If proof were needed (and can I say that it isn’t) that this was just one long mad dash from A (the Temple of Poseidon in Greece) to B (Cape St. Vincent in Portugal) then today was that evidence. Which isn’t needed. [Get on with it, please…]
I woke at my usual abnormal time of around 6am and was one of the first into the room where breakfast was being served in the Carry On Abroad hotel where I stayed in last night. Bernard Breslaw was just to my right with ‘Babs’ Windsor, his wife. Sid James (aka Vic Flange) was sitting opposite Joan Sims (Cora Flange) & she did not look happy about something. The Spanish (eh?) waiter was in a flap about something… It was all very surreal as they were speaking fluent Serbo-Croat… And then my alarm went off. So I went downstairs for breakfast.
Reggie packed, we set off. If you remember, the distance from Tivat to Dubrovnik was about one length of a mini iPad or 20cm. This equated to a distance of around 60km on my 1:300,000 map plus a little bit of ‘wiggle’. Now it could have been just that a – 60km plus a bit of wiggle – but I had chosen (and this finally gets to my point in the first paragraph) to cycle around the lake that fans out like the wings of a butterfly just inland from Tivat and by doing so extending my journey by about 40km. I could have taken a ferry that plies its trade between the the short inlet that feeds the lake with water from the sea but I didn’t and goodness! am I glad that I didn’t as I was rewarded with one of the most wonderful rides of the trip so far. It wasn’t a strenuous cycle, far from it. The circumnavigation of this Montenegrin fiord was primarily along the shoreline of the lake but the views, the small towns and villages, the calm tranquility (tortology? Who cares?) were so far beyond compare on my trip. I could quite easily have paused every hundred metres and taken photographs. I would still have been there if I had. Some of my photographs are below and I hope they give an idea of just how serene was the scene. It was a world away from the busy roads and the lunatic drivers that I seem to have been fighting against for the past week or so in Albania. I know many of you are cyclists, but many of you are not. I urge you that if one day you find yourself at a loose end in that corner of Montenegro, you get yourself to a bike shop, hire a bike and cycle around the lake. If you think you are not up to the full 40km, just do the first 10 from Tivat to Kotor on the quiet shoreside lane. You will be as mesmerised as I was this morning. Surely one of the great cycles of Europe and a cycle that is accessible to all.
All credit to the communities that have built up around the lake as they seem to have catered for most tourist tastes. That first portion was quite exclusive; lakeside houses rented out to families for perhaps a week or more, then at Kotor our old friends the cruise ships had arrived spewing out their hordes in the coaches and mini buses that then sped past me and Reggie to cherry pick the best bits of what the lake had to offer. It was both awe-inspiring and alarming to see the great white bergs that are the cruise ships huddled in the corner of the lake. ‘How did they get there?’ Was the first question that came to my mind. Further around the butterfly were the day trippers soaking up the sun and eating their ice creams just as you would find them in Blackpool, Scarborough or Skegness. And then there was me and the other bloke (who I shamefully but inadvertently ignored – he waved but I was in a dream world and didn’t see him in time to respond) who were on their bicycles. Of all the people around that lake this morning, we were the ones who got to appreciate it the most. Wonderful! Especially if you were on a bike.
As I cycled past the ferry that would have cut today’s cycle down to size, I had not once ounce of regret. Indeed, I felt a pang of pity for those eager to cross the the other side. It didn’t last long; I had a new destination in mind. Croatia. Country number four was about to appear and it did so in a stuttering kind of way. I had stopped for a drink at a petrol station on the road leading to the border. Without having access to Google Maps in Montenegro I was just guessing where I was. Fully rehydrated I set off once. More expecting a few – at least 5 – more kilometres before I had to find my passport. But no! Suddenly, around the corner from the petrol station was the Montenegrin border control. As you know I like my border crossings but I only had to wait for a few moments before the cheerful official stamped my passport (yes, he stamped it! The Montenegrins have gone up in my estimation by a significant degree) and waved me through. I put my passport back into the pannier where it is kept and headed off up the hill. One, perhaps two kilometres of climbing later (and after passing four closed duty free shops) there appeared a second border control. This time it was the Croatian one. Why did they not put it at the bottom of the hill with the Montenegrin one? Or the Montenegrin one at the top of the hill? Who does the bit of road – a very nice bit I have to say- actually belong to? It was all very intriguing. As was why every car in front of me seemed to be taking an age to have their passports checked. I could understand the Albanian cars getting an extra special once over, but the ones from Germany? Each one was taking at least five minutes to be cleared by the border control. Eventually I arrived at the desk, mentally prepared for a interrogation about where I was coming from, where I was going, where I had stayed last night (the Hotel Palma had given me a certificate of some sort to prove that I had played my bit part in Carry On Abroad and the receptionist had said that it might be needed at the border), whether I had written anything that could be deemed in any way critical about any country that I had visited in the past few weeks… Bugger. I handed my passport to the lady and smiled. She handed it back and wished me a good journey. Hang on! Just what were you speaking to the Germans about? I find it’s like this at the Post Office or the bank. People in front of me seem to have horribly (but fascinatingly) complicated lives. Mine seems to be boringly simple. “Want to send this to Belgium?. Stick it on the scales… Nothing of value? (Well, just my very good book…) No then. £3.74. Stick your card in the machine. Anything else? Bye.”
They didn’t even stamp my passport.
The rest of the afternoon was as normal as my visits to the Post Office back in Britain. Nice roads, nice views. I stopped a couple of times for refreshments. I have to say that the merits of a late afternoon Snickers are much under appreciated. There was, as is usual, a sting in the tail of the day with a steep climb up the hill towards Dubrovnik itself. For the second time today I crossed another touring cyclist and after the embarrassment of ignoring the previous one I made a point of chatting to this one when he waved and made his way onto my side of the road for a chat. He was a Serbian called Svetomir and he was on a Balkan cycle tour. It was quite difficult to understand what exactly he was saying as every few moments another articulated truck would thunder past our ears (interesting how they seem far more fearsome when you are stood by the road rather than cycling with them but I suppose that’s Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity for you) but he seemed very keen for me to sign up to a pan-Balkan cycle tour for 2014 via his Facebook page. I’m not quite sure what I committed myself to.
At the top of the hill I had my first awe-inspiring glimpse of Dubrovnik. As I munched my way through a white chocolate Magnum I gazed down at a city that had been in my mind for sometime. After the unknown quantities of Greece, Albania and Montenegro this was the first place on my trip since Athens where I could guarantee that the rest of Europe’s tourists would meet me head on. And they certainly did. It’s quite alarming seeing so many tourists in one place after the last few weeks of visiting places and staying in campsites and hotels where they could only dream of having the throng that appears to have descended upon Dubrovnik. I suppose however that between now and Portugal this is what I will need to expect as the norm. It may be no bad thing as perhaps it will encourage me away from the crowded coast a little more often, only dipping onto the shoreline where necessity dictates that I do just that.
I found my B&B via the Internet and checked into the very nice Antica Ragusa in the old part of town only to find a bloke sitting on the floor trying to remove a pedal from a bike. I lent him my 15mm spanner and we got chatting. His son had just cycled from Venice to Dubrovnik with a friend and he had come out to make help him transport the bike back to the UK. This cycling thing seems to be taking off after all…