Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Lecce - and the return to Šipan

I hadn't really considered the reputation of Bari before deciding on a day and night there, but it certainly struck me as cleaner and more tidy than Naples or Rome. People tell me that it should have been filthy, scary and a place to avoid. Which is why I'd seriously consider going back there for another visit. I've now experienced many Italian port cities and this one, along with Ancona is probably my joint favourite. Bari's old city is a warren of tiny streets, with people living their lives outside on them; from noisy shop keepers conversations and football exclamations, to hushed musical Italian gossiping and lovers' seafront murmurings. The golden buildings were colourfully adorned with painted Madonnas, bright plastic flowers, and clean washing. The low stone archways between buildings framed the scenery like monochrome rainbows, picture perfect and a photographer's dream.

As I headed out of the old town into the new on my way to the train station, the atmosphere changed and suddenly I was in a shopper's paradise. I sat in an ice-cream bar waiting for a morning coffee but I didn't feel at ease. After the natural beauties of Macedonia and the uncertain dirtiness of Albania, the likes of Prada, Gucci, and other labels didn't sit right with my jeans and rucksack so I got up and headed through town to find something more suitable. The little portable espresso bar in the public park was perfect - 2 euros for a chocolate bun and an excellent caffe latte was just the job. I was inevitably joined by a gentleman who was compelled to tell me about his marital difficulties. In Italian. It's not my strongest language to be honest. I was torn between annoyance at having my musings interrupted, and compassion at his loneliness, after all, making time for people has been my biggest lesson of this year.

After an uneventful ticket purchase, a quick trip to a supermarket for sundries, and clambering on the right train, I was smoothly making my way to Lecce. It's a sign of how immured I've become to travelling under difficult circumstances. As much as I love Croatia, train travel in other parts of Europe is something I've missed - efficient, cheap, clean, convenient, comfortable. Balkan buses are certainly cheap and relatively efficient, but I'm a bit fed up of them and the roads. So I just sat back and admired the Italian scenery; dramatic clouds, blue seas, green olives and vines, and towns with romantic names. Brindisi, I am determined to return to you....not to mention Monopolis!

I arrived in Lecce just under two hours later, calm and unruffled, with back symptoms under control. I can definitely recommend the loos at the station and after a quick tidy up, I was strolling into the quiet town. The weather was stunning and there was a photograph around every corner. Unexpectedly for an ordinary southern Italian city, it felt cosmopolitan and the population there is very diverse; I haven't seen ethic clothing like that since leaving east London. The supermarkets reflected the foods of the people and it made a change from the predominant Mediterranean flavours I've been used to. It helped that I was sharing a house with a young Argentinian and we compared travelling notes over a brew of yerba mate. I later shared my mushroom risotto!

Italy is very expensive after Albania etc, but despite this I quite enjoyed making myself at home there. I went to the hairdressers, indulged in a bit of clothes shopping, and wandered around many of the churches, parks, museum grounds and the incredible cemetery. The latter should be on everyone's list. It's like a mini-city of tiny desirable properties; it makes London's Bishop's Avenue look a bit cheap. I particularly loved the Egyptian temple with the sphinxes. I probably should have gone further afield but I was happy just to relax in the town and catch up with my rest. Such a party animal! Sadly, the contacts that I had in Lecce didn't materialise so there was no socialising.

I was happy to experience yet more interesting weather conditions but it was polite in comparison to Albania. The sky threatened to really throw a tantrum but just ended with a some rain and a dramatic double rainbow. The following days were generally settled and I was happy to compare yet another Roman theatre. I wasn't planning a Roman architectural trip but it had been a delight to find these classical gems in each town - what a wonderful part of the world this is!

My break now thoroughly wound down, with nothing unexpected on the horizon, I was gladly thinking about heading back to paradise. The journey was a dream. It was almost too easy getting back; train was on time, pizza and beer demolished and a slow stroll along the sea to the port. Although the Jadrolinjia office in Bari port decided to give me last minor panic by remaining determinedly closed come check in time. I had clearly missed the memo about needing to take a bus a few kilometres down the road to another terminal. A kind lady there took my money for a private cabin and I have never been so relieved about having guaranteed access to a private space the size of a wardrobe, in the bowels of a ferry. I was waved through passport control quickly.

