Travelling Leila

My impressions about the places I visit

Archive for the tag “Dubrovnik”

Croatia – Days 9 & 10

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1-2 Septebmer 2012 – Saturday/Sunday

After spending a very lazy Saturday (we had lovely seafood dinner in the evening – oysters, mussels bouzzara and amazing fish!), on Sunday we hit the road once again – for the last time during our stay in Croatia.

 

The transfer to the Split airport was supposed to be a long one (as attentive readers would remember from the earlier parts, it takes about 4 hours), but the driver took a different paid highway closer to Split, which made our journey a little bit shorter.

 

 

As for the driver – that was a really interesting guy, who used to work in the police previously as he himself told us. All the way to the airport he just kept calling somewhere (apparently, the police) and complaining about other drivers violating the rules. We even had to stop at the Bosnian border, as because of our driver they stopped some car with Italian numbers, and he had to witness. The driver of the Italian car was to pay a €1,300 fine, by the way.

 

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Croatia – Day 8

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31 August 2012 – Friday

After the two tours we had had with the “Elite Travel” company, where we were picked up next to the “President” hotel, our impressions about this company and their work were quite good. And looks like we put an “evil eye” on them: our today’s trip to the Korčula island started with a hitch: the bus didn’t arrive. It turned out that the day before we had been forgotten to be included in the list. As a result, we were picked up by a separate minibus and delivered to the port of Gruž, where we eventually found our group and the guide. The guide (also named Ivana) initially seemed to us a bit rude (instead of apologising immediately, she attacked us – saying something like, come on, what’s your problem, you’ve been finally brought here after all!), and most importantly, uninteresting – she was literally falling asleep while making comments in English and German. She seemed more willing to speak German, by the way – generally I noticed a clear preference shown to German tourists here.

Another problem – among the group there was a family with a two-year-old toddler, for whom this long road, quite obviously, was way too long: in the good moments he was spinning like mad, while in the bad ones he was crying and throwing up. So, his presence added neither peace, nor fresh air to other passengers.

We climbed high into the mountains, again very close to the burning Bosnia. In the town of Slano we picked the last passengers. The location is called Slano (“salty”), because, starting almost from the first settlements, when salt used to be worth its weight in gold, it was mined here. Because of this salt, the Ottoman Empire’s caravan ways passed through these places.

This time the road was totally crazy. In some parts of it even looking down was scary, and at the same time it was hard to tear oneself away from the window – the view was unbelievably beautiful!

Virtually the entire foreseeable space around us was covered with vineyards. The plan was to visit one of them for wine tasting on our way back. Our guide told us that mainly red wine is produced here, and Postup is considered to be the best of all. Looking ahead, I can mention that Korčula is famous for its white wine, Pošip.

We were transported to Korčula on a small shuttle boat from Orebič (a very nice town, by the way), and got to observe how cars and even buses were transported on a large ferry.

In the town of Korčula we were to visit the Old Town, and the whole group was divided into English speakers and German speakers. The English speakers stayed with our gloomy, moody and sleepy guide, – and that was when she suddenly revived, and showed great artistry and a sense of humour.

First thing, she told us about the local “wind rose”. There is the north wind “bura”, which blows in winter and brings clear and sunny weather, although lowering the temperature to zero. There is a south wind called “jugo” or “siroc”, the locals’ least favourite: it blows from the Sahara in summer and brings dust, and, oddly enough, rain. The city walls are located so that this wind could penetrate the city as little as possible. Finally, the wind most preferred by the population is the western “mistral”, bringing cool air in summer. The city is open for this wind from the sea, and, as Ivana joked, this was the first air-conditioning system in the world.

On the city gates the name of the first Croatian King Tomislav is engraved, and above it there is the Venetian winged lion, as the city used to belong to the Venetian Republic for a long time. These lions usually have their attributes, or symbols, showing how easy or difficult it was to get into the town. If the lion has a closed book before it, it was hard, and if the book is open, it means that the Venetians were accepted almost with open arms.

