June 18, 2018

Bar To Belgrade Via Train



It’s considered one of the great European rail journey’s but locals couldn’t understand why I would want to take the train from Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia. Buses are better and faster. 435 bridges, 254 tunnels, a climb of over 1000 meters into the mountains, and a crossing of the Mala Rijeka bridge which was the highest railway bridge in the world until 2001. If you like riding the rails there’s good reason to fork out 24 Euros for the 12+ hour journey.

I bought my ticket a week in advance but as I was told there’s not reason to. At the beginning I had a 6 seat compartment to myself as we rolled a short distance along the sea before turning east for the mountains and Skadar lake. As for the train condition goes it was ok. The carriages were kind of worn with graffiti on the outside. But the seats were comfortable. The dining car was for smoking and all they served was booze and bad coffee. Only one toilet worked properly. The other toilets leaked when flushed and smelled of rotten urine.

We reached Podgorica in a little over an hour and quite a few people got on but the train still had plenty of empty seats. A guided group of 15 got on. Their guide was from Macedonia and the people were from Western Europe and Canada. I’d get to know a few of them as the journey progressed.

From Podgorica the trains labors slowly over the mountains. The first part is the most scenic. I made sure to lookout for the Mala Rijeka bridge as I thought it was a highlight. Ironically the guided group was oblivious to the significance until hours later I mentioned it and showed them the photos I took.

The train meanders slowly upwards for quite while through numerous tunnels and exposed sections along the mountainsides. Some of the tunnels are several kilometers long. My eyes were focused out the left side window for most of the time until we reached the border with Montenegro where officials boarded the train and swiped everyone’s passport or EU id as we exited the country. After that we continued a couple of more kilometers to the Serbian border where they boarded the train, collected passports, disappeared for awhile and returned. All very easy. Another stamp.

The Mountains mellowed in Serbia and the skies turned cloudy but the countryside still looked pretty nice. The larger towns and cities tend to look a little ugly with old soviet style concrete building and graffiti. The smaller villages show some charm with a much more appealing concrete architecture.

As we neared Belgrade and flatter terrain I assumed the train would speed up but the exact opposite happened as the train had to stop numerous time at road crossing. I joked with other that we should get a group together and get out an push. I think the conductor actually had to stop and manually put down the crossing gate a few times. At least that’s the way it appeared. It was painfully slow at times.

The seemingly big wrinkle in the trip was that the train would not go as far as the Central Station. The reasons were unclear. Construction? A problem with the rails? A Serbian told me, “Politics”. The organized group of 15 and it’s leader were all in a tiff about about. We were told there was a tram right near where we would be dropped that runs to central. The group quickly decided they would have nothing to do with that and insisted to be taxied from there to their hotel. The guide wanted them to take the tram. The group demanded taxis. It all started to seem like a really big deal. The group was getting worked up. I began to wonder if I should be thinking taxi? Problem?

Well, traveling doesn’t always go the way you expect but things always work out. The train dumped us at a small poorly lit station on the outskirts of Belgrade. I hesitated for a moment but simply figured I’d try to find the tram. The saw the organized group of 15 on one side of the road. There were no taxis. A few backpackers and local Serbians stood on the other side of the road were some rails were. I met and talked with a young Belgian couple with backpacks. That’s what you do. Find other backpackers that can speak English and figure it out together what’s going one. Works every time. We needed tram number 3.

About 10 minutes later a tram, more like like a trolley car, appeared out of the darkness with a number 3. A single taxi had just picked up three people in the organized group across the street. Cars are small in this part of the world. I got on the tram with the Belgians, a few other backpackers and Serbians.

The tram was amazingly efficient. Much faster than the train and every bit as fast as a taxi. I chatted with the Belgians and before a I knew it we were at central station. When I got off the tram I met German couple who were also on the train. We were all figuring out where we needed to go to get to our various accommodations. The Belgians needede to walk that way over there and the Germans looked up my hotel on an app to help me get oriented. A short walk later I was where I needed to be for the night. They hotel was expecting me. Piece of cake. Problem? What problem? I had left Bar at 8:20 am and arrived at my location for the night at 10:00 pm. A long but good day. Things always work out.




June 15, 2018

After 5 Days In Budva



Budva. The name pretty much says it all but the five days I’ve spent here has been fine. Not bad, pretty good, but nothing special or great. However, the time has passed very fast. Aside of a day long boat tour I stuck fairly close to the town with walks, a few runs, and daily swims in the sea. I’ve taken the boat over to Hawaii, an island one mile off the coast, a couple of times to swim and enjoy the rocky shores. Yesterday I walked a good distance along the waterfront from beach to beach, resort to resort via road, promenades and a couple of tunnels.

