.
Now look. I'm not being rude or ungrateful, but I'm fairly certain that if it were the upgrade, then the room we originally booked was centrally located in the firey pits of hell as the one we actually stayed in, whilst painted a bright sunshine yellow, was, in fact, the gateway to hell. As I walked past the communal bathroom, complete with missing tiles, broken mirrors, graffiti and the smell of tinea wafting through the halls, I felt the vomit come up in my throat and after forcing it back down, gave Pat a little 'in my mind' high five for suggesting we book the room with the private bathroom. This was a small saving grace. There was no aircon but there were three rooms consisting of two bedrooms and a bathroom. The first bedroom had two single beds on opposite walls, with pillows that had to have been stuffed with pieces of wood chip or something resting on mattresses that had obviously been donated or picked up at the tip, and the other had one single bed with a desk. The night was not especially hot, I had almost wished I wore a cardigan or something, but the room was hotter than a sauna. Again, I'm not joking, or being dramatic, I am being painfully serious. Pat tried to open the window, but instead when it opened, there were no hinges actually attaching it to the wall, so, it just fell on him. It was just the cherry on top of a wonderful day! Driving through the some of the worlds worst terrain in the eye of a tornado, paying for a full nights accommodation when we arrived at 2am, being 'upgraded' to satans holiday house and sleeping in sauna four metres away from eachother, marinating in our own sweat. Living. The. Dream.
We set our alarms and woke early enough the following morning to have a warm shower (alot of the hostels only have hot water between certain hours) but we missed our free breakfast. Walked into the Kotor Stari Grad which took about 20 minutes and were free to notice how incredibly beautiful Kotor actually is. There are some similarities between Croatia and Montenegro, as with most of the places we had been so far, the Old Town is built on the Port on a backdrop of old forts, walls, churches and buildings swirling up the rocky mountains with a perfect blend in Kotors Stari Grad of modern and ancient Montenegro. The view from the bottom is spectacular. All the Old Towns are fenced off by huge tall cobblestone walls with several gated entrances. The warmth when walking into Kotor Stari Grad is evident and the people are the most friendly we have come accross so far. We were in love as soon as we walked in! There are artists painting pictures in the street, flower boxes on all the windows and as the population of Kotor is only about 23,000 there is a sense of community and everyone seems to know eachother. Something else about everyone here, they all smoke!! It is not unusual to be reading a menu out the front of a restaurant and be approached by a waiter with a ciggarette in his hand inviting you in to dine with him, or to go for a wander through the Kotor Maritime Museum - a building constructed in the 15th century, with a heap of old crap everywhere - and walk out into a cloud of ciggarette smoke from the girl you bought your tickets from at her desk downstairs. There seems to be 'no smoking' signs everywhere, but noone observes them! But for a measley 1.50 Euro you can get a pack of Marlborough 20's, Why wouldnt you smoke?
We had lunch and procrastinated for a while avoiding going back to the hideous hostel but decided to spend a few extra days in Kotor, one day is not enough. Obviously, we were going to book somewhere else to stay though. Upon entry to the Old Town, there is a large clock tower to the right, and several banks. Behind there, is a small agency that is open (similarly to the one we came accross in Split) and at your disposal. We walked up, saw a lovely girl who spoke enough english to find us somewhere to stay in the heart of the Old Town, in private accommodation - which is, by far, the only way to go in the Balkans. You cannot beat the price, the cleanliness and the privacy. For 20 euros per person per night we were given a large double bed, our own bathroom, television, AIR CONDITIONING & windows that opened and closed with minimal fuss/injuries, staying with a beautiful old woman who waved us in from her flower laiden window. It is perfection and the best way to travel for couples in this part of Europe, particuarly when we have given ourselves a 100 Euro per day budget including accommodation, in a part of the world where beers are 1.90 for 500ml & you can pick up a decent size meal anywhere between 3 - 18 euros.
We spent the day today walking up the top of the mountain behind the old town, for 3 euros each you can climb the walls and old walking tracks right up to the top at The Fortress of St John. I recommend doing this either in the early morning, or the late afternoon. The middle of the day was a bad choice. Wear good shoes and don't forget your camera! We met an american couple on the way up, the guy was sweating profusely and puffing like an animal, Pat asked if it was worth it and he responded with 'definately, she said I would get lucky if I walked up there with her' ... Totally something my father would say. It was worth it though, for reasons outside of the bedroom. The view from the top is to die for (which, you almost do! That walk is a killer! - and there are signs letting you know when you're in 'high risk', 'moderate risk' and 'low risk' areas, I assume they mean 'of dying') the old buidings and forts across the top are smothered in history and amazingly, still standing, though weathered.
We have one night left here if all goes according to plan, though we didn't bargain on Budva being so busy. Its further down the coast of Montegro and a popular spot for Cruises and holiday makers because of it's nightlife, beauty and pristine beaches. We were hoping to spend at least a week there, but with not so much as a shitty old hostel available that may not be an option - we won't be camping. I hate camping.