We came to Korčula thinking of ​​Marco Polo, because we had heard that he was from here. However, it turned out that Venice claims to be his hometown as well, and also, his home as such does not exist – the assumed house is a ruin. As our guide indignantly mentioned, in communist times nobody really cared about history, and in the times of crisis the intention even was to sell it. Luckily, the town borrowed some money and bought the house out (currently the price of these ruins is half a million euros!), but that money wasn’t enough to restore the building and make a museum out of it, as planned. For the time being some enterprising and patriotic Korčulan opened a souvenir shop named after Marco Polo, and behind it, the Museum of Marco Polo, in a totally different place.

By the way, three things are cited as proof that Marco Polo was born here indeed: first, there is a De Polo family still living here to this day, while in Venice there are no families with such name. Secondly, there exists a register of baptisms of the 14th century, which mentions Marco de Polo. Of course, the great traveller lived in the 13th century, but because it was quite common to give children the names of their ancestors, this could well be some great-grandson of his. Well, and thirdly, the book written by Marco Polo’s cellmate brings his own words, saying that he saw the tower of his hometown Corcyra Melaina and sailed towards it. It is proved that this is how Korčula was called in the ancient times, and no other city, including Venice, has claims on this name. As there is only one tower in the town, the house of Marco Polo could be identified.

One of our stops was in the atrium. Ivana showed us, where the mayor and his secretary would seat and how they would collect the citizens’ complaints, literally portraying and mimicking each of them.

In front of the atrium was the doctor’s house. Doctors used to be lured from Venice, the bait being this very house. The doctor could live there with his family as long as he remained in the service of the city of Korčula.

We made good use of our free time – at least, I got a chance to take a quick dip in the sea, right in the city, among boats – even there it was very clean. I deliberately found a deep place, as it was impossible to get into the water in the shallow part because of the large slippery rocks.

On the way back we were taken to a huge winery belonging to the Matuško family. This family produces 500,000 litres of product annually, 90% of which is red wine, and the remaining 10% is comprised of white wine, dessert wine, schnapps and olive oil. They have huge cellars, completely cluttered with enormous barrels.

The first wine we tried was Plavac Mali. The name generally belongs to a grape variety, grown in the continental climate, in places where there is enough water, but not so much sun. 4—5 kg of grapes can be collected from one plant. The wine turns dry and light (only 12.2%), and is only drunk young.

The next wine was Dingač, made from the same grapes variety, but grown in Mediterranean climate: a little water and a lot of sun, and the sunlight comes from three sources: direct, reflected from the sea and reflected from stones. As a result, no more than one kilogramme of grapes is collected from each plant; the wine turns more robust, almost black (14.5%), and is preserved for several years.

The next drink to try was the sweet dessert wine called Prošek. It can be maintained for many years: according to tradition, when a child is born in a family, a barrel of Prošek is made, and it can only be opened at this child’s wedding. Personally, I found it it too sweet. And finally there was a 40% grappa and a 25% cherry brandy, made from this very grappa.

We then had a short stop in the town of Ston. There, too, there is the old town and a fortress, but we didn’t get to see them.

Croatia – Day 7

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30 August 2012 – Thursday

Today, by contrast, was a very active day: we took the long-awaited trip to Montenegro. The mountain forest road, which took us quite long to drive through until the border, was indeed beautiful, but the day was extremely hazy. At first we thought it was fog, but then it turned out that it was the smoke from forest fires in Bosnia. We were told that the situation was really critical there, so a few sections of Croatian firefighters were sent for help.

In general, our guide Petra told us a lot of things, mostly about Croatia, though. For example, we learned that the Lokrum island (very close to Dubrovnik), famous for its parks and entertainment,  had been cursed. A very soon death is believed to await anyone who stays there overnight. The superstitious Dubrovnikers still believe in this, so every day the last, eight o’clock boat to the city is fully packed with people hurrying to leave the island.

We also learned that  Dubrovnikers do not like to rent housing, but tend to buy it instead – so they feel safer. In this case, they have to take mortgage loans for 30-40 years because of very high cost of real estate.

Driving further up in the mountains, we saw three islands from up high: Mrkan (St. Martin), Bobara (St. Barbara) and Supetar (St. Peter’s). In the 14th century, first quarantines in history were located on them, and all those traveling to Dubrovnik (then Ragusa) were required to spend 40 days there, hence the name (from the Italian word “quaranta” – “forty”). Owing to this, plague spread very little in Dubrovnik.

