Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Goodbye Montenegro


So it's the new year and we spent the last two weeks of our time in Montenegro doing fairly mundane things on the whole. I did a fair bit of running and together, Rachel and I, picked and produced five photo books from our huge collection of pictures from the first year of our travels. It was a mammoth task and after we have achieved the same thing for the successive 5 years or so we will have our whole adventure in some kind of hard, coffee table friendly format. Although it will have to be a sodding great big coffee table by the look of it. The task was made more onerous due to the Printerpix website crashing or having server problems or something which caused the loss of pictures already uploaded going missing. I don't mean one or two pictures either.  I am talking about 100 or 150 pictures. These then had to be uploaded again, scaled again and positioned again. We burned through about 15 gb of bandwidth and nearly 4 days in time. I was furious and after one final push managed to process the order. Just waiting for them to come back with loads missing now....Post script they are perfect



We went to Dubrovnik in Croatia one day. It was only 57 km away so not far (in theory) and we were doubly interested in going because it featured in several 'Game of Thrones' episodes. Yeah it was nice. But there were no dwarfs, dragons, giant warriors or naked queens being unceremoniously marched through the streets so I was a little disappointed.  Still the cobbled thoroughfares, little lanes and solid castle walls were pretty impressive. Just not sure it was worth four hours of driving and braving the cold winds.



In those last days we walked and talked and did all the stuff that seems to fill our lovely days together and then our house owner came home. And with the car fueled, oiled and stocked with food we set off towards Calais some 2109 km and 23 hours away. Or rather it would have been but due to road closures the whole way up Croatia we were forced to detour to lesser roads (that's a difficult thing to achieve when the roads ain't that good to start with but we are professionals and downgraded admirably). Consequently we had to drive a hundred kilometers more on roads that allowed 70 kph at top speed. Man did it drag. There is this strange arrangement half way up the Croatian coast where Bosnia and Herzegovina divides the country in two. It's called the Neum corridor and means that you have to do two border crossing in about 9 kilometres. After our detour however, we were brought to a crossing in the countryside which was only for goat herders and locals, so had to turn about and do a detour on the detour to get to the proper crossing. Even with all of the problems you can't take away the fact that the coastline up from Montenegro, past Dubrovnik, Split and then through the mountains is stunning. Beautiful islands dot the coast that is ragged with many small bays. And, turning inland, the landscape becomes more mountainous and wild the farther north you travel.



As we drove we began to see more and more signs of snow on the hills, then on the sides of the road. Nothing to worry about and made all the more lovely because the day was sunny and warm. Really warm in fact. Shortly after we entered Slovenia we bought bread and cake from a bakery, pulled up on a point overlooking a charming valley and sat on benches outside of the van for lunch. Little did we know that 4 hours later we would be sitting in a snowstorm stranded on a motorway in Austria.

Anyway back to Slovenia. It is a lovely looking country and each of the 4 or 5 people we had to speak to for some reason or other were friendly and open. I think it could be on our list of places to go back to because we didn't have time to stick around. The roads wound through the hills and gradually the snow about us started to increase. Interestingly, it would seem that we would enter different climatic zones after driving through a series of long tunnels. Sometimes coming out in fog, then snow, then sun. Very weird. Crossing Slovenia didn't take to long coz the roads were empty and then, once the Alps came into view, the weather started to darken and it started to spit a little rain. That then turned to sleet and that soon changed to snow. 



A few days previously, Austria had a massive dump of snow.  This had caused a few problems and although the snow wasn't due to be that bad again, the residual piles of the stuff grew as we left Slovenia. No sooner had we crossed the border than the snow got heavier and heavier, and started settling on the roads. So that when a car in front left tracks in the snow  it became covered immediately in new flakes. Then came the first sight of red tail lights ahead and all came to a stop. Lorries pulled over to one side of the road and cars to the right. Plainly they knew the drill here as this was to allow emergency services a clear route to some trouble up ahead. It turned out that a lorry had jack-knifed about 100 metres ahead and had completely blocked the carriageway. So we waited and waited and as we waited it snowed and as it snowed the lorry drivers started putting on snow chains and the cars started to disappear under the blanket of white. We felt secure in our van with our full tank of fuel, lots of heating and cooking gas, food supplies and our own toilet but even so it was scary as the snow got to 6 inches. Rachel said she felt like she was in a horror movie since outside looked bleak with a few shuffling figures walking up and down the ranks of cars like zombies looking for flesh or in this case possibly for our supply of biscuits and warm cups of tea. We drew the curtains and and munched quietly! It took three hours to clear the wreck and suddenly there was motion. People running back to their cars, tail lights and headlights lighting the sky as the flashing blue lights diminished and we were off. In true aryan style the traffic sped forward. The road had been ploughed and the way was clear for the foreseeable future. So we all surged forward to escape what could have been our snowy deaths. And although it snowed heavily the momentum and numbers of the pent up traffic triumphed and turned the snow to slush and sprayed it to the sides of the road which after a another hour became German slush and after another hour became a clear and bitingly windy night. We pulled off the autobahn as soon as we could. We ate, we made our bed and cuddled up with the temperature sitting at a balmy minus five outside.




