We have been in communication with our good friends and fellow Tiger owners Ovi and Cory for the entire trip to coordinate a meet up. In addition to being Tiger owners they also own a 40 foot sailboat that they have had in the Mediterranean for the last few years. Today we headed down the road to a small port city called Missolonghi where they are planning to keep their boat over the winter.
It is always great to meet friends when you are traveling as it is a chance to unwind, slow down and catch up on things. We arrived about 2 pm and except for a short break in the early evening to park François we ate and chatted until nearly 11pm.
We are not sure how long we are going to be here with them but the posts may be delayed as our priority is going to be good company, food and wine.
Meteora was on my list of places of visit to Greece, but while we were in Albania Mugi from the campground in Durres insisted we visit here. We are really glad we did as it is one of the most striking places we have ever been.
The columns of rocks in the valley would be incredible by themselves. I did some research on how they were formed. The answer was complicated, but what is special is that individual rocks like this are not that uncommon, but what is unusual about Meteora is that there are only a couple of other places where they are clustered together like this.
The rocks are awe inspiring and early on attracted spiritual people. There are caves in the limestone cliffs that attracted Chrisitian hermits early in the development of Christianity.
As time went on the hermits began to form into groups and found monasteries on top of the rocks. At the peak in the mid to late 1400’s there were over 26 monasteries perched on top of rock faces in the area.
Part of the reason was religious as the area does have a spiritual pull. The other reason was during the 1400’s this area was under a lot of pressure from the Ottoman Empire so the rock peaks gave security to the monks.
Many were only accessible by rope and pulley so the monks were quite isolated from the surrounding towns and valleys. The monasteries required incredible ingenuity and labor to complete.
Today we visited four of the six remaining monasteries. Now two of the monasteries have been converted to nunneries, so it is actually two nunneries and four monasteries. In modern times a good road runs thru the mountains and all of the monasteries have carved staircases to them so while it is still quite a climb to most of the monasteries they are very accessible. As a result they have become the second most visited tourist destination on mainland Greece.
They are not very large but all include a chapel and living quarters. Our favorite one the Monastery of Varlaam had a couple of small but really well done museums on site. We were lucky to get into Varlaam as it is usually closed on Fridays but was open today because it is a Greek national holiday. Because everyone assumed it was closed when Ton and I got there we had the place nearly to ourselves. Ton had to buy a skirt to cover her pants. As you walk up there is a sign saying men cannot wear shorts and women cannot wear halter tops, shorts or pantaloons.
The views from the monasteries were incredible, but the chapels were also quite interesting. Ton was really fascinated by the icons in the chapels and found them quite beautiful.
Later in the day we visited the Holy Trinity Monastery which was used in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only.” It is the smallest of the monasteries but the hardest climb.
Meteora is a special place and we both really enjoyed it. One of the highlights was our bus driver, we were using a shuttle service provided by the town and had the same bus driver all day. On one of the legs we were the only ones on the bus and he waved us to the front seat so he could talk as he was squeezing thru incredibly narrow spaces. Today is Liberation Day in Greece so I asked who they were liberated from and he said the Turks, but after a few seconds he said no it was the Germans and Italians, he then laughed and said we’ve been liberated a lot so it can get confusing.
We enjoyed our short stay on Corfu, but it was time to move on. We woke up early as we wanted to get the 10:30 ferry to the mainland, and Ton wanted to hit the Lidl on the way to the ferry terminal. Everything went as planned and we were the second vehicle on the ferry, which meant that at Igoumenitsa we were the last one off.
On the way out of town Greta decided we were a cargo truck delivering something to the port and guided us to the port entrance for commercial deliveries. It was a high security area and we were clearly not going to get entrance. Fortunately there was a place to pull over while we sorted out our options. I was hoping someone would come out of the fortress like gates and give us some advice but no one did. I had decided our best option was to shoot down the one way road we had come up as there was not much traffic. While I was planning this maneuver, Ton noticed the barriers keeping us from getting to the outbound lanes were light plastic (they looked heavy from a distance), she cleared them out of the way (she is adapting nicely to the customs in the Balkans) so I could cut thru to the proper exit. After I crossed thru she put them back in place and we were on our way.
The rest of the drive was uneventful and we rolled into our campsite at the base of Meteora around 4pm. Our neighbor is an immense expeditionary vehicle probably worth a million dollars. It makes François look cute.
We revisited Corfu today to take in a couple of spots we missed yesterday and to try a couple of food places that looked interesting. As we were riding the bus in we were wondering how many cruise ships would be in port this morning. We were happy to see only one tied up, and the town was quieter than yesterday.
The first stop we had planned for the day was a bakery we had seen walking around town yesterday. The problem was neither one of us could remember exactly where it was, or what its name was. We decided to take it as a challenge, and began the quest for the bakery. It was fun as we went up and down the main street looking for the alley we thought it was on. We weren’t having much luck and had covered quite a bit of the old town in the quest without success. We decided that if we were not trying so hard to find it we probably would have walked right up on it. After about 45 minutes we were contemplating giving up when there it was in front of us not 30 feet off the main street in town.