Driving past Konovle, we heard about the fertility of these lands. Here exists a kind of black market for vegetables here: there are women working on the fields, referred to as “our ladies”, who can be called any time and asked to deliver fresh vegetables, which they will do the same day (or, the latest, the next morning), bypassing shops and markets.

We got slightly anxious, approaching the Montenegrin border, and took out our passports and insurance documents in advance. But everything went smoothly and no one got into the bus to check anything – Petra sorted everything out by herself.

Generally, the difference between Croatia and Montenegro can be noticed immediately: Montenegro seems poorer, the houses are more dilapidated, there are lots of signs in Cyrillic script (they use both Latin and Cyrillic scripts here) and in Russian too.

The official currency is euro, even though Montenegro is not part of the EU and not going to be one in the foreseeable future. There is an explanation. This area is located at the junction of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, which results in frequent earthquakes. After one of such earthquakes in the second half of the XX century, Montenegro had to borrow money from Germany for rehabilitation and reconstruction. When in the 80’s Yugoslavia suffered an economic crisis and, therefore, a high inflation, Montenegro, in order to pay off the debt in German marks, asked for permission to make them their local currency. After Germany switched to euro, so did Montenegro. However, the government does not have the right to print money, it still gets it from Germany.

In general, we were told that the highlanders and the seaside residents were like two different nations. The highlanders used to lead an austere life, and very often, especially during the Second World War, when a family was left without men, some women had to take on the role of head of the family. These women, called “virdžina” (i.e. “virgin”), dressed like men, carried weapons, talked about themselves in the masculine, were always in the company of men, and only performed men’s duties around the house. Nowadays this tradition has practically disappeared. As for the seaside residents, they, in particular Kotorians, used to be were very educated (education was received by both young men and women, even from common families) and looked down upon the highlanders.

When the Boka Kotorska (Kotor Bay) eventually  appeared in sight, we were really disappointed: in the haze it looked like a decal, devoid of any colors, moreover, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see almost anything. We were taken to a place which was supposed to have a magnificent view and where we could take photos of the Kotor Bay. But there wasn’t much to take pictures of.

And so, sad and disappointed, we drove to a place called Risan, famous for its Roman mosaics. There are the remains of an ancient Roman villa, which has fragments of these mosaics on the floor.

Near the town of Perast we boarded a boat and headed to a small man-made island called Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks) with a church of the same name. The origin of the island is rather interesting. For some reason, the Catholics in this area did not have their own church. But once, as legend says, a fisherman found an icon on a rock right in the middle of the Bay. This was considered to be a sign from God, so since then fishermen would throw more and more rocks one on another, after returning from each successful journey and also sank their old ships, loaded with stones.  That is how the island was built.  The tradition to throw rocks still exists – every year, on the day when the icon was found, local people throw more rocks. The church looks very nice inside, with many beautiful canvas by a famous local painter Tripo Kokolja. The altar is made of several kinds of marble, the most rare and expensive of which was exchanged for silver on a  kilogram per kilogram basis.

As we were driving down towards Kotor, Petra told us of some humorous stereotypes which people of the former Yugoslavia have about each other. Thus, the stereotypes are that the Croats are very good singers, but also are too arrogant, the Bosniacs have great sense of humour, but are not particularly bright (sorry, don’t mean to offend anyone – these are not my words, but those of a Croat lady after all!), and the Montenegrins are very lazy. There is even a joke about a competition on who can lie on the road for the longest time. After 24 hours, the competition had to be stopped because the three participating Montenegrins were still lying there with no intention of getting up in the near future. We were shown a card with ten funny Montenegrin Commandments:

In Kotor we were passed to a Russian guide (a lady named Katya, from St. Petersburg, living here for seven years). Very quickly, she walked us around the Old City, as we only had two hours of free time, including a guided tour and lunch. The Kotor city walls are located high in the mountains, and we didn’t get to climb up there. The Old City has plenty of churches and monasteries, the first music school in the Balkans, the first theatre (now it has been sold to become a hotel, so there is no theatre in Kotor anymore). There are both Catholic and Orthodox churches here, but the Catholic ones are more in number – as there are more Catholics here, although generally the majority of Montenegrins are Orthodox. In tough times, many churches had a Catholic and an Orthodox altar at the same time, i.e. were open for both confessions.

