Favourite place so far
23.07.2012 - 26.07.2012 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.