We ordered a sample of pastries and some Turkish coffee to wash it down. The pastries were interesting as all three of them used honey in place of sugar so were a little sticky and quite sweet. One of them reminded Ton of a desert they have in Thailand that she says they got from the Portuguese. The Turkish coffee was a nice complement to the sweetness of the pastries and I am glad I ordered it without sugar.
Our next planned stop was the Museum of Asian art. Ton had read that it was the best museum in Corfu. We spent about an hour and a half going thru the museum, and they had a very extensive collection of Chinese Pottery that took up a whole floor of the museum. They did a good job of showing the evolution of Chinese Pottery. My only complaint was that we both had a hard time reading the font on the display as it was both small and often located at floor level which meant bending over to see it. The museum itself was located in the old British Governor Generals Palace, and while the exterior was nothing spectacular as palaces go, the interior was well preserved and impressive.
The Governor Generals Palace makes up one side of the main square of town with a wall of impressive buildings making up one other side, unlike most towns in Europe where the main square is usually surrounded on all four side by buildings, this one is open on two sides which makes it look quite expansive, instead of being paved it is grassed and in the evening serves as the towns cricket pitch.
Yesterday as we were walking by the waterfront we saw a restaurant offering a three course lunch that looked both a bargain and good to us. We decided to return today for lunch. Since we were looking at the sea we decided to go for fish and the meal was everything we had hoped for. The bar has now been set at a high level for both quality and value for our future stops in Greece.
As we were walking to the restaurant a giant cruise ship was just pulling into the town so we new the quiet streets we were enjoying were going to be ending soon. We were debating our next stops for the day when we both fell in love with the dressing served with our salad. It was made from Pomegranate, olive oil and vinegar and was delicious. Ton decided we needed some for François. Our waiter provided us directions to a grocery store where we could get some and our next quest for the day was on.
The quest was a short one as the waiters directions were spot on, and the grocery store had the dressing in stock. As we were walking the crowds were building. We had thought earlier to try some more Corfu Beer Company beer as we were impressed with the beer yesterday. When we arrived at the pub we had planned on we were both full from our late lunch so instead headed back to François and called it a day.
Corfu is one of the hot spots for tourism in Greece, but we were hoping it would be on the quiet side today as a lot of places are shutting down for the winter. Our campground is closing on Sunday until May 1. We looked at treating ourselves to a hotel here, but the one we were looking at is closing tomorrow so it was not available. What we didn’t count on was cruise ships.
When we arrived in town the place was rocking with tourists! It turns out that after we arrived on our ferry yesterday afternoon three cruise ships came into the port. The number of people were just short of overwhelming, so we decided to head into the non-tourist part of town to visit a soap factory Ton had read about.
Patounis Soap Company has been making olive oil based soap using the same process since 1850. They have a small factory off of the main street in Corfu and are open for visitors. While we were there a German family was also visiting and asked for a tour so we tagged along. We got an explanation of the process and got to see the soap in the molds before they are cut into individual cakes. The process had not changed much since 1850 and the bars are still hand stamped and cut, and packaged in brown paper with twine. We enjoyed seeing how they made the soap and purchased a few bars for ourselves and for gifts.
On our way back into the old town we stopped by a coffee shop for a short break and a pastry. After our short break we headed back into town, and it was empty as we had imagined it would be when we arrived. It turns out all three of the cruise ships were sailing about 4pm and everyone had gone back to their ships.
Ton was very happy as she could move around taking photos and window shopping without fear of being trampled. We spent the next couple of hours just poking up and down streets and alleys looking at interesting shops and nice churches.
We have visited a lot of Catholic and Protestant Churches during our rounds in Europe, but this trip we have moved into lands belonging to the Orthodox church which we are not that familiar with. The difference in the style of the church, and the artwork is striking. The Orthodox churches seem to be smaller, and more austere than the western churches. I’m not completely sure about smaller because we have not visited a large city yet so the size may be a function of the size of the cities we have visited. The contrast is interesting between the western and eastern churches. The art work seems to be focused around images of saints in a fairly stylized manner.
There are also painted metal icons which are often on display. I have noticed that in addition to lighting a candle in front of the icon people will actually kiss the image.
We ended our day by walking down to the edge of the water and having the local Corfu beer. Ton had a Red Ale and I had a Pilsner, they were both excellent. As we were sitting there the cruise liners all began to pass by on their way to their next destination.