Along with other memorable places, our attention was brought to the Pima Palace on the Flour Square. Head of the Pima family used to be one of the largest grain traders here.

Interestingly, in contrast to Dubrovnik, the buildings here are necessarily located at an angle to each other – it was believed that locating them in a row would bring bad luck.

The Kotorians are most proud of the fact that they never were under the Ottoman Empire, even though in their history they used to be subordinate to Venice, were occupied by a Napoleon’s general and by Italian fascists (for two months). On this occasion, we heard a story how Jesus Christ appeared to a girl named Katarina from a mountain village and told her that in two hundred years, the Turks would attack Kotor. The girl didn’t hesitate to come down from the mountains with her mother to warn the Kotorians about the danger. The latter immediately started building a wall to protect their land, succeeded in this and, when the the Turks did attack, they managed to parry the enemy’s strike. Katarina herself had become a nun. In appreciation, her relics were later transferred to the Church of St. Clara, right here, so that the saint would continue to defend the citizens.

By the way, her descent from the mountains was no big deal – we were informed that some inhabitants of the mountain village Njeguši do it every day when delivering products to Kotor.

Driving out of Kotor, we saw a beautiful town on the other side of the bay (the fog had already cleared a little) – either Muo or Prčanj, where we weren’t taken. There was no time left for bathing either, although there were beaches here and there.

On the way back we were told that during the previous tour a few days before, the car queue on the border was seven kilometres! The most thorough shakedowns are usually undergone by those with Albanian and Kosovar passports – this road is actually a drug “Silk Road”. Recently the guards caught a couple in a car with German plates, transporting drugs for the sum of 10 million euros. But this time we were lucky, there was only one bus ahead of us, from Ukraine, which took quite a long time to check though.

Croatia – Day 6

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29 August 2012 – Wednesday

Today we had a lazy day, swimming in the sea, walking around, drinking cocktails in the bar, playing table tennis and swimming again.

In the evening we had dinner in a fantastic place, where they served us delicious (not just plain delicious – but incredibly delicious, I can’t even describe it!) grilled fish, tuna pâté (as a starter on the house), the freshest oysters and excellent local white wine –  Kozlović.

Croatia – Day 5

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28 August 2012 – Tuesday

Today we got up almost at the crack of dawn to take the trip to Elaphiti Islands. As it was expected, people were picked up from various hotels and taken to the port of Gruž. That’s where we boarded a 16th century galleon (well, a copy of one, of course). Altogether, there were at least 150 people on the galleon, coming from virtually every country in the world. And there were four guide girls, each speaking a different language: English, French, German and Russian. The guide for the English speakers was Ivana, whom we had already met, and since we found here very knowledgeable and nice, we decided to join her group.

So, back to the Elaphiti islands – only three of them are inhabited, and we visited all three. The first one – Koločep – is absolutely tiny, with a population of 50 people. Actually, there wasn’t anything to do on the island, neither were we given much time to explore it. We walked up the street (the only one here possibly?) a little bit, and hurried back to board the ship.

Before we got off, we had been told that everyone could change places after coming back, so seats shouldn’t be reserved. At the same time, it was allowed to leave bags and other belongings – and of course, everyone left them where they had been sitting. So when we tried to move to the upper deck (previously we had had really bad seats) returning from the first island, we encountered the stormy displeasure of a Russian couple who claimed that they had left their things under the seat, therefore it was theirs. So we realised that after the next stop we better look for seats which have no bags on, next to, or under them.

We really enjoyed the sailing, but I can’t say that the coast was of an absolutely marvellous beauty. Once again, these were no Norwegian fjords.

The next island, Šipan, was marked by the abundance of churches and olive trees per capita – for a total of 600 inhabitants there are tens of thousands of olive trees.

As we were told, there are very few people constantly living on these islands – there are almost no jobs, so the islanders mostly work on the mainland, and come here for the summer and weekends. Especially that there are only primary schools here, and also no regular medical care – the doctor looking after the islands only visits each once or twice a week.

We went up to the Church of the Holy Spirit, which looked much like a fort – it used to serve as a shelter from pirates, and the big bell was rung in case of this danger. Today, the bell signals either someone’s funeral, or that there is a forest fire.

The view along the road was very beautiful, with spectacular fields, orchards and olive groves. Overall, a very stereotypical Mediterranean view, I should say.