Posted by patnell 26.07.2012 08:17 Archived in Montenegro Tagged bus walk hostel hot sunny fortress kotor hell Comments (4)

Hvar

Jun & Rowan, Car Hiring & Learning a thing or two about Ferries!

semi-overcast 27 °C

Prior to leaving Australia, Pat had organised with Jun for himself & Rowan to come over and meet us in Dubrovnik - under the false pretenses that there's a daily ferry from Dubrovnik to Hvar. This was not the case.
They flew in from Berlin at 4pm on the 16th of July, We found them around 8pm & walked from our place to the Old Town - which takes about 20 minutes, 'We'll just have a few quiet drinks and head home after dinner' famous last words, of course made famous by none other than Patrick Flynn himself (as is 'I'm just going to the bowlo for a beer with the boys, can you pick me up when you finish work?') We ended up having dinner, and then a beer at 'The Gaffe' which led to buckets of some disgusting tequila cocktail at 'Sky Bar' (Which BTW was packed full of annoying Australians from the Dubrovnik pub crawl & a complete rip as the drinks were about AU$18 each! Don't recommend that place at all. Go to Thailand for that shit.) We then found some other irish pub, the name of which I cannot remember, obviously, followed by another genius idea from Pat to go to 'Revelin'. The biggest night club in the Old Town who often get big name DJ's to perform there on a regular basis throughout the summer. I was smart enough to hitch a ride home with some Aussie girls around 3am, Pat, Jun & Rowan, not so clever.
I took the key and Pat had to climb the wall outside to get home, while Jun and Rowan had to remember where they were staying & then wrestle with a rose bush to get back in. Re-packing and checking out the next day was a blast! Met the boys at a cafe on the Port with free WIFI to work out our best option for getting to Hvar, where accommodation was already booked. We had 24hours to get there, and evidently, no way of doing so. Thanks again, Pat.
After much debate, a pizza and several bottles of water - no beers! We decided, that with the current state that the boys were in - partially hung over, or still drunk - we would hire a car! Genius! I would drive, we would have comfort, air conditioning, room to move and the ability to pull over as soon as someone said 'I'm gunna throw up!' All for a bargain price of 800 HKR (about AU $125) SOOOO CLEVERRR.
Pat went next door & wheeled and dealed, the beautiful Peugeot Station wagon came from the airport ready to go and after giving it the once over it was time to hit the road!
For those of you contemplating hiring a car in a foreign country, i suggest you think again. They drive on the opposite side of the road here, which means that you sit in the opposite side of the car and use the opposite hand to change gears, turn the opposite way & if you are travelling with the worlds worst navigators on the worlds highest cliffs with no guard rail/ no idea where the fuck you're going, it can be not only stressful but terrifying as well. Jun & Pat were super good at using 'Google Maps' & telling me where to go - after I had already passed the turnoff. After driving through several ghost towns and countless cliffs, we arrived! A 230km drive from Dubrovnik to Split, all in just shy of 7 hours! Brilliant.
8pm, checked the location of our nights accommodation in the heart of beautiful Split on good ol' trusty 'Google Maps' - A minute away on foot! Winning! Jun & Rowan hadn't showered & I was just ready to hit the sack and forget the horrible day that was. Arrived at the hostel we were staying (or so we thought) However, the lovely old lady had no booking confirmation & no room for us. She rang her son, who actually owns the hostel, but he couldn't do anything from where he was to help us. She told us to go to one of the several restaurants along the picturesque Split Port, have some dinner and be back in about an hour - which was about 930pm. So off we went, allowed to leave our bags in storage at the hostel until we came back. When sitting at the restaurant, checked the booking confirmation and were met with the realisation that we had gone to the wrong hostel!! Disaster! Maybe we can slink back in and take our stuff & not have to be confronted by the son. Nope, not that lucky. Went back to collect our things and there he was, at the front entrance, looking way too gangster and with a scary looking mate lurking in the shadows. I could hear Jun behind me whispering 'Just play dumb Nell' ... Obviously, that's what I did. He wasn't going for it at all. "You see, the problem is this. I was out in my boat with all my friends. And i get this call. And I talk to you on the phone, and you say you have a booking, but I see no booking. So I come in on my boat, I come as fast as I can, I drop all my friends home, and I come here to get you somewhere else to stay. I find you another apartment & now you tell me that you have the wrong hostel? You see my problem?"