As soon I was on the ferry, I couldn't believe the contrast with the Durres-Bari experience. That same ship happened to be moored nearby, and I looked at it and the same harbour-side in disbelief, remembering the chaotic scenes of immigration. The Dubrovnik was an ordinary car ferry but somehow it felt civilised - probably something to do with groups of ladies sipping wine in the bar, and signs pointing to a 'children's snug', and the excellent looking restaurant. Oh, and the fact I was clutching a key to my own private bunk. I ignored all of these social gatherings, and I was undressed, in bed and asleep before we even disembarked at 10pm.

I've already said that I was in tears on reaching my favourite port of Dubrovik café but it honestly felt like I'd returned home. The friendly welcome from passport control, the flirty Croatian exchange with a local taxi driver, and the sight of the little Postira - not to mention the fact that I was looking respectable, showered, refreshed and no longer tired and in pain. It was an epic trip and it had turned out to be a lot more arduous than I expected, but as usual difficult trips leave more of a mark and it was definitely one to remember.



Friday, 23 September 2016

Would you open a door for me?


Chivalry - courteous behaviour, especially that of a man towards women
Synonym - Gallantry - gentlemanliness, thoughtfulness, attentiveness, consideration
Antonym - Rudeness, boorishness



Why is Chivalry only thought of when a man does something nice!?

Why is chivalry being lost amongst the youth?

Why do the Older generation not believe in patience anymore?

Why do the older generation not tolerate the youth any more?

Were they not young once? will we not reach an old age?


I sit here befuddled!

A topic was brought up today, do we ladies like chivalry, or is it dead?

I sat and thought, then i questioned....

I am always the person holding the door for others, I am always the person giving up my seat, I am always the person moving out of the way so that somebody else can get a better view!

Yes, I would say I am a courteous person. but what of others?


When Reuben was a baby, I sat in a cafe to get out of the house!
for those that know me that was a huge achievement. But oh dear... yes, oh dear... he started to cry.
rustrated tears, unhappy tears, tears that wish teeth to go away!

There wasn't many of us in there, just an elderly lady and gent and another couple.

 As I tried to quieten him, a voice came out "can't you put IT outside"
IT, IT. I spun so quick I nearly knocked a glass flying!

Now stereo typically you think it is going to be the couple, young and in love, not a care in the world but for each other. A noisy baby interrupting their lunch is just not ok!

but it wasn't...

The elderly lady again muttered "IT should go outside"

Now usually I would never of said anything and continue on, but...

Coming into that cafe, I could see her struggling, so I helped her in, I helped her to that table, I pulled out her chair and tucked her in.

Yet, all that was very easily forgotten, when the same patience and courteousness that i needed from her had quite literally, sank with the titanic!

I didn't let it go.

I told her quite frankly "it is not a dog, it is a baby, it has a name. If you are uncomfortable with the noise, then feel free to take yourself outside, and of course i will gladly help!"

Her face had utter bewilderment on it!

I only look back at this incident as i see it more and more!

My elderly neighbour of 85 years, is the most kind, caring individual I know, yet upon getting off her very frequent bus journey, she appeared saddened.

As I asked if she was ok, she retold a story of youths. School children messing around on the bus. Herself being unable to sit, not one of them caring about how old she was or how in need she was of a seat, no one offered her theirs, no one offered to help her get off with her shopping...

Are we now alone?

Have we become such an independent society, that if nobody asks for help, we just simply won't offer?

Why is it, that in a disaster, the women and children are rescued first?

Why should a man give up his seat to a woman if he is elderly?

Why should we open doors for people?

Why should we say please and thank you?

Why should we do anything for anyone?

Because the world is round....

