A Travellerspoint blog

Up Up and Away

sunny 33 °C

Leaving Istanbul was a lot easier than predicted and before we knew it we were on the motorway. Although we did have to reverse out of a toll gate because we didn’t have the swipe card, duh, which some sympathetic soul ended up giving us just to get us out of his way. We were headed for the town of Safranbolu. Guess what it is famous for? If you guessed Saffron you would be right and ‘bolu’ means many, so many saffron. Safranbolu is another UNESCO listed location because it still has its original village of ottoman houses. This was the reason we were going, to look at old houses. Anyway we arrived at our accommodation, Guney Konak, a family run B & B type thing in, yeah you guessed it, an ottoman house. The mother couldn’t speak any English and Dad wasn’t much better so the fourteen year old son, who learns English in school, became our go to man.
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We headed down the hill to the original village and bought some saffron body spray and had a tour through an original ottoman, nothing too exciting but a really pretty and relaxing place to visit. When we arrived back at Guney Konak (good name isn’t it) the family was sitting out the side eating fresh picked cherries off their own tree and beckoned quite enthusiastically for us to join them, so we did. Unfortunately they couldn’t speak English and we obviously don’t speak Turkish, although we are learning a little every day, so it became slightly awkward, just a lot of smiling and nodding and pointing, especially at the cherries. Suddenly out of the door came Mammamatelli (or something like that, we ended up calling him Big Mama) a Turkish optometrist from Ankara who lives at Guney Konak during the week for his one year secondment to Safranbolu. He translated for us and was full of information about Turkey, including what are those crumbed ball things we see people eating? Anyway he offered to buy us some of the best ice-cream in town so off we went. Turkish ice-cream is completely different to any ice-cream we have eaten, it is chewy.

One night in Safranbolu was all we had scheduled and then it was two nights in Amasya, about a six hour drive away. Amasya is famous for its apples AND tombs built into the rock cliffs overlooking the city. The tombs were built by the Pontic Kings and were built in the 4th Century BC. The Kings wanted people to be able to worship them after they had died, how lovely. Anyway they are located in the rock face of the mountains and are pretty amazing. To think that this was done so long ago and they are still intact boggles the mind. At night they are lit up and look quite spectacular.
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We had organised two nights in Amasya so that we would be available to watch Game Three of the 2011 State of Origin. Unfortunately due to technical hitches we couldn’t watch it but Boon was kind enough to message us through score updates. Needless to say there was one happy and one not so happy camper by the end of the game. Go You Mighty Maroons!!! One thing we have noticed about Turkey is how incredibly friendly everyone is. It would be fair to say it is the friendliest place we have been so far. In Amasya, we were walking along the river and saw a statue of a (questionable) kangaroo so Adam wanted some silly photos. Next minute a young girl (20ish) comes along and drags us back to her stall to give us some tea. Then she proceeds to grab the camera and make us pose in a million different spots to snap some piccies of us. After that she runs across the street to the bakery and buys us a bread muffin thing that was super tasty. We tried to offer her money for it but she wouldn’t accept it. Then later in the day we stopped at another street vendor, selling nuts, for some footy snacks. We bought 3 lira worth of peanuts (aus$1.80) and then before we knew it we were sitting on stools drinking more tea and using lots of hand gestures to communicate with our new friend Mehmet.

The next town on the itinerary was Goreme (Gu rem mee) in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This region is a result of ancient volcanic activity and then subsequent erosion wearing away parts of the rock to create a landscape seen nowhere else. The erosion has caused the rocks to create shapes known as ‘fairy chimneys’. If you haven’t heard of it please look it up on the net, it is truly remarkable. The locals have set up house in these ‘cave houses’ where the rocks have been carved out and made into dwellings. Our hotel was in one of these and although quiet dark was great fun. To see everything here requires a bit of driving as most of the sights are reasonably spread out. There is the open air museum which is the location of ten churches carved out of the rocks by Byzantine Monks. There are frescos on these walls older than our country dating from the 5th Century. It really is a hard place to describe but amongst the dust and the dirt is this overwhelming sense of just how amazing the planet and Mother Nature is. Unfortunately, the way the Turks treat their environment, come 20-50 years I doubt it will still look the way it does.

