Trip the western edge of eastern Europe – Chapter 7: What do you mean Singapore is not in India?

Our trip from Budapest to Zagreb was quite eventful in that the itinerary changed midway through the first half an hour of travel. We started at the Budapest Central Station and immediately we realised that this could be an extremely bad idea – and maybe we should have just taken the flight.

For starters, there were literally hundreds of backpackers on a train with less than half the capacity to hold them. To add to that, Hungarians seem to not know what an Air Conditioner means and we all nearly died of heat and dehydration. It was a huge relief when the ticket lady came in and started yelling to get our attention “Hallo! Hallo Passengers! Hallo! Hallo!”  Once she had that, she communicated the change in itinerary “Machine absolute stop – Dombovar. Autobus – Kishkorpar. Kishkorpar – machine – Zagreb”. A couple of repetitions of this later, we figured out exactly what she was saying. The bus ride from Dombovar to Kishkorpar was uneventful but we got to see some of rural Hungary which was nice. The train ride from Kishkorpar to Zagreb was much better, thankfully our reservations were intact and we got a place to sit. Funnily enough, the only non-Europeans in the entire train were all sitting in one compartment – the two of us and a Korean family of 4.

Our American friends in Budapest had given us great instructions on dealing with Zagreb – everything went off smoothly. We were especially proud of ourselves for remembering to convert cash to Kuna in Budapest itself. The bus ride to Dubrovnik was mostly spent in trying to sleep on the winding road and occasionally waking up at ungodly hours to marvel at the beauty of the Adriatic Sea.

After yet another bad decision of walking up a hill to the hostel in Dubrovnik, our run of luck with accommodation continued and our 3 bed dorm was upgraded to a much more expensive apartment for 2. Some much needed sleep later we left to figure out our trip to Montenegro.

The person handling these bookings for the tour company was a pretty, college girl named Ivana.

[Telepathic conversation: “Dude, she’s hot” “Dude, you have a girlfriend” “What’s your point?”]

Being literally the only 2 brown people in the country, we were quite worried about whether we would be allowed to enter Montenegro or not. When we enquired of Ivana if we were certain to get entry she said she wasn’t sure and that they don’t have a refund policy. Naturally, we insisted that she find out if people with Indian passports can go to Montenegro or not else we are not taking the risk. We were asked to wait in the lobby while she called her superiors. Five minutes later she came back jumpy and excited and told us “There is no problem at all! You can go and stay for up to 90 days!”

[Telepathic conversation: “That is definitely wrong” “I doubt we are allowed to enter Nepal or Bhutan and stay for 90 days let alone Montenegro!”]

“Err, that doesn’t seem right. Can you repeat exactly what the guy said?”

“Ya. He said everyone from Singapore can stay in Montenegro for 90 days”

“But we are from India”

“Ya”

“You just said Singapore”

“Ya”

“Do you not see a problem here?”

“What problem? Singapore is in India, so you can go ahead”

<mental facepalm>

Telepathic conversation: “Actually, you are right, I do have a girlfriend” “No, no. Your girlfriend is not even from this country. Go ahead” “No, you are a guest here, I insist”[1]

Anyway, we somehow controlled ourselves and did not roll around on the ground laughing and sent Ivana back with strict instruction to directly read the words off our passports – “Republic of India”. Finally, she got info that we would be allowed and we started the process of booking the journey.  She then took our passports to write down our details to send to Border control. And this is where we had one of the best moments of the trip. My passport went off smoothly. But Enthu has made sure his surname does not appear on his Passport as he does not have one.

“What is your surname?”

“I don’t have one”

“WOW! That’s like Cher….and Bono …..and JESUS!”

Well that escalated quickly!  Much laughter ensued and we had our Montenegro trip figured out and headed to the old city of Dubrovnik with heightened spirits.

Dubrovnik is one of the older republics in the world with the old walled city being hundreds of years old. High walls confine the restaurants, the shops, the stone clad streets and over 2000 residents living in quaint little houses distributed across several small winding lanes. Most of Dubrovnik has been built using the same type of rock and thus looks exactly the same. Somewhere along the way, you’ll find larger buildings (invariably churches or administrative buildings) which look slightly different, but for the large part it’s like one large building. While roaming about aimlessly, we came across a small non-descript sign board saying “Cold Drinks”. As we entered we saw the most famous bar in Dubrovnik – Cafe Buza.  If you were to list all bars in the world by awesome-ness of location – this bar would almost certainly win / finish among the top few. The bar is built into the cliffs outside the walls of the city. Hence you literally look out into the open sea. They know they have the best view in town and they charge you for it – the drinks are extremely expensive and served in plastic glasses. No effort is made for service – but the sunset over the Adriatic certainly makes up for the exorbitantly priced beer in your hand

Dubrovnik is very touristy and this very expensive – luckily we had done our research and knew where we wanted to eat. Headed off to Mea Culpa – a famous place with excellent fish and salads – and my dinner was, naturally, a tuna salad.