We definately saw his problem.
We apologise profusely & offer him a small compensation for his trouble. Call it whatever you like, but I'm pretty sure it saved our lives. He got map & showed us how to get to the booking agency, all the way across the other side of the Port. Open until midnight & run by a husband & wife team who have a huge amount of patience considering they are open daily from 8am - 12am. We arrived at 11.40pm & were shown to an alternate apartment (as the one we had originally booked, was now closed and apparently miles away) A shower & bed, we would wake up feeling brand new on Tuesday & head to book our 11.30am ferry to Hvar from Split. This, again, not the case. Checked out at 10am and walked down to the Split Port to get our tickets. There are two kinds of ferries and two different Ports on Hvar Island. The first is a Catamaran that leaves about three times per day, takes a little over an hour & delivers it's passengers right on the Hvar Town Port. The second is a Car Ferry that leaves also about three times a day, takes three hours to get there & delivers it's passengers to the Stari Grad Port, which if your staying in Hvar town, is just a hop, skip and a 20 minute bus ride. The line for the catamaran was long, made longer by the fact that we were basking in 30 degree heat while we waited. Finally! The ticket window was in sight! Just in time for the 11.30 catamaran! 'Sorry, the 11.30 is sold out...' We had made the conscious decision to treat today as a blessing, as there is nothing that could be worse than the day before. We'll just take the 2.30pm catamaran. 'That one is sold out too, you can catch the car ferry (for three hours and a bus ride? no thanks, I would rather die) - 'Or, there are tickets available for the 5pm Catamaran' - Sold! 'Ok, you can't buy them here, you have to go over the Port & line up there.' OF COURSE WE DO.
We spent the day at a cafe directly across from Pier 11. When finally it became time to board, we scooted over, jumped on the Catamaran and took off to Sunny Hvar! We were met at the Port by the beach/ boat party goers, a DJ at the 'Carpe Diem' Yacht club and the sun still beaming at 35 degrees, We were in love already!
Hvar is full of young people wanting to party on their summer break, there's frequent 'Booze Cruises', beach parties and festivals all throughout Summer. There is a night club on another Island about a 5 minute taxi boat ride from the Port also called 'Carpe Diem' - the boats move between the islands every ten minutes and they operate free, however there is a 150 HKR (AU $23) cover charge at the islands entrance and drinks are expensive. The club is amazing, there are trees dotted all over the place, a small shallow pool (It gets pretty hot over there) and the entire club is open air.
I was hoping for a more relaxing beach holiday on Hvar, but the beaches, like most throughout Croatia, are pebble & they are hidden behind cliffs and vegetation. There was a beach '300 metres' away from our apartment, a little walk up the hill we were met by a sign that said it was 100 metres away. I respectfully disagree. It has been a running joke with us that places take a lot longer to get to in Croatia due to the landscape & the fact that if you move any faster than a pace that could only be described as glacial, there is a good chance that you will fall down a cliff and, at the very least, skin your knee.
Having lined up for the ferry from 7am today (live and learn) we were lucky enough to get on the 9am catamaran back to Split. We said farewell to Jun and Rowan who are now on a bus to Zagreb in the hopes they can get back to Berlin for the last legs of their trips. Pat and I are spending one last night in Split - Croatia's second biggest city - for a look about and to soak up more history and less beer, before heading down the coast to Kotor in Montenegro. Bus tickets already purchased and got the hostel right the first time! It can only get better from here!

