Its a big price to pay for drowning a pedestrian
15.06.2015 - 18.06.2015 23 °C
The journey from Kosovo to Montenegro was excellent. Our GPS seduced me 0nto a high mountain minor road through a heavily forested National Park. Narrow and twisty - a superb Rally Road with almost no traffic. It descended into valleys that have been inhabited for a few thousand years and where the men cut the hay with scythes and the women rake it up with old wooden rakes and use wooden pitchforks to throw it up into a haystack. Now that’s a sight to be seen. Tourism for chauvinists – it’s underdeveloped. Some of those sturdy girls could heave a load of hay over 5 metres high. What an asset to have in the family. I’ll bet the local farmer boys are lusting after them. The journey to the capital Podgorcia was completed with a 70km drive down through a spectacular gorge that dropped over 2,500 metres. Cliffs over 1,000 metres on both side of the car – up and down. I could hear Flypaper taking deep breaths and saw her peep out over the window sill a few times. You’ll never find her in the line for a bungee jump.
Montenegro is known for its high mountains that are bitterly cold in winter and its 120 beaches stretching over 73kms that are popular in summer. This is the Riviera of the Balkans. Wall to wall bikini’s and a few guys running around not knowing where to look – especially if they are with their wives. Some of the healthiest young ladies in the world can be found here absorbing the suns rays here and thus combating global warming. Being blessed with excellent peripheral vision and reflector sunglasses I am able to bring you this information with complete assurance its true.
At the northern end of the country is Kotor - a medieval town in a stunning natural setting. A very secluded harbour surrounded by 1500 metre cliffs that fall straight into the deepest fiord-like harbour in the Adriatic. It’s full of Italian Super-yachts and the filthy rich – often sitting in traffic jams. It’s a bit like Monaco, a bit like Queenstown and a lot like a pickpocket – your money will disappear in no time. Look it up on Google. I felt very relieved to escape – even if it was only through the border to the next most popular tourist trap – Dubrovnik in Croatia.
We’ll be returning to Croatia next week for some time but I’ll share a few bits of information our quick visit uncovered. Their currency, the Kuna, was named after a small rodent (like a ferret). I’m informed that the current New Zealand $ could consider a change to a similar descriptive value. The Kuna is divided into 100 lipa - which is the name for the local Lime tree. All this happened before the ‘green’ political parties of the world evolved. Can I suggest that the Croatians may have been ahead of the game.
An amazing Croatian inventor named Slavoljub Penkala was also ahead of the game. He virtually evolved from the feather quill and pencil to invent the ball point pen in 1906 and the fountain pen in 1907. (Yes – that is the right chronology) One record suggests he did use a hollow feather for his prototype. (Note : a couple of other countries also claim Slavoljub as theirs – but he was working in Zagreb at the time and changed his name to reflect his adopted country.)
Dubrovnik is proof positive that travellers should never return to anywhere they have been previously – it will never be a good reunion. This is principally because the early travellers made the locals realize that a good income could be made by packing as many suckers into the place as possible, housing them in huge cheap resorts, plying them with cheap grog, cheap souvenirs’ and ever expanding this formula each year. In 1975 Dubrovnik was a stunning medieval fortress with a little tourism in humble surroundings outside the old city walls. Notwithstanding that was my first big OE and I loved most of it, Dubrovnik was especially good. Today it’s the pits. If you don’t believe me – go there and suffer yourself.
Hot Chocolate in the Balkans is possibly the best in the world. I first tried it because it was the only recognizable drink on the menu - Čokolada. It’s effectively a large bar of chocolate melted in a cup. I understand they stole the recipe from the Italians and perfected it. The test : its good if a spoon will stand up in it. I test it most days … although I may miss out tomorrow due to the inability to keep the smile off my face when I inadvertadly drowned a lady pedestrian.
Our escape from Dubrovnik up the mountains to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina was accomplished in a spectacular storm. The lightening was stunning and caused Flypaper to comment that being struck by lightening would probably make the hour spent washing her hair earlier a complete waste of time. The thunder was all around and quite overpowered my digestive process bought on by an ambitious breakfast. I think it was the bacon in competition with the pancake. The torrential rain and lack of effective drainage for the whole journey was like driving up a river for 5 hours. I could have made it on a jetski. While surfing through a town we passed a well dressed but foolish lady on her way to work. She was mincing along under her umbrella completely unaware that she was being approached by bow wave of magnificent proportions spraying 3 metres high and 6 meters wide. My chuckle as I watched the aftermath in the rear view mirror was a mistake. I’ll have to do penance before the day is over.
Recalling regular Sarajevo television coverage during the 1984 Winter Olympics and again during the 1992/95 Bosnian War, we wished to see for ourselves what it was now like. The ‘Siege of Sarajevo’ was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. The city was assaulted by tanks, artillery and small arms. Nearly 14,000 people were killed. All structures of political, cultural and humanitarian occupation were destroyed. The shelling destroyed over 10,000 apartments and damaged 100,000 others. The large martyrs’ cemeteries are particularly poignant places.
Today, virtually all structures that remained standing have been repaired. Many still carry the scars – pockmarked by bullet holes and identified by obvious repairs. The whole of the destroyed central city has been rebuilt with architecturally magnificent buildings. Especially the ‘guvmint’ buildings. I’m told these buildings have renewed the pride of the nation. The fact that the politicians’ now have ‘state of the art’ luxury workplaces is an incidental benefit. Yeah right.
A chance discussion with an Irish law academic over dinner (I know that sounds unlikely) reminded us that the incident which triggered World War 1 occurred in Sarajevo. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was visiting at a time of tension. It’s a bizarre story worth reading. A bunch of young guys were given the task of assassinating him. The first 2 guys both failed to act. The 3rd guy threw a bomb that bounced off the hood and exploded under the following vehicle. 3 more conspirators failed to act. The security team changed the cavalcade route but forgot to tell the drivers. Astonishingly they stopped at ‘Latin’ bridge right beside a remaining 18 year old assassin who was trudging home all despondent. He stepped forward and shot the Archduke and his wife. By coincidence the assassination site was only a block away from our hotel so we were able to check it out. The stone bridge remains exactly as it did in the day. I’m delighted to report that no international incident emanated from our stop in the same place although Flypaper wouldn’t let me stay long looking for opportunities.
We were tickled to see a restaurant waiter wearing a strange short necktie. After seeing a few more we discovered that the necktie was invented in Croatia in the 17th Century. Some may think, as a result, this country has a lot to answer for. However, I would remind you that before that, much of the ‘civilized’ world was wearing the Spanish ruffle. I, for one, do not look comfortable in a ruffle.