Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Arrived in Montenegro

Guess what – it's asparagus season in Croatia, too. I treated myself to another asparagus special for dinner – Scallops with baby green asparagus tips, au gratin. Excellent, again. I don't understand people who do not appreciate food anywhere but home. As long as I don't have to think about what we're going to have, I love it anywhere.
Dubrovnik
We headed out right after breakfast and were on the highway in no time. In fact, driving was so easy we did not stop at Split (or thereabouts) as we thought we would. We just kept on going down the coast, all the way to Dubrovnik. The Croatian coast is fairly well-preserved maquis and olive trees. There are lots of olive trees; I'm amazed we don't import Croatian olive oil yet. Of course there are also plenty of seaside towns with their stony beaches, but not anything like the French Riviera. This is what it must have been like before WWII in the south of France. It's not all Croatia down to Dubrovnik; there's a little strip of Bosnia-Herzegovina along a secondary road from Mostar to the sea. This is ridiculous. The main road from Mostar, along the river that empties into the sea, is in Croatia. The river delta plain is very rich farmland with lots of orchards (Oranges, Cherries, Olives, …) and vegetables. There is a lake just before the river hits the sea and it looks like the whole plain is irrigated from the lake. This is all in Croatia. Then you have a tiny border crossing into B-H, a village with a stop light, and oops, you're back in Croatia. This village is not even a port, really. It's just a beach town. The district of Dubrovnik, then, is like a island on land for Croatia. Of course there are regular boat services to all the real islands, too, so it's not so difficult and, since this is no longer a war zone, the road is continuous, too. On arriving in the city of Dubrovnik, just as we started wondering where we'd stop for the night, a lady standing in front of a place with rooms to let flagged us to a stop. We thought it was for rooms there, but it turned out she got in the car and let up the hillside to where we could park the car. From there we took stairs about halfway down to the road where we had picked her up. We had a room with a fantastic view of the old city! I think it was a bit over-charged, but still much cheaper than any hotel would have been.
All we had to do was follow the stairs down, and down, and down until we ended up at the western gate entrance to the old city. It was dinner time, so we walked around a little and ended up at the marina for dinner. Then, after dinner we wandered around some more. The layout of Dubrovnik reminds you of the middle ages, but between destructions by fire and earthquakes, and more recently, war (1991-92) the city is not all that old. Most of the churches (and there are quite a few!) seem to be baroque, 17th century, or thereabouts. There is a relatively modern city hall right next to what must have been a renaissance city hall. At that corner, there is a memorial museum dedicated to the 300 or so who died defending the city not even 20 years ago. When I first came to France in 1970, it was just 25 years after the end of WWII, so relatively speaking, I was seeing places that had been destroyed and rebuilt after the war and seeing people who had lived through all that in the same way. So why am I so impressed, now? I think it's because the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the siege of Dubrovnik in particular, is something that I remember. It's not ancient history for me.Time to go trekking up the stairs for a good night's sleep, although with the heat, I truly wonder if it's possible.
Herceg Novi
We visited Dubrovnik again in the morning – had breakfast and then went for a walk along the ramparts. 80% of the roofs are new. That's how much was destroyed. It was another scorching hot day, so when we felt as though we'd had enough, we got the car (which we had brought down and parked in a hotel garage so we wouldn't have to go up those stairs) and headed towards Montenegro. Montenegro does not yet belong to the EU, so crossing the border is a big thing that takes a long time. But once over the border, your almost in Herceg Novi We found the Black Mountain agency at the bus station with no trouble at all and were taken straight to our apartment. Here we are parked at the foot of the stairs. We didn't hang around too long before heading down to the main agency at the marina, where we met Hayley, had a chat, got our bearings and even walked back up the stairs to the old town with her mother, here on a visit. After lunch, we felt we deserved some down time and had a siesta. Then we had to wait for the water to come back on before taking a shower and having a small, home-made dinner.
Lovcen
We were up early, as usual, and it was all I could do to put off leaving the apartment before 8! We headed around the Bay of Kotor – absolutely breathtaking views and then up the mountain to the Petar Njegusi mausoleum, just opposite the Lovcen peak. The road up is not difficult, in theory. It's not steep. It winds back and forth at a gentle incline. If only it was built for two-way traffic. At the mausoleum, there's a little parking area and 400 some steps to take you about another 100 meters up to a 1930ish monument. The view should be fantastic, but in spite of the blue sky, there was a bit of haze that hid the Kodor Bay (northward) and Scutari Lake (southward). We took a larger road down to the old royal capital, Cetinje, had lunch almost in front of the Presidential Residence, and then continued down to the coast to drive back up to Herceg Novi. We didn't have to go all the way around the bay thanks to the ferry – a great €4 investment.

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