When we arrived at the campground we had a message from Delta Airlines. Our flight home is a KLM flight from Athens to Amsterdam, and a Delta flight from Amsterdam to Portland. KLM has decided to rebook us on a flight from Athens to Amsterdam that leaves 30 hours after our flight from Amsterdam to Portland. We called Delta and the lady explained that KLM will probably fix it, but until 10 days before our departure Delta can’t do anything to rebook us. She said just to watch for updates and hopefully KLM will come up with a better alternative that does not involve time travel. If they haven’t before November 3 we can then give Delta a call and they will fix it. Ton and I laughed and decided to enjoy ourselves and see what happens.
Once again we are feeling like we are running out of time and having to pass on places that we want to visit. Corfu was one of the places in Greece that Ton really wanted to visit. When she lived in England a long time ago she remembered a TV show she really liked that was set in Corfu so here we are.
Getting here was a bit of an adventure. Corfu is an off shore island and requires a ferry to get here. We were looking at options for the ferry and the best place looked like Igoumenitsa in Greece. It was about 200 miles, but google had it at over 5 hours driving time for cars. Talking to Albanians they mentioned an alternative which was a ferry from Sarande in Albania to Corfu. Some on line research showed one ferry a day leaving at 4 pm but since there is a time zone change it would also arrive at 4pm. The problem the website was unclear about the price for François. It showed a price for campers (in Europe that usually means trailers) and passenger vans, but not motorhomes. Ton and I had a lot of discussion about what to do and finally we decided to head to the ferry terminal in Sarande.
The initial drive to Sarande was unexpectedly easy. The road had been recently upgraded, and we covered the first 150 km’s much faster than we anticipated. We were both congratulating ourselves on our good decision when Greta Garmin told us to exit our good road. First we saw a sign indicating Sarande, then right behind a sign with a big ! and 10% grade. I could see it switchbacking up the mountain in front of us and thought the last 35km’s were going to be a little more challenge.
While the road was a little rough and very steep, we really had no big adventures in the hour it took us to cover the 35km’s. The real adventure began in Sarande. I had programmed the ferry terminal into Greta, but I told Ton to watch for signs for the ferry terminal as the roads into the ferry terminals are usually pretty wide to accommodate truck traffic. But as we got nearer and nearer to the terminal there were no signs for the ferry, just busier urban roads. Finally we got to a road marked one way, but also with a do not enter sign for trucks and busses. We are neither but my alarm bells were going off.
The road itself was one lane wide and plenty wide enough for François if the good people of Sarande had any self discipline. The problem was that about every 50 yards would be some uncaring person double parked and reducing the lane to about 7.5 feet, we were just squeezing thru with inches to spare on both sides, between the trees and light poles on my side and the inconsiderate person on Tons side. I think it was the most stressful kilometer I have driven here. There are no pictures because we were both too busy trying to not scrape François.
When we finally reached the ferry company they told us we were too tall for their boat, they could have listed the height restriction on their website it would have saved us a lot of effort. So we were off to Igoumanista. After back tracking and squeezing down the same road again we were off to Greece, and the drive was easy. At the border we seemed to bother the Greek Immigration guy as he was engrossed in a Soccer game, so he stamped our passports and moved us on quite quickly.
We made it to Igouminista where we had our choice of ferries, and were loaded and underway 15 minutes after we arrived. We have settled into a big campground that is due to close at the end of the week for the winter, there is one other couple on site. Tomorrow we will be off to see Corfu.
We spent a great deal of yesterday tapping on Matt and Mugi’s knowledge of the area for ideas of places to go. One of the places they really recommended was a winery that allowed RV’s to stay on site. We love these agrotourism places and will often go out of our way to stay at them so we decided that we would stop here today.
We said our goodbyes to Matt and Mugi as well as Ashley and Paul, and headed down the road to the winery. It was a short trip and we ended up pulling in to the winery well before noon. They were expecting us as Matt had called ahead. After we got settled in we headed up to the restaurant on site for a Sunday lunch. The food is mostly from the farm that the winery sits on or is locally sourced. We were guided thru our choices by a very knowledgeable and attentive waiter. The meal was excellent and the dishes seemed to be a good representation of local cuisine. After lunch we took a quick walk around the winery before settling in for a nap.
When we first sat down we were the only customer, but as the day went on the restaurant was very busy with Albanian families having Sunday lunch. We enjoyed watching the coming and going of what was often three generations of a family, and in one case four generations. We have seen these multi-generation meals on weekends throughout the mediterranean countries, it is something we really admire and hope we can emulate one day.
Lunch was so good, we decided to go back up to the restaurant in the evening to try a couple of new Albanian dishes that had seemed interesting at lunch. Once again we really enjoyed the dishes and the preparation. Up to today we had not had great luck with our food in Albania, but Albacina showed us what great food there is in this very interesting country. As we were sitting there the sun set below us to cap off a great relaxing day.
The past couple of nights we have been sleeping in an urban environment with a busy nightlife. Tonight the only noise we heard when we went to sleep were the crickets chirping in the field.