The overwhelming majority of those visiting Budva are Russians. The downside is definitely the language barrier. I’ve had very little conversation with anyone aside of a father and son from the states whom I had first met on a ferry out of Split. They happened to be staying in Budva and we by chance crossed paths again last night. They seemed pretty eager to engage in easy conversation and invited me to join them for dinner.

The father and son are from Tucson, Arizona. The son has just graduated high school and the father at 62 is more or less retired. Both have the travel bug and a zest for adventure. They’re roaming around on a very loose plan. Our conversations covered all kinds of topics and the dad seemed to appreciate what I had to share with his son. It was as if I was kind of confirming what he’s already told his boy but sometimes things register and are heard a little differently when coming from someone else. His son strikes me as being very intelligent and carries himself very well. His goal is to be an Airline pilot. I have no doubt he will succeed in doing so. I told him not to get disappointed on his way to getting there. The road to success is often littered with disappointments along the way.

Although Budva has been a good stop I’ve been feeling a bit flat. One things that has really been lacking on this trip is meeting people I can easily communicate with on a regular basis. Over the fence, next to where I’m staying, under the grape and kiwi vines I heard a woman talking in American English on the phone with someone. I almost shouted over, “where are you from”, but I thought it would have been a little awkward. I assume she’s renting a room next door.

My accommodation has been great and by all means a bargain. The family who owns the property and live on premises have been super nice. The husband of the daughter speaks a little English. Good enough for very simple conversation. He told me how his wife’s sister lives in Boca Raton, Florida. They have been there twice and he really likes American doughnuts. He was calling them donkeys at first but when he showed me a photo on his smart phone I corrected him with a big smile.

The weather here has been ok but cloudy and overcast at times with a few thunderstorms. I think I had the right idea to bail from the mountains and head back to the sea.

Every evening I’ve been going on a walk along a path next to the water that passes bars, restaurants, clubs, shops, etc. There are lots of pretty women but don’t expect any eye contact. Russian woman carry themselves like fashion models. They don’t pose for a picture with a goofy smile. They portray a toughness that can be intimidating. Without a common language there’s no chance. I don’t think I could ever really see myself with a Russian lady but they make for easy people watching. I’m merely an observer here.

Budva offers some high end options but for the most part it’s a middle class resort town. Some would say it’s a little gritty but a little grit is what keeps things real. For me it’s a nice balance. It has something for everyone. It’s family friendly and very affordable if not downright cheap at times. One thing I must mention, that goes without saying, is that it is very beautiful here and the water is lovely and clear. You just may want to wander a bit to find the most desirable beach. Some areas are nearly spotless while beaches are kind of dirty. Forget about sand. It’s all rocks.

Tomorrow I’m off to the port town of Bar for my last night in the country. In some ways Budva has kind of grown on me but on the other hand I’m ready to get out of here. (Top Photo - Budva as seen offshore. Bottom photo - A nice spot on Hawaii, Montenegro where I swam).




June 12, 2018

Budva



The Miami of Montenegro is what they call it. For me it’s more like the Riviera of Montenegro. There are no Latinos but plenty of Russians. No Salsa but plenty of night clubs. It’s the seaside resort of Budva.

It’s almost a little tacky but not really. It was establish in the 4th century B.C. but aside of the medieval old town it’s a cluster of concrete mid rise buildings with balconies. Many are hotels. The place has panash, character, and is plenty busy. I can only imagine what it’s like in July and August.

When the guy told me 10 euro a night I thought it was going to be a bed in a dorm. Instead it’s a 3rd floor self contained small apartment with a terrace. At that price I paid for 3 nights and figured I would just leave if I didn’t like it. After sleeping very comfortably the first night I asked if I could stay a couple of more for 5 nights total. It’s a simple room. A little worn. Not exactly spotless but clean. It’s family run. The mother and father live in the front building. The daughter lives in the back building, where I am, on the top 4th floor. Really nice people. Good vibes.

Aside of Russians and Montenegrin’s I think most other travelers pass on staying in Budva. The beaches are gravel and little dirty and lacks a certain element I think Americans and Western Europeans look for on vacation but it’s not bad. The old town is buffed out nicely. The seaside promenade is packed with restaurants, vendors and such but it all seems to kind of work. I’ve seen much worse. The big upside is that you can get a lot for your money here. A large slice of excellent pizza costs $2 euro. An all day boat tour with stops along the way $12 Euro. $10 Euro for good accommodation. Well, to be honest I think $10 euro a night is way cheap for where I am at. I think I just got lucky and they gave me an off season local rate. However, rented monthly they would probably get half.

