Night location: Dubrovnik (AV and DV)
Three countries, 6 border control checkpoints and 4 new stamps in our passports! A massive day exploring a part of the world that is entirely new for us. We had a fairly auspicious start as while picking up our hire car a man who may have been a customer at 'Bingo Rental' proceeded to scrape their car up against both side panels of a parked vehicle, and then almost reversed over their somewhat distraught female passenger. Fortunately, we can report that this was not a bad omen as we returned 'Zorro' the Opal Corsa without a scratch!
Our route today took us over the stark, rocky mountains that line the Croatian coast into Bosnia and Herzegovina where we followed the Trebisnijica River from Trebinje up over more mountains to Montenegro and then down through a series of dark tunnels cut through the black rock to The Bay of Kotor. Going through the border checkpoints in a car was a lengthy process as at each point our passports were checked as well as the car papers. The most questions were asked at the entrance to Bosnia and Herzegovina but we made it through unscathed.
The first stop of the day was at the small town of Trebinje which rests beside a beautifully clear, green river. The old town was fairly deserted so it was by chance that we stumbled upon the Museum of Hercegovina that is housed in a uniquely ornate building that was once an Austro-Hungarian barracks. The most interesting display provided information about the Cultural and Historical development of the Trebinje area from the end of the 10th Century to the first half of the 20th Century. Divided into five periods, the display covered medieval economic and social development, the Ottoman period with detail of numerous rebellions against the Turkish, the Austro-Hungarian rule from 1875-1918 and finally the Kingdom of Yugoslavia until 1941. It seems that this region has been in conflict and under oppression more than there have been times of peace. There was no information from Post WWII which was a shame but we spoke to the Museum curator at length who was lovely. She tried to explain the complex ethnic and religious tensions that have existed within Hercegovina and that came to a head in the war between 1991-95. We both feel like we need to read a lot more about this area and its history but this was a fascinating start.
From here the road followed the river and then twisted its way up to Montenegro. The scenery was beautiful as the leaves on the dense brush are starting to change, jagged rock cliffs loomed overhead and occasionally we emerged into a wide, open valley. The atmospheric conditions meant that the mountains were often shrouded in cloud and at some points our visibility was limited to only about 15 meters ahead of us. Save for a few cows, the roads were relatively empty. We noticed that there were many stone buildings that were crumbling and deserted mixed in with a few that had smoke billowing from their chimneys. The Montenegrin tunnels do not come with lighting so that was a bit disconcerting but seemingly, out of nowhere appeared the spectacularly beautiful Bay of Kotor.
We were reminded of Lake Como when driving around the water, with the high mountains coming steeply down to the waters edge. In contrast to the Italian lakes however, are relics from a tourist boom in the 1980s. Dotted around the bay on prime plots of real estate were a number of abandoned communist-looking resorts. It will be interesting to see how future tourism will impact this area.
Pleasingly, as we were arriving later than anticipated, tourismo buses filled with day-trippers and tour groups were leaving the bay. Also, docked not 100 meters from the Sea Gate into Kotor was a massive cruise boat that was also leaving so we lucked out there as well! After eating a late lunch we wandered through the old town which is very pretty, but like Dubrovnik, seems to have devoted itself entirely to cheap magnets, T-shirts and tote bags. The walk up to the Castle of St John looked precipitously hazardous but it would have boasted a commanding view.
Our drive back to Dubrovnik was slow, at one point we cruised on 30km/h following an old man who was tottering around the bay. After a long day exploring and a great meal, we retired to our hotel for hot showers and a rest!
Night location: Rovinj (HH, AH, GH and GC)
The four coast travellers woke in Split and enjoyed a substantial breakfast before heading to see the sights. Due to it being a long driving day and the arrival of a very large cruise ship Gareth had seen on his morning run, we headed straight to the major sites. Gareth quickly climbed the Bell Tower and we then completed walking through the four main gates (Iron, Brass, Silver and Gold our favourite). We heard a male sextet singing in the Roman courtyard which added a soundtrack to our experience of Split. We also learnt a great saying - "Even though the Romans were short - they built big stairs" which we experienced walking up to a chapel nestled in the outer walls. It was as wide as an arm span and had room for two worshippers at a time. As we left Split, it started to rain and the cobblestones became extremely slippery making the hike back to our car treacherous.
Arriving safely at our car, with a few aborted attempts at cobble-skating, we headed with Claudio's assistance to Trogir. This small island had an enchanting medieval city and is a UNESCO world heritage site. With the rain still falling we decided to continue driving toward our next destination.
Luckily the weather cleared in time for us to arrive at Zadar. Voted as the best destination to visit in Europe for 2016 we had decided to have lunch. Gemma found some delicious vegetarian rolls and we ate this surrounded by Roman ruins in a park near the ocean. We headed into the church of St Donat which was built on foundations of broken pieces of Roman architecture. Gemma and Gareth climbed to the top level and Mum could not be talked into singing to test out the amazing acoustics.
Rather then continue on a motorway we headed off towards Senj and the coast. Driving down a mountain pass Dad enjoyed keeping up with some rally cars until we all caught up with a truck struggling through the tight corners. The road along the coast was a favourite of motorbikes and again we were amazed by the colour and shine of the water. Mum had a variable relationship with the speeding laws - at some points ready to justify speeding through 'abandoned' villages to the other extreme of telling Dad to show restraint. This variance was finally attributed to whether a toilet or drink stop was required in the near future.
Driving past Rijecka we started to cut along the Istrian peninsula towards Rivenj. Gemma had a disagreement with Claudio since he wanted to drive the most direct route through the old town which included driving along the waterfront which was closed to traffic. Requesting assistance from the hotel a man appeared in a golf kart and led us around the old town to the parking station. We all squeezed into the one kart and were driven to an amazing hotel. It was recently refurbished and consisted of incredible art, choice of scents to create the mood in the room and individual guest books for each room.
Again Dad researched a local restaurant with strict instructions from Gemma that it was to be inside. However an amendment has now been added that it shouldn't include a hike up massive stairs. Finally arriving at the restaurant we enjoyed delicious entrees and main courses. Unfortunately a language communication issue caused us to miss dessert. Thinking we had been given a couple of minutes to choose dessert it became apparent twenty minutes later and seeing the chef leave the kitchen that dessert wasn't going to happen. Mum became quite concerned and beckoned the waiter over and said, "Hello, we were just wondering how you were getting on?" This caused great embarrassment and we left the restaurant reasonably quickly.
Walking back to our hotel in the old city we were looking forward to a rest before heading into Slovenia and our final night in Zagreb.