part 1 | part 2 | part 3
saturday, september 29
Day 6 : From Montenegro to Croatia
We'll continue through the tiny country of Montenegro today, en-route to Croatia. Before leaving, we'll enjoy a guided tour of Kotor, which sits on the edge of the amazingly picturesque Bay of Kotor - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'll explore its old town and city walls before visiting the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon which was built in 1166. We'll continue along the stunning southern coast towards the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, famous for its distinctive old town and massive stone walls built in the 16th century. Once we reach Dubrovnik, we'll head out on a guided city walk, which will provide spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea. On the agenda is also a visit to the Big Onofrio's Fountain - a large fountain which was built in 1438 as part of a water-supply system that involved bringing water from a well approximately 12 kilometers away.
OVERNIGHT : Dubrovnik hotel
breakfast in montenegro featured some kind of cold pork roll stuffed with nuts & herbs, & it was a bit rich for breakfast, but delicious. Bobbsey noted the bacon is getting crispier as we go further up the coast. i had forgotten to plug the fridge & phone back in, but i did remember to tell the front desk, & i'm 90% sure they had no clue what i was talking about, haha. at 8:15am, we packed up the van & went on to kotor's "old town".
iva joined us again as our guide. there were many cats around the square, & iva said it's known as "cat square". gee, no kidding? the clock tower was from the 17th century, & iva told us about the "efficient shaming" that was conducted in the square by tying people up to the architecture, similar to a pillory. she told us a story about one of the families who were known by the name "homeless" - they got sick of that but coudln't just expect people to call them something different simply because they asked, so they decided to build a hundred homes so they'd become known as "hundred houses" instead of "homeless". spoiler alert: they made it to 98 when the last member of their bloodline died; womp womp. we saw a lot of balconies on homes that faced into the city, & apparently no one had made "inside balconies" before, but they noble people wanted to be able to look down on everyone, as nobles do. the other bit of note was the original town well - people used to write down their gossip & leave it in a box by the well, & they'd publish what's basically a tabloid - &, now once a year, they still do.
we had some time, so i wandered with Anticat. i didn't want any of the trinkets, though a goat milk soap shop smelled amazing, but i successfully saved Anticat 5€ on a lamp she liked through my powers of persuasion & distraction: the shopkeep was asking about my hair & tattoos, & we chatted a bit before he gave her the 40€ price. i said that was more than other places (it wasn't) & he said this lamp's bigger than the others (it was), but he agreed when i suggested 35. X)
there was an option on how to proceed to our next destination - we could either take a ferry for ten minutes & four euros each, or drive for 50km on the winding roads that would exhaust poor beckham & made Bobbsey carsick the day before, & which we'd already driven on anyhow. so we bought in, & off to the ferry we went. on the way, we discovered that greece was being hit by a hurricane, & we'd just gotten out in time - basically the same story i had when i went to the philippines & a typhoon hit a week after i left. (hm, a temple i visited in egypt was bombed a week after a returned, as well. i'm not sure what this information adds up to...) the ferry was small, only about a dozen vehicles, & was maybe fifteen minutes. during the trip, we saw an old california license plate on an even older VW bus - they'd been driving all the hell over the world in that thing!
we stopped for a bit of fast lunch at a little market with a sandwich counter, but it was all preserved meats & i couldn't stomach the nitrates, so i settled for some chocolate cherry breakfast cookies that were... okay. they provided fuel enough, anyhow, & were pleasantly unsweetened beyond the fruit & a few chocolate chips. i also found some lemonade mentos that... had emojis printed on them. wtf. i can never resist foreign mentos & their eccentricities.
on we drove to the croatian border. Dr Grump insisted on passport stamps this time, or said she wasn't leaving montenegro. i also wanted a stamp, but i'd have been just as satisfied to see jovo call her bluff. :D at the next stop, i bought some of the bake rolls jovo had shared earlier - basically pizza flavored bagel chips that were fucking delicious. this hadn't been a good trip for expansive dining, & i was starting to really crave vegetables, but at least the junk food was tasty & stuff i couldn't have at home!