Today I took the $12 euro all day on a boat tour. We crawled long the coast down south to check out the sights and swim. Around noon we docked at the seaside town of Petrovac for 2 hours which I really liked. The beaches are much cleaner and the town quite chill. If I hadn’t landed such a nice deal in Budva I’d be staying in Petrovac. I enjoyed a nice short cliff side forested walk along the shore and one of the best Cappuccino's I’ve ever had. The Cappuccino set me back $1.70 euro. Actually $2 Euro. I tipped the guy 30 cents.

I’d say the boat today was a medium sized boat. I think it could take on about 50 passengers but all together I estimate we were a group of 35. The captain spoke a little English and was super nice and friendly. I must say the people along the coast are much more hospitable. Budva is a tourist town and the locals seem to get it here.

On today’s tour there was a really funny Russian guy. At first he was a bit over the top with his banter but drew laughs from others. He had a small video camera and kept filming himself and everything else as he narrated. He was a really up guy but his wife was a drag. Where he was all smiles and shirtless in his skimpy swim shorts ready to embrace the Adriatic sea his wife never cracked a smile as she sat stone face in her simple full length dress. Where is the man seemed to be evolving into a colorful funny old guy the wife appeared to be falling into the role of miserable babushka. He kept trying to get her into his frame of mind but she would have nothing to do with it. By the end of the day I kind of felt sorry for the guy. He obviously wants to enjoy his vacation but I am not sure he wife does.

For now I’m kind of in a holding pattern until Sunday. Until then I’ll spend my time along the Adriatic Coast. There’s enough to keep me occupied. On Saturday I’ll move down a little further south to the port town of Bar for my last night in Montenegro.


June 10, 2018

Podgorica



Zabljak wasn’t doing it for me. It was looking like another day of shaky weather so I got my stuff together and hopped a bus to Podgorica. The capitol city of Montenegro. I needed to stop there anyway to get a train ticket for later in the week.

I was on my game getting to Podgorica. Buying the ticket was a little tricky with the language barrier. People in Montenegro seem to have little patience and a short fuse. With pen and paper I wrote out date and time with city to city for the attendant. The woman’s voice grew louder as I didn’t understand what she was saying but intuitively sensed the message. I got it sorted and paid just before she was about to blow a fuse. I backed out of line with a smile and she seemed to relax and smiled back. Good to go.

For whatever reason I thought it would be a good idea to stay in Podgorica for a night. The abundance of Soviet Era concrete buildings, oh so lovely, should have been the first hint. The weird smelling hotel I checked into should have been a red flag. But the online hotel reviews were in the realm of “Fabulous”. I won’t bore you with another accommodation story. It’s fine for a night.

I asked the front desk what there was for a tourist to see. He said the city was not good for a tourist and that I needed to hire a taxi for 30 or 40 euros each way to get out of the city to see something. I asked for a city map and went for a walk.

On a Sunday the streets were completely empty and everything was closed. I saw three Canadian women walking around who I had met earlier at the bus station. They were killing time before a night flight to Sweden. We were the only tourists and pretty much the only people out on the streets. It was hot but not too humid. Fine for me.

The Canadian gals were kind of goofy fun and on a two week vacation. They weren’t too happy with Montenegro but really had a good time in Croatia. They were wishing they had spent all their time in Croatia. I was kind of feeling the same. We talked about going in on a taxi to see something somewhere but wandered into the Hilton instead for drinks and a light lunch. I hung out with them for awhile then decided I needed to see what the city had to offer.

Well, there’s a really nice Forest Park with some great paths for walking so I got in a good walk. The heat wasn’t bothering me. I then wandered over to a fairly interesting bridge and then to an impressive Orthodox Christian Church. I actually made something of the day but aside of that the town is kind of a pit. It’s not very pretty. People don’t seem very happy. If it were not for a good number of parks and the mountain backdrop the city would qualify as ugly. The upside for people living in Montenegro is that it’s a place where a person can make a living.

In the evening I went back to the Hilton for the top, 8th floor, sky bar. It’s a very nice bar. The view is great as long as you look beyond the leftover Soviet concrete housing in slow but steady decay which are still home to many.