On the way out to Slovakia a couple of months previously we stayed at Alan and Petras and after a series of texts we arranged to stay again. Not only did this mean a warm and comfortable bed for the night but turned out to be an impromptu farewell dinner party with surprise guests. Thank you A and P for the excellent hospitality and to Sonja, Marcus and Ralph for your company and parting gifts.

And that's about it. The roads were clear and manic and lead to Belgium and Calais and two mornings after with the van stuffed with cheap booze we sailed home to England. But that's another story I guess. Toodaloo.

More pics at http://www.rachris.co.uk/gallery.html






Thursday, 3 January 2019

Montenegro


Well, here we are in Montenegro. The housesit is in a flat in the town of Tivat. A town that centres around the Porto Montenegro development and harbour. It's set on the coast of a large, virtually enclosed sea inlet that is sided with hills that slowly climb up to become mountains. It's really only a summer place so out of season half of the restaurants are closed. Still there is stuff going on over Christmas so it doesn't feel empty.



We are looking after Buddy. A Dubai born fellow who looks a bit like a vertically challenged retriever. He was rescued in Dubai, then carted off to a couple of other countries before he and his Australian owner Katrina ended up here, where she is an English teacher. He's low maintenance except for spending most of his days scratching at the door to get in where he will stay for 5 minutes before scratching to get out. The owner lives with the door open and wears a coat in the cold flat but that isn't happening as it's December and we didn't sign up for freezing, so we are sometimes at loggerheads with the little fella.

Our first day alone on our own we found a pub hosting an ex-pat Christmas lunch so tagged along for a few hours of drinking, networking and eating a yummy lunch. Not a bad group of people. A few of whom we have met up with again during our stay.


We are only a short distance from the bay so walk Buddy along coastal boardwalks, roads and small stony beaches daily. Its nice. The Adriatic reflects the blue of the sky and our first 10 days are mainly bright with only a few clouds.


On the downside it seems that a large number of the indigenous population suffer from the surly manner we have found in all of these Eastern European countries. Consequently we are often left hanging with a smile dying on our faces as we are blanked. I don't know why but the national traits of bad driving and being grumpy go hand in hand but our extensive research suggests that it's an endemic problem. It's a shame because when we have broken through they seem pleasant enough, although still a little reserved.

Example: I got offered a drink by a neighbour the other day. He saw me coming out of the drive and nodded (We had nodded once or twice before - or rather I had). Anyway, he saw me and, lifting his cupped hand to his mouth, said. "Come, drink". It was 9.30am but when in Rome and wishing to be amenable I agreed and followed him without a word as he route marched to his garage and poured us both a small glass of home brew petrol. "Salut" he said. Still not smiling. "Salut" I responded. And downed it and, just as I stopped wincing, noticed he had only taken a small sip.  He then looked at me blankly as I tried to communicate, unsuccessfully, for a few minutes. The whole time there was not the smallest glimmer of a smile on his face. He then points at my empty glass in my hand. "Drink" he said as he started to unstop the bottle. This could go on for some time - me drinking and babbling and he staring so I declined and scarpered down the drive, shouting more thanks over my shoulder as he stared on impassively.

Final collective thing about your Montenegrins - they are a very tall race. I cannot count the number of 2 metre tall people we have seen. We feel like we are on the set of 'Land of the Giants' and have to be quite nimble to avoid being squashed underfoot. All the women wear heels as well. So, with their already long legs plus a further 4 inches of 'fuck me' heels it takes ages for me to properly letch and I have found I get bored before I have even got to the thighs. Give me Rachel's little legs anytime. I've letched at hers thousands of times over the years and am still captivated.