with croatian music on the radio (followed inexplicably by this oldie), we passed out of montenegro & then into croatia, with stamps both times & no drama aside from one of the policija coming into our van to personally collect our passports.
it wasn't far to the hotel, so we checked in & had a half hour before going to dubrovnik's "old town". (i was a liiiittle over old towns by then - both budva & kotor looked very similar, & i was tired of seeing churches on every street - but i suppose UNESCO sites are important to support.) my room had a huge bed, & a nice little patio area with a garden & a lemon tree. i grabbed my light sun-protection clothing (the stuff that kept me safe sans sunblock in egypt), then reclined in one of the comfy AF egg chairs in the waiting area. there were fragrant little flowers everywhere & i chased an enormous hornet-like insect & butterflies for photos. (i couldn't record the butterflies, but i got four of the hornet thing. i was able to ID him when i got home - he's a hummingbird hawk-moth, also called a "bee moth", & he's AWESOME! i love finding bugs that live nowhere near the US.) we were waiting for a tenth person to join us, & she did - jovo had mistakenly said we were picking up an 18yo who was traveling on her own, but fortunately we cleared that up before Baba joined us, because she was eighty! regardless, she was a cool aussie from sydney & she immediately fit in with us. (i didn't spend much time with her, so i don't have a good nickname for her; but i liked her, so she gets to be Baba, which i read is a common balkan endearment for grandmother. :) )
our third "old town" was a short drive away, but we had to walk a few blocks to it so beckham & jovo didn't have to pay fifty euros for parking, sheesh. we tried to exchange money, but their machines were broken - oddly, Lola had brought $250USD in croatian money for some reason, so she sold a couple of us (including me) 120 kunas for $20USD. our guide met up with us then - vikram, i think? - & he showed us around. the town was established in the 7th century & has 39 churches in it - the record so far! i photographed the fountain - which has potable water - & st mary's cathedral, which had been rebuilt three times in the same spot. i commented that i hope they built it stronger this time. i also found my favorite sign of the trip at the letrika art bar. XD
after some negotiations, i convinced jovo to give us two hours so we could eat *&* wander a bit - in budva, we'd barely had time to eat with an hour, since everyone moves so slowly. Hopeful Zone & Baba joined us for drinks only, but Anticat was willing to split some food with me. we shared a very nice little salad & the cuttlefish black risotto (one of the better risottos i've had! i generally don't care for peasant food, but i like squid ink & i really wanted to try cuttlefish again), & i had a local apricot juice with it that was lovely. we were eventually joined by Kinesis (who had just gone spontaneous cliff-diving in his clothes?!) & Dr Grump. i considered gelato, as it was everywhere & apparently excellent, but in the end, i was the only one who abstained.
the sunset was heating up as we drove back, & i snagged some photos out of windows Kinesis had kindly washed for us at the last gas stop. i ate my kinder surprise before it became any more squashed, wrote per usual, then reclined in bed before our last day in the balkans.
...& then got back up to order room service because i love monkfish. :D it was kind of a bust - the sweet potato purée was gluey & the monkfish was chewy, but the sauce was flavorful. on the upside, the bed was the best of the trip, & i slept well.
sunday, september 30
Day 7 : Exploring Split
Today, we make our way to the town of Split, situated on the Dalmatian Coast. Split is popularly known for its sunkissed beaches and its Diocletian's Palace, built in the 4th century by a Roman emperor and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'll explore the southern section of the palace, marvelling at its Bronze Gates before making our way to the Vestibul of the Emperor's Palace, The Mausoleum, St. Dujam's Cathedral, Cathedral Treasury, Temple of Jupiter and St. Martin's Church. We'll finish the day with a visit to the fruit square before stopping at the Venetian castle, Milesi Palace and the Monument of Marko Marulic.
