So, I ended my international travels (of 2015) on a high note – New Zealand All Blacks vs. Tonga in the 2015 Rugby World Cup taking place in England, this particular game in Newcastle in St. James’ Park. I was late to the game (no pun intended) and purchased a ticket much later than Hayden and his friends did, so I ended up somewhere nearby only to have the seller cancel the purchase and StubHub then replace it with an even better seat. SCORE! (This time, pun is intended.) The guys, however, managed to get seats nearby a TV camera and they all got their 15 seconds of fame and TV screenshots posted onto Facebook by their friends. Rumor has it that I may have gotten tipsy enough to, well, tip over my aisle seat into the aisle and knock over my beer as I was trying to see the All Blacks score, then have Tonga fans help me back up. That rumor is, unfortunately, true.
I saw and filmed my very first live haka which sent chills down my spine. Not only did I get to see one but, two – one from the All Blacks and the other from the Tongans. That video now lies in a memory card inside an iPhone that has been dropped into the stadium toilet bowl. I ended up having the above photo to show because I had sent it in a group chat shortly before I developed lavatory butterfingers. The aforementioned iPhone has been lying in a bag full of rice and silica gel packets for about 5-6 months now. It is still very much dead.
Wait, did I time warp back to Norway? No. New Zealand? Nope. Montenegro (the Bay of Kotor, specifically). I linked in the day trip tour that I booked but, I actually don’t recommend it. Unlike the other tours I booked through Viator, this one seemed unorganized, rushed and run like it was just another tour to check off their schedule.
Interesting fact: Montenegro has only been a country for 10 years.
This islet looks very pretty and is plastered on almost every postcard available for sale but, then you find out that it is now a resort accessible only by the extremely rich and really, really good-looking. Then you realize that you’ve just wasted your time coming to visit.
The view from the citadel.
So, the itinerary advertised was Kotor (the main attraction) > Sveti Stefan > Budva. But, for whatever reason, this was switched to Sveti Stefan > Budva > Kotor. Now, this may not seem like the biggest deal but, it is, when you spend way too much time in the first 2 mediocre places only to have almost no time in the main attraction. On top of that, the day started out semi-sunny and ended with downpours by the time we reached Kotor.
We had about an hour here and 30 minutes of it was wasted on an included walking tour. I wanted to climb the 1,350 steps to the San Giovanni Castle (up to about 1,200 meters) to see the views of the bay and walled triangle town. But, I was told that it would take about 1+ hour. Given that I spent 30 min on the tour, I had no time left. Views would’ve looked like this. And, the adventure would’ve been great, even in the cloudiness and rain.
And, so, we meandered around town and had a coffee to pass the remaining half hour.
We almost bypassed Perast altogether since it had begun to drizzle but, at the passengers’ insistence, the guide gave in and stopped here. Thank goodness we did. It ended up being the highlight of the entire trip, despite spending only about 10 minutes here.
The itinerary included time for an optional boat ride to Our Lady of the Rocks (a man-made islet with a church over to the right) but, the guide suggested in a very passive aggressive manner that we skip it, stating that we had no time whatsoever. Well, it definitely could’ve been done.
Legend has it that local seamen would throw a new rock at this spot after every successful voyage, an oath they made after having seen a likeness of Virgin Mary with baby Jesus on a rock, with the intention of eventually building a church on top. So, naturally, it became tradition to take a boat ride over and throw a rock by the islet.
Next time, I will visit Montenegro on my own terms. Now, I just need to learn how to drive.
At the time I booked a day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I didn’t even realize it was possible to visit the country. My mind was stuck in the early 90s when all I heard about was the Bosnian War and the massive amounts of damage that occurred in its capital, Sarajevo, among other cities and villages. It’s crazy to think that it was about 20 years ago.
The view of the Hadži Alija Mosque and Neretva River from the Sahat-kula fortress and bell tower. The road leading here was lined with pomegranate trees. I had no idea they even grew on trees. I just thought, hey, pomegranate. Like, they popped out of nowhere.
Stari Most, the Old Bridge that connects the Muslim and Catholic sides of the town.
Two guys, stripped down to their swim trunks, went over the bridge railing and positioned themselves to jump into the river down below. You can’t tell from this photo but it’s a pretty long way down. But, as they jumped fearlessly and swam back to the bank and held out their hands for change, you knew that this was just another routine on just another day for them. I didn’t have much cash on me so I gave whatever change I readily had in my pockets, and got a huff in return. Oh, sorry, mister. Did you want me to drop my credit card into your hand?
I later stopped by an ice cream stand and realized I didn’t have enough change for a second scoop. I should’ve saved my money for gluttony instead of giving it away freely to ungrateful men.
