After my hike in the alps and my week in Shkodër, it was time to head north, back to the European Union with the eventual goal of Zagreb and a flight to Portugal.
03 June, 2018: I took an early morning bus from Shkodër in Albania to Kotor in Montenegro, a small town on a bay with impressive fortifications and a quaint old town within the old city walls. The drive through the Montenegrin mountains was very pretty, though slightly disconcerting because in some of the more winding parts the roadside assistance phone number is spray-painted on literally everything, and so close together that no matter where you wreck you’ll probably be able to see one. I’m glad they’re proactive about making sure motorists know how to get help, but it certainly does say something about the frequency of accidents.
In Kotor I stayed in a room in a guesthouse with very kind owners and a terrace overlooking the bay, and it was lovely:
Mostly I was working, but I did walk into the old town a few times and climb to the top of the city walls (which is much higher than it sounds because the walls run up to the top of the high hill behind the town):
The old town is squeezed together within the walls at the foot of the hill, and full of tiny, winding pathways and staircases and houses all jumbled together, sharing walls and roofs etc. It’s charming.
Kotor is pretty, but the bay is deep enough to allow cruise ships to dock, so it’s also completely overrun with tourists. I never particularly enjoy tourist-crowded spots, but after a month in Albania and most recently a week spent between a small town and isolated mountain villages, it was a bit of a shock. I was glad that my guesthouse was about twenty minutes’ walk from the old town, lovely as the old town is:
After a couple days there, I hopped on another bus through the Montenegrin mountains to Croatia, and back into the EU.
06 June, 2018: After crossing the border (with a slightly more sincere border check than the one at the Albanian border — at this one they actually made us get off the bus) we were in Croatia. The roads improved almost immediately (that EU money), and after a bit more driving we crested a hill to see gorgeous blue water and the little jewel of Dubrovnik, all red roofs and picturesque city walls.
I took a city bus from the station to my neighborhood, then checked in to a little room in Ina’s apartment.
Ina is a super-sweet 85-year-old Croatian lady who rents two rooms in her apartment to travelers, partly to supplement her retirement income and partly for company. She is absolutely adorable, speaks Croatian, Russian, a little English, and some German, and can’t imagine letting a guest leave in the morning without giving them a cup of strong Turkish coffee, some cookies, and having a little chat on the balcony. I loved it.
She was interesting and fun to talk to. We spoke a mix of English and German (the German was more successful), and she gave me helpful life advice while making sure I ate enough cookies to keep me going all morning. Two of my favorite conversations went as follows:
Ina (looking at my arms significantly): “Ah, you have tattoos. Those are permanent, you know.”
Me: “Yes, I know.”
Ina (comfortingly): “Well, it’s alright. These days tattoos are more common and yours are not ugly. You can probably still find a husband with those.”
And a little later:
Ina: “It is good that you are traveling while you are young. When you are married and have children it will be more difficult to travel.
“You don’t have to have many children, one is enough. I had only one, and now with grandchildren and great-grandchildren there are ten! That is plenty. Yes. You can have just one.”
She was an absolute delight and I was very happy to spend a couple days with her.
Dubrovnik is pretty and charming, but also full of tourists, partly because of cruise ships and even more so now because Game of Thrones did some filming there. As a result things are a bit overpriced and as in most towns with a lot of tourism, the locals are not overly friendly to foreigners. Having grown up in a tourist town, I completely understand that — it’s a bit annoying to have your town overrun by outsiders on vacation. I didn’t like the crowds, but I did enjoy walking along the city walls:
In Dubrovnik I was happy to be staying about twenty minutes outside the old town (once again), and as an added bonus there was a small beach just below my apartment (though the number of stairs to reach it was somewhat daunting in the summer heat).
I rented a car on my last day in Dubrovnik and drove north, stopping for a snack and a wander in Split, and for dinner and another walk in Zadar.
08 June, 2018: Split is a nice town to visit, with the impressive Diocletian’s Palace that has been turned into a marketplace, with a mirror-image layout underground that you can visit to see the original floor plan, minus decoration. It hadn’t occurred to me that when you built an old stone castle, the weight meant that each floor had to copy the one below, and the foundations also had to copy the floor plan above, even though those rooms were mostly unused. There was some storage down there, but its damp underground so that wasn’t terribly practical — mostly it was just empty space, and so it remains.
Split also has a pretty bell tower that I climbed (because naturally the first thing I like to do in any new city is get to the top of the highest thing in it — it’s a great way to get the lay of the land, see a pretty view, and get a bit of exercise). It’s a little vertiginous:
But it is very pretty:
As are the other buildings:
I then walked through the markets, bought some breezy summer pants, and stumbled across this guy:
before driving onward to Zadar.