Do keep being courteous, whether or not you are male or female, old or young, and lets not stop teaching; not just children but the elderly too!

As we are taught to respect our elders...
Lest not we forget to teach patience to the older generation.

For the world keeps turning, and as the days grow darker we need chivalry from everyone, not just specific gender.

I'd open that door for you... would you for me?




Down and out in Bari

It seemed apt the the sun was behind us; don't get me wrong Bari glistened in the golden light and the port looked truly beautiful. But I just didn't feel ready for Italy. It turns out that Italy didn't really feel the love either as the queue for passport control didn't move. For 2 hours. When it finally got going an hour later, people were trickling through one-by-one. Some of the guys around me yelled out to the officious numpty that I was an EU citizen. I was eventually squeezed through the crowd. I asked simply 'perché?' of an official guy, shrugging, he suggested that I should have shown my passport earlier in the process. 

Just how, precisely? You're at the back of such a thick mass of humanity which couldn't even get a sick child through, let alone a privileged EU passport holder. Bags went through the x-ray, keeping in mind that as I left Bari, bags weren't checked! By this point, if it hasn't again for a wonderful gentleman, I don't think I'd have been queuing upright. Once outside the port, basically I wasn't. I lay collapsed on a bench watching some black-clad elderly women moving bags - they were still the other wrong side of the barrier, I wondered about their stories. 

I lay there chatting to Petrit; he was off to Germany, and I admired his strength - I was dreading the 20 minutes just getting into Bari town centre. Still, things were looking up, I remembered my Albanian cake from the previous day. It was squished, sweet, sticky and utterly delectable. Finally as the ibruprofen was kicking in again, it was time to leave the port and head our separate ways; me to my overnight stop, and he to his bus north. I ambled over to a promising looking local bus stop and I was soon heading the wrong direction into town. Excellent. 

Airbnb decided to further test my endurance and ingenuity by sending me to Via Carduzzi, rather than a Corte of the same name. I looked up at the modern office block and sighed. This wasn't it. Thank goodness for technology and booking.com having the right address. So more accidentally rather than any map reading skill, I headed in to the right part of the old town. I asked a cheery gentleman where this place was, and it caused a conversation which can only be described as heated. One way was directed, then an entirely opposite one was shouted; a priest was consulted, and soon several shopkeepers and a waiter was involved. 
 
Oh. My. God. 

'Go back, down the way I'd came, and it was third on the left'. This was the short answer and I said hvala and was on my way again. Wrong country. Wrong language. Tears and hysteria welling, I arrived in a pretty little court yard - only 5 hours after the ferry docked. The place was still being cleaned but the lady on seeing my condition brought out a chair, and I sat there vacantly examining my boots. They, like everything else, were filthy. What was I thinking coming to Italy dressed like a hobo!? 

Finally I was in! I stripped, scaldingly showered and thoroughly soaped, and lay clean and fragrant on the gloriously comfortable bed. The place was beautiful and the curved vaulted ceiling like a wine cellar. Wine! Food! Of course, I fell asleep and missed the Italian lunchtime window. By the time I was smartly and appropriately dressed for an Italian dinner, it was raining. And by the looks of it, it was Durrës all over again, settling in for a second bout of Thunder v Lightning. If I didn't know better, I could be forgiven for thinking that this trip was really doomed! 

Thankfully by 8pm the storm had passed over and Sunday was obviously late opening for every restaurant there. I was told to come back in 30 mins, an hour,  so meandered around the city quite happily, if hungrily. I kept meeting a colourful and noisy band which was rather random; they seemed to be playing to every Virgin Mary shrine in the place. I hope she appreciated it, I certainly did. Heading back to the first place I had tried, there was a warm welcome. Cheese, wine, meaty ears - there was a calorie explosion of the best type. And for the first time since Macedonia I ate heartily. 