A group of sharp dressed guys sitting just past the entrance of the bar looked like they could be mafia. I arrived wearing my best shorts, a decent shirt, and well worn lightweight hiking boots. I ordered a beer from the bar and headed outside for the view and sunset. Service was sub par to poor. I kind of got the impression that I wasn’t all that welcome. I also kind of felt like they didn’t want to be too friendly or provide too much service as they were above that. In a way by giving too much they would be losing face, self esteem, and pride. A $3 beer at a nice bar where I live is a good deal. For someone in Montenegro it’s quite expensive. Pride and esteem have an intangible value. When you are living in a country with unemployment around 18% and the average monthly salary around $600 USD you can see where moral might be an issue.

I began to feel like the waiter was either just very inattentive or avoiding me on purpose. I wanted another drink but paid and left.

I think the Soviet Era made a lot of people cold, hard, a curt in this part of the world. There seems to be a lot of that left in Montenegro. Regardless, there are always nice people everywhere you go and I’ve certainly met some in Montenegro but the country is definitely a mixed bag. More than anything right now Podgorica just doesn’t feel good to me. I definitely could have passed on it. I’ll be back on the coast tomorrow looking for good vibes.


June 9, 2018

Durmitor



The place was legit but I had a bad feeling. Not sure why I said I’d stay two nights as I handed him payment. No sooner than I gave him money I changed my mind but the guy had already run off. I assumed he was getting the change he owed me. Was he the owner or some guy posing as the owner? Regardless, no way was I staying. I guess it was the long bus trip and gloomy weather that had me not thinking clearly but my gut feeling was loud and clear.

I waited and looked for the guy but he had disappeared. I thought I may had just been scammed $50 euros. I waited a little longer. I then decided to consult with the accommodation across the street. The woman spoke ok English. I told her what happened. She said the man was shit. A gentleman overhearing my conversation with the woman told me to go to the police and I would get my money back. They didn’t want to get involved.

I went to the police station. The only person there was an older officer in another room with his back to the entrance sitting in a chair leaning against a wall. I walked up to a counter with a large clear glass barrier. I said hello rather loudly. I said it a few more times louder. The officer appeared to be deep asleep. I could not get his attention. He was out. I started to reconsider whether or not I wanted to get the police involved. The officer probably didn’t speak English. So, I left and went back to the to see if I could find the guy.

I finally found him and communicated I didn’t want to stay and wanted my money back. He refused to give it to me. We exchanged a few confused words not understanding each other very well due to language issues but he knew I wanted my money back. Finally, I just told him I was going to the Police and stormed off. I didn’t get far before he toned down and called me back. He handed me my 50 Euros. I walked off as he said something derogatory in his native language.

It was a slow 4+ hour ride in a packed bus to Zabljak, the town at the entrance of Durmitor National park. The altitude is higher, the air cooler, and the atmosphere is a world apart from the Adriatic cost. The economy is seasonal. Skiing in the winter. Hiking in the summer. Both seasons are a short 3 months.

The mountains and all around Zablijak are quite nice but I don’t much care for the town. The town itself is not that pretty. It’s a small mixed up stew of old and new. The old being run down concrete buildings with graffiti. The new being the sparkly shiny hotel in the center. About the only charm is as you leave town center towards Dumitor National Park where there are some chalet type homes with rooms and apartments for rent. That’s where I’m at. I’ve got a room in house. I am on the top floor of a home that is built out to accommodate guests with shared common area and bathroom. It’s run by a grandmother whose tow daughters come up from the city on weekends. The place has a good homey feel. I’m paying $15 Euro a night for 2 nights because I’m an American tourist. An Eastern European would pay $10 Euro. The family is very nice and the two daughters speak English. It’s an authentic experience for a couple of nights and safely away from the guy I had the run in with.

Last night it hailed, rained, and thundered. This morning didn’t look good but it cleared a little before clouding up, raining, and clearing again. I started off about 8:30 am to see what I could make of the day and met up with an older British couple heading up to the park for a hike. I was doing the same so we walked together for the day. Both are very fit. I thought the guy was around 62 but his actually age is 72. Both are runners.

We wound up making good use of the day as I think we picked the perfect walk for shaky weather. The hike started from a lake and went up to a valley just above treeline and a Shepherd's hut. The shepherd had canned beer for sale for 2 euro. There’s a broad open view of the valley and the clouds had cleared somewhat for the time being so we got some good photos. It was very windy and kind of cold so we found a nice spot behind a hikers shelter for a break. After that we retraced our steps back to the lake and walked the trail around the lake. All things considered it made for a nice day.

Interestingly enough I think one day of hiking here is all I want to do. Mainly because the weather is not that great and it’s still little early in the season, due to last winters heavy snow, to do some of the higher more interesting hikes. I was really enjoying being by the coast so tomorrow I’m going to head back towards the Adriatic sea. Sometimes you never before a trip as to exactly how you will want to spend your time. I am more in the mood for warm weather, consistent sun, and salt water that fickle mountain weather. Nonetheless I needed to check it out.


