Croatia and Montenegro

From Budapest we had intended to drive to Zagreb in Croatia before heading to Split. However, having travelled to quite a few cities in a row, we were keen to get back to the coast, so we settled on a full day of driving to get us there sooner. Ten hours later we were pulling into the campsite, tired and somewhat grumpy, but with a (dark) view of the sea and an offer of “having some fun” from a couple clearly high on something other than life!

We must admit, much as we’d really enjoyed the last few weeks and everything we’d seen and done, it did feel good to be relaxing near a beach and back in shorts weather. By skipping Zagreb we’d allowed ourselves a bit more breathing space and an extra day in one place to relax. This isn’t to say we won’t have missed out: there are sites and national parks etc that we would have liked to have visited. However, we’re not just travelling around Europe, so unfortunately we have to accept that we can’t see everything.

A lot our time in Croatia was spent catching up on the blog, washing and maintenance on Charlie, but also mixed in with some reading, enjoying the sun, catching up on emails, news etc. We met a couple, Jo and Chris, who had been on the road around Europe for a couple of months as well so we shared a few beers, meals, stories and laughs with them which was really nice. Then, just before we left, we spotted what could perhaps be described as Charlie’s much older brothers: the first class version of 4x4s. As you’ll see from the photos, they’re essentially a 4×4 version of a campervan. Very impressive! The two couples driving them had done some travelling before and were currently preparing for a round the world trip next year.

We did venture into Split from the campsite on one of the days. It’s a lovely place and has the remains of an old Roman palace at the heart of the old town, the front of which is right near the water’s edge. The Roman emperor Diocletian had the palace build for his retirement. After his death it was abandoned, but the locals two centuries later inhabited it to flee invading barbarians, turning it into lots of different shops and homes. It was nice to spend an hour or two wandering around the cobbled lanes and admiring the ruins.

From Split, our next destination was Montenegro. Marcello had heard that his cousin Kim, who crews on super-yachts, was docked in Tivat at Porto Montenegro, so it was a no-brainer to take the opportunity to call in to see her.

The drive along the coast was amazing –beautiful blue sea and charming little villages: it was tempting to pull over and set up camp indefinitely! We also drove past Dubrovnik, which looked incredible, stopping just long enough to take a few photos: another of those places we wished we had time to visit.

On arrival we looked around for a campsite. We’d just missed the tourist information office (which closed at 3pm!), but found a map outside detailing a couple of “autocamps”. So off we went in search of them. We found the signpost for the first, but after driving down a dusty road, past abandoned cars and locked gates, we couldn’t find anything close to a campsite. We then tried the second. Whist this did actually have a small field with caravans in, they had been cling-wrapped (yes, the entire caravans!) and no one else was in sight, including anyone resembling an owner. Whilst this would have provided a good wild camping experience, we were a bit far out of town, so considering we wanted to catch up with Kim, didn’t feel entirely comfortable leaving Charlie on his own for the evening. This left us with either the option of sleeping in Charlie (the seats, not the tent) or getting a hotel for the night. Even this proved a little difficult as the first hotel we went to was closed, however we eventually found a halfway decent one and settled for that option. Actually the prospect of not having to climb down a step-ladder to go to the loo in the night was quite exciting! (It’s the little things …)

We met up with Kim in the evening and were treated to a tour of the yacht she works on – the largest in the marina and with 25 crew. Wow, how the other not-even-close-to-half live!! It was amazing wandering around the various floors, seeing how well equipped it is and what the owners have available to them: not only the amazing suites, chilling and dining areas, but a gym, massage/treatment room and of course the “toys” of speed boats, jet skis and diving equipment etc. And to think that it’s only used for a few weeks of the year!

After our grand tour we had a lovely meal and catch up time. It was great for Marcello to see Kim again after over a year and for Karen to meet her and get more of the inside story! We had a lovely meal at one of the restaurants that’s part of Porto Montenegro. The marina is very upmarket and modern, a big contrast to what we saw of the rest of the country which appears to be quite poor. Not quite the “new Monaco” we’d heard about unless you stay in the confines of the Port. We only wish we could have spent longer with Kim.

Message to Kim from Karen: first, thank you for the tip on the cheesecake – it was divine! Second: the pic of Marcello working on the car with his socks and sandals is especially for you.

From here we travelled further down the coast where we were finally able to find a small, but decent campsite. Karen was particularly happy with it after being befriended by two kittens: a temporary, and surprisingly similar, replacement for her two cats back home. Marcello spent much of our couple of days here working on Charlie, so we decided to stay an extra day and make the most of the good weather. We had been due to drive to Sofia on our way to Istanbul. It turns out we were meant to be staying that extra day. We had been due to ship Charlie in a container from Istanbul to Alexandria in Egypt, however having spent several days/weeks liaising with a shipping agent, he finally admitted he was struggling to find a shipping line. Luckily we’d previously been in contact with an agent in Athens, so made a hasty call to him. Within a few hours he’d confirmed he could still do it and at the same cost he’d quoted before. Phew! For an hour or so we’d been starting to think we might have to abandon our plans, turn around and drive back to London.

In the space of a few hours, we’d gone from looking at driving to Bulgaria, to driving back to the UK, to being on our way to Greece. A slight, but not unwelcome, change of plan. So on our last night in Montenegro our thoughts started turning to gyros, olives and feta cheese. Nice.

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