Most recently we have been circling our way around the Balkans. We started in Croatia with a literal bang last week. Arriving from Slovenia in the north we noticed the countryside becoming more and more arid and the temperature rising!
We had planned a pit stop at the Plitvice National park and although it was due to rain, thought we could handle it. We donned our rain jackets and headed for the waterfalls. Cue torrential down pour and extreme thunder and lightning storm. Although you would normally expect a rain jacket to be sufficient in these kinds of conditions, it appears that Croatian rain is particularly wet…after two hours walking through some of the most spectacular waterfalls (made even more amazing due to being in flood) we were soaked to the core and decided to call it a day and head for our accommodation on the coast in Zadar. Due to the inaccessibility of Justo’s bag, he drove the two and a half journey in just his undies… I for one am glad we weren’t pulled over as I’m not sure if naked driving would have been smiled upon.
We spent the next day exploring the sleepy beach town of Zadar before heading to Split to meet our friends Matthew and Charlotte. We had the next four days exploring Mostar (stories from BiH tbc in the next blog) and Dubrovnik. It is always great to spend time with people you know after being on the road and we had an awesome couple of days walking the city walls, jumping off rocks (just the boys) and eating meat with a side of meat (a specialty here in the Balkans). We also had the delightful honour of sampling a Croatian hot chocolate… for those back home in NZ, imagine chocolate dairy food heated up… i.e. literally hot chocolate.
On the afternoon that we dropped them to the airport another of our dear friends Jess was joining us for a jaunt to Montenegro with a few extra days in Dubrovnik. It was her birthday so we were ready to celebrate in style! After playing Dei Hamo, We gon’ ride at top volume into the airport we headed south to Kumbor, a small seaside town in northern Montenegro. While we had planned a celebratory weekend, nothing could have prepared us for what we walked into at our airbnb accommodation.
We were welcomed through the gate by our host Mato, and as we turned the corner we discovered he and his friends were distilling brandy in a semi-commercial fashion in the driveway. We were each given a substantial glass and sat down as the guests of honour before we could say a word. Mato apologised that his wife had not cooked us a meal – we were not fazed as we were not expecting anything! Alas, after about an hour of conversation (which mainly involved Mato telling us stories) we were served ‘schnacks’. Now, I am a big fan of schnacks, but this spread was next level. Homemade bread, sausage and donkey cheese was presented to us, along with homemade wine, more brandy and a selection of other meats… there was no chance we were going to go hungry! Needless to say we did not need dinner that night.
The next day, we decided to head to the Bay of Kotor and the surrounding countryside. Mato farewelled us (not before offering another shot of brandy which we politely declined at 9am) and we hit the road. Montenegro definitely lives up to its name as the beautiful bays are surrounded by grey, rugged mountains and it is all an incredible sight. After exploring the old town of Kotor, I suggested we explore a back road noted in the Lonely Planet as one of Montenegro’s great drives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the back roads and exploring the countryside, but this was one of the most terrifying drives of my life. Think 25 hairpin turns, along a 17km winding, one way road, at altitude, with traffic including buses coming from the other direction. Think sheer cliffs at every turn. There was one point, when a local was heading down the road towards us that I legitimately thought we were going off the edge, he swerved, skidded and stopped just centimetres from our car. When we arrived at the top, Justin, Jess and I could hardly speak. We had thought that the mountains we had viewed from the coastline were enormous, but they looked insignificant from the lookout. Feeling ill and still shaking, I decided to approach a caravan who had edged their way up the mountain behind us to investigate the best route down. In a little bit of serendipitous glory, they were aussies and were stoked to have people to chat to after the nervous ride up the hill. They invited us for coffee and we all relaxed a little before heading home in the other direction. That night we spoilt ourselves at the local restaurant and celebrated out safe decent from the massive hill!
On our final day in Montenegro our good friend Mato offered us brandy, again before 11am (he had wanted to make a party the night before but we were not up to it) and then his wife offered us a seafood lunch. It was a real treat although the conversation was at times a little concerning. Mato had been a seaman for most of his life and it was not until he was 38 that he settled down back home in Kumbor. He told us of wild nights in South America and the possibility of hundreds of Brazilian children that may or may not exist. He then went on to inform us of how his wife became overweight. It was at this point we decided it was time to move on. We began packing up (not before Mato offered to get his 95 year old mother to make us coffee), thanked Mato for his hospitality and headed back to Dubrovnik. We were lucky enough to be gifted some homemade brandy on our departure.
The last couple of days we spent relaxing in Dubrovnik with Jess, we were sad to see her off (the last of our friends joining us on our journey for a while). Now we head inland to Sarajevo!