This is one of my favourite photos from our recent trip to the Balkans. I snapped it when our boat slowed as we neared the docks in Dubrovnik. There’s not much to the shot. Mostly sea and sky. And in between, a few people on benches, on a long narrow breakwater. They are doing various things: sipping a mid-morning coffee, chatting, eating, embracing, and gazing out to sea. What they are doing is not earth shattering, nor exciting, nor adventurous. Okay, maybe the couple caught in mid-smooch are having a torrid extra-martial affair, or the pair unpacking their lunch are really assessing the haul from an early morning bank robbery. But I doubt it.
What they are doing is what we love to do when we travel. Pack a lunch, stop for a mid-morning coffee, chat with each other and with people we meet. Slow down. Gaze out at the view. Breath.
As I’ve said many times before, Hubby and I find we are better able to do more chatting, gazing, and breathing when we travel if we chart our own course. Plan our own trip, going where we want, when we want, and mostly driving ourselves. So on a sunny, crisp morning after we bade Trogir a fond farewell, we made tracks south to Dubrovnik and Cavtat.
It seemed funny to us that we had to cross into Bosnia-Herzegovina briefly and out again to get to the southern most part of Croatia. Border crossings are always a little clutchy for me. I know I must look guilty of some terrible offense. That’s probably because I’m holding my breath.
Gone are the days when as children we sat smiling in the backseat of the car as my grandmother blithely chatted with the Canadian border guard, knowing that he knew darn well we kids were sitting there in our newly purchased in the U.S. back-to-school clothes. Ha. Cross-border shopping was always a “wink, wink, knowing look, knowing look” kind of thing in New Brunswick. These days, I’m no longer so unruffled by border crossings.
When we arrive back in Zagreb in a week or so, with lots of border crossings under our belt, our passports having been stamped numerous times, we will be well used to the drill. But on this day we were a bit tentative, watching carefully for signs, worried that we’d drive into a wrong lane, do the wrong thing, arouse suspicion… whatever.
The four days we spent in Cavtat near Dubrovnik were designed to allow us time to breath. And I’m not talking about holding our breath at the border. We hadn’t been exactly running madly off in all directions or anything. But we did need an extra day to do laundry, cook our own meals, and one day, for me anyway, to not do much of anything.
I spent that day shuttling between our tiny balcony and the laundry room across the hall from our studio apartment. I happily put my feet up, read my book, drank tea, blogged about our stay in Slovenia, and watched the very loud planes fly over our building on their way to the Dubrovnik airport.
While we were in Cavtat we took a boat across the bay to Dubrovnik. Old Dubrovnik is beautiful. Historic. And really interesting. We’d been warned that, like Venice, it can get very crowded, especially when there are several cruise ships in port. I’d checked out this website which helped us to choose the best day to visit. But it was pretty crowded anyway, despite there being only a couple of cruise ships in port. Especially when we walked the old city walls. Still, if we looked the other way, tried not to get carried along with the flow of people, and stopped when we wanted, other than having to duck the occasional selfie-stick, it wasn’t that bad.
In his guide book Rick Steves says that travellers like us who hate crowds might want to try some attitude adjustment. “The maritime republic of Dubrovnik has always been a crossroads of merchants, sailors, and other travellers from around the world. While today they may be following their tour guides’ numbered paddles rather than trading exotic spices, the legions of visitors are still part of the city’s tapestry.” Our attitude duly adjusted, we tried to be sanguine about the crowds, and we enjoyed our day in Dubrovnik. Mostly we wandered. Walked the walls. Visited a couple of museums. Stopped for coffees and a snack in a café down one of the small alleys away from the main square. And strolled down to the harbour to catch the boat back to Cavtat.
The next day we were back on the road, for a day trip into Montenegro. More border crossings, a short ferry ride going and coming back, and a lot of driving. Much of it a bit hairy. But we like hairy roads wherever we are. Montenegro is very different from Croatia. More rugged. Less pristine. Obviously poorer. And from everything we’ve read, it seems Montenegro is a country still struggling to define itself, still beleaguered by outside influences.
Since we only had the one day to explore Montenegro, we decided to give the old town of Kotor a miss, opting instead to drive the mountain road above the Bay of Kotor into the interior to Njeguši and Cetinje. This drive was described in our Rick Steves guide book, and he was right, it did not disappoint. And it is NOT for timid drivers.