June 8, 2018

Kotor - Montenegro



When I arrived in Kotor a little after noon I quickly figured out I’d have to hoof it to find a place to stay for a couple of nights. Tourist information was not very helpful but pointed me in the direction of the bay. Yes, somewhere by the bay would be nice. My Lonely Planet guidebook recommended I check a place on the way.

With time on my side I figured I’d stick with the Rick Steve’s rule of when you show up and have options check three places. The first place I checked was a hotel. When I approached the lobby a woman in a white dress shirt and black leather plants sat at a coffee table with a poker faced man with dark skin and black hair. Both were smoking a cigarette. I asked if they had a room. The woman with a very thick accent, that sounded Russian, said yes. How many nights? I said 2. She showed me the room. It was perfectly fine for $30 euro a night but I was still thinking I should look by the bay.

There’s plenty of accommodation by the bay but you need you need a phone. A lot of the rooms are located in buildings where the manager doesn’t reside. You call and they show up. Anyway, the second place I found was what I had in mind but only available for one night. The third place was kind of weird. When I knocked on the door an older man and younger man, who may or may not have been the son, answered the door. The younger man was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and underwear. They had a room but I wasn’t too interested. So, I figured it was back to the hotel with woman in black leather pants.

On the way back I stopped at a hostel for grins and it was packed with kids. Yep, I am officially at the age where I can call college aged people kids. Why? Because they are. The brain doesn’t fully develop until 25. Anyway, The manager was a super nice and friendly young local guy who spoke really good English. It was worth the stop just to talk with him about the area. He informed me that they had another building where I could get a nice quiet single for $25 euro. He showed it too me but couldn’t confirm that the room was available until his boss got back. I waited awhile for his boss but knew the first place I looked at was good so I might as well grab it while I could.

When I returned to the first place it looked even better and the owner/manger couple turned out to be super nice and friendly. Home for two nights. I dumped my stuff and went for a hike up the old town fortress wall built up into the mountainside. Pretty amazing.

Kotor is quite stunning aside of the very busy main road. Steep rocky mountains with exposed cliffs surround and rise above a salt water bay. The old town, although not as big as Dubrovnik, is just as impressive. Maybe more so in regards to how the city wall is built up high behind the city on a mountainside. My hotel room has a balcony with a wonderful view of it all.

The 10 am bus trip from Dubrovnik was a little long due to border crossings but quite comfortable. The bus was only about ¼ full and very comfortable. I got a couple of more stamps in my new passport which is always kind of fun.

Today I went for an excellent hike up a trail that climbed over 3,000 feet above the valley. There were tremendous views and a nice forest stretch. What’s so nice about Europe is that often times the trail you are walking is an ancient donkey path or something of the sort that leads to a village. The trail I hiked today led to a village and roadside restaurant with an incredible view. I stopped and had a lovely omelet with coffee. I then walked along the road about ½ mile to another village and an airy zipline high across a valley. I did the zipline and descended another trail to join up a little lower to the one I ascended. I saw just a few other hikers so I talked to everyone. A German girl on her own, a Finnish couple, and a British couple. I also meet a couple of young girls who had a map on a smart phone which was very beneficial because I couldn’t find a map anywhere in town. Anyway, not sure where they were from but I’d like to thank them.

At this point I’m picking up the pace. Tomorrow I’m headed to Dormitor National Park. There’s supposed to be some incredible hiking there. I’m on the 11:18 direct bus to Zabljak. So far Montengro feels much more cultural and a tad bit exotic. The people appear more vibrant and come across more outgoing and friendlier than Croatia.


June 5, 2018

Dubrovnik



When I got up I couldn’t decide whether or not to go straight to Dubrovnik or jump off at another Island on the way. I have a little bit of a time constraint in relation to all there is to do. I decided to put my trust in the flip of a coin. Either go straight to Dubrovnik or stop at the Island of Korcula on the way. Either way I was taking a ferry. I flipped the coin. It said Dubrovnik. I flipped it again just to be sure. It confirmed Dubrovnik. I immediately bought a ticket for the ferry that would leave in about a hour.

I really don’t care for high speed catamarans. It was crowded, I couldn’t get a window seat, you really can’t walk around much. Throw in a screaming kid or two and it’s not particularly fun. On the flipside it’s still nothing like August crowds and I got to Dubrovnik by lunch time.

