Despite reports of bad weather in Croatia, we awoke on the ferry, a little stiff, to a beautiful morning several miles off the stunning Croatian coastline. The ‘port’ of Dubrovnik was a world away from the delights of Port Bari: clean, pretty and quiet. We disembarked the ferry and got in the queue for our first non-EU border customs check, not entirely sure what to expect. What we could see from the cars in front of us was that the authorities seemed to be fairly rigid in their duties and every vehicle was getting a thorough search with bags opened etc. We were waved down to the front to find Marco and his bike being subjected to a comprehensive opening of luggage, despite him being a Croatian national, so we were preparing ourselves for the likelihood of having to unpack all our carefully organised panniers and bags. Sure enough, the unsmiling official asked us what was in the first pannier and indicated for us to open it (a palaver in itself as you have to unstrap the bag from the top of the bike first to get access). While we were sorting this out, he had started to look through our passport and was asking us various questions. Upon finding our Pakistan visa stamps, he said, “You have long journey”, then turning to the China page, “World travellers?!” and from then on seemed to warm to us and decided that we were no longer a risk or likely to be smuggling, and waved us through – meanwhile, poor they were still going through poor Marco’s bags!!
Having waited for, and then said goodbye to Marco, we headed in towards the centre of town in search of tourist information to find out camping/hostel options. As we came round the one way system (Dubrovnik’s at the bottom of a steep mountain), we got our first sight of the old town and harbour which is beautiful . It wasn’t clear where tourist information was so we ended up doing quite a few laps of the one-way system but on finding it, discovered there were two options; one campsite, one hostel. Given the weather forecast, and the fact that the hostel was only ten minutes walk from the old town, we opted for that. Cue another few laps of the town to try and find it, but eventually we were sorted with a 4-bed dorm room to ourselves.
Dubrovnik’s old town really is stunning, with a relaxed bohemian vibe and cute little streets to wander round and explore. It’s obviously geared up to the tourist market, who must flock here in the summer months, but luckily we seem to have stumbled upon it before the majority of cruise ships and organised tour groups descend. The streets at this time of year are pleasantly bustling and the weather warm so it’s definitely seems like the right time to come. After a relaxed wander, we grabbed some bread, meat and cheese at the mini-mart and found a secluded spot further back up the hill on the way back to the hostel to enjoy ‘dinner’ overlooking the Adriatic. We say secluded, but it quickly became apparent this was probably by design rather than accident – it was mosquito central!! Normally, it’s Emily who gets bitten but not on this occasion as James racked up an impressive 13 bites on his legs within five minutes of being there!! So, having finished our meal, we decided not to wait and watch the sunset for fear of being eaten alive and went back to enjoy a few beers at Roxy’s, a cool biker bar just down from the hostel which plays classic rock all day long!
We slept SO well on our first night in Dubrovnik (technically first proper sleep in 48 hours as you can’t really count the ferry as quality rest!) We had a very lazy morning but as it was such beautiful weather and rain was forecast for the next few days, we thought we’d better take advantage and headed up to the top of the mountain that overlooks the old town (both on James’ bike!) where we had a picnic, totally isolated on the top, following a pretty hairy steep and twisty road up the mountain. We ate our picnic (what was rapidly becoming our staple diet of bread, cheese, cured meat and tomatoes!) and then read our books in the sunshine, watching the planes coming to land at Dubrovnik that were level with us as they flew by, hugging the coastline round to the airport just 10 km away. In the evening we went for a wander in the old town before heading back to Roxy’s for a beer (having been slightly put off by the £7 a pint price in the tourist traps in town…) After looking at the forecast, we decided to stay on in Dubrovnik a few extra days to wait for the storms to pass as there seemed little point ploughing on in bad weather when we couldn’t stop and enjoy the beautiful coastline down the Adriatic.
Our decision was proved correct as in the night an almighty thunderstorm kicked in and stayed for 48 hours without really letting up. We amused ourselves for the next two days just relaxing and catching up on rest (and reading ‘Shantaram’ – awesome!!) A couple of students from the US, Travis and Sarah, joined our room on the third day so we spent an evening (at Roxy’s of course!) with them – they were backpacking following a exchange programme at a university in Copenhagen. They were both studying foreign policy type courses so James had a lot to talk about with them! (I nodded and agreed!!)
On Monday morning, we awoke to a definite improvement in the weather (though forecast was still mixed) so we made the decision to hit the road – we were getting a little too comfortable in our new ‘home’ in the hostel! We headed for the Montenegro border with some trepidation as despite extensive research in the web, it was still unclear what insurance forms we needed to get into the country – the infamous ‘green card’ seemed to be a pre-requisite but all UK insurance companies seem to have stopped issuing them, claiming they are no longer required in Europe. Something the clearly, the border officials in the Balkans have not been told about…