Friday, September 14, 2007


still in Budva, Montenegro

(The problem with blogging on the road is that inevitably there is a shortage of time. Either you're paying for the internet by the minute, in which case you get to the point where there are 8 minutes left and a hostel still to book; or the internet is free but there's a queue of people waiting to use it after you. Compounding this problem in my case is the fact that I never draft my posts beforehand so what gets written is rarely what I actually wanted to include.

Today I went to Kotor for a few hours and while sitting in a cafe in the centre decided to write down all the blog-worthy things that have happened since I arrived in Dubrovnik on Tuesday. The list runs to 19 items, so now sit back and watch (or rather read) as I attempt to weave together a cohesive narrative that will win me a Lonely Planet commission.)

Travelling alone can be a lonely business. One of the fun things about backpacking is the people you meet in hostels, but on this trip there have not been hostels in several of the places I've stayed. It is an interesting experience staying with a local family, one of whom touted for your business at the bus station with a small folder of photos of their house, along with dozens of others. This was my experience in Dubrovnik, and it landed me in a shared room in a nice house about a mile from the old centre.

Finding the house again after going into the centre was a tricky business. The city is riddled with alleyways and stepped streets, many of which are dead ends but not signed as such. On one occasion I walked uphill for about five minutes before reaching a locked gate. The next alleyway I tried was guarded at the top by a threatening guard-dog who obviously wasn't expecting me and gave me every encouragement to leave his patch very quickly indeed.

I thought I would be alone for my time in Dubrovnik but at 11pm on the first night a very drunk but friendly Irishman called Ken and his new friend Min from Korea came in. Chatting to them was quite the experience: the conversation ranged across all sorts of topics from travel to religion to history and back to travel again. In the morning before he left I gave Ken a little something to read on the train. He called himself a Catholic but the substances he was putting into his body suggested otherwise.

Leaving Dubrovnik, and Croatia, for the brand-new country of Montenegro involved a drive along some pretty treacherous mountain roads. The bus driver clearly wasn't as intimidated as me however, and spent most of the journey talking on his mobile phone and sending text messages. It seems to me that mobile phones and buses are both good things, but in the same manner as taking a shower and reading a book they don't make for a great combination. The driver profited further from his job that day by stopping off at the duty free for a huge box of cigarettes at the border.

The border signified the transition from westernised Croatia to an eastern Europe I had been expecting, complete with dusty concrete bus stations, dilapidated coaches spewing diesel fumes into the air and piecemeal development leaving cracked pavements next to shiny new buildings. As I mentioned yesterday, there has been a price drop to match the other drops, which is making my budget feel a little less strained.

Staying at the Hippo Hostel in Budva is great fun - everything that a youth hostel should be, with a great vibe and lots of like-minded travellers staying here. Two of them who I met soon after I arrived are Dan and Jenny from Macclesfield. We had a good time out exploring Budva last night in a seaside restaurant where the other two had Sex on the Beach (that's a cocktail, in case you were wondering!) and the bill came to only 10 euros each. Result. When we got back to the hostel it transpired we had more in common than I'd thought: my copy of God is the Gospel provocatively left on my bed led to a conversation where it turned out Jenny is a Christian too. Hurrah! So travelling doesn't have to be lonely, even if you are on your own.

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