Last night we decided to stay another day and relax with our new friends at the camp ground. We had made some loose plans to go to a restaurant recommended by Matt and Mugi. It turns out that Paul and Ashley had also decided to extend a day for the same reason. So at breakfast we decided we would head to lunch with them.
To get there required a taxi so with the help of Matt and the coffee shop at the corner we located someone to take us there and back. When we arrived the views of the city were great though unfortunately it was a bit hazy. The restaurant turned out to be huge and doubled as a wedding venue and horse arena. There was a lot going on.
Unfortunately the food was a little underwhelming, and for the first time since we arrived in the Balkans the portions were quite small. We enjoyed talking to Paul and Ashley about their experiences touring in their van. We had been following pretty parallel tracks thru the Balkans and it turns out we had stayed at several of the same sites. They are hikers so they spent more time on trails and national parks than we did, but otherwise we had very similar interests.
After we returned from our disappointing lunch Ashley announced she was still hungry so we sat down at the coffee shop next to the campground and split a couple of pieces of cheesecake and a pizza. They are headed home on Tuesday from Tirana and have arranged to park in a campground near there. It was interesting to compare their experience in shipping an American registered RV to Europe and touring vs ours of purchasing a European one and using that. There are plusses and minuses to both, but after talking to them we are satisfied with our decision to purchase here.
The night before we had gotten a thorough briefing on the town from Matt and Mugi the owners of the camp site on how to use the transit system and what to see in Durres. Scott and Ashley from Massachusetts volunteered a good restaurant for lunch. This place has a nice feel as all of the campers have abandoned their RV’s and instead cluster around a group of tables under an awning with Matt and Mugi presiding over the place and Mugi feeding everyone tea and snacks. Because of that everyone chats and has fun together, and we have had more interaction with our fellow campers here than at any other place we have stayed in Europe.
Durres has been a port city since before the Greeks so it has a long history. At various times it has been Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian. The ride to town was easy, when we tried to hand the driver our 80 Leak he just waved us on the bus. It turns out Albanian busses still have conductors who manually collect the fares, something we have not seen anywhere else in over 20 years.
The downtown was bustling with people. The shops were mostly local businesses. There is very little left of the older buildings as they were mostly torn down during the communist era. There are a couple of Roman era ruins in the town. The biggest one is a 2nd century amphitheater that was uncovered in the last 60 years. It includes a church that was added when the city was converted to Christianity. There were some interesting mosaics in the church.
The main mosques in town are also new as the older Ottoman era mosques were torn down under the communists. While a few of the women wore head coverings the majority of the women were stylishly dressed in copies of the latest Italian fashions. The town had a very secular feel to it.
The waterfront promenade was very nice but quiet in the shoulder season. We had lunch in an upscale restaurant where we were the only customers and after a little more walking headed back to the campground. When we arrived at the campground Matt, Mugi, Paul and Ashley were sitting around so everyone brought interesting alcohol we had all gathered on our travels and we all sat and talked until after sunset. It was a great end to a good day.
As usual on these trips we begin to feel a little pressed for time so we made the decision to leave Montenegro and head into Albania. We have been lazy lately driving mostly using tollways for long trips, but today we did not have a choice. The first 50km’s in Montenegro was on a road that had fair asphalt but was not quite wide enough for us to pass a car without slowing down almost to a halt and squeezing by with one set of wheels hugging the edge of the road, as there often was not much room off the road because of walls or ditches. Fortunately for us we met a Luxury Bus from Slovenia about 10km’s into the trip and used him for a “blocker” for the drive, if he could squeeze thru we new we could. Eventually the road widened out to two solid lanes and we could relax a bit.
The border crossing into Albania was simple. Albania is the poorest country in western Europe with a per capita income of only $5300. During the communist era the country was basically isolated from the rest of the world by its communist leadership. When the communist government fell the new non-communist governments had and still have a huge deficit in infrastructure and education to overcome to come up to the standard of the rest of Europe.
Having said that there are signs of progress and the main roads are decent if not particularly fast due to the variety of vehicles using it. Intermixed with the modern cars trying to move along at 90kph were tractors, old soviet era trucks, and the occasional three wheeled contraption made from an old motorcycle with a work platform attached to it, that was only capable of about 15kph. It made for a lot of speeding up and slowing down. The interesting thing about the roads was the number of gas stations. Albania easily wins the gas station per mile density contest over any country we have seen in the world. There is no excuse at all for running out of gas here. I’m sure there is an interesting story behind why there are so many gas stations but a quick google search doesn’t show it.
Eventually we made it to Durres which is an ancient port city that we plan to explore tomorrow. I told Ton that this place had rave reviews on Park4night but only had 4 spots so we had a back up plan tomove on to a back up site further away from town if they were full. When we arrived Greta had us one block off location in a block of beach front hotels and apartments with fairly narrow roads. We were in a good place to get turned around so I told her I was going to go off on foot to find the place and see if they had room for us. Ton decided to come along. We weren’t exactly legally parked but were following the example of the locals. Just as we were walking away a police car drove up and honked his horn at us but then carried on. I found the place tucked up next to the beach, but saw a sign saying full. I told Ton looks like they are full when I heard a Scottish voice asking what we needed. I told him a spot and electricity. He said we can accommodate that.