Hot air ballooning was another hot ticket item and boy were we excited. A 4am rise was in order before a luscious breakfast and then jamming 17 people in a wicker basket. It was fantastic. Hot air ballooning is big business in Cappadocia and there were no less than fifty balloons in the air. They do this every day of the year. It is a magical experience; floating about 2500 feet in the air with the only noise the gas burners helping us to rise even higher. Then the slow descent among the valleys and the treetops, to see this amazing landscape from such a vantage point gave us a whole new appreciation for its beauty and the absolute uniqueness of it.
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Another item on our agenda was Kaymakli where there is an underground city started by the Hittites in 5th Century AD. Holey Moley! Now when you think of an underground city you probably think of skinny tunnels and tiny alcoves, well this was nothing like that. Seven storeys underground started by the Hittites and then continued by the Christians when they were hiding from the Arabs. Think of a tree trunk and then all these stairs, tunnels, rooms, chambers all running off it like branches. They had ventilation systems, kitchens and even places to tether their animals. It was set up so they could live down there for months at a time and even had defensive measures set up such as rolling stones to block off doorways. We splurged for a tour guide, Mustafa a little old Turkish man, for this one and were very glad we did. Adam actually admitted to a bit of a man crush after we got back to the car.
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The days were scorching hot and the whole muslim consideration to dress went out the window, comfort overruled religion. No god would want anyone to be that uncomfortable. However what is interesting is even in 40 degree heat you still have the muslim women in their jeans ,long shirts and then their trench coats over the top, and of course the headpiece. Another sad thing we have noticed is their total lack of care for their environment. Not a second thought is given to throwing things out of car windows, dropping cigarette butts as they walk along or in one case tossing an empty water bottle into a river. This final case has an interesting story to it though.

We headed, on Mustafa’s recommendation, to the Ilhara Valley and Selime (apparently Star Wars was filmed there) to look at the cave formations and the lush river and valley in this desert environment. Selime was great, climbing rocks to look through two storey century old cathedrals, we felt like big kids. When we arrived at Ilhara we had to descend about 100 steps down to the valley, along with every man and his rug. You can walk alongside the small river (stream?) as a bit of a nature walk. We had been walking no longer than ten minutes when we spotted a young girl (muslim) toss her empty water bottle into the river after walking five metres past a bin. Well we were all over her like a rash. After watching for weeks the Turks treat their whole environment like a garbage tip we snapped. (Most of you will find this next bit extremely out of character for both of us being the calm, placid, reserved people we are)

Calling out to her in our angriest voices ‘Hey, There’s a bin right there!!!’ ‘Unbelievable you people!’ came out of our mouths and then Adam’s gem was ‘It’s not even my country and I treat it better than you’ while shaking his head. So angry were we, we didn’t even care we were getting stared out (and possibly targeted?). She cowered in between her friends and hopefully will think twice before doing it again. That is what we see every hour of the day, absolute carelessness and disregard for their own space. They are simply totally ignorant and uneducated to the detrimental effect they are having, not to mention the aesthetics. Heading to the coast we can only hope that more care will be shown there and there will be no repeats of Montenegro.

We are into the second half of our six month adventure and will soon be traipsing the Gallipoli Peninsula, can’t wait.
PS The Baklava is really good!!

Posted by Ange and Adam 10:27 Archived in Turkey Tagged caves cappadocia tombs air goreme safranbolu amasya "hot ballooning" Comments (0)

Istanbul

A Turkish Delight

sunny 30 °C

Istanbul, formerly Byzantium and Constantinople, has a population of approximately 14 million people. That was about to increase by two. After seeing our life flash before our lives driving in the traffic, we arrived in Sultanahmet, the old town of Istanbul and our home for the next five nights. We checked into our hotel and proceeded to guess our way into the heart of the action. The first thing, after getting a map, was to get a feed. We had been in the car for about four hours and needed some sustenance. In Turkey, you have three choices, lamb, chicken or meat. In some cases you can get all three at once. You have to give them credit though, they know how to cook it.

There are a million things to see and do in Istanbul and luckily enough they are all close enough to see them all pretty easily. We spent our first day just doing reconnaissance and getting hassled by very eager carpet salesman. To make sure we fit everything in we set ourselves up a system, yes it sounds boring but when you have to compete with 14 million others, it is essential. We cruised around being conscious that now we were in a muslim country with 98% of the country following Islam. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mosque. We decided our first full day we would hit the Grand Bazaar so that way if we wanted to go back we would have plenty of time.

The Grand Bazaar is just that – Grand. Four thousand shops in a labyrinth selling everything from gold to textiles to carpets to silver to junk. The Grand Bazaar was built by the Sultan Mehmet for somewhere for merchants to trade around 1461. We had no idea how long it would take us to navigate the bazaar and in the end we were there for approximately four hours. Taking our time meandering through the lanes we were reminded of Bali with the way they offer up their goods. The difference between the Turks and the Balinese is the wit. The Turks are great with the one-liners to entice you to buy, amongst our favourites were: Spend some money on your honey, Buy something for your mother-in-law, Are you mad at me? No, Then why not buy?, Can I sell you two carpets? No, how about just one? We didn’t buy much as we don’t really have the room, however we did find ourselves dragged into a carpet store and given a lesson on the difference between kilims and carpets. Much to the salesman’s disappointment no amount of teaching was going to get us to buy even though they really are very beautiful.