I quite like Bari and, as I shall continue, the small city of Lecce. Bari has a relaxed, civilised charm, with glorious designer shopping for those that way inclined. I'd definitely go back. But Italy has really lost its charm for me - I've never really thought about Italian warmth because when you're going round Florence, Rome, Venice, centuries of tourism has taken its toll. You're just another visitor, no matter how friendly you are. Croatia easily beats Italy in terms of friendly acceptance. Croatia, your people are gems. 

Addendum. I've just arrived back in Dubrovnik told the passport man I loved him and burst into tears! Now the cafe is playing klapa - Daaaalmacija!! 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

To Durrës and beyond

Some travel posts are harder to write than others. Words flow when you relive incredible experiences because they have enriched your view of the world. But sometimes when you've been challenged it takes longer to process what has happened and perhaps you just want to forget some stuff! I started this from the comfort of Trenitalia's regionale service Bari to Lecce - without back pain - a comfortable train which departed at a time convenient to me. And I'm finishing it lying in bed after a restful time in Puglia. 

So Durrës. Despite being unable to hobble more than a few kilometres, thankfully I managed to see some of the town. My first afternoon I got as far as the port to check out where I'd be going the following day, and more importantly obtained some money. Again - same in Macedonia - I failed to check the exchange rate so stood at the machine looking blankly at the numbers. 3000 seemed low-mid range. Pizza and a coke turned out to be 200 lek, so I felt quite rich. I shuffled back to the apartment to eat on my balcony and enjoy the warmth. Sadly, that afternoon and evening I did nothing more interesting than read, have a very hot shower, and retreat into sleep. What can I say, I had been invited out by my hostess but my back had defeated me. 

The next day I tentatively tried again. There was a little improvement but I remained cautious as I was already anxious about the 10 hour ferry journey later that evening. It was a glorious day and remembering the bakery I saw the previous day, I was suddenly famished. Once again, I ventured out of the apartment block, which was having serious amounts of noisy building work done, and slowly went down the hill towards the main street. This time I was happy to admire the impressive remains of the Roman forum, and then get distracted by a coffee shop with a beautiful sunny garden. 

I joined the locals enjoying their leisurely Saturday morning, and ordered a coffee, it was a perfect hour or so. Finally hunger drove me across the road and I got drinking yogurt, cheese burek, a small cake and some focaccia for later on. With my picnic I meandered down to the sea front so I could take in the air. 

Oh. 

Another distraction before consuming breakfast with the discovery a huge amphitheatre. Although bigger than the one in Ohrid, it wasn't in quite the same state of repair. As it happens, and purely by accident, this trip could have been billed as a Roman entertainment odyssey, as there was another incredible theatre in Lecce. Like Ohrid's, Lecce's was also set up for events. These elegant buildings are extraordinary and I really hope that Durrës gets around to making use of the space there. 

Finally reaching the large expanse of concrete which constitutes the parade, I perched on a wall. Not because there were no seats, just I didn't want to aggravate my already complaining nerve. I munched my salty pastry and pulled faces at the yogurt. Fruit or plain are the only acceptable options, and this one was salty. My breakfast was like a bucket of sea water. Still, at least the architecture was something to behold. The ugly rawness of this place has to be seen to be believed and I'm actually keen to go back there and relive it. The beach was covered in evil smelling brown residue, and the abandoned dismantled summer attractions provided a suitably macabre colour. 

Frankly it suited exactly how I felt. 

I watched the men hauling in their fishing nets, thigh deep in the murky water. The comparison to my other Adriatic fishermen was profound. How can this even be the same sea? What the hell are they thinking, why is this place in such a state? The islanders spend so much time protecting and worrying about their environment, and yet a few hundred miles south, they are dragging nets through filth, catching plastic and unidentifiable detritus. 

I turned sadly away from these workers, via a surreal square containing bronze statues of Tina Turner, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. What!? There was also a real man in too much denim sat there but I don't think he was a rock great. I continued on and went in search of non-salt based snacks for later.  Peaches and bananas were perfect antidotes, and I spent an afternoon resting and dozing on the sofa with the radio. Pain is such a helpless feeling, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. 