The owners are a Scottish/Turkish couple, the other guests are a Swedish couple whose daughter is competing in a European weight lifting completion, a German couple who don’t speak much English but love Southern Rock and Roll, and surprisingly an American couple traveling in a Winnebago Revel with Massachusetts plates. So the owners were surprised when we turned out to be American also. It seems like an interesting place.
We had a sleep in for the morning, and after a nice breakfast headed into Bar. Bar is interesting as the old town is far inland and the town is now centered on the port and waterfront. Unlike other towns Bar is not on the tourist map, and does not have much of an old town to attract people. The harbor is primarily focused on commercial shipping and while it is well protected it is not scenic. In a coastline of beautiful scenic cities, Bar is definitely blue collar.
A lot of the town infrastructure seems to still be from development during the communist era. There are a lot of concrete block apartments, and a couple of communist brutalist buildings that were probably built as attractions, but now seem ungainly and strange. It would be interesting to look back on the opening to see what the intent of these buildings were.
In the afternoon Tito picked us up and took us about 30km down the coast to Ulcinj which is an old fortress built on top of another spectacular harbor. We enjoyed the walk around town and the fort but Tito was disappointed when the museum of the fort was closed because he wanted to walk us thru it.
Our next planned stop was a seafood restaurant recommended by our friends Cory and Ovi in Ulcinj, but it was also closed. Tito than said he knew a great restaurant on top of a mountain overlooking Bar, that had both good food and a spectacular view of Bar and the coat line. The drive up was an adventure as most of the time the road was a single track with either walls or a steep drop off on one side. Every time we met another vehicle someone had to give way or back up. I enjoyed the ride mostly because it wasn’t me dealing with the problems. Unfortunately when we arrived at the restaurant it was also closed. In the end we returned to the same restaurant as last night to enjoy another excellent and low cost meal.
Today was about taking care of two bits of business, we needed to see if we could get our Carte Grise from France, and find a place to look at François’ headlights. Tito had arranged to pick us up at 3pm to take us around town so I had the morning to get things figured out.
At first it was a frustrating start as we were having a hard time with the internet which made it tough to call France. We eventually worked the internet out and after a couple of emails and phone calls we learned that our Carte Grise was still being processed but they could provide us with an official document telling the border guards that it was not our fault we had a copy but the French Governments. It seemed just weird and French enough to be true so we are going to proceed with our two new documents.
I also spent the morning trying to figure out what was going on with François’ headlights. I could not get them to work and most of the evidence pointed to a bad switch which would require a part. More research showed that the only Fiat dealer in Montenegro was in Podgorica which is about 80 kilometers from here. There was one mechanics shop in Bar that specialized in Italian Cars and had good reviews so our plan was to take it by tomorrow.
When Tito came at 3 I told him about our plan for the lights and he recommended we go by now to make sure he could take us tomorrow. He also said he could explain the problem to them in Serbo-Croat in case they did not speak English. When we arrived weirdly the guy did not speak either Serbo-Croat or English, but only Italian. This did not phase Tito who seamlessly switched to Italian and explained the problem. After some tinkering around it turns out that somehow both low beam light bulbs had burned out simultaneously, so the fix was easy.
What had started as a potentially frustrating and hectic day turned out to be relatively easy. The day ended with Tito taking us to a very good and inexpensive restaurant where we all enjoyed a good meal with some excellent local wine.
We added our 6th country of the trip today. We are now parked in the marina in Bar Montenegro with a nice view of most of the Montenegrin Navy (4 ships). Our second border crossing was not as uneventful as the first, but it is our fault.
We are supposed to be traveling with a document for François called a Carte Grise. Our original Carte Grise went missing during Covid and the location we use for storing François changed so we needed to modify our Societe Civile and after that was complete change the address on the Carte Grise to reflect the new address. For a lot of reasons the documents were not ready when we arrived. We discussed our options with Eurocampingcar and decided to go with copies, it was not ideal but we thought with explanation the copies would work.
The first border crossing in Croatia was a non-event as they did not even look at our passports or vehicle documents. Today in Montenegro we pulled up to a very quiet border crossing and handed the guard our passports, and he asked for the vehicle documents. He typed our passport information in, and then looked at the documents and said: “Montenegro requires original documents”. There was a pause while he looked at me, then he stamped our passports and handed back our documents and our copies and repeated “Montenegro requires original documents.”; but pointed into Montenegro. I asked may we enter, and he replied “Have a good day.” So we are in Montenegro trying to track down our original documents from Eurocampingcar, before we go to Albania.