Dubrovnik being a proper city as well as well as a major tourist destination means you can spend quite a bit of time messing about finding accommodation. I didn’t want to think about it much and waste time. I found a cafe for lunch with wi-fi and browsed a hotel website for a place to stay. I found a small guest house type of a hotel nearby and figured I could get a better rate if I just showed up. I got the directions off the internet and found it pretty easily. As expected I got a better rate. Like Hvar it’s overlooked by a very hospitable older grandma.

After getting settled I was feeling pretty energetic so I went for a hike up to the top of a tram for a view above the city where I met a lovely lady from South Africa. I thought for a moment I may have been on to something until she mentioned the word “We” and her boyfriend appeared out of nowhere. Funny how that always happens.

So, back down the tram hiking trail and into the impressive walled old town of Dubrovnik. Also, location for “Game of Thrones” if you are into that TV series. I’ve never seen it. Anyway, The old town of Dubrovnik is very impressive. Stone buildings, terracotta roofs, and marble paved streets. All surrounded by a fortress wall that you can walk atop all the way around. The only downside is that its been turned into a bit of a tourist trap with London prices for restaurants serving very average food.

However, it’s all good as you can wander about and get lost on some quieter paths throughout the city. I stopped at the cathedral, which is quite impressive, and lit a candle for my father as two old women prayed aloud. I assume they were praying the rosary. The backdrop of the main alter is filled with a large mural and 16th century painting depicting the “Assumption Of The Virgin”. Thus the name, “The Cathedral of Assumption”. I’m not much one for guided tours but you can really miss out sometimes in a place like Dubrovnik which is so rich in history. I had to access a guidebook for this info.

Dubrovnik is kind of a quick stop for me. Just two nights. Today I returned to the old town and walked atop the wall in it’s entirety. It’s something you definitely have to do at least once when in Dubrovnik. After the walk I found a nice place for a swim in the sea and returned to my accommodation where I cooked dinner. There’s a small community kitchen which is nice. It’s a little bit like a hostel for grownups.

Tomorrow I will leave Croatia for Montenegro. I’ll have to back up what I said in an earlier post as far as cost of travel in Croatia goes. It’s definitely more expensive than I expected with most prices being close to or on par with Western Europe. Especially Dubrovnik. However, I’ve mostly been on the tourist track where everything is bound to cost more. I’ve been told that Montenegro is much more on par for what I’d expect in Eastern Europe. Well, tomorrow it’s a semi early bus across the border at 8:15. I wanted the 10 am but it was full. I was warned not to take the 11 am because it comes from Bosnia and is usually 2 to 3 hours late.


June 3, 2018

Hvar, Croatia



After five nights on Vis I boarded an early ferry back to Split passing the Island of Hvar in the distance as there was no direct way to Hvar. Upon arrival in Split I literally stepped off the boat and went straight to the booth for a ticket to Hvar. With a couple of hours between ferries I found a table at a cafe to pass the time.

Hvar has two ferry ports. One in Hvar Town and one in Stadi Grad. The port in Hvar Town is only big enough for the smaller catamaran passenger only ferries. Stadi Grad can take on the big car ferries. The catamarans are faster but can be crowded and cost more. I prefer the car ferries. You can walk around and have a choice of being in or outside. I don’t mind a little longer ride.

There’s a public bus to meet the ferry when it arrives in Stadi Grad if you want to go directly to Hvar Town. Stadi Grad is nice and relaxed without too many people while Hvar Town is the opposite. I figured I’d take the chance with Hvar Town as it has more to offer.

As expected the Town has plenty of tourists but it’s still quite appealing. The old town sits next to a smallish harbor with a fort atop a hill guarding from above. The town itself lacks fine beaches but has a lengthy waterfront walk that follows along a rocky shore with plenty of access points for a swim.

When I first arrived in town I went to a couple of tourist agencies to locate accommodation. I told the lady helping me that I didn’t mind walking and wanted a place in a quieter area. She found me a self contained room in a home with a balcony view of the sea which costs 250 Kuna. Less than $40 USD. The price is reasonable for Hvar considering it’s a prime tourist destination. There are two rooms for holiday rentals where I'm staying and the home is occupied by a hospitable older woman who speaks very little English.

I figured three nights on Hvar would be plenty and I’ve been here two nights so far. The last couple of evenings I’ve sat in the old towns plaza which offers excellent people watching. Interestingly Friday night was better than Saturday. European women definitely have a different flair for dressing up when they go out at night. Some dress more simply than others but the style and makeup is sharp. The look is tough. And the poise is confident. However, a common flaw is generally a cigarette. One thing I’ve noticed in Europe is that you see plenty of attractive young women but not very many attractive older women. I wonder why?