The view of the bridge from the other side, on top of the mosque. Our guide for this portion of the trip was a local Muslim who told us about a time in his childhood when he was afraid to walk in certain parts of town, for fear of being persecuted for his religion. It puts into perspective how lucky I was to have grown up in a much more tolerable society. Yea, I went to public school with a bunch of racist kids but, all of their comments were harmless. When the guide found out I was from New York, he excitedly opened up his blazer and pointed to his t-shirt emblazoned with “New York City,” then told me that he wears a different city’s t-shirt each time he gives a tour. It’s good to see that he’s come a long way from that childhood fear.
Old Town and its many in-your-face tourist shops. A bunch of us ate in one of the recommended restaurants and as we were eating (I had the ćevapi – deeeelicious Bosnian kebabs), a kitten came by and gave its best “I’m not a bitch,” dilated pupils face. One girl gave it some food and, of course, 5-6 other kittens came out of nowhere and joined the party. There was one kitten who was clearly the bully, and any piece of food given to them had to go through the bully first. Any discarded pieces (basically anything meatless) was eaten by the other kittens. If one meek kitten tried to eat a piece of meat, the bully kitten would run her off and hiss. Fear tactics. I eventually had to sneak pieces of meat to the others. Bully kitten, you can’t sit with us!
The interior of the Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque.
Apparently, back in 1981, six local children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and, since then, the town has become a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics worldwide, albeit an unapproved one. One interesting thing to note is that the visions and other subsequent metaphysical visuals seem to have occurred/occur during times when tourism was/is down, thus boosting it back up to a million visits per year. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Hordes of people were waiting in line to rub some sort of oil or water on the legs of Christ’s statue and pray. Even as a person who grew up in a Christian household, I found this place to be somewhat eerie.
I parked myself in one of the private rooms in a family’s house in one of these alleyways. The father was a chain smoker and the hallways reeked but, it was cheap and the family was very friendly.
Then, I fell asleep only to be woken up with my constant scratching around my upper shoulder and neck area. I ended up with a cluster of about 10 bites on my right tricep through my right shoulder, then maybe about 2-3 in the middle of my upper back, and another few on my left side. I spent the next hour Googling bed bugs and scrolling through the reviews once again. No mention of bed bugs. Oh wait, the very last page of reviews that were written in Korean? Yea, they mentioned them. I spent the hour after that throwing away clothes that I thought were exposed. Luckily, they were able to give me a room change and the bites stopped. So, I stayed another few days then said “fuck it” and booked the last night at the Sheraton using my points. Throw in a full body massage, while you’re at it. Thanks.
There’s an option to take a cable car up Mt. Srđ to Fort Imperial to get an amazing view of the city. But, I opted to hike my way there. I tried Googling how to get to the path but couldn’t find too much info for some reason, other than “it’s a winding, zigzagging path” and “there are sculptures depicting scenes of Jesus’ eventual crucifixion at every end” (one pictured above). When I Google mapped it, it really was a zigzag path:
So, I followed my blue circle until I reached the beginning of the path. I may or may not have meandered through a labyrinth of both public and private properties to get there. It was very hard to distinguish when the paths all seemed to connect and weren’t gated off. On my way back down, though, a man yelled at me for trespassing.
By the way, you know you’re going in the right direction if you see the gigantic red-tipped, blue communication tower up above. You can’t miss it. The entire hike up took maybe about 1+ hour.
I’ve had better views, like the one I see in the mirror every morning. In my dreams.
You can see the old town with its city walls in the bottom photo above (“bottom photo above” sounds a bit contradictory, no?), and Lokrum Island in the distance over to the left of it. I grabbed lunch at Restaurant Panorama which is at the cable car station. Despite the lack of creativity in its name, the food they served and obviously the views were pretty amazing.
And, the view on the other side.
I went to go see the war exhibit/museum in the neighboring Fort Imperial. It’s crazy to think that such a touristy place was once a place of defense during the several leadership changes and war(s) that came through this city and country. On the topic of war exhibits, definitely go try to see War Photo Limited located in the old town and, keep note of opening days and hours. It was off season and I tried to go on a Tuesday. It was closed.
Back down, I wandered around the old town through the alleyway shops and visited the Dubrovnik Cathedral. I opted out of seeing Rector’s Palace and the Dominican Monastery, and walked around the city walls instead.
Some parts of the city walls housed very cool hole-in-the-wall (literally) bars. A beersie by the Adriatic Sea. Yeaaa, a nice rhyme.
Other people’s clothesline laundry is another person’s photo opportunity. Hm, no rhyme there.
A view of King’s Landing, apparently. Shout for joy, you Game of Thrones fanatics. I’ll eventually get there after my House of Cards binge.
Spectators began to crowd around one stretch of the wall to look over and down below. We were right above the Buza Bar, a cliffside bar by the sea. A bikini-clad girl was hesitating to jump off a rock cliff and one of her guy friends came to join her for support. The more she hesitated, the more people shouted “JUMP! JUMP! JUMP!” And, the more people shouted, the more she hesitated. The more she hesitated, the more people became bored. Then, you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.