The other issue from yesterday was every time we entered a tunnel Ton would tell me to turn on the headlights as it was very dark, and every time I would look at the dash and the little headlights on icon was shining brightly. When we arrived in Bar for the night we moved into our spot after dark and Ton was right the headlights are not on despite the nicely lit icons, the running lights work, the high beams work, but the low beams don’t. So we will be spending some time trying to iron that out.
In between the drama we visited Kotor. Kotor is on an incredible body of water that looks a lot like a Fjord, but is technically not a Fjord but a flooded river valley. Still it is beautiful and Ton enjoyed the views while I was busy driving a very twisty, but wide road. As we pulled into Kotor it looked very interesting but we knew it was going to be crowded because there was a giant cruise ship looming over the town.
Kotor had the most impressive ruins of an immense wall and fort running up a nearly vertical mountainside. It was quite a feat of engineering when they built it. The town walls connect to the mountainside walls. We walked the town walls, and while it is possible to climb to the top, we passed on the opportunity.
Kotor has a thriving cat population and has latched onto that as a tourist trade opportunity. The cats are cute and act like it is their town and we are lucky we let them use it. Everywhere we have visited in the Balkans the town and campground cats have been well treated. Since we are now cat people thanks to our sons cat Dottie we have enjoyed watching them play and beg for food with a dignity that only a cat can muster, while they are asking for food they make it clear that it is our privilege to feed them.
Kotor was the first city we have visited in Europe that is primarily Orthodox Christian. We took a look inside to get an impression of the difference in the art and layout of the churches. Our initial impression is that the art work is a little more austere and stylized than in Catholic and Protestant churches.
We enjoyed Kotor it is less developed as a tourist destination and feels more “authentic”. But it has recently hit a lot of lists as the new hot destination in the Adriatic, so already most of the storefronts are now set up to meet the needs of tourists and not the locals. It feels like a mini-Dubrovnik which is not all bad.
We are now parked in the Marina in Bar, Montenegro. Our friends Cory and Ovi kept their boat here during Covid and recommended that we stay here, they even introduced us to a friend of theirs who set us up with our own space with electricity. After we arrived Tito met us at the marina and directed us to our spot. As he was on duty for the night we got to spend a couple of hours talking to him.
We thought we were going to go back into Dubrovnik today, but when we woke up we were lazy and decided to hang out at the campground. I did do a photo album of Croatia which is the entry before this, or can be found under Photo Albums.
Today is our fifteenth and most likely last day in Croatia. Two of the visually most spectacular places we have visited in Europe are here. Plitvice National Park and the Dalmation Coast almost spoiled us with their natural beauty as we cruised along. The cities were more modern than many we have visited and the influence of 40 years of communist rule were visible in blocky unattractive architecture outside of the old towns. But the natural beauty and the old towns more than made up for the unspectacular new towns. Please enjoy.
On our second day visiting Dubrovnik we visited several of the museums in town. The highlight was the Regents Palace from the days when Dubrovnik was a seafaring city state. It is not a particularly large palace by European standards and while the artwork was interesting and some of the old furniture and antiques were fun to look at the highlight for us was tucked away in a back corner of the museum and was a collection of photos from the War of Independence as the Croatians call it.
Today Dubrovnik is almost Disney like in its appeal as a medieval town brought to life but the vibrant tourist city is a very recent development. In 1991 during the breakup of Yugoslavia after the fall of the communist government, Dubrovnik was under siege for over 100 days, and under artillery fire for over 200 days. The part of Croatia Dubrovnik is located in is a very narrow panhandle along the coast. In some places it is less than 1km wide, and at its widest it is about 25km’s. Today the border is with Bosnia, but in 1991 Bosnia was still controlled by the Serbs, and the Serbs wanted to retain Dubrovnik in greater Serbia. They attacked towards the coast and succeeded in cutting Dubrovnik off from the rest of Croatia for over 100 days, and since the Serbs still controlled the old Yugoslav Navy this included from the sea. The relatively small garrison of Croatian troops managed to hold on to the city despite heavy artillery fire. The siege was lifted after 100 days, but the Serbs remained within artillery range for another 100 days and continued to shell the town periodically. Looking at recent pictures of wartime damage of a city you are actually visiting really drove home the story of the battle. It was a very moving experience for both of us.
The other story we learned in the Rectors Palace was the story of Saint Blaise who is the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Most Catholic cities have a patron saint, but Saint Blaise is really popular and his image pops up all over the city. We had a good time the rest of the day pointing out images of Blaise to each other as we walked around, including one live fellow who we felt looked like Blaise.
After the Rectors Palace we enjoyed a stroll along the harbor and a walkway at the base of the fort. One thing you find every where in Europe are incredibly beautiful harbors. The one here had crystal clear green water and the walls enhanced the beauty of the harbor.