Four hours or so before ferry check in - yes, my confirmation said I had to be there - my lovely hostess came to consult me about a lift to the port. She was so disbelieving of this timing, she called and spoke with her friend who also scoffed at it. We decided to wait another couple of hours. Excellent, I had time to go sample food at the nearest restaurant. After all I'd not eaten properly since Macedonia - the pain from my back had kindly referred itself to my stomach. 

The weather had other ideas. By the time I had got myself ready to set out, the storm had arrived. And the rain was lashing down; for the next two hours I had prime amphitheatre style seats for a gladiatorial tussle between thunder and lightning. It was terrifying and awesome in equal parts, terrifying mainly because 1. I had to go out in it later and 2. Was it going to be a repeat of the Šipan no-electricity-for-12-hours drama? Would the port shut? When my hostess turned up she looked concerned. The traffic was spectacular, she said, and the main roads had turned into rivers. 

Why me?

Heroically she got me to the port, the town square was now essentially a water feature. Security on the port gate weren't interested in us, and we drove straight in and immediately we joined the hellish queue of traffic. Everyone was trying to get to the terminal building to avoid the rain and it was chaotic. She abandoned the car with all the others and came into the building with me. The check in had been affected by a power cut and we were on emergency generators. If I'd thought to panic, I might have started... 

With a hug from my last friend on the planet, I went through security and passport control. I didn't think to get a stamp for my passport, sadly. So there I was, painfully stood with a mass of people, some just clutching small bags, others with what looked like entire households. Actually including their carpets...this is surely what Armageddon feels like. I had no idea what was next, as people were heading in random dribs and drabs through the rain to the ferry. I wasn't even sure I had a ticket at this point, let alone which of the two ships it was. 

After about an hour, no one around me had moved. Drastic action was needed. I weaved through the crowd, out of the shelter, avoided the articulated lorries, and braved the ferry ramp. When I was finally noticed, I was told I was on the wrong metal tub. Biting back tears, I went back out into the rain and over to the other one. I was waved up the steps and up into the dry safety of the passenger decks. 

It turns out that people had already boarded and there were no banks of seats on which to lie down. No, I hadn't booked a cabin because I'm stupid. To my horror, more people continued to pour on, and every available piece of floor space was filing. Not giving a damn now, I collapsed between some chairs, and claimed my 5 foot spot. I lay there and drifted in and out of sleep until about 4am, exhausting my comforting stash of podcasts. The bright lights, wooden floor and hubbub made for an interesting night. 

I gave up, staggered upright  and went to get a drink. I forgot the word for coffee in every language. A kind gentleman at the bar who was clearly a more seasoned traveller than I ordered a caffe latte for me, which baffled the barman. I think he was only used to doing espressos for Albanians. I headed out on deck with my perfect coffee to join the chain smokers, to watch the sun come up. 

The beauty of which made the entire exhausting trip worthwhile. It was a new day 




Saturday, 17 September 2016

Bussed and bust!

In true British style, I would like to apologise to the people and city of Durrës in Albania. It turns out that you can't travel all night on a bus with a dicky sciatic nerve without some serious consequences. Either that or I'm out of practice at being up all night. After nearly 15 hours sleep and some serious bed rest yesterday, I realise now that getting off at the wrong bus stop in Durrës was probably the least dangerous thing that could have happened. I was certainly in no fit state to run away from trouble, let alone try to explain where I wanted to be! But the exhaustion and pain does mean that I've missed some of the city's classical architectural highlights, evidence of recent struggles, and certainly not done it justice. Once again it's tapas tourism, with a promise to return to this incredible European/non-European country, preferably with company. 

I left Ohrid reluctantly; mostly because of its beauty, but partly due to the 3.30am start. Yes I know, again no rest for the wicked. Sensibly opting for a taxi to the bus station, I had already checked that there was an actual real life bus. Balkans and the Internet are not necessarily reliable witnesses and I was assured that there was a 4.30 bus. I arrived and the taxi driver assumed I was off to Skopje. Dumping my bags I waited. And waited. The ticket office opened and I asked for a ticket for the bus to Durrës. 