The Turks love their tea and now we do too. They drink the stuff non stop and we know why, it is delicious. It is served in dainty little glass cups with cubes of sugar. Nobody drinks coffee, although we did try some. The Turkish coffee is similar to the Bosnian, great until you get to the sludge at the bottom. We went a bit crazy buying some sweets, Baklava and Lokum (Turkish Delight) were the obvious choices and you certainly have no trouble finding them. Shop after shop sell all varieties by the kilo and the displays are enough to make your eyes water. Will power is the order of the day.

Another of the must dos in Turkey is the Blue Mosque. It was built by Sultan Ahmet in the 17th Century (around 1610) and is truly magnificent. Being a typical sultan, Ahmet wanted something to rival Aya Sofya (more on that later) and so built a mosque with six minarets which was apparently more than the mosque at mecca. This annoyed the Islam boss guys in Mecca and so Ahmet commissioned and paid for Mecca to have another minaret built to placate them. (Minarets are the towers). It has an enormous courtyard with a central ablution area for the men to wash their feet, the women have to wash theirs out in the back corner. Tourists are not allowed to enter at prayer time, of which they have (officially) five a day. When you do go in women have to cover up and so wearing an attractive ensemble of crushed blue fabric that they gave us, in we went. Inside is breathtaking, with pillars five metres in diameter and a central dome 43m in height. Only men are allowed in the open prayer area and women who come in to pray have to stay up the back in closed off areas. Are we seeing a pattern here? It is known as the Blue Mosque because of the tens of thousands of tiles inside that give it its blue hue.
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Opposite the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofya built in 537AD by Emperor Justinian and his apparently precocious wife Theodora. It is classed as one of the Ancient Wonders of the World and is a massive tourist attraction. Its history is fascinating. It was built as a Christian church by the Romans because Istanbul (at that time Constantinople) was part of the Roman Empire. There are gold mosaics of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist and Archangel Gabriel all over the ceilings and walls. However after the Ottomans gained control of Istanbul in the 15th Century Sultan Mehmet turned it into a mosque. Now it has massive circular disks with the names of the Sultan, Mohammed the Prophet and others in Arabic across the ceiling in the main worshipping centre. It is a real mix of Christianity and Islam and has been a museum since 1935. One of the funniest things in it is a mosaic in the Upper Gallery of Empress Zoe and her husband, however because she had three husbands she just had the mosaic changed each time to match the new husband. Clever girl!
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Topkapi Palace is the third enormous structure in the same area. Built by Sultan Mehmet, the man obviously had size issues, it has four courtyards and the best bit…..a harem. We went for a tour through the harem and got to see where they had their little parties and where the favourites lived. Some of the other tourists had personal guides, so if you loitered around near the English speaking ones you got a little bit of extra info for free. Bargain!!

Having an authentic Turkish Bath was also something we were not leaving Istanbul without doing. We went to the original 300 year old bath (1741) that has been used in Hollywood movies. Men and women are separate but basically the same thing happens except the level of nudity. For those of you who have had a Turkish bath, feel free to skip the next bit, for those that haven’t read on. You walk into a central area with two levels of change rooms and your ‘attendant’ gives you a towel to wrap around you. Then you are led into the Wash room where everything is marble. The room is octagonal shaped with a massive marble slap sitting conspicuously in the centre and small sinks and bench seating (all marble remember) around the outside. You are left there to steam for 10-15minutes and then your attendant comes in and leads you to the marble slab and whips your towel off you and places it on the marble slab. That first moment of total nudity (for women, men always had their jewels covered) is difficult to say the least. It’s been a long time since I’ve been totally naked in a room full of strangers….well maybe not that long (um joke). They then proceed to soap you up and well…wash you. Then they lead you back over to the side and rinse you off and then back over to the slab (naked remember) to oil and massage you and then back to the side again and wash your hair. By the end everyone’s naked and you realise it is no big deal but it is still slightly confronting. The men were done slightly differently but Adam’s guy Ali reminded him of the prison warden in Midnight Express. We were both really glad we go it ‘done’.