OVERNIGHT : Split hotel
since dinner was mediocre, i didn't bother rushing to breakfast, just loitered in bed & internetted. i did take a quick run through it just to be sure i wasn't missing out (i wasn't), then met the group & got on our way. we were driving three hours up the coast to split, & spent the first hour back on the balkan-PCH. i took plenty of video to edit together while leaning over Phantom, who was kind enough to let me, as i'd been sitting on the other side of the van.
at the bosnia border, we had to go through a sort of croatian fast lane, & didn't receive stamps. we were only in bosnia for two kilometers, but we stopped at a gas station (yay more foreign candy) where Hopeful Zone got an awesome photo of herself with a couple of border guards. (yes, she sent it to me, so it appears below. :D) i got my croatian "dime" (10 lipa), & a few minutes later we were back in croatia. jovo stopped the van at a roadside fruit stand (right near the JERKOVIC CAR DEALERSHIP, apparently) & bought us all fresh mandarins, which had been grown just down the hill, & a bag of candied rind to cut their tartness.
after a short nap, we arrived at our hotel in split. it took me a minute to figure out the toilet in my room: ignore those two silver knobs on the wall - they're nothing - & smack the top of the steel pillar 'cause THAT'S intuitive. we met in the lobby a short time later & were joined by natasa, our final city guide. off we went to our fourth "old town". i asked why the city was named split, & she said no one knows, but they believe it comes from the aspalathos flower - which is greek in name, but the area was first settled by greeks, so it listens.
the nerds on our trip took a group photo by the big SPLIT sign (i played photographer for several cell phones), then natasa taught us some things. i was pretty over old towns by then, but i noted some things anyhow: split has the third oldest synagogue in europe (all we could see of it was a door with a piece of copier paper with "SYNAGOGUE" alone printed on it); we saw the cathedral of st dujam & it was fine; in building the cathedral, they brought columns & a black granite sphinx from egypt; the small sphinx was similar to those i'd seen in egypt, but it was an unusual design as this one had human hands & was holding "a bowl for sacrifice"; we saw some a capella singers performing traditional dalmatian music (that's the area, not the dog) - & when you watch the video, the translation of the dude that sits down was, playfully, "i was ready but they're not!"; there were decorative swastikas carved into some walls, but the city was built at the end of the third century, so they beat hitler by a minute or two; i saw a fig tree & joked with Kinesis that he could use a leaf if he forgot his swimsuit (his response was that he'd need a few, LULZ); game of thrones had filmed there & the tourist shops SURE DID reflect that; the hungarian king from the 13th century entombed his dead daughters right above the entrance doors & there their remains remain, wtf. &, finally, we saw a statue of a wizard-looking dude named grgur ninski that they relocated from somewhere - when they did so, the workers found an unopened 50-year-old bottle of whiskey inside. so they drank it, of course, then left a new bottle for whoever moves it next. :)
jovo gave us two hours to wander the shops & eat, & i went off to dinner with most everyone. i had a pipi - the waiter said it was "croatian fanta", but it was much better as it wasn't syrupy or overpowering, & was overall like a fanta with the volume turned down. i ordered the sea bass, which was seriously excellent (despite the comic sans on the menu, damnit!), & then went off with Anticat in search of a shirt i'd seen during the tour. (i found two i liked, but neither would have fit well enough to bother.) my eye was caught by a kitschy magnet rack that had... a clear outlier on it. (photo below!) i heard "africa" playing for the second time during the trip, then i bought Anticat a gelato for making sure i didn't get lost. i had a double: the cherry was good, but their "special hazelnut nutella" was the best gelato i've ever had, & the woman serving it really knew how to wrap a scoop.
back on the van for the last time, i finished collecting everyone's contact info, & we sat together in the lobby to sort out the next day's departures. i was the first out - my flight was at 8am & the airport was a half hour away, so i'd be in the air before the others even met for their transfer. jovo arranged a car for me, then immediately started hugging me... & hugging me... then he said goodbye & left... only to come back to hug me again. i promised to include him on my group email so he could keep in touch, too. since i wouldn't be sleeping much anyhow, i didn't rush to my room, & indeed the whole group stayed in the lobby for four hours, chatting easily while "africa" fucking played for the third time. eventually folks started retiring to their rooms, & so did i (after making sure Hopeful Zone reassumed control of her passport X) ).