As we came back, there was a very nice light lunch served right on board: grilled fish, coleslaw, water, and dry wine.

And the next one – the main destination for the majority – was the Lopud Island, famous for its sandy beaches, which is quite a rarity for these places. Here we were given about three hours of free time, and we decided not to waste them looking for a taxi to get to the famous Šunj beach on the other side of the island, but to settle on the closest one. So, we had plenty of time to swim, tan and get all covered in sand. We hadn’t taken any towels with us, and there was nowhere to get them, so we had to allow ourselves some time to get dried off.

By the way, captains of ships used to settle on this island – provided, of course, they were rich enough to build sturdy stone houses.

Croatia – Day 4

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27 August 2012 – Monday

Today the sea showed us that it is not always quiet, so probably it would have been difficult to swim at our beach, where one has to use the ladder to get into the sea. Even last night, when the wind was just beginning to rise, we found it quite hard to swim. Luckily, in the morning we spotted another beach, a public one, where the sea was shallow and where we could enter gradually, as we are used to. It was just 10-15 minutes away along the coast.

The beach, however, was so stony that we immediately had to buy rubber swimming shoes. The bottom was very uneven – not only were there pebbles, but also quite sharp rocks as well. Sun beds and umbrellas had to be paid for, of course. The beach was also offering sea bike rides, which I wasn’t up for, while the rest of our group were. So I stayed to watch them from the shore.

In the afternoon we visited a local shopping center on the Lapad peninsula. Basically it was very close to the beach we attended in the morning, but we did not know it then. We went there by bus. The mall was of a really modest size, but we still managed to purchase some small things there. I have to say that all everyday products here are cheap enough, however, clothes and cosmetics are pretty expensive. Initially we were planning to have dinner right there. But then we got cold, and besides there weren’t really any restaurants around – only cafes serving drinks. So we went back to the hotel, and not by bus, which we spent ages waiting for, in vain, but by taxi. Interestingly, the price for five of us turned out exactly the same – so there wasn’t any point in waiting for the bus anyway.

Croatia – Day 3

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26 August 2012 – Sunday

Today we went to the city centre again – not just randomly, like the day before, but on an Old City walking tour. Yesterday, while watching tourists walking on the city walls under the burning sun, I personally felt their pain, already sadly imagining myself in their ranks. The reality was far more enjoyable: we met our guide Ivana – a very nice girl with a bandaged leg – and within a group of 8 people we walked around the Old City in a “derated mode”, trying to avoid direct sunlight and even sitting down every now and then. The tour lasted two hours, during which we learned a lot of interesting things about Dubrovnik.

So, Dubrovnik once used to be an independent republic, known as Ragusa in Latin. The republic was democratic (albeit conditionally, as the right to vote belonged only to male noblemen). The city had a rector, who was elected for a 30-day period during which he had no right to leave the palace, where he lived alone, without family. Apparently, this was done to ensure that he did not have any outside influences and cared only about the government’s interest.

The Republic had very strict rules and laws, concerning even the construction of buildings. Thus, the buildings had to look pretty much the same – no one was allowed to show off their wealth, at least outwardly. The windows of neighbouring houses were not to be facing each other, as everyone had the right for privacy. Nobody could build their house even a foot or two ahead of others; the punishment for violation of the law was indeed very strict: the house would be demolished, and its owner would face a penalty charge AND go to jail.

Foreigners were allowed to stay in the city only during the day – at night they were expelled, and the city gates were locked. The only exception was made for the Jewish quarter, due to the extreme utility of its inhabitants to the city. But this quarter too was locked at night on both sides, so formally it was kind of outside of the city. When Dubrovnikers were blamed for the fact that they were cherishing the infidels, the very diplomatic city authorities replied that the Republic often had to deal with other infidels – the Ottoman Empire – so it was better to have these infidels communicate between each other. By the way, this quarter has the second oldest synagogue in Europe, the first one being in Prague.

In general, it must be said that the mercantile Dubrovnik had always managed to juggle between its main enemies: the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire. Its motto was “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro” (meaning something like “Liberty can’t be sold for all the gold in the world”), yet the authorities spared no expense for buying this liberty – that is, they paid off their enemies.