As we have been traveling in Dalmatia we have been seeing on restaurant menus a dish called black Risotto that is a specialty of the region. I have been meaning to try it for a few days and today we found a place that specializes in it. The dish is made with the ink from cuttlefish which turns it jet black. I really enjoyed it and another thing from my Dalmatian bucket list is now complete.
By this point we were ready to head back to the campground which involved a relatively short walk to the bus stop. But as you can tell from the photos, Dubrovnik is built on a pretty steep hillside. While the distance was short the climb was substantial and neither of us were looking forward to it, in the end we made it to the bus stop where we enjoyed a multi-national group of people guessing what time the 2:30 bus would arrive, the answer was 2:47, the Croatians have a Mediterranean sense of time like the Spanish and Italians, it drives the Swiss and Germans crazy.
Like many visitors to Croatia Dubrovnik was high on our places to see. Ton recommended that we try to get there early before the cruise ships drop everyone into town, so we were out waiting for the bus at 9:15 am. The bus ride in was uneventful, but as we were riding I saw them advertising something called the Dubrovnik Pass on the video board on the bus. A quick look saw that a three day pass cost 300 Kuna and included the walk on the wall (240 Kuna by itself) and some other museums, and free bus passes for the three days so for us it was a great value and will probably save us 400 0r 500 Kuna during our visit. We highly recommend it.
We arrived in town about 9:45 and it was pretty quiet when we got to the wall. The old town in Dubrovnik is completely enclosed by a medieval wall that is quite impressive. It was built by the Venetians to protect from sea raids and to also defend against the Ottomans to the land side. It was only breached once in its history by Napoleon.
The seaward side protects two different harbors on either side of the peninsula that Dubrovnik is on. Overall it is quite an engineering feat and pretty fun. Dubrovnik was a minor tourist destination until fairly recently due to being under the communist government of Yugoslavia, and then getting tied up in the resulting civil war that came with the break up of Yugoslavia.
In the last 15 years it is no longer undiscovered, but overwhelmed with tourism. The tourism is a double edged sword as it drives the economy of the region, but also makes living here very tough for the Croatians. The local government has limited the number of cruise ships that can dock on a daily basis and are studying other measures to find the correct balance between tourism and the quality of life for the local people.
The other factor leading to the explosion of tourism is Game of Thrones. When the town was quite a bit sleepier it was the ideal setting for Westeros in Game of Thrones. As the show became more and more popular people came here just to see the site that the show was filmed at.
It took us about 2 hours to complete the 2km circuit around the walls. Having completed that we dropped down into a very busy old town. While we were walking around we had seen a steady stream of boats coming in from one of the cruise ships that was anchored out, and while the crowds were not overwhelming it was busier than we like.
We took in a couple of other sites including the Jesuit Steps which are similar to the Spanish Steps in Rome, and the market. As the crowds built and we have three days to explore we decided to return early tomorrow to continue looking around.
As our Dubrovnik Pass now allowed us unlimited rides on the bus system we decided to get out of the tourist part of town and head to the local microbrewery. Dubrovnik Brewing shares its location with a tire shop and was doing good business on a Friday afternoon. The beer was good, and the food truck attached to the brewery was serving a Croatian take on a Pork Burrito which was interesting.
We have settled into a campground in the small village of Orasac about 12km’s from Dubrovnik which will be our base while we visit the most visited place in Croatia. It has a nice view of the Adriatic and is quite full as their are not many camping locations available near Dubrovnik and several of them have closed for the season.
Our drive down was easier than it would have been 4 months ago because Croatia opened a new bridge in July. Before the bridge there was no direct route to Dubrovnik that did not involve crossing into Bosnia. As a result of the settlement of the breakup of Yugoslavia Bosnia was given a very small access to the Adriatic. Their Adriatic coast is 12 miles long which is the second shortest national coastline in the world. The problem is that it cut Dubrovnik off from direct access to the rest of Croatia. The border crossings 12 miles apart often added two hours to what should be a 2 hour trip.
The Croatians have been working on a bridge to by pass the Bosnian coastline since 2007 and finished it this year. It was quite expensive to build as it had to be high enough to allow ocean going vessels to go under it so that the Bosnian port could receive ships. We really appreciated it today.
Yesterday we met an American couple at the restaurant in Milna #1 who told us about the fantastic oysters in Ston. Ton mentioned she had also read about the oysters in Ston and many claimed they were the best in the world. As a son of the Chesapeake Bay I took that as a challenge and told Ton I would be the judge of that.
Luckily we had to pass directly thru Ston on the way to Dubrovnik. In addition to having the “best” oysters in the world Ston also had a very valuable salt flat that caused it to be constantly fought over in the middle ages. So to protect the town they built this elaborate 3 plus mile wall around the town and a hill next to the town. It is supposed to be the second longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China, but that claim like their claim to have the best oysters in the world is disputed.