Other activities were a ferry ride on the Bosphorous River over to Asia. Two continents in one day was pretty exciting in theory but there was not much happening in Asia. We also went to the Spice Markets and had a ‘scent’sational time and headed over to modern Istanbul to the suburb of Beyoglou. If we thought we had seen busy before that was nothing to what we were seeing now. The mall/shopping strip would have been 30m wide and there were people shoulder to shoulder for as far as the eye could see. We couldn’t believe our eyes, the absolute busyness of it all, where were all these people going and where did they come from? Both of us can confidently say we have never seen so many people in one space at one time.
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Istanbul seems to draw tourists from everywhere and whenever someone found out we were from Australia the first thing they said was ‘oi, oi, oi’. They love that chant. There is so much to see and we couldn’t possibly tell everything. The history of Istanbul itself, let alone Turkey, amazes you when you are surrounded by things thousands of years old and the stories behind them. For a muslim country the Turks are fairly relaxed, the Arabic tourists were the ones all kitted out in the full black burqas and we actually saw a couple with even their eyes covered. Weird! Also the age old question (or my question) of do they remove their face things to eat was answered out at dinner one night when it became a mission to watch. Trying not to stare it seems that they don’t remove them they just shove the food in underneath and let me tell you this girl was shoving that food in there like it was her last meal.

Leaving was sad but we have the rest of Turkey to visit and if Istanbul is anything to go by it is going to be fantastic. We cannot say enough how much we loooovvvveeeedd Istanbul and would go back in a heartbeat.

Posted by Ange and Adam 13:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul Comments (2)

Kosovo and Macedonia

sunny 30 °C

]Leaving Montenegro for Kosovo was exciting….what was it going to be like? We nearly drove through the border checkpoint without even realising what it was. It looked like a big truck stop because that’s what was there…trucks stopped. Anyway we had to pay for car insurance because interestingly enough our insurance isn’t recognised in Kosovo because the UN doesn’t fully recognise it as an independent country. In fact if you are brave enough to drive into Kosovo from Serbia there are in fact no real border crossings because Serbia still does not recognise its independence. Kosovo is only officially recognised as an independent country by 193 nations.

Kosovo itself is surrounded by mountains, like a natural border, and the inhabited parts are all in the valley. Driving through it, the poverty is so obvious. Junk and rubble and dust and dirt litter everything. We drove straight through to Pristina, the capital,(pop 200 000) and had to ‘feel’ our way to our hotel stopping to ask for directions a few times. Pulling up to a roadside cigarette seller along the busy main drag we were accosted by helpful Kosovars all knowing the correct way to go to get to our hotel. After settling in to our pad we headed off to explore.
Pristina is one of those places where you really have to look past the dirt, dust and general dishevelled nature of the city to find its beauty. Nearly every single footpath we walked up was in the process of being ripped up (to be replaced??) and you had to dodge the cut off pipes and other dangerous looking implements to avoid having your toe chopped off. After stumbling around some of the restaurant strip we found ourselves in the main pedestrian mall, not too exciting. The beauty of the place though was what you couldn’t see, it was knowing what had happened, looking for evidence, of which there was little and just being ‘intrigued’ by it all. Intriguing was the best word we could think of to describe Kosovo. There is an obvious Turkish influence existing here. Along the main street is a monument called “Photos of the Missing” and is just hundreds and hundreds of laminated photos (like from a computer) of people that obviously went “missing” during the invasion. They are all just stuck to the fence of a government department building and go for what feels like miles. Once again though, people power past them on their daily business.

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One night in Pristina was enough and we drove onto Prizren (the prettier city) and found a much livelier square and atmosphere. Still dirty and dusty, we took no time to find its main attractions. It was interesting to note that in all the cafes we passed it was dominated by men, customers and employees. At one stage it seemed the only female component was coming from us. Adam wanted to buy one of the traditional Kosovar Plis (a cone shaped hat – see picture but you’re not allowed to laugh). A lot of the old men were wearing them and every time Adam tried to take a photo they would cover their face, hide or just get up and move; a religious thing maybe? Once again an intriguing place but one night was enough. Onto Macedonia…
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Skopje (sko-pee-ya) is the capital and the birthplace of Mother Teresa (did you know that? We didn’t). It was stinking hot and required a lot of walking. Skopje has probably the least impressive old town of all that we have seen so far but their newer side is hustle and bustle and great. All through their main pedestrian mall are brass statues just randomly placed, some depicting Skopje some depicting ‘stuff’. Needless to say we saw a great opportunity for photos and didn’t disappoint. The only real cultural thing we did was the Mother Theresa museum which is on the original site of the church she was baptised in the day after she was born, also a freebie which was a bonus. There are always lots of beggars though and Skopje probably had the boldest, older kids coming up and grabbing you but obviously so robotic in their begging you can see their eyes searching for their next victim while they are attempting to manhandle you. Eww dirty! We have not yet given any money to any beggars however we have given money to people that work for it eg musicians. Our second day had cooled down dramatically and by the third day, departure day, there was light rain, perfect for the drive to Ohrid.