Great, romantic places to dine. I took this photo…then bought myself a cheap sandwich at a hole-in-the-wall (Buffet Škola) instead.
We had Max, a substitute skipper, join us for the day to help out the wildly hurting Ben. We were now a party of 8.
We docked in a secluded bay and lounged a bit before jumping in the water. Suddenly, I heard Donal and Erika laughing as they were looking over the side and pointing at the water.
Donal: “Uh, guys, not sure if you want to see this but, it looks like there’s a turd in the water.”
Sure enough, there it was. A turd nugget, just floating past without a care in the world. One of the guys grabbed a paddle, picked up the turd with it, and flung it far into the distance.
“How do we know that it won’t come floating back?”
“I think I flung it far enough.”
Within the next hour or so, two more turd nuggets came floating past. I figured with all the salt in the seawater, it should be a somewhat disinfected territory, right?
Lunch was served. On one of the very first days, Ben had made a salad dressing in a small jar and handed it over to me for my salad mixing duties. I poured the whole damn thing into the bowl, not realizing that it would be too much. It became a nice oil & vinegar cocktail with a lettuce and veggie garnish, and I was teased for it every lunch after that.
“Hey, Christine, looks like you managed to make a good salad this time!”
Paddle boarding and tube lounging came afterwards. Since it was the end of the season, the weather was on the chillier side and Erika usually kept to the boat, wearing a robe and sitting in the sun. At one rare point, Erika was standing by the edge without her robe and Lottie saw an opportunity and took it. She proceeded to wrap her arms around Erika and after a bit of a struggle and some “Noooo!” she jumped off and dragged her into the water with her. It was only afterwards that Lottie became slightly scared of what Erika might say/do.
Erika, laughing: “Oh, the water is not as cold as I thought…but still cold.”
Sigh of relief.
Then came the GoPro shenanigans. The guys placed their GoPros at the very bottom using weights and filmed themselves jumping into the water. We then had the genius idea of all diving down, placing ourselves in a circle and taking a group photo down under. Cue in chaotic swimming from all 8 of us. Some managed to swim down, some kept floating up. Arms and legs were flailing everywhere without any order. But, hey, we got some sort of group something on that GoPro.
A previous passenger had made Ben a nice pair of Speedos, proudly ironed on with “Skipper.” During the majority of his employment with MedSailors, he wore knee length board shorts and while the rest of him was nicely tanned, his thighs had been clearly deprived as a result.
Ben: “Let’s take out these great whites,” as he slapped his thighs.
He then took out the paddle board and impressed us with this number. (Photo courtesy of Donal.)
Back in Šolta, we docked in Stomorska for the night. As we passed the other docked yachts, I saw a lady on one of them, holding her baby butt naked over the water. The baby then released a few surprises. Possible source of the turd nuggets – traced.
The skippers then threw us another white and red (red still tasted better) punch party, during which a dog came up to me, nuzzled my legs in a catlike manner, then lifted a leg. I managed to back off but not before I got hit with a few sprinkles. Don’t know what you’re thinking doggie but, I ain’t your territory.
We docked in Milna bay for our last night and celebrated in style with a nice buffet, a sometimes good and sometimes bad playlist blasting on the speakers and, what else but more drinks.
At one point, we all began to talk about our plans for after the trip. Some of us were staying in Split while the rest of us were either transferring to Dubrovnik or flying out altogether.
Donal: “Oh! If you stay in Split, make sure to go to this steakhouse that I went to. Probably the best steak I’ve ever had. Club…something. Chop Club?” Erika: “CHOPS GRILL! Not CLUB!” as she broke down laughing. Donal: “Yea, that.”
The next day, Donal reminded us yet again about “Chop Club.”
“IT’S CHOPS GRILL!”
It was also the night before my birthday and I was surprised with not just a slice of cake, but lap dances and slut drops from 1 Brit and 2 Kiwis decked out in lederhosen. That would be Rob, Dale and Rich, respectively. (Photo courtesy of Donal.)
As the night was winding down, Lottie and Kara decided to go for a skinny dip. I was in the midst of backing out when out of nowhere, these 2 old Germans decided to join them. I backed out for good. The guys (the Brit and Kiwis trio) decided to be assholes, however, and stole the girls’ clothes. A few minutes of death stares later, the trio returned with towels for them.
The next morning, I was woken up with a song blasting on the speakers. “Happy birthdayyy, happy birthdayyy, happy birthday Christineeee,” as the skippers came out with a doughnut and bottle of sparkling wine.
Me: “How’d you get my name in that song?” Ben: “We called the radio station especially for you.” Me: “Funny.”
A nice group photo to end the entry. Another epic trip coming to an end.
Donal: “So, make sure you go to that steakhouse! Club…Club…” Erika: “CHOPS GRILL!”