An overland journey home

Kiwi journalists Mauricio Olmedo-Perez and Charlotte Whale are taking the scenic route home from London.

Croatia to Montenegro: Five old towns in six days

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Charlotte on Hvar Island, Croatia. Photo / Mauricio Olmedo-Perez
Charlotte on Hvar Island, Croatia. Photo / Mauricio Olmedo-Perez

Still very shaky after watching the Rugby World Cup final, we hopped on the ferry at Split in Croatia and headed to Hvar island. The early morning booze we'd consumed (to calm our nerves) helped us snooze the whole way.

Hvar has the most sunlight hours in the whole of Croatia so I'd hoped to wake to a sun-soaked paradise. Instead, we were greeted by dark storm clouds that were already starting to leak.

Despite this, we liked the island the moment we saw it - a baby marina floated on crystal clear water in front of a mini town square and golden cathedral.

Because it's the low season the usually bustling yachties' hang-out was transformed into a sleepy haven - the perfect place to park up for a couple of days.

Thankfully the following day was a beauty. We went for a run along the water and jumped in the Adriatic to cool off - and cool it was, but we couldn't resist.

The water was so clear!

Unfortunately, as I was timidly lowering myself in, I stepped into a hole in a rock and ended up with a heel full of sea anemone spikes. Mauricio seemed to be able to see the funny side of this and had great fun pulling them out with a needle and tweezers.

It was so nice to have warm weather again after snowy Slovenia and Mauricio finally got some respite from my embarrassing cold weather attire.

Because of my severe lack of sensible winter gear I went a little nuts at a Kathmandu sale before I left London. The result is that in cold weather, I look like I'm sponsored by them - from thermals to my fleece headband.

To get from Hvar to Dubrovnik we had to backtrack to Split.

We grabbed a windy bus ride along a pretty coastal road that passed through a sliver of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's probably the shortest time we've ever spent in a new country. We just had to hand over our passports briefly then we were on our way and out the other side to Croatia again within half an hour.

What would have been our first glimpse of Dubrovnik as we arrived at the bus station was blocked by a monstrous cruise ship. Never having been on a cruise I can only guess there's a strict dress code passengers must adhere to that includes compulsory accessories.

Every man had a fancy camera hanging from his neck and every lady had those curious UV-resistant lenses that clip onto reading glasses. It's highly amusing when they all walk into a shop and lift them up in unison.

First impression of Dubrovnik? A little too polished compared with Split. And I mean literally polished - the cobblestones on the main drag of the old town were sparkling. I half expected the Cruise Ship Brigade to lose their footing and end up a pile of purple-rise perms and sensible shoes.

Walking along the city's walls changed my mind. The view and sunset were dazzling. We took our time enjoying our surroundings and wandered back down to look for a place to eat.

One of my favourite things about Europe is walking around the historic towns after the sun goes down. There's something about the way they are lit up at night - it completely changes the personality of a place.

It's becoming apparent that Mauricio and I have very different ideas regarding the purpose of a map. He likes to give it one quick look over in our room and "follow his nose" from then on. He used to be a tour guide, so likes to wing it.

I like to actually take maps out of the hotel and consult them if at all unsure - much to Mauricio's horror- apparently it's the height of cringeworthy tourist behaviour to be seen walking with one's nose in a map.

So instead we wander around alleyways despite the map being in my bag - a point I constantly repeat - because he's "pretty sure" we're heading the right way.

Okay fine, we usually are, and I do seem to get us lost when he lets me lead with the map, but I just don't understand what's wrong with checking!

The next day we headed to Montenegro and a seaside town called Kotor. I'll try hard to describe the bus ride but I know I won't do it justice.

Kotor is nestled at the end of southern Europe's deepest fjord so the view from the bus window was of sky-high rocky mountains jutting out from the water. With a backdrop like that, the little clusters of stone cottages on the water's edge looked like model villages. No wonder the town is a World Heritage site.

We stayed in the heart of the small old town, surrounded again by a stone wall. After lunch Mauricio announced it was time to check out the fort, which happened to be at the top of 1350 stairs. I'm not going to lie and pretend these sorts of things fill me with joy and enthusiasm. They don't.

But I did it anyway because:

a) It was probably better for me than ordering another glass of wine and waving to Mauricio as he trudged up.

b) He probably really appreciated it and I would've been gnawed by guilt if I just sat and waved at him trudging up.

c) I saw a wholesome English family with two scrawny kids under ten making their way up so figured it couldn't be that hard.

And of course it wasn't that bad. The fort wasn't very impressive but the view was.

Next we headed to the tourist town of Budva. I hope it livens up in high season because despite people's rave reviews we found it quite depressing.

Outside the old town walls we saw many abandoned buildings and what looked like a deserted theme park straight out of the eighties. After six days these walled towns, although lovely, all start to look the same.

That's set to change though because we are off to Albania.

It's beginning to feel more remote the closer we get to the border - so adventure awaits.

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