On one of the side streets we saw the Church of St. Roch – the patron saint of plague patients. There is an interesting story associated with it: once children used to play some football-like game just outside of the church and kept pounding the ball against its walls. At some point the priest had enough of it, so he scribbled a curse on the wall saying “May peace be with you. Remember of death, those playing the ball”. The children scribbled a response – something like “We want to play – and so we will!”

On one of the staircases Ivana asked us if we could figure out why the balustrade was solid up to a certain height. Our version was that it was done in care of children, so that they didn’t fall out. The reality was nothing like that. Noble ladies, climbing the stairs on their way to the nearby Dominican church, of course, had to lift their skirts, revealing their ankles. The architecture of the staircase did not allow loitering young men to stare at them from below.

The old town is associated with many contrarieties, for example, in 1806 Napoleon deceived the authorities of Dubrovnik, asking to give him permission to just pass through the city to hit Montenegrins – the Russian allies. The authorities trustfully opened the gates for the French emperor and… the city was seized. Napoleon even built a fort atop of Mount Srđ. However, these fortifications built by an invader, saved Dubrovnik during the war for independence in 1991. By the way, during this war, Dubrovnik was besieged for real: from the sea it was blocked by the Montenegrin Navy, and from the land it was bombed by Serbs, who also cut off all communications. People, believing that the Old City was a safe place (as bombing historical objects is prohibited by international military law) rushed under the protection of its walls. However, as Ivana told us with indignation, it was bombed in the first place.

But finally there was peace, and as previously, Dubrovnik is respected among Croatian cities. If someone says, “I’m from The City”, this means that they are from Dubrovnik. The rest find this pretty annoying, but nevertheless they have also become used to calling Dubrovnik “The City”.

At the end of the tour Ivana told us a touching story about the local “Romeo and Juliet” – Silvana from the Roman settlement and Dubravko from the Slavic one. As it always happens with lovers from warring clans, they perished. Interestingly, the names of both, each in their own language, are related to the word “forest”, and the name of Dubrovnik itself is derived from the word “dub”, meaning  “oak”.

Left on our own, we walked along the main shopping street, but didn’t find anything decent in terms of good value for money. Tourist shops, no more than that. We wanted to have lunch in the Old City, but somehow ended up in the same terrace restaurant on the Pile Square, as yesterday.

After lunch we went back to the hotel, and as intended, swam in the sea, right until a tangible wind got up, bringing some rubbish to our pristine shores. From the evening impressions it’s worth mentioning an awfully brazen cat in the restaurant: it was not actually begging for food, but rather demanding it discontentedly, wagging its tail menacingly and sharpening its claws on our chairs no less threateningly. Fortunately, one of us didn’t like his Caesar salad, so virtually all of the chicken went to the impertinent animal.

The evening ended with a pleasant walk along the sea, so on the whole the day hasn’t been lived in vain.

Croatia – Day 2

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25 August 2012 – Saturday

The day consisted of two parts: a very pleasant swim in the sea and a rather worthless trip to the city. Actually, we only needed to change money, buy some stuff, and eat out for a change.

In the morning we rushed right to the beach immediately after breakfast. The sea here was unusual for us, in the sense that it wasn’t a strip of sandy beach, where you could walk into the sea from anywhere and paddle in shallow water until you reached the depth that was suitable for swimming. Here the shore was rocky, there were only a couple of places with pool ladders, where one could get into the sea, and right at once it was so deep that we couldn’t even touch the sea floor. But it’s almost impossible to sink (hopefully!), because the water is very salty, or at least, it seemed so to us in comparison with the moderately salty Caspian. Anyway, swimming in the sea is an enormous pleasure!

For those who can’t or don’t want to swim in the sea, there were swimming pools – two with salt water, and one with chlorinated fresh water. The beach area was purely civilised, with sunbeds and towels provided to hotel guests.

We indulged in this ‘dolce far niente’ twice today – in the morning and evening. In between, as already mentioned above, we went to the centre of Dubrovnik.

Impressions: hot, huge traffic jams on narrow streets, a hell lot of people (more than in Beijing, it seemed!), the complete absence of any shops (for decency’s sake, let’s say that we might have been brought to a wrong place), so that we were only able to buy souvenir refrigerator magnets. If there was a bright moment in this whole journey, it was eating outside at a terrace restaurant by the sea. So it turned out that we drove for such a long time, stuck in the traffic, only to have lunch. Well, never mind.