music: archers of loaf, "white trash heroes"
L-R: Dr Grump, Anticat, Phantom, Bobbsey, Inverse Luke Perry, Kinesis, Baba, Hopeful Zone, Lola, and Jovo
monday, october 1
Day 8 : Your Balkans adventure ends, hotel to airport transfers included
You have the rest of the morning free to do some last minute sightseeing and shopping before we transfer you to the airport to board your flight back home.
as predicted, i mostly stayed up, but i did nap for a couple hours so i wouldn't be too stupid to find my gate. i caught my transport at five am, & it was quick with no traffic. on the way, i saw an unusual billboard of a printed car with working headlights that were flashing - i know the flashing was meant to draw your eye to the ad, but it just looked like they were advertising a car alarm being ignored. i also spotted croatia's version of a cash-&-carry called "cash and peri", which instantly made me think "cash & perish".
security at split airport was easy, & the whole place only has ten gates or so. i spent the time writing while camping an outlet (as you do), spent most of my remaining kuna (mostly on fancy cherry jam), & boarded the first of three planes. because my flight was so early, it was easier than normal to flip my sleep schedule back to pacific time. that was the easy part of the day...
when i arrived to munich, i found that once again my flight had been changed without anyone telling me. i literally walked & stood in lines for an hour & a half to find out that lufthansa didn't care about me & i'd been moved to british airways to transfer through london instead of cologne, which required yet more intra-airport travel wiht a shuttle to another terminal & back through full security again & bluh. it wasn't a good time. things started to look up, though, when they closed the passport control line i was waiting in - they moved everyone to another area so poorly that the line wasn't slightly maintained, so i went from being nearly last to nearly first. (hey, if the folks at the now-back weren't going to complain, i sure wasn't going to!) i finally got to my gate & bought some german candy, then i was standing in another huge line for a sandwich... & some nice stranger told me there's another line on the other side of the counter that had almost no one waiting. i acquired a smoked salmon panini with horseradish & rocket, & a bottle of water, for just $11USD. it was particularly delicious, especially for airport food! & the nice british airways guy (originally from split! hah) who had helped me with my ticket was at my gate too, & he called me up specifically to make sure my bag was making it onto their plane. d'aww.
the second flight was just an hour to london. british airways did something very clever & asked for a donation to charity of any spare change - in any currency - that we could offer. that made giving to charity a favor to me, as i didn't know what i was going to do with my last 4.50 kuna (about 70 cents USD) since my bank won't convert foreign change, only bills.
at heathrow, i looked for any neat english candy, but didn't find anything i couldn't buy at the local import shops. i did brighten some brit's day, though: i walked past as he was using the self check-out, & the machine said, "approval needed" - i said to him with eeyore's inflection, "sometimes i feel the same way," & was rewarded with very english laughter. after sitting for an hour at the starbucks next to my gate (they had the comfy chairs), & riding yet another shuttle, we boarded my final plane of the trip.
i sat next to a british grandmother who was lovely to chat with while we ate (despite being mildly racist - apparently her son married a woman from india, so their kids "have her long dark hair & his pale complexion - the best of both worlds!" errrrm yeah, okay, well... o_O). she was otherwise very sweet though, & even traded me her [unopened] water for my [also unopened] cheese. i was able to nap a couple more hours, then woke to the pilot making a pretty good joke about it being "balmy in seattle - that's b-a-l-m-y." as i exited, i passed the pilot, & complimented him on his funny. he seemed surprised & pleased that an american got it. X)
i was tired arriving to seatac, but not exhausted, & my luggage indeed showed up on the conveyor. i walked to the light rail & rode home uneventfully. i thought i'd want to go back to greece, but i don't really need to; what i'd like instead is to return to croatia. before i left, many people told me croatia is gorgeous; indeed it was. i enjoyed montenegro quite a lot as well, but it's small & beachy & touristy, which is less my scene.
as noted previously, i'm now adding to the GMT at home, so here are the new additions. (swaziland also received its missing tittle.) & finally, a google maps image of our full balkans road trip. the company on this trip definitely improved the trip, so thanks to all those who joined me. :)
thanks for reading.