Yesterday I spent most all day cycling around the Island. I was able to rent a fairly decent mountain bike so I did a route that involved dirt and paved roads. It turned out to be a fantastic ride. I covered a good amount of terrain with some honest climbs as I found my way up to the top of the highest point on the Island. I must say it was one of the best bike rides I’ve done in a long time. Nice quiet roads. Great views. Perfect weather. It was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. After the ride I went for a swim in the sea and had a good diner before falling into a good hard sleep.

Well, I really went for it with the ride yesterday so naturally today I'm a bit flat. I strolled off for a nice short hike but other than that I haven't had much aspiration to do much more. This morning I awoke to find out I have neighbors in the room next to me and we share the long balcony. It’s a couple from Argentina. I said hi to them and spoke a little Spanish but they were not too friendly. After the short morning hike I returned to my room as I thought a nap might be nice. The couple was having lunch on the balcony. The man was talking loud and forceful. The woman barely talked. I couldn't really nap in peace with the balcony doors open. I’m not sure what to think about the guy or what the deal is but there’s a thick wall that separates our rooms. With doors closed I can’t hear a thing. I didn't even know they were there last night.

Tomorrow I will move on once again. I'm not sure if I will go straight to Dubrovnik via ferry or stop at another Island on the way. I guess I need to make that decision before the ferry leaves at 8:50 in the morning.


May 30, 2018

Vis - Croatia



I swatted down about fifty or so spider webs with sizable spiders as I made my way up the overgrown trail number 4 marked with red and white paint. The going was a little slow and I checked for ticks along the way. I found one before it could dig in.

After a little over an hour the trail turned into an old dirt road. I continued on up to a high point with an old building and lookout. I took a couple of photos before finding overgrown trail number five which led me back to the village of Vis on the Island of Vis.

I arrived on Vis via a 2 hour ferry from Split on Sunday afternoon. Today is Wednesday. Upon arrival I inquired at a tour office disguised as Tourist Information. A common practice worldwide. Anyway, I was looking for a place to stay.

The first place I looked at was a self contained room adjoined to a house. It was quite nice but the owner was not very hospitable and seemed to care less if I stayed or not. I didn’t have a good feeling about it so I went back to the tour operator disguised as Tourist Information. The girl who was helping me was very nice and spoke good English. She called around. While she was doing that a guy by the name of Mario interjected his advice. He appeared to be the owner of the business and spoke some sort of very good British English. I would come to find out he’s lived in London and Australia. Anyway, he seemed more than happy to help me find accommodation.

Well, it just so happens he manages some vacation rentals and offered to show me a place I would be very happy with. A short drive took us to the village of Kut and a nice little villa with a one bedroom apartment. Fully contained with balcony and everything I need to make it home for awhile. I figured I could keep busy with island activities for a few days and negotiated a rate of $40 Euro a night. The nice thing about early season in Europe is that businesses are eager to make money and would rather have someone than no one occupy their rental. By just turning up and asking around you can usually negotiate the best rate. Often times you might pay half or less than what you would in July or August.

Vis was a strategic Island for the Yugoslavian military during the cold war and it was closed to travel until the mid 1990’s. Since then it’s been discovered and is a favorite for Yachties who dock their boats overnight, side by side, on the long water front. Loads of charter boats pull in for the evening then leave in the morning. Judging by evening accents there seem to be a lot of North Americans on the charters.

So, back to the hike. It was ok but I can’t say I was too excited by it. The bike ride I did on Monday was much better. Vis is a good Island for cycling. Nice roads and not a lot of cars but be ready to ride up and down hills. Since I don’t like busting through brush and swatting spider webs I’ll take up the bike again tomorrow.

Yesterday I joined a group tour with a guide on a small Zodiac type power boat. It was me, the guide, and 4 college aged kids. One was a couple from Hong Kong studying in England. The other two were friends. One from Barcelona and one from Mexico City who looked like a young Mark Anthony.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the locally famous Blue Cave. It’s a cave where you enter from the sea through a small entrance and the water inside is illuminated underneath by the light outside. It’s very beautiful but very popular and a bit of a racket as you have to pay a fee to enter. However, it is very well managed. They keep the lines and ticket booth around the corner at a small bay. You pay and wait your number for a ride with a small group in a small boat. You only get about 5 minutes in the cave but for a short bit we were the only boat with about 12 people. Not too bad but I can’t imagine what it’s like in July.

For the rest of the tour we stopped at a couple of beaches. I snorkeled for awhile which was ok because the water is nice, clear and blue but it’s not Thailand or the Caribbean with all the wacky fish and stuff. I probably could have left the snorkeling gear at home.