Also, as always when we arrive somewhere, we tried to book some guided tours. So first of all, tomorrow, we are visiting the Old City, on Tuesday we are doing the three islands tour, on Thursday we are going to Montenegro and on Friday – to the island of Korčula. We had to worry a bit about the trip to Montenegro: the agent described the tour along the Bay of Kotor as something incredibly magnificent. But as we became totally excited, we got turned down: she was told on the phone that Azerbaijani citizens needed a visa. We tried to argue that we had heard on TV about the temporary cancellation of visa regime for this summer, but we were told – no, we can’t sign you up for the tour, go on your own if you want. We were terribly disappointed, but decided nevertheless to clarify this on the Internet. We could find a couple of news sites, confirming our original idea, although on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro it was really stated that a visa was required. We made a second attempt to talk to the agent in the afternoon. We barely started to explain the situation, when she happily interrupted us: it turned out that their staff had already checked everything and confirmed that we could go! So, we are going, hopefully the border guards are also informed about the visa regime relief for summer!

Croatia – Day 1

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24 August 2012 – Friday

We took the direct Baku-Split flight. There was not a single Croat on the flight, and not even any other foreigner – the plane was packed with Azeris, who couldn’t be any happier with the opportunity to travel without a visa. There isn’t actually anything to be said about the flight, as it was pretty ordinary: we took off, landed, applauded the pilot.

Split met us with a stifling heat, worse than in Baku. That’s what I call “out of the frying pan into the fire”. The airport was very small, “chamber-sized”, I would say.

Generally, when upon your arrival everything passes smoothly and without a hitch: passport control, the transfer driver holding your name sign, etc, – of course, you feel happy about it, but when you start writing, you feel some disappointment, because it turns out that there isn’t much to write about.

But, on our way to Dubrovnik, I made some observations: the first impression was as if I hadn’t travelled beyond Absheron, at least the landscape was very similar. However, it changed quite soon. On our left there were mountains: sometimes green, sometimes bald; and on our right was the clear blue Jadran (Adriatic Sea). Its water was of the colour I’d never seen before, and so clear, that the sea floor near the shore could be seen even from far away. The whole coast was basically one big stone beach (sometimes civilised, sometimes wild), and people were bathing here and there. All along the coast there were signs of hotels, B&B facilities, flats for rent, even rooms for rent in people’s houses – all persistently beckoning tourists. Pretty much everyone was walking around in bathing suits, even in urban areas.

The peculiarity of the way was that part of it (about ten kilometres) passed through a neighbouring state – Bosnia and Herzegovina. Everything was as it should be: the border-crossing post, the police, which, however, didn’t perform any checks, taking on trust that we were driving from Split to Dubrovnik. We noticed that an active construction of new, more serious border-crossing points was going on: in a years’ time this is going to be not an ordinary border, but a Schengen border, as Croatia will enter the Schengen zone while Bosnia and Herzegovina will not yet.

Actually, it has to be mentioned that we had previously imagined the famous “Jadranska Cesta”, that is the Adriatic Highway, to be a really wide highway. In fact it is a quite narrow winding mountain road. In general, the road was very picturesque: the turquoise sea, red tile roofs, trees, palms, flowers, mountain slopes. However, it’s quite far from the stunning beauty of Norwegian fjords. Maybe because a sight like this is more or less familiar to our eyes.

We’d been previously slightly frightened by forest fires occurring in the countly, and we did see smoke on the way, but luckily it was off our route.

The duration of the Split-Dubrovnik “rally” – a little more than four hours – was not enough to be seriously tiring, but slightly longer than required for a pleasant car drive.

The Neptun hotel is part of a resort complex with three pools and a private beach. It made a good impression, even though we didn’t yet have the opportunity to look around properly. Funnily, after all the talks about Absheron, my mobile Facebook made a mistake and, while I was uploading a photo with the sea view, made from my window, it defined my location as Mashtaga (note: it is a place near Baku, famous for its lunatic asylum – so one can just imagine what my Facebook friends thought, when they read my status, tagged in Mashtaga, but saying I was in Croatia!).

By the way, I noticed the dominance of Russian, German and Spanish tourists in the hotel.

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