Ohrid Lake is the world’s second deepest lake at 321m and is the world’s cleanest because of a fresh spring (Sveti Naum) that flows into it at the southern end and flushes all the water through. It is shared by Macedonia and Albania and has a diameter of 37km. We booked a private apartment for two nights in Ohrid and this is where we met Illiar. Illiar helped us with our bags and then cajoled us into a welcome coffee and raki (grappa), homemade of course. He is a very proud Ohrid resident and entertained us greatly over the two nights. It was a very pretty place and he offered us a third night for free but we had already booked….nevermind. An exciting moment for us was when a very uncoordinated child fell into the lake and went under. Instinct kicked in and we both raced over to the edge to do a Hasselhoff/Pamela Andersen duet but were beaten to it by a faster, older man.

Ohrid is also a UNESCO town (like Dubrovnik, Split etc) which means that it is considered to be of important historical value because of churches or castles that exist there. Ohrid has an amazing church, Mother of God Perivleptos, which was built in 1295. All around the walls are layers of frescos. The bottom layer tells the story of Mary, Mother of God and then the second layer tells the story of Jesus and the crucifixion. The guide was very thorough and knowledgeable and it truly was awe inspiring. There was a UNESCO restorer there from Italy up on scaffolds working on the frescos to preserve them. The church is not used for masses or ceremonies anymore and is purely for tourist and education purposes. History dictates that the Renaissance period actually originated in Macedonia NOT in Italy as the Italians would have us believe. Sceptical? Well the proof is in the pudding or the paintings in this case. The paintings in Ohrid predate anything in Italy. This church in Ohrid provides a unique experience with frescos seen nowhere else in the world which we were lucky enough to witness and lock into our memories forever. Ohrid also has an ancient Roman amphitheatre and underground remains of an ancient Basilica and a fortress (If we had a dollar for every fortress…..).. The water was a little chilly for swimming but Adam wanted a dip, so in he went.

We left Ohrid for Bitola our last stop in Macedonia. It was ho hum and we just did a couple of laps through the mall. The next day we headed for Greece. Originally we were going to stay three nights in Greece on our way through to Turkey but because we are trying to save Schengen days for the Greek Islands, we decided to just power on through in one night. Schengen days are the amount of days in a six month period you are allowed to stay in countries that are part of the Schengen agreement. Countries like Greece, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania among others are all part. We are allowed no more than 90 days in a six month period. Therefore because half of the countries we are visiting are Schengen we have to make sure our days are worked out correctly so we don’t strike any problems at any of the borders.
So one night in Greece was it so I guess it didn’t really matter that the hotel was dodgy, dark, broken and smelly. The breaky was good though – silver lining . We have planned three weeks or twenty-three nights to be exact in Turkey. We have decided to try to squeeze in a trip over to the east side near the Syrian border, a town called Mardin. It will just depend on travel bulletins on whether we end up there or not. Cross your fingers.

Posted by Ange and Adam 12:49 Archived in Saint Barthélemy Tagged ohrid skopje macedonia prizren pristina bitola Comments (0)

Spit and Polish

sunny 29 °C

Aaahhh Montenegro…it read so beautifully that the anticipation was almost tangible. We had arranged to really stretch out our time in this small country. Twelve nights seemed like a good amount of time to spend by the turquoise waters and the mountains running seamlessly into the still waters of the Adriatic. Dubrovnik had been so beautiful that we thought Montenegro was going to continue that glorious coastline and ambience. Our next leg headed down to the start of the Bay of Kotor. Catriona Rowntree did this on Getaway once and we had remembered. She made it look so beautiful. Between Catriona and Lonely Planet we were well informed and excited.

The Bay of Kotor is a massive bay that runs 12km inland so you are on the coast but not on the coast. Our first stop was the town of Perast. Perast is a fishing village from the 17th and 18th century and is basically one street that runs directly along the waterfront with houses built back into the hill. It doesn’t really allow tourist traffic so we had to get permission to pass through the boom gate to go to our hotel which had car parking for our ‘little girl’. Our hotel was right on the water and seemed to be in such a picturesque location. We checked in and had to pump the receptionist for any information on the town. She was a real gem. Heading down the main street took all of about 2 minutes and was more demure than we had imagined. Two nights here was going to be verrrryyyyy relaxing (and long). Dinner was by the water and fresh fish that had been caught right out in front of the town, yum yum. Little were we to know that the most exciting part was yet to come.

