It was a real adventure, which only came about because it was the location of that year’s Fat Face catalogue and Jen liked the look of it (true story!). Andy (and his wallet) were very relieved when Fat Face started shooting their catalogues closer to home.
Disclaimer: bear in mind that this was hmm, probably 10-15 years ago (ed: it was 2007 so lots will have changed), so everything is probably very different there now!
We flew into Dubrovnik, Croatia, as it was much cheaper than flying to Montenegro, hired a car and drove down to Baya Kotorska (Kotor Bay, named after the stunning Venetian town nestled in its south-east corner up against the mountains). We stayed for just over a week in Perast, a gorgeous smaller Venetian-era town on the Bay, a stunningly-beautiful unspoilt fjord – actually the southernmost fjord in Europe.
I’d love to think that it is still as unspoilt, but who knows. Our apartment there had 5 empty 5l bottles in the bathroom, which seemed strange when we arrived. Then the first evening there was no water after about 8pm. It didn’t turn on again until 8am the next day. Odd, but water problems happen… Then it happened again the next day and the next. It transpired that the water was turned off overnight across the country to reduce demand and the lady who rented us the apartment hadn’t warned us. She later claimed not to be aware of the problem, but it’s not normal to keep a stash of empty water bottles in the bathroom.
We had a gorgeous week; swimming, enjoying the scenery and going out on the water in our inflatable canoe. How I wish we could transport some McConks boards to our younger selves! Andy also ate his best ever seafood meal there…
Just in front of our apartment was an open-air restaurant on the waterfront. We were the only customers one evening when Andy thought he’d try the stuffed squid. We were assured that there was no problem. And then we waited and waited. The salad that we were going to eat alongside came, but no word of our main courses. Eventually, we ate it, in case they were waiting for us to finish before bringing the next course out. But no, we sat there, it got dark, we felt awkward, but being British didn’t like to question. The waiter was also clearly awkward about what was going on but didn’t know enough English to explain.
After forever (about 90 minutes), we heard a splash from the nearby pontoon and saw someone get out of a boat and head towards the kitchen. All of a sudden the place came alive. Noise and smells of squid being cooked. Shortly after the waiter brought our main courses and apologised for the delay. Turned out they’d run out of squid so they’d sent a boat out to catch some! Andy’s best ever squid – and squid is his most favourite seafood, so this was a good day.
Side note: Jen is veggie, and in those days, they really didn’t get the concept. She was offered salad, ‘yes please, sounds great’. ‘One lamb salad then coming up’, umm no. Generally, all that she could eat was plain grilled mushrooms on plain cooked rice. Both cooked beautifully but with no seasoning, sauces or anything. Or plates of boiled mountain greens. Healthy, but not very inspiring. The highlight was a meal that consisted of three very beautifully cooked, but very small, button mushrooms presented as a main course!
Coast to mountain road trip
Our adventure continued with a road trip. We headed down the coast a bit. Sveti Stefan, a tombolo (one for the geography geeks), would be an amazing paddle around, although I think the island itself is a luxury resort. Budva was already too spoilt and touristy for us then, so I dread to imagine what it’s like today. The real adventure came when we turned inland and headed for Durmitor National Park. All was going well, until a couple of hours into our journey, out in the middle of nowhere, all the road signs suddenly changed to the Cyrillic alphabet! Don’t forget this was in the days before sat-nav, and the map we were following most definitely did not feature the Cyrillic alphabet. After a few more rather tense hours, we arrived at Zabljak and drove around in disbelief. The hotel we’d thought sounded nice in the guide book looked like it was abandoned, with broken glass in the windows in the upper levels and the whole town looked (and felt) stuck in the Soviet era. You would not have been surprised to turn a corner and meet an army platoon marching towards you ready to mow you down. The surrounding countryside was stunning, and perhaps we just got off on the wrong foot, but the whole place gave us the heebie-jeebies, never more so than in the hotel-with-broken-window’s dining room at breakfast the next morning (yep, we stayed there, turned out it wasn’t abandoned!).
We’d heard lots of good things about the Durmitor National Park, but we never quite managed to see the best of it, which is apparently a ski area in the winter and an extreme sports mecca in the summer
Road trip – Mountains to Skadar
After a lovely stopover in Kolasin (on the tora river for the whitewater freaks), bar the steaming drunk coach of the national volleyball team mistaking our room for his in the middle of the night (thankfully we’d locked the door, but he was very persistent with trying to come in!), we travelled to Lake Skadar, the largest lake in southern Europe, and on the border with Albania. It is a beautiful lake, which we’d hoped to get out on with our canoe, but there was very firm advice not to, in case you inadvertently stayed into Albanian waters. Apparently they could be ‘hostile’ to such hapless tourists. No fear though, whilst enjoying lunch, a dapper old gent approached us and persuaded us to buy tickets for what turned out to be the most random boat trip of our lives. There were about 8 of us, including an American guy. Bush Jr had been just voted President and he couldn’t stop apologising for his fellow citizens (I imagine he’d welcome Bush with open arms now!). There was also an extremely nervous lady, who’s disposition was not helped by the captain. He drove along drinking cans of beer, chucking them over the side when they were empty (into the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance), and then set the boat steering around in a circle while he went to do a wee. It was hilarious, although the poor nervous lady was hysterical and thought she was going to die.
The last few days of our holiday passed very pleasantly, we ended up back in Perast for the last couple of days as we enjoyed the scenery so much. We’d planned to have a few days in Dubrovnik, but we always end up choosing water over city. Our very last bit of adventure was driving back through Croatia heading for the airport. Andy overtook crossing a solid white line (tut tut), and got spotted by some Croatian police who were not impressed. They pulled us over, and with a very strong language barrier indicated that we should pay a fine. We had never had any Croatian money, as all we’d done was drive the hour to the Montenegrin border. It took much gesticulating and apologising to convince them we had no money. Initially they kept crossing out the sum they’d said, and lowering the amount, but nothing is nothing whichever way you look at it. At one point there was a suggestion that we would be escorted to a cash point, which we didn’t really have time for as we had a plane to catch. Eventually though they realised they were wasting time that
could have been spent getting money out of more lucrative victims and drove off in disgust.
We had such an eventful, but equally amazing holiday there, and we often talk about going back, with a car full of paddle boards! One to look forward to when life returns to a little more normal. There were many signs then of the recent conflicts, although there was plenty of European and US donor aid investment going into the area. Sadly we know that there’s a massive new cruise ship terminal there. But hopefully the collapse of cruise ship trade will put paid to that!
But it’s a SUP hotspot. Do it if you’re even vaguely interested!