The road up the mountain was one of the most challenging we’ve ever driven. A kind of combination of the single-lane roads with passing places in northern Scotland, and the mountain switchbacks we drove in Argentina. Sometimes there were stone guardrails, sometimes there were small, widely spaced stone markers, sometimes both had collapsed in a wash-out, or maybe mowed down by someone taking a more direct route down the mountain. Gad, we hoped not! Ha.
We had a few stressful moments when we encountered a dump-truck barreling around a corner straight at us. Thank goodness there was a car behind us whose driver seemed to know what to do. He backed up, we backed up, the truck advanced. It was nerve-wracking to stare at the truck driver, eye-ball to eye-ball, while all this was going on. After two or three spurts of backing up, the road widened slightly. More of a bulge, actually. And we were able to squeeze as close to the small stone markers on the edge of the cliff as we dared. The truck driver inched by us on the mountain side. And I do mean inch… missing us by what seemed like no more then an inch, but probably was.
Phew. We could breath again. Hubby said in a shaky voice, “You know, Suz, I don’t know how many more of these roads I have in me.” We decided to continue on for a few more switchbacks, and if his heart rate didn’t come back down (and mine, I might add,) we’d turn around (if we could) and go back the way we’d come.
We didn’t turn around, as it happens, and the view from the top was magnificent. My pictures do not do justice to the long, long drop down to the Bay of Kotor.
We stopped at a wonderful restaurant at the top, but despite the beautiful day and the magnificent view, Hubby was in no mood to linger over his coffee. He was too worried about what the road ahead might bring. So after a few minutes, a bit reluctantly, we carried on.
But the driving was easy on the way down and through the valley to Njeguši, past farms and fields dotted with small smokehouses. This area is famous for its smoked ham, apparently.
Then we wound up, up again through high hills, and more rugged and desolate countryside. The roads though, were a piece of cake compared with our earlier experiences.
Before long we were back on the coast, driving off the ferry and heading for the border. I mean borders, plural… again.
Back in Cavtat, we had time for a lay down and a shower before dinner. We were heading out to a local restaurant with our new next-door neighbours from Cornwall, Craig and Stephanie. We’d been chatting with them each morning on our balconies as we drank our morning cuppa, and most evenings over a glass of wine. So on our last night we decided to go to dinner together.
Hubby and I love meeting people when we travel. It’s funny, isn’t it, how you can be so open with people you’ve just met. Over wine and then dinner, we talked about everything: work lives, personal lives, marriage, how we each met our partners, family issues, travel experiences, politics. We covered it all. Then we paid the bill and wended our way back down the hill to our apartment. What a great evening. Just what Hubby and I needed after so much time on the road, with just the two of us.
You know, a friend recently asked me several questions about things we might have seen on our trip. She and her husband were in Croatia a few years ago. Did we see this museum in this city? This statue or that gallery in such and such town? Uh… nope… I replied, a bit sheepishly. And for a moment I felt like a very bad traveller. A total philistine, to be honest.
And then I remembered the post I wrote last year where I talked about our travel priorities. How Hubby and I had decided to jettison certain destinations on this trip in favour of a slower pace. How we determined to no longer worry about what we should see, or must do. There would be no more shoulds. If friends said “Oh Sue, you can’t go to such and such without seeing such and such,” I’d smile and reply, “Yes, we can. And we will.”
As a result of our re-establishing our priorities last year, this trip had not been as jam packed as our trips sometimes are. We’d been doing a lot of breathing. We stayed three nights in most places we visited, with no single, overnight visits at all. But we wanted a bit longer here because of the day trip down into Montenegro. Hubby needed a break from driving for a day or two.
So, we had some much needed extra breathing space during our few days in Cavtat. Time to do nothing, which I always seem to need more than Hubby. Time to get a blog post written. To get laundry done, washed, ironed, folded, and repacked. When everything is freshly ironed and neatly folded I always feel better organized, rejuvenated, almost. It’s amazing what clean jeans can do for one’s travel attitude.
Tomorrow, repacked, rejuvenated, in clean jeans and pressed tee shirts, we would head inland, to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I very much wanted to go to Mostar.
But I’ll tell you all about that next time.
What about you my friends? Do you schedule time to breath when you travel? Or are you a high energy, maximize your time kind of person? Do tell.