What 4.30am bus?

Suppressing an eye roll, I enquired if/when it went. 4.50am. Ok, that I can live with. Carefully stowing my ticket, I went to the waiting room and joined the diverse bunch of people there. Someone asked me when the next bus to Skopje was...another lady asked if I was going to Tirana airport. It must be the air of resigned painful calm on my face that screams 'librarian'! I got chatting with the lady going to the airport because she was on the same bus as me. Finally a minibus/people carrier turned up and the two of us got on board. 

The red neon and gold glittery bus interior barely registered as I collapsed across the back seat. The lady was horrified, and immediately offered paracetamol and ensured my bags were on board. Every. Single. Bump. From Macedonia to Albania went through that nerve and I was pretty much shrieking inside. As I relaxed into the pain and the tablets kicked in, I was able to hold a slight conversation with her. She was heading back to Istanbul after a holiday travelling around the region without her family. Blissful, she said! We talked about London and life, and the unwise judging of people by nationality. 

The border crossing happened, and she held her breath, anticipating issues due to her Turkish passport. We could have been there 3 mins or 3 hours, I think I fell asleep again. All must have been well because we reached our Albanian coffee/loo stop, and I eased myself out of the spangly red cocoon. There was discussion as to where this bus was going and it turns out we were diverting miles to Durrës because of me.  Otherwise they could have gone direct to Tirana. 

Oh. 

As we clambered back on, there was rapid discussion and I was told to get off. The other van at the stop - which happened to belong to the company that I'd emailed the previous day - contained passengers that were going to Durrës. So I was hustled aboard this one, bags popped in the back, yelled at for a ticket, and I waved, boggling, to my friend. This bus was definitely not glistening, it was thoroughly basically and had seen many many miles of mountain road. We took off in a cloud of oil, and I closed my eyes against the dubious overtaking, radio fiddling, and left it all to the hands of fate. 

I think I'm now done with buses for this trip. There will be a train in Italy but my next mode of transport is ferry, so I only have a couple of massive international ports to negotiate. What could be more simple!? 







Friday, 16 September 2016

Overwhelmed in Ohrid

I left you in Kotor wondering if I was going to get out of there, and whether a bus would arrive. The suspense was maintained for at least another half hour, before it turned up; clearly late because it had come straight out of the 1970s. Comfort, style, fashion - all of those buses were going elsewhere. Still, there were no annoying chaps, it was quiet, clean and I was on my way. I'd actually had a very pleasant time in Kotor, a lovely lady called Tracy had given me use of her shower so I was fresh for the 10 hours. We'd shared a beer and compared Balkan notes so it just goes to show that delays whilst travelling aren't necessarily all bad. 

All things considered the journey wasn't bad. Not for the faint hearted, delicate, or easily tired. Which is why I arrived in Ohrid feeling like a teddy bear which had been through a spin cycle. My first experience of Albania was endless curling mountain roads, a bright moon, a dark sky and cold which froze the breath. On a 2am comfort break, one touching episode was the kindness of people on the bus to a polite dog; clearly famished, quivering and nervous he hoovered up every crumb of bread offered. The other memorable episode was the kind Singaporean promising to hold the bus for me as I was last in the queue for the loo - the sympathetic look he gave me when he came out of there told me everything about the cleanliness. Character building...and germs are good, right?! 

My presence on the bus was clearly a matter of some debate and I'm not sure if a bet was won or lost. A lady, who was returning to Ohrid from a holiday in Montenegro asked me where I was from, and a number of people said 'aaaah' in that relieved 'we would never have guessed' way. My new colouring is confusing everyone, not to mention an ability to be friendly. Not a normal Brit apparently. Ok so my warmth didn't extend as far as hugging the guy at an Ohrid garage/service station, but the open and clean toilet was incredibly welcome. 'Gdje je WC' is pretty much the best Croatian/Macedonian I've ever learnt. 