Posted by patnell 22.07.2012 07:14 Archived in Croatia Tagged beer beach summer hot ferry split hvar Comments (2)

Dubrovnik

From the top..

sunny -37 °C

So, Have now been in Croatia for about 3 days & my head is about to explode due to the heat, only made worse if i think super hard to write these words. Left Australia on the 10th July @ 9.50pm & persevered through 28 hours of flying .. (yes. 28 hours) to arrive in super sunny Dubrovnik at, local time, 5pm. Currently sitting in a pizzeria in the Port of Dubrovnik enjoying a beer and a light meal at about the same time 3 days later, and I wasn't kidding when I said it was Sunny, It's 37 degrees.
We have been trying desperately to relax following our resignation from respective employment & new found freedom, however, It's not as simple as we originally thought. Having resigned our posts as full time employees (Pat, as a qualified electrician - working 6days a week & myself as an office worker - 5days, who spent three nights and two days a week moonlighting as a waitress at a local cafe) - relaxation doesn't come easy! We thought we outsmarted jet lag, by staying up until the ripe old hour of 9pm on the night we arrived - aka. 4am Aussie time. However, that didn't stop us from waking at an even more ripe hour of 7am. Day two, sleep at 9pm & waking again at 7am. Yesterday, sleep at 10pm & awake, yet again, at 730am. So how do we spend the day? Getting way too drunk on the local beer of choice 'Ozujsko', lying on the beach & strolling Old Town on a daily basis trying to find the cheapest pizza & alcohol. What else is there to do?
Of Course! Book a Beach Kayak tour!
All set to leave at 5pm tomorrow, following our Saturday night Pub Crawl from 9pm tonight (upon arrival at the first pub it's all the alcoholic beverages your body can handle in the first hour.... yesss) Though I have only been here for a short time and having only spent time in Dubrovinik, I am in no real position to comment on Croatia in general, however, the city itself is a postcard. It is beautiful & despite the amount of tourism / port traffic (boats, fisherman, tourists and cruises) it remains natural & untouched. I would recommend my experience so far to anyone & any Australian willing to travel the 28hours to get here, as it is well and truly worth it. Being that we are here in a peak time for all European travellers - seeking sun and Summer -also in the height of the Aussie winter - yes, it exists, having been a regular traveller of South East Asia, namely Patong in Thailand I cant compliment this place enough!! The hospitality can sometimes leave a little to be desired, particularly in comparison to Asia & even Country NSW. The beauty of the landscape and price & taste of the local beer does indeed make up for it!
Tuesday, is Hvar, the sunniest island in Croatia and the home of all things party and techno. Stay tuned, as things remain eerily mellow & quiet, I assure you its all about to change....

Posted by patnell 14.07.2012 09:08 Archived in Croatia Tagged beer drink summer kayak australian hot croatia dubrovnik Comments (2)

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