Saturday, 19 October 2013

The day I renounced my British citizenship

So, with half an ankle left and fed up of Dubrovnik already (too touristy), Andrew and I jumped on to a bus to the station so we could catch the blatantly overpriced bus down the coast to Kotor.

To remind you: this cost 145 kuna, which is about 18€ for a 2 hour bus journey. To compare, the 3 hour journey from Mostar to Dubrovnik WITH THE SAME COMPANY was about 15€, while the 6 hour journey IN A MINIVAN, NOT A BUS from Belgrade to Sarajevo was 25€. Even National Express is cheaper! This is the issue with mass tourism: it inflates the prices of everything.

Anyway, I was getting out and going to Montenegro, which should have been cheaper, even allowing for the inevitable inflation that results from simply having the euro as your currency (I'm fairly sure of it, and it's one of my laws of travel. And no, it's not that richer countries have the euro or anything else in terms of reverse causality, France got more expensive when it ditched the franc).

Down to the station and I find Anita there, which required the compulsory "you followed me" comment. And it was good to have more company as the 11am bus finally rolled in half an hour late - they might charge the earth, but it can't even make the bus turn up on time.

And yes, they wanted 1€ to put my bag in the hold. Normally I'm too British to say anything, but I had a go at the driver for ripping me off, with much finger pointing at my ticket and the price of it. He responded with the classic Croatian smoker's mumble. I don't think he spoke much English. They call it a "luggage handling fee", but he made me put it in the hold myself. OK, so I'm paying a luggage handling fee to PUT MY OWN BAG IN THE HOLD. Call it the "Stealth Bag Tax" or something at least - but it's not a luggage handling fee.

Then my "Croatian smoker's mumble" adage became correct as despite the fact that it was now 12, and the bus was meant to leave Dubrovnik at 11, both drivers had to have a cigarette before going again. BOTH drivers. How about having one driver and halving the ticket price, Panorama Bus? It's a 3 HOUR ROUTE in total, or would be if they didn't waste my time by spending ages doing everything.

So eventually we got going. It was raining, and I was tired and highly peed off. The Croatian coast is nice, but in these circumstances I just needed to put my iPod in and go to sleep.

And I nearly did, before the driver suddenly jolted the brakes because he didn't look at the indicators of the car in front, and realise that if a car is turning off the road it generally has to slow down first.

Then we were pretty much at the border, and passports were in. The Croatians took an age to check that we were all allowed to leave (I think the driver was distracting the border guards by flirting with them - I hear that that smoker's mumble is a great chat-up line) then on to the Montenegrin border, via a load of no-man's land. It even had a duty free shop in it - quelle noveltie. I don't know what it is about the Montenegrins, but their border guards take AGES to do anything. We must have been sat there for a good 40 minutes before they decided that we were all allowed in and that we weren't going to work for a pittance in their country.

Look at me. I've got shorts on when it's raining. I'm quite clearly a tourist.

And after that massive 1 hour trip, with a piece of H&S that would make the British Civil Service proud (hi dad), they changed the driver.

This one was even crazier than the first.

Though this is Montenegro I suppose, and just crossing the border it felt like another world already, though Dubrovnik was basically a Western European enclave. But the Bay of Kotor was incredible, even in the rain - my photos wouldn't do it justice so search for some pictures. The random tiny island in the middle which was more populated than half of Wales is a highlight for me. It makes a great roadtrip too, as the road skirts around the edge of the bay. Or you can be boring and take the ferry across, but we didn't do that.

No, the new driver had to intimidate other road users as well, by overtaking them on a bend, realising something was coming the other way and pulling in as to nearly knock them off the road, into the bay. In fact I heard a bang as we pulled in, but I don't think we hit the car. Or if we did, we didn't stop.

What was I paying again?

It just made me realise that my journeys seem to be more eventful than the actual places I go to. That said, Albania is next, which will probably change that one a bit.