Where was I? Ah yes Macedonia.  Don't be fooled by the Albanian excursion, it's better than coming to Macedonia via Kosovo, so I'm told. It was 5am by the dark deserted bus station, on a wide main road in a strange country. I had no idea where I was going and I was being pestered about a room by an elderly man on a bicycle. Armed with my best 'ne hvala, imam sobi' and google maps I headed into the old part of town. Inevitably the winding roads on the map translated into a steep climb, and a walk through a quiet park. I paused at the top; the pink light was coming over the hills and a call to prayer sounded up from the new town. I was later to discover that these three-hundred-year old mosques were mere new comers to the religious mix of the town. The dreamy atmosphere of the place would have been very much in evidence, even without the sleepless high I was experiencing. 

I entered the town through the ancient and very narrow stone gate, and the fortress rose up to the right of me. A man sweeping the streets looked as if he knew the area and I asked him the whereabouts of 27a ulica ilidenska... again I thanked the language fairies for being able to understand his answer. My host was thankfully waiting for my message as I was arrived and he welcomed me and made coffee. This was the start of a firm friendship, once again, the warmth of people was to leave me totally charmed. After promising me a tour of the city, and pointing out the 4th century basilica mosaics unearthed at the end of his tiny street, he left me to fall face down on the biggest bed I've ever seen. 

The sciatic nerve which had been brewing a storm for a few days finally broke that morning and it has made anxiety of the non-arrival of buses fade into the background. In short, it's been agony for the past 24 hours, leaving me enjoying ibruprofen inspired sofa rest all yesterday morning. I was supposed to be in Durrës but frankly I was going nowhere. My kind host wouldn't let me stay on my own in misery, and after a trip to the colourful food market for fruit, invited me to make myself as comfortable as possible whilst he mended a load of iPhones. I chortled at him as he performed delicate operations on dead technology, saying he was destroying my illusions of what was inside my phone. Surely it's all witchcraft, not shiny odd shaped parts?

However for that first day, it didn't stop me from enjoying a slap up brunch with mandatory homemade rakija, walking all around the captivating little town, getting a proposal of marriage from an elderly guy in speedos on the beach, climbing King Samuel's 10th century fortress, talking opera and Prodigy in the ancient amphitheatre, admiring the truly astonishing newly cleaned frescos in St Mary Peribleptos, and boggling over the recently unearthed mosaics from the early Christian era. 

All I can say is, if you enjoyed Pompeii, Macedonia has its very own smaller version and it's just as impressive and well worth a visit. Finally hunger and thirst caught up with us, and over beer (for me) and Italian brandy (for him) I said I felt guilty for keeping him out site-seeing all afternoon. Apparently he doesn't have many guests that are art history- music- archeology- culture- foody- nuts  so he was just happy to see someone fall for the town he also loves. 

That evening was unwisely for my back  - in hindsight  - spent on a high stool in a cool bar. However nothing can detract from the feeling of this place; the ancient spirits of nature have been here for thousands of years. The classical mosaics whispered of the wild and domestic animals that lived here and were a part of everyday life. The goats, pigeons, pheasants, wild cats, horses, deer, and of course, the fish. Although the landscape has seen such terrible human struggles, still the mountains and water teem with life that is as familiar today as it was then. Everyone should experience the sun setting over Lake Ohrid just once in their lives, and just say thank you for the experience. That's clearly why there are so many churches here... 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Homeless in Kotor

So one of my worst fears realised, I was homeless in Kotor. It was as if the calm I'd imbibed of the island was being tested - how long would it take before my heart rate increased? Heading into town, I saw a sign for rentals and apartments and popped in. A lovely lady offered me a place for €40 which would make this the most expensive place of my trip. 

Damn. 

I was directed to the office at the town gate and she said there were cheaper options available. The annoying man on the bus - there is alway one who talks loudly, takes phones calls, and tells strangers his life story - was in front of me. He rented a place for €45 a night which didn't reassure me. Luckily the woman got my measure and marked on the map a hostel in the Old Town. 