We drove to the nearby town of Kotor the other day and climbed the mountain path to an old crumbling monastery that hangs on the hillside. It has an impressive city wall connecting it to the old town below and its possible to get to it via some steps on the wall. Steps, however, always ruin a good tramp to my mind so we opted for the rugged old donkey path and had to access the monastery by climbing through a window in the fortifications. From there the donkey paths, known as the 'Ladder of Kotor'  zig zag their way up and away into the mountains. We clamber for a few hours and  look down on the sea inlet and red tiled roofs of the old town. All very pretty with the sun glinting off windows and the water beyond..


Christmas in Montenegro will be recalled by us with frequent and very loud bangs. For 3 days before Christmas up to a couple of days after new year we were jumping, spilling drinks or shrieking in surprise as someone lit yet another touch paper and bunged these bloody things somewhere nearby. The only upside being the dog would come scurrying in and stay in for a while until he forgot and ventured out.

So the last three days have been pretty interesting. Every night over Christmas and New Year the local town has put on entertainment in either the evening or afternoons. Tivat has a pretty swanky harbour with swanky shops, swanky restaurants and mega swanky superyachts. Anyway the council pushed the boat out a little here and laid on something every evening. The square on the harbourside has been lined with pop up bars and the sky lit up with lazers, lights and twinkly LEDs fixed on cranes, buildings and the impressive stage.

On 30th December we had disco night. A great band complete with afros, white suits and stacks. Also two very energetic dancers who wore their coats to keep warm. They were good and tried to lift the crowd but just couldn't get 'em dancing. Got me and two or three others dancing but that doesn't take much nowadays.

The big night has arrived. The bangers are so close together they no longer make us jump but rather form a background continuous tone to life now. We start the day off with a walk along the old harbour, get some shopping then drop into a smokey restaurant bar - You can smoke inside here and a large number of people do. Just like the old days in Blighty when you used to have a shower before you go out then need another to wash the smell of fags off when you got home. There is a terrible entertainer keeping the locals happy with Balkan gypsy sounding singing (toneless and loud) and over exuberant organ playing with the balalaika option being used rather than piano. Still all jolly and we tuck into sausage, fried potatoes and beer.


The evening's entertainment was an Abba tribute band that carried the tunes well enough but, once again, failed to excite the crowd beyond a gentle sway and the occasional girly hip wiggle. We stepped away from the stage after a while and camped up in one of the bars overlooking the square. We were then amazed by the appearance of the main act - Zeljko Joksimovic. Mr Joksimovic was Serbia's 2004 Eurovision  entry and was the runner up on that fateful night. 2008 saw him being the producer and composer of the next Serbian attempt and then, somewhat stuck in a rut - some might say - was the presenter in the 2012 show. Anyway his star obviously continued to rise in the Balkans and he had a string of successful records leading to 2019. The roar was enormous when he arrived on stage. I had ne'er seem such emotion. The crowd, as one, suddenly started to move and sing to one another in a 'hairbrush held as a microphone' sort of way. It was lovely. Not my type of music but the locals loved the sort of euro-electric-serbian-gypo-dance-at-a-different-speed-to-the-beat kinda stuff and we tapped our toes appreciatively for the ambiance more than anything else. Midnight arrived, the fireworks erupted in a short but impressive array, backs were slapped and Mr Jok rocked on.


New years day. Although officially the first day of the new year is more of a pause, a comma, a hiatus than a proper day. It's the day when any resolutions made are often, conveniently ignored because it's hardly the right time to stop smoking, drinking, eating too much etc. It's a time for nursing hangovers, comfort food and a quick one in a pub before life kicks off on the 2nd.

Hence this last blog of 2018 will include this magical day because for us it was a great end to the last year and a start to the new.

We drove to Budva along the coast. The sun shone, the wind dropped and people were out. We parked about two km from the old town and sauntered along the glittering Adriatic to a classical concert in the ruins of an old church or something. The Opera pieces and stirring choice of music were perfect. We then walked around the old alleyways and byways of the town until further music caught our ears and we, with hundreds of others, sat at tables on the shingle beach whilst a folk band played to the setting of the sun. Quite magical.

So that's it for 2018. Happy new year to anyone desperate enough to read this stuff. iIn 2019 we start here for a couple more weeks, then there's a 2000km drive to England, a brief visit to Spain and then on to live and work in Chile for a year. It's a dull life but someones gotta do it!

Bye for now,

Chris and Rachel

Love this. Spot the gap between good intention and bad management