Then to find the hostel: always fun. Apparently it's a 5 minute walk from the bus station. It's always a 5 minute walk. We had to find the "only available gate", which I presumed was the main gate. In the meantime it started tipping it down so we had to take refuge in a market of some sort - Anita's great fashion statement didn't quite cut the mustard:
Some great photography by your's truly
She even got a comment off a Montenegrin man. To this day none of us have a clue what he was saying, but it was in Serbo-Croat or whatever they call the language these days.

Into the main gate and the hostel was definitely not a 100m walk down the street, as there were far too many streets. So we wandered off in what I thought was the general direction of the hostel, then got to an alleyway and decided to go back to the main gate and ask the tourist info. In the rain. They were more than happy to help and give us some oversized map - and send us back the way we'd wandered first of all. Had we walked another 100m we would have found it.
No, not this one. 
And right next to the hostel was the Eastern gate, the "only available" one, the one that we should have come in through. The one that had we actually come in through would have been a 5 minute walk rather than a 30 minute walk.
Try this one. I don't think it even counts as a "gate".
Tired after our first-world-problem-filled day, we checked in and collapsed into the various items of furniture available in the hostel, which I highly recommend. Just don't go round to the main gate.

I waited for the sun to come out before I went for a wander - because there's nothing as bad as judging a place on how it is when it's raining. My shorts and hoody combo rivalled Anita's earlier fashion statement, but legs dry quicker than jeans after all.

And I'm a tourist and I don't give a damn.

So on to some cheap pizza place to get some cheap pizza, strangely. It went down well.
Much better than Dubrovnik. Controversial statement #94
I like Kotor. It's got an Old Town like Dubrovnik, but it feels so much more authentic - it's more rugged, rougher around the edges, and not so full of tourists. The prices are better too, especially if you wander 5 minutes up the road outside the Old Town. Not to mention that it was partially rebuilt after an earthquake in 1979. The fact that it looks so authentic despite this is testament to just how good the place is.


On my way back down and who do I see but Kevin, who'd just arrived from Dubrovnik on a later bus (apparently he has a greater tolerance for the place). He was checking into the same hostel.
Lots of photos, because the text isn't enough to hold your attention on its own.
So the 4 of us went for some cheap food and a couple of beers (after I'd tried to fix my ankle) and things were good. It wasn't Bosnia cheap, but I think a plate of meat for 6€ is still pretty good. And off to bed at some silly early hour, as I wasn't staying here long. Albania beckons and I need to make my way down the coast so I can actually get in - there aren't a lot of buses that go there, and they all leave really early.

Yes, Albania. People keep trying to warn me off going, and tell me it's dangerous and to be careful - but they probably haven't actually been there.

Second day and time for a nice cheap breakfast. I had the choice of eggs and coffee (the "savoury" option) or the "sweet" option of bread, jam and coffee. Why anyone would choose the bread and jam is beyond me but there you go - I haven't had eggs for breakfast in too long. By which I mean 2 weeks or so.

It was good fuel to go up the fortifications of the city actually. If the Croatian doctor knew, he'd have a heart attack. And probably mumble a bit more. But sprained ankles don't need rest - they just need careful rehabilitation, i.e. walking on them but being careful about it. Whether climbing a mountain counted is another matter.
This is the flattest bit of the climb. 
It was incredibly steep as well. I was dripping, despite the fact that it was still cold, the sun was in and I'd not had a huge amount of water.
This is more like it. Ankle rehabilitation level: expert
The climb was incredibly rewarding though, and the view over the bay explained exactly why it was built: for people to do stuff like this:
OK, maybe it's just me.
With views like these I had to stay up there for quite a while - it was a pretty gruelling hour-long climb. Anita and Kevin had beaten me up - I thought they were heading off to Ostrog for the day, but apparently I should check my emails more often. But they'd been up a while and 10 minutes later they headed down, so I said my goodbyes, as I was heading down the coast later that day.

On the way down I got given a couple of free stamps by a couple who'd bought too many. Viva la travelling. Or something. So I made use of them, got some more cheap pizza and checked out of there.

On to Bar for the night, from where I can jump on to Ulcinj, into Shkroder in Albania and then on to Tirana from there. Complicated, yes. Worth it? Hopefully.

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