Early in the morning we were woken by what sounded like sausages sizzling on a hotplate, yet being half asleep not much attention was really being paid until….Adam decided (being an early riser anyway) that something was not quite right. Following the noise to the window and peering out and up saw that just outside our window (and we mean just-think being able to reach and touch) that electrical cables that run from the main poles to the building were on fire. Yes that’s right you heard correctly….ON FIRE PEOPLE!!!! Adam felt like playing the hero (he was up anyway so no big deal) and ran outside in his pj’s to raise the alarm. This is the town with more fire engines than restaurants. Having no Serbian to fall back on communication with the only visible local was next to impossible and so with a heavy heart he headed back up to check on his fair damsel who was still enjoying her beauty sleep. Adam trusted that the hotel would take care of this seemingly pressing emergency. Within 10 minutes all the electricity went out and guess what……the whole town then had no power for the rest of the day. THE WHOLE TOWN!!!!! NO POWER!!! NO COFFEE!!!!

Heading down to breakfast seemed like the most obvious thing to do and we headed down to the waterfront terrace which gave picture perfect views across the area. Those clouds coming over the mountain though were getting darker and coming closer. Next minute hail, you think we’re joking don’t you, HAIL the size of peas and cherry tomatoes (vege theme) which covered the surface for as far as the eye could see for about 20 minutes. We were trapped in the waterfront terrace with bits of hail bouncing in and peppering the floor. Then all of a sudden it stopped and the clouds dissipated and the sky was blue again. The electricity was still off though and stayed off until about 3pm by which time we had walked the main street about fourteen times. Always being time savvy though we headed over to the man-made island which lay just off the coast. There is a church there named Lady of the Rock and began in 1452 with one rock and then each year on the 22 July men from the town bring rocks to the island to keep building it up. The women aren’t allowed; apparently they are just supposed to provide moral support. If you ask me the bloody island would have been finished a long time ago if they had let the women just get in and get the job done. Perast was pretty and apparently Michael Douglas has a house there but with a second day waking up to sausages sizzling and intermittent electricity we were ready to go.

We headed off to Kotor at the very end of the bay for the next five nights. Our accommodation had great views and run by the friendliest lady ever…nothing was too much trouble. Kotor has a small old town and it didn’t take long to explore. It was a lot quieter than any of the other old towns and was perhaps not as glamorous as we had imagined. As a matter of fact, Montenegro was not as glamorous as we had imagined but more on that later. White water rafting was booked in and required a hefty drive. Three hours back up to the border with Bosnia to raft the Tara River. 5.30am start and a wrong turn that took us on a road no wider than a double bed with grass growing up through the middle of it, we made it to Camp Grab to raft with a French couple and an Israeli couple. The water was icy to say the least but the scenery breathtaking. Lunch was a hearty meal of meat and veges with soup and cheeses which was followed by the three hour drive home. Eyes tired but contented that after our last rafting disaster this one had actually happened.

Kotor time was spent quietly with a major exertion of walking up 1500 steps to the fortress and time on the concrete slabs they call a beach. We did find though that we had overestimated how much time we would need and there is no one to blame for that except Catriona and the Getaway team (;-)). Kotor needed a bit of spit and polish to really bring out its potential. The old town was clean and well looked after, there were luxury yachts docked in the small harbour and the food was great. Outside the old town was a completely different story though and had broken concrete, trip hazards, lots oflitter and run-down buildings everywhere. It was disappointing especially when you look around at the landscape and the mountains and the natural resources they are given and they just HAVE NO IDEA how to use them properly AND with respect to the environment.

We left Kotor by way of the National Park to our next destination – Budva. Now there’s a whole different kettle of fish. Budva (great name don’t you think?) is like letting people from Blacktown run the Easter Show at Surfers Paradise (Gold Coast) in the 70’s. Are you picturing it? Trashy, a poor mans’ holiday but plenty to make you giggle. Our hotel was great and the first one with a pool. Walking the promenade past all the beachgoers was interesting. Europeans are not body conscious and are happy to let it all hang out, men, kids, women, grandmas and grandpas and we mean ALL hang out. It can be a tad confronting to our delicate eyes. The problem here on in for us was finding a beach that was clean. Montenegrins and their fellow Europeans have no qualms in flicking cigarette butts in the water, leaving plastic bottles and bags on the rocks or in the water and just generally treating the beach like one big garbage bin.