A hostel!

I went to investigate. There was a dorm bed at €13 + €6 for dinner. The guys at reception were helpful and confirmed there was no way into Macedonia that evening. Using the wifi I investigated carrying on to Budva but, you know, it was so tempting to consider sleeping in a dorm. I haven't done that since I was on a school trip to Germany. What could go wrong? So I opted for a top bunk, dumped my stuff, realised I had no nightie, shrugged and wandered into town. 

It was beer-o-clock. As I was wandering through the town I came to a pretty square containing the Cat Museum. Over lunch today I've discovered that there used to be a girls' boarding school here so it was completely closed off at one time. The name of the cafe - Ombra - is a reference to the beautiful plane tree in the middle of the square. It was planted in 1667 to commemorate the devastating earthquake. The sun is currently greenly shining through the leaves and brightening the grey stoned buildings and pavings. 

After a soothing beer I was ready to meander down to the sea to work up an appetite for dinner at 8. The weather was looking a little uncertain but it was nice to be out and about with time to kill. I stopped to read a boat trip sign and was accosted by a gentleman. Apparently there was a speed boat waiting for me...I hate to disappoint, so I joined two French people on a ride around the bay. Given I'd saved a fortune on the room, €15 for a couple of hours seemed OK. We went out to St Mary of the Rocks and it was suitably somber and quiet, made more atmospheric by the storm rolling in from the mountains. It was given colour by one young American who was waxing lyrical about a white chocolate/strawberry magnum which is only available in Europe. She talked about it non-stop for all the time I was in earshot. Oh to be young and vacuous again! 

We jumped back in the boat and headed back over the darkening sea; skilfully the pilot skirted the clouds and drove us under a rainbow. We waited for the storm to pass around us and he apologised for the speed he was going to have to do to get home. The rain felt like darts on the skin - it was brilliantly invigorating. The mountains above the town truly showed their majesty. And we weren't too wet thankfully. 

I headed home to a remarkably quiet dorm and made my bed ready. Turns out you have to make a list if you're on a top bunk and mildly forgetful; water, phone, charger, bathroom. After I'd climbed up and down several times, I was happy to just chill before going down for dinner. Potluck was roast chicken, vegetable rice, cabbage and bread. Very tasty it was too. I was joined by a cat and two lovely German ladies and we nattered happily until it started to get noisy in the dining room. 

The gentlemen were in full swing and had started a loud drinking game. Frankly this was our cue for going to bed...the jollities of the town, combined with the music downstairs meant that the hubbub in the first floor dorm was fantastic. It was at that background level which I find it easily to be lulled to sleep by. Odd, but better than sudden loud noise in the quiet. That was to happen later when a couple of very drunk guys came in, and when two persistent morning alarms went off. I was inwardly chuckling at what the Furious Bad Tempered One would do to the inconsiderate pissheads. But overall the sleeping experience wasn't that bad. Maybe that's the island calm? 

Over lunch today, I was briefly joined by an elderly Norwegian man and I told him about my stranded night. He was a hostel veteran because they are generally more convivial to solo travellers. He queried a mixed dorm but it hadn't even crossed my mind. It had felt perfectly safe; at midnight I'd been chatting to a local guy who the hostel employed as a guide. It seemed normal to have the usual 'pub' chat about the history of the place, politics, seasonal lifestyle, lack of opportunities for young people, then say good night, and go to respective bunks. People were remarkably relaxed, and I would definitely stay here again. 

I could say this place left me climbing the walls. And it truly did! After visiting this place for the third time, I finally climbed up to St John's Fortress, and it was incredible. In hindsight I wish I'd gone up there earlier to avoid the crowds and see what would have been an incredible sunrise but, still, next time! As a reward for lunch I ordered some fries, and whiled away the afternoon on a sofa in the hostel living room. I'm actually looking forward to getting on this infernal bus just to get some sleep! 

Let's see what happens..