The next day we took a bus sent by the tour company and headed to Montenegro. As expected, we were the only 2 non-Europeans on the trip and of course, our passports were taken, scanned and given back after a while. While we were worried about whether we would be allowed to enter the country or not, our European companions were jealous that we were getting stamps on our passports from different countries and they weren’t. I guess you always want what you don’t have.

Montenegro is breathtakingly beautiful. Over 80 percent of the landmass is mountains and these start immediately at the coast. The mountains are thickly covered with dense forests and large trees – which gives the impression that you are staring up at a large black mountain when you come in from the coast – which is how the country gets its name “Monte-negro” (Black mountain). The local name is Crna Gora which also means Black Mountain.

We went to 3 places in Montenegro – the first of which was Kotor. This is a small city very similar to Dubrovnik in that it is old, walled and has significant Italian and Austro-Hungarian influences.  There was not much to see in Kotor itself, but the Bay of Kotor (Boca Kotorska) that surrounds it is particularly lovely – its deep blue waters are mesmerising and one can just sit on the walls and stare out into the blue distance for a while.

After Kotor, we went into the mountains to a village of Njegoshi. This is one of the most famous villages in the country for the longest running dynasty of Montenegrins comes from this village – starting with Petar I Njegos and running on for over 400 years. We are also pointed out to Mt Lovcen which houses the mausoleum of Petar I and is thus the highest mausoleum in the world. Incidentally one can see 5 different countries from Mt. Lovcen (Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Albania).

In Njegoshi we had local drink (a mixture of red wine and honey brandy), locally made smoked ham and cheese with homemade bread. On the way down, our tour guide told us some great stories about the history of the country and the rocky socio-cultural history as well as the reluctant acceptance of this arrangement  to allow Croatian tourists to come to Montenegro easily despite the bitter relationship between the two countries since the last homeland wars of the mid-1990s.

The last stop in Montenegro was a place called Budwa[2] – a city almost entirely owned by rich Russians. This is also the host to the Sveti Stefan[3] resort where Novak Djokovic recently got married.

After this we headed back via ferry and thus actually travelled through the Bay of Tivat towards Croatia.

Not much of note happened once back in Croatia expect for one memorable moment involving Enthu. So Enthu, in his enthu, decided to jump off the cliff into the Adriatic sea[4] at Café Buza. He thus joined the small exclusive list of people who have jumped off the cliff with the entry now reading “Hundreds of mad Australian tourists and 1 tambrahm boy”

The next day in Dubrovnik was spent exploring the islands and just eating and drinking and lazing around. Or rather this is what I did, Enthu went and jumped into the Adriatic[5]  . One small adventure involving multiple boats later[6], we were brought back to the Bus station to just make our bus to Split in time.

Our time in Split began by discovering why people are crazy about parties in Croatia. We got off the bus at midnight and for every step of our 1.5 km walk to the hostel, we walked past parties. We were too exhausted and the hostel guys were being cranky about us landing up so late, so we went straight there and crashed. We woke up the next morning and decided to explore the old city[7].

The old city of Split has the usual cathedral but more importantly it has a lot of Roman ruins built by Diocletian (including his palace). Diocletian even decorated the palace and the main square quite opulently with artefacts from all over – including 12 miniature sphinxes. Sadly, centuries later, these were destroyed as the Roman empire converted to Christianity and rejected all pagan symbols.

A lovely meal under a tree later, we made the horrible decision of climbing up the Marjan hill[8]. Forty minutes of fruitless climbing and several near death calls later – we decided to go back to the hostel and do nothing. We sat in the air conditioned common room and watched TV (finally caught up on what was happening in the Tour de France in order to avoid potential embarrassment by making statements like “GO FROOME!” “Oh he is injured and out of the race? When did that happen?”), had a cup of tea, made some final arrangements and left for the bus station.

On the way, who would we meet but our Brit friends from Budapest? Enthu greeted them with “Aalo lads! Fancy bumping into you here”[9].  I didn’t say anything as it is hard to control maniacal laughter and talk at the same time.  Some bonding later – we wished each other a good trip took a typical touristy photograph (which we forgot to ask them for) and went on our way to catch the bus to Pula.

 

 

[1] Some of these telepathic conversations might not have happened

[2] Much snickering happened #Marathi #Juvenile

[3] More snickering happened #English #Juvenile

[4] I told you to wait and watch.

[5] Again

[6] Flame Rouge, but this time on a boat!

[7] This is getting predictable isn’t it?

[8] “Apanich wo chutiye hain jo party wali jagah jakar dopahar ko 2 baje dongar jadhte”

[9] Note this is the same guy who went “Zis is all ze fault of ze Breetish” just a few days ago in Vienna

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