The most interesting things in Budva are the nightclubs. Along the main promenade you have a mix of ice-cream stores, cafes, restaurants, dress and souvenir shops and nightclubs. Large open air pumping out the tunes at 5000 decibel nightclubs with the obligatory group of ‘pretty’ girls out the front enticing you in to come in, drink and watch the pole dancers. Now before you think big deal a nightclub, think of this – they are all open air, which means all the kids walking past can stand out the front and watch the pole dancers gyrate and shimmy on the tabletops. Now being investigative and curious types we felt it imperative to give this nightclub thing a bit of a look so on our last night in Budva, in we went. We had a couple of drinks, shook our groove thangs to a few of the tunes and were just generally soaking up the vibe when…..double take there was a child in the club. At the table next door to us was a kid no older than twelve having a drink with his mum and dad (?). He was drinking coke but still What The??? Angela began giving the mum extreme stink eye in the hope she would feel her utter disgust but she just continued sipping on her beer and shaking her hips while flashing too much flesh. Gross and Totally Inappropriate….are we prudish? Hmmmmm Just for the record he did not look like he was enjoying himself either, in fact he was looking at the dancers as though this was not the first time he had seen them.

We were well and truly ready to leave Budva and headed to our last coastal stop Petrovac. Our hotel was great and we headed straight down to the beach. We had a quick dip, Adam nearly swallowed a cigarette butt and then we soaked up the sun on our deck chairs. A short time later Adam looked up to see a pad (and not the notebook type) floating on the water, then another and another and another. OMG! There were so many out there we thought men must have used them as well. The worst part was people were swimming near them or even just pushing them out of the way to swim past. That was the last straw and we packed up and went back to the hotel. The next day we drove down the coast looking for a clean beach but, and how sad is this, couldn’t find one. There was not a single beach in a 30km radius that did not have ‘rubbish’ floating in the water. Even the areas back behind the beaches are treated like tips and it is no big deal to see large piles of rubbish dumped all along the sides of the road. We were absolutely lost for words in disbelief, anger and disappointment. How could a country with SO much natural beauty be treated with such disregard?

Needless to say when we woke up this morning we were ready to leave Montenegro. We headed inland to our transit stop in Andrejevica on our way to Kosovo. Checking into our hotel we found out the owner has a daughter in Australia and while having lunch in the café, the son shouted us lunch because he ‘loves Australians’…beauty. So all’s well that ends well. The trick with Montenegro is to stick inland with the beautiful mountains and their sheer faces and view the beaches from a distance and all will be good.

Posted by Ange and Adam 07:52 Archived in Montenegro Tagged beach dirty fortress kotor budva lovcen perast petrovac Comments (0)

Split to Dubrovnik

Watch Out For Space Invaders

sunny 27 °C

Back on the coast into Split (pop approx. 200 000), Croatia’s second largest city and the weather looked good. Mum was more than happy to guide us to our destination which, luck upon luck, was about 80m from the action. We had scored a gorgeous 1 bedder apartment right up the road from the main drag for $625 for 9 nights.

After unpacking and settling into our new home we headed into town. Split is a major hub for a number of the Dalmatian Islands and the ferries across to Italy (Bari, Venice) so it is a busy little place. Watch out for scooters!! This is one place where Aussies are a dime a dozen. Along the promenade is the Diocletian Palace which, surprisingly enough doesn’t cost anything to visit because it now houses a lot of the locals and is intertwined with all the non-palace streets or lanes. More and more of our time was spent aimlessly wandering the myriad of lanes to see what was ‘just around the corner’. We were now guaranteed a wardrobe of thongs, sandals and shorts and were happier than pigs in mud.

With ten days up our sleeve and a chance to rest up after all that heavy duty travelling and sightseeing we felt it imperative we visited our local beach as soon as possible. Bacvice (Bach visee) Beach is the ‘big’ one because it is sand, however it is a browny colour and did not appeal to us. The rest of the ‘beach’ area was large slabs of concrete and rock, welcome to the Mediterranean! After realising our backs were just not going to take it we purchased ourselves cane mats to put under our towels and wait for it…..aqua shoes. They are the dorky looking ones you need to walk over rocks, made out of wetsuit material. Everyone over here owns a pair but let us tell you it doesn’t stop you feeling like a nerd wearing them.

Visiting the islands is a must do so we did it and in style as well. We decided to visit two of the islands, Brac and Solta (pro Brach and Sholta) and hired a scooter for three days to make zipping around on the islands easier and of course fun. The ferries are the massive car ones and it took us about 50 minutes to Brac, the bigger of the two, and we hooned around leaving the main beach area, known as Bol, until last after being dedicated tourists. On arrival at Bol we found ourselves at the nudist end of the beach, hence Angela’s shocked look in the photo. Did you ever notice the majority of people who like to frequent nude beaches are the ones that probably shouldn’t? Keep it to yourself I say. Bol is a rocky patch of coast that changes shape with every tide, it generally takes the shape of an upside ice cream cone. We have noticed one thing about Europeans though and that is their lack of need for personal space. They have no issues parking their towels or bodies within 2 metres of you when there is 50 metres of beach to choose from. Even walking past almost requires them to touch you; it is probably the most difficult thing we have to get used to. Hooning around Bol on a scooter was not all it was cracked up to be and after 3 or 4 hours it felt like 3 or 4 hours of sitting on concrete so needless to say we slept on our tummies that night.