I was surprised by Zadar: a small town with lots of art and music. It has some Roman ruins (as most places do in this part of the world), and a beautiful old church and basilica in the middle of the old town.
I listened to the church bells ring (very dramatic, and for several minutes), then went into the round portion which was showing a special art installation by Ante Rašić. It was a larger-than-life nude statue covered with small makeup mirrors, and the design of the building allowed lots of interesting viewing angles.
On the upper floor there was a small wooden cabinet with a door slightly ajar. Just as I started to wonder what might be inside, a small brown cat trotted up the stairs, glanced at me, and nudged its way inside the cupboard. Now we know!
After seeing this art, I walked along the waterfront to see another public art, a so-called “sea organ” which consisted of a series of pipe-like cutouts in the stone of the pier, with space underneath for air that was open to the sea. As the waves hit the quay, they push air through the pipes, so that the waterfront is constantly sighing and singing. It’s quite lovely, though calling it music might be a bit of a stretch.
I left Zadar just after sunset, to drive another few hours to my destination in the small seaside town of Senj. This meant a long drive along the highway, followed by a long stretch on a mountain road that looks more like a mapmaker’s drunken doodle:
For added excitement, a thunderstorm was just breaking as I reached the mountains, so the drive felt that much longer in the rainy pitch-black night, split periodically by brilliant flashes of lightning. Eventually I reached my apartment, where my host and her son were waiting to check me in. They were very kind, and the apartment was huge, with a living room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a huge kitchen. It was on a small hill overlooking the harbor, and I was excited to spend a week there.
I enjoyed my quiet week in Senj. I walked through the town:
had lunch in little waterfront cafes, and spent hours just lying on the pebble beach and swimming in the Adriatic.
The water was warm, and the beach was rocky but the kind of rocks that are fairly round and uniform, so not terribly uncomfortable. The water was full of pretty little sardine-sized fish, with pretty blue and yellow markings. The first time I waded in and stood knee-deep, they all came over to see what I was, which led to this:
*wades into the Adriatic*
“Oh look at all these cute little fish!
…aww wow you’re not shy at all, are you?
Fishy fishy fishy!!
…..OW THAT’S NOT FOOD THAT’S A FRECKLE ON MY LEG WHAT THE HELL OW”
*retreats back to the beach*
Aside from the experimentally-cannibalistic fish, though, the beach was absolutely idyllic. The water was crystal clear and the weather was hot and sunny. I enjoyed my time there very much, particularly after I got the flu and couldn’t do much besides lay on the beach.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though — before I got sick, I went to Plitvička Jezera, which was another Windows lock screen destination. It’s a beautiful national park (the first in Croatia) and UNESCO site that consists of sixteen tiered limestone lakes separated by natural plant-based dams, with gorgeous little waterfalls over mossy rocks between each one, and wooden paths weaving back and forth among them.
Most of the tourists come in on bus tours, so there’s an advantage to driving, because you can time your arrival and departure so that it doesn’t coincide with the large tour groups. I chose to walk up through the lakes, then once I reached the top I took an amusing humvee-caravan back to the entrance:
The lakes are beautiful, though threatened by development and tourism, and I was glad I was able to see them.
The drive through the mountains to and from Senj was beautiful in the daytime, as well:
Back in Senj I witnessed some truly spectacular thunderstorms. One night they were so intense that I called my dad because I was feeling a little alone and nervous. That night the rain was pouring down in buckets and the lightning was so frequent and bright that it turned off a streetlight via the sunlight sensor. It lasted for close to an hour and it was one of the most exciting storms I’ve seen.
Toward the end of my stay in Senj I came down with a bad case of the flu — bad enough that I had to stay ‘home from work’ one day in an attempt to sleep it off. I didn’t have a thermometer and couldn’t be bothered going to a clinic for a little flu, but I haven’t felt that feverish in quite a long time. Sleeping through it mostly worked, and I felt quite a bit better after that, but it was a bit more stubborn than I expected. I lost my voice completely for a couple days, and then I had to get up at about 4:30am to drive a few hours to Zagreb and return my rental car. I accomplished that (with a snafu at the rental company that later involved piles of paperwork and an insurance claim to recoup charges for a hair-thin scratch that I definitely didn’t cause), then walked to my hotel, but it was too early to check in so I left my luggage and went on a wander around Zagreb.
Zagreb seems like a decent city, but I was still a bit sick and it was rainy so I didn’t see too much of it. After a short walk I checked in to my hotel and worked for the evening, before catching a few hours of sleep and waking up early for a flight to Lisbon. I’m sure it was a combination of a couple weeks of traveling more quickly and two nights of very little sleep, but whatever it was, the flu lingered, and after a few days of improvement I got worse instead of better. On the plus side, though, I was on my way to spend a week with a friend on the beach, and of all the places to be sick, that’s one of the better options!