To give Ston oysters their due we picked the best restaurant in town and ordered an excellent meal with three oysters on the half shell to test their claim. While the oysters were quite large and tasty I do not accept that they are the best in the world and will put Chesapeake Bay oysters up against them for quality and taste.
Having said that Ston was an interesting city and the meal was great continuing our streak of not having a bad meal in Croatia.
Today was a down day for maintenance. Yesterday was a long day and on the way back to the campsite we decided we deserved a day off from our stressful life as permanent vacationers. The cute building in the top photo is the laundry room for the campground which was the highlight of our day as Ton always feels better when the laundry bag is empty.
Croatia is famous for its off shore islands. Running the length of the country are medium to small islands with very quiet and picturesque towns. There is also one medium sized town that is considered a must see when visiting Croatia. Ton and I have been talking about the best way to get out to some of these islands, some are easily accessible for François using vehicle ferries, but the ferries are not particularly cheap. Other islands are not vehicle friendly as the roads on the islands don’t extend beyond the edge of town and the ferry is pedestrian only. We did not want to pass up the opportunity to see these islands but were unsure about the best way to get it done.
Yesterday while walking thru Split we came across a bunch of tour operators offering basically the same five island tour with two offshore cave tours as a bonus. One of the cave tours is the Blue Cave which is part of a Croatian NP and one of the top 5 destinations in the country. The tour operator did warn us that both caves depend on the sea state and could be canceled if the conditions were unfavorable. While we are not opposed to structured tours it is generally not our favorite way to see things. The other thing was the tour required a show up time of 7:40 am at the Split waterfront which for us meant a 6am wakeup to catch a city bus to downtown. But after talking it over we decided it was a good way to get a feel for the off shore islands to see if we wanted to ferry François over.
That is a long way to say we signed up for a boat tour and were up at 6 am to catch a bus downtown. The bus ride was easy and fast and we were downtown by 7 am so we found a bakery to have a pastry and coffee before heading over to our boat for the day.
We started our day with a bit of a disappointment as due to a strong on shore wind the Blue Cave was closed for the day which was going to be a highlight. Instead of starting at the Blue Cave we headed for Budikovac Island which is the home of the Green Lagoon. The captain of the boat told us and the other 10 passengers to settle in as it was about 90 minutes out to Budikova. Budikovac island is pretty small though it has been producing grapes for wine for over 1000 years and the wines from there have been famous enjoyed by both Roman emperors and Marshall Tito who was the head of the communist government when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia.
Our next stop was Stinivac island which has what is reported to be the best beach in Europe. The beach is reached by entering thru a small cut in the rocks. When the sea is not too rough you can row small boats in from off shore, but not today. The younger members of our boat swam in to get a look. Ton and I had to be content with enjoying the view from the boat.
The green cave on Rivnik Island was our next stop, but the captain warned us that it was unlikely that we would be able to go in because of the rough water. However, when we got there he was able to tie the boat off to the mooring, but the guides who usually led the tours were not there as it was unsafe to enter by boat. However, it was safe for swimming so once again the younger customers all jumped in and had a good time while Ton and I stayed in the stomach churning bobbing boat and watched them have fun. The captain came up and apologized to me and said the rest of the trip would be ok.
Our next stop was a small port town called Milna on Hvar Island for lunch. The ride over was just long enough for our stomachs to settle down so we could enjoy our lunch. The lunch was quite good and reasonably priced, we have not had a bad meal yet in Croatia.
After lunch we headed over to the highlight of the day. Hvar is another of a seemingly endless string of beautiful small port towns and one of the most visited places in Croatia. At one time it was the center of the Dalmatian tourist industry and while it is still extremely popular people are starting to spread out and explore other parts of Dalmatia.
We enjoyed exploring for a couple of hours. The hills are pretty steep so we made up for our time sitting on the boat by climbing up and down the medieval allies around town. It is a charming town with nice restaurants and coffee shops every few feet.
Our last stop of the day was the port of Milna on the island of Milna. If you were reading carefully you will remember we had lunch in Milna, just not this Milna. For a small country Croatia has a lot of towns with the same name. Ton and I had a circular conversation earlier in the trip about Novigrad, she was talking about one Novigrad and I was talking about another. It turns out there are 5 Novigrads. We were discussing a good campground with a friend of ours in the town of Zedar, but confusion reigned when I told him it looked nice and was only 20km’s north of Split. He said no it was 20km’s north of Dubrovnik. We were both right and both are nice campgrounds. In the islands off shore there are 6 Milna’s according to our captain.
We pulled into Milna #2 for an evening drink or gelato. Ton and I opted for the Gelato and a walk along the waterfront. It was a pretty town and the sun was setting as we went around. We enjoyed the walk quite a lot.
The last 45 minutes back to Split were pretty rough as the seas had been building all day. It was just rough enough to be interesting, but not so rough as to be scary so we enjoyed the ride.