Our second day with the scooter we raced (ha ha) up to Trogir, a small town about 32km from Split. It had been recommended to us by a couple of people and word of mouth is always reasonably reliable so off we went. Loved, loved, loved it….small but pretty. It’s easy to say that most of these places are similar in aesthetics but each has a different feel or ambience and in some strange way, upon arrival, it seems you can judge how much you like somewhere. After cruising the streets of the old town (which all these places have) we went to …….yep you guessed it the beach. Deckchairs for 20kuna so no rocks that day, what a treat!

Solta was our third day with the scooter and a very very very very very quiet island, that about sums it up. If its peace and quiet you want, this is the place. Fishing villages rule. The rest of our days were spent drinking coffee in the mornings, ambling through the lanes and sipping wine in the afternoons. We did ration our eating out at night with only 5 dinners out and cooking in our own kitchen the other four, which was fun.
Split took a couple of days to really grow on us but it definitely did. After the quieter places we had been the ‘touristyness’ of Split took a bit of getting used to. It was sunny with lots of shops (shoes especially) and plenty of people watching to entertain you. The water was chilly to swim in but definitely refreshing and crystal clear. The beaches, as far as Aussies are concerned, sucked but it still has a magic about it. Europeans seem to have less body consciousness and ‘elderly’ women are happy to sunbake, even topless (a little bit gross). Ten days were over in a flash.

Our next stop was an unknown, Makarska, gateway to the Makarska Riviera, was another small apartment, two nights and three days to explore. After about fifteen minutes we were congratulating ourselves on yet another good decision. What a little gem!! It is a fishing town with an absolute winner of a beach. We spent two days with deckchairs and an umbrella basking in the sunshine and swimming in the gorgeous waters. Seafood platters were the order at dinner and spotting people who had been near us on the beach during the day, including our own personal favourite, Tomato Man; so called because of his shape and the absolute redness of his skin and his complete oblivious state to it. His armpits were the only part of his body not red, oh and the small folds of skin on his back, he was not a looker.

Dubrovnik, the great walled city, was next on the agenda. Seven nights in the beach area, Babin Kuk was booked with the world’s friendliest receptionist who offers you shots of aperitifs while she explains how the buses work. The aperitifs were so good we bought some of them, can’t promise they’ll make it home though. Dubrovnik is truly an amazing place, a structure. The workmanship and skill it took to build it is mind blowing. The walls are 5-6m thick on the land side and 1-3m thick on the ocean side. We splurged and did the city wall walk where you climb up and can walk around the top of the walls. It was definitely well worth it. Between the sea of red roof tiles and the valleys and hills of stairs you can’t help but be awestruck. How many stones did they use?? The busy season is just about to kick in and we are glad we are not there for it. Dubrovnik, being walled, would be a scorcher on really hot days and small lanes don’t go well with lots of body heat, so we are happy with our scheduling.

We decided to do a three island cruise. It is a one dayer with three of the Elafiti islands to explore. Usually we are hesitant to do some of these organised things because of the twits you might get stuck with for a whole day but we took a chance and booked. There ended up being only six other people on the cruise with us, which was great. Another of the couples were Aussies, from Melbourne and so it was really nice to interact and socialise with people who just sort of ‘get you’. The weather was perfect and the captain gave out homemade wine in plastic bottles, as much as you wanted. The last island had a three hour stop and we hired bikes to get us over to the other side of the island rather than take the golf buggy. It will be decisions like that, we think, that could be the difference between a pot belly and a hot belly. We had a great day and went home happy campers.

The old city is not somewhere you can really spend all day so we spent the mornings at the beach which we could drive to, chill for a couple of hours and eat our homemade sandwiches. Then we would head home, refresh and head into old town on the bus about 3-4pm every day for dinner. There were some bars on the outside of the walls overlooking the water which was a top spot for a pre-dinner drink. A cable car runs just outside old town that can be caught to the top of the hill (mountain??) and gives a great view. It really is somewhere that needs to be viewed from above or from the water to give it some perspective. Seven nights was enough though and we were ready to move on. Dubrovnik was our last stop in Croatia which means we cross over into our tenth country. Montenegro is booked for the next twelve nights and is our last chance for coastal action before we get to Turkey.

Posted by Ange and Adam 14:01 Archived in Croatia Tagged dubrovnik split makarska brac solta Comments (0)

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