At the end of the tour our guide showed us where the Yugoslavian Military hid their submarine. It’s a large cement bunker built into the side of a small island just offshore from Vis. We motored in to take a look inside. Pretty cool.

Just like that I’ve already been in Croatia for a week. Split was a nice city with a nice appeal and I liked where I stayed. The day trip to Krka National Park was good with some unique waterfalls. And Vis? It’s undoubtedly a beautiful place but I can’t say I’m finding a real connection with the Island. Part of it is that I really haven’t connected with the Croatian people too well. A few have been very friendly but for the most part I find Croatian's to be a bit abrupt and a little stern. Kind of hard. It’s definitely not Italy or Greece for that matter. I think part of it has to do with some language barriers but mostly I think they are the type that take awhile to get to know and soften over time. Some cultures are like that. Or, maybe I’m just seeing one side of Croatia at the moment.

What I'm enjoying about Vis is how comfortable I am here regardless of whether or not I’m connecting with anyone. My apartment is very chill and I’ve been sleeping really well. I am able to cook my own meals for the time being which is not always easy to do when traveling. It’s literally like having a home away from home and there’s really nothing to worry about. I am tempted to stay longer but will probably move along on Friday nonetheless. We'll see.

One thing I must no forget to mention is that I have been visiting a beach and swimming in the Adriatic at some point everyday. Now that’s something worth noting. The water is divine….


May 25, 2018

Split - Croatia



With strong thunderstorms building over the mountains to the east the plane banked a hard left to catch the short runway from the south. We dodged a couple of storms on the way from London but safely arrived in Split, Croatia.

It was a long trip with a 2 hour thunderstorm delay out of Houston. I actually witnessed lightning strike the runway. The flight across the Atlantic was ok but I give United Airlines 5 stars for lousy service. Instead of pushing straight on to Croatia I chose to layover a couple of nights in London. I booked a hotel which turned out to be more like a guest house. The room was very small. However, it was comfortable, quiet, and in a great location. Reasonably priced by London standards.

My accommodation was near Kensington Gardens. Just up from the Bayswater tube station which made it very easy to get to from Heathrow. I spent my time in London roaming around Kensington and Hyde Parks with beautiful weather. I actually caught a glimpse of Prince Harry and Meghan as they were leaving Kensington palace. It was dumb luck and I got a photo. Kind of cool considering all the press they have been getting with the recent wedding.

I arrived two hours late in Split from the London Gatwick airport. Apparently the plane had been delayed in Verona, Italy. Something about a strike. The thunderstorms started shortly after clearing immigration. I hopped a bus to get to the city and noticed the windshield wipers were not doing much but the driver was driving safely and a little slower.

I had already booked 4 nights via the internet before arriving. I figured by time I arrived I Split I’d be spent which was right. Fortunately my hotel turned out to be fantastic. It’s in a great location and a good value. Very nice and clean. Much nicer than my London accommodation at half the price. In general I consider Eastern Europe to cost 50% or less than Western Europe. Naturally the touristy places can command a premium.

Split is an interesting place. It’s quite touristy but still retains a nice appeal. There’s an old town with a portion built by the Romans around 300 A.D. It’s full of shops, restaurants and cafes with the Roman Diocletion palace being the main draw as well as a nice waterfront on the Adriatic Sea. To the north there are some beaches and a forested park that rises up to a small mountain like hill for great views. Outside of the old town it’s a bit rough with plenty of graffiti and garbage.

Yesterday I didn’t get going until noon. The trip over really took it out of me this time. However, I had a pleasant walk up and over the forested park. I then discovered a local place for good traditional food. Stuffed peppers, goulash, potatoes, and salad. That’s what I’ve been eating.

Today I walked 30 minutes for an evening swim at a pebbly gravel like beach. I had finished swimming and was sitting on a low ledge. There were lots of people at the beach but it was not crowded. I heard something to my right and saw a car go off the ledge, across a short bit of beach and into the water. It started to float away. The owner had been chasing after the car and grabbed it to pull it in. A group of guys tried to push it out but with no success whatsoever. Totaled I’m sure. What happened? No parking break? Misjudged backing? Too much sun and alcohol? Good thing no one was in the way.

Well, here I am on another trip. The last two and a half months were spent in Houston working, working and working. I wore myself out. I’m tired. Mostly mentally tired. I felt a bit better today but it will take a few more days to get back into a more regular feeling travel mode. My plans at this moment are very loose. Tomorrow I’ll visit Krka National park for the day. I expect it to be a zoo on a Saturday. Maybe I’ll meet some interesting people.