Ahoy there, M’ Maties!
Bob and I are sailing – or should that be steaming – on the Motor Vessel Marko Polo island hopping from Dubrovnik on the far south of the Croatian coast to Rijeka near the far north.
We have had the most wonderful few days – too few – in the portside town of Dubrovnik. Our hire car was fine, and we drove up along the winding coastal road (it made one feel that you should be in a car with an open top, cheesey 60’s music, sunglasses and a scarf around the throat in the manner of all those movies we have seen). Turning inland at Opuzen, we crossed the border into Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH) although sadly they were not interested in stamping our passports.
In need of a coffee, we couldn’t stop and buy one in the charming village of Počiteli, a place on the hillside with multiple domed Mosques, rugged streets of stones and stark evidence of damage through bombs or shrapnel. Another day day, another country and another currency – we had moved from the land of Croatian Kuna’s (HZK) to Bosnian Marks (KM). A seller of paper trumpets of fruit accepted our kuna for a roll of sweet cherries, and another of fresh dates, which was welcome. On our short exploration, I came across a reasonably large, rather plain looking brown snake curled across a soft drink bottle.
[INSERT PHOTO OF SNAKE]
We have been surprised at how much wildlife we have seen on our travels, brilliant green lizards, snakes, tortoises, squirrels and thousands of birds. We continued onto Mostar, aware of many police along the generally quiet roads. There had been very little police presence previously, and it was certainly a considerable change. With the speed limit seeming to change by the metre from 40 to 20 to we really weren’t sure what, it was necessary to keep a close eye on the road and what speed the little other traffic was doing.
As we came into the town centre, the number of police increased, with pairs in vehicles at every intersection. It wasn’t apparent what was happening, however it appeared the Turkish Ambassador or Foreign Mister was in town. We found a really cute little hotel – curiously referred to as a Motel, no doubt to attract western visitors – where the room was small, tiny really, but of far better quality than most we have stayed in.
We wandered around in light rain showers, the marble polished by years of walking very smooth and slippery. The rebuilt Mostar bridge – destroyed in 1995? Although already World Heritage listed and a beacon since the C16th- was smaller than I expected it to be. It was still a fine structure, linking the Muslim West bank of the River with the Croat East Bank. It is so crazy that these people fought one another so bitterly, having been united in their battles against (fellow former countrymen) the Serbs only a couple of years earlier, and having co-existed for centuries.
The Muslim quarter was undergoing restoration, however the evidence of the battles were everywhere. Shrapnel and bomb damage was in the streets, the worst of it patched up, but many holes still remaining.
Grand buildings were now just shells, strategically targeted to inflict the most damage to the spirit of their neighbours. A huge cemetrary next to the Mosque was full of graves of young men from this conflict.
Roadside memorials lining the roads were maintained with flowers (usually plastic or silk) accompanied by a photo of the young man. The difference was tat these men were not killed in a motor cycle or vehicle accident, but in war only a few short years ago – 1992, 1993, 1995. We decided to drive back an inland route, extending our time in Bosnia Herzogovina. While there were some interesting villages on the way, once again it was the battle scars which were the most dramatic.
In a small town called Stolac we had a very pleasant coffee at Caffe Amigo on a quickly running riverlet. Here Bob saw another snake, and the banks were covered with rapidly fluttering Blue moth-like creatures that moved like a butterfly, rested with their wings up, but had an extended tail like a dragon fly.
On walking around the town, it wasn’t the medieval arched bridges which gained our attention, but the constant evidence of recent fighting, and even more recent evidence of political tensions not far beneath the surface. Slogans for partisan groups, either muslim, sebian or croat were daubed on most surfaces. The road on either side of the town was flanked by small red signs indicating that live land mines were in the vicinity. On our walk we saw three UNFOR 4WDs returning from mine clearing operations. Scary.
The road continued to Trbejinge, a beautiful looking large town, however the rain was by now coming down steadily and after changing back what cash we could to Euro’s (Bosnia using different currency (marks) to the other former Yugoslav republics of Serbia (dinar), Montenegro (Euro), Croatia (kuna) and Slovenia (euro). We enjoyed our drive back to Dubrovnik and stayed at the same apartment on the Lapad peninsula we had previously enjoyed.
We cooked a simple pasta meal for ourselves that night in preparation of the next stage of the adventure and all the things we had to do. We woke early for the sailing of the Marko Polo to Rijeka via the southern Dalmatian Islands. There were many dogs, but not a spotted one to be seen!
We had sole use of a cabin and enjoyed being able to move about unencumbered by our luggage. The young party crowd were out in force, lining the decks with their bare bodies barely covered by bikinis. Many of these got off at the island ports and did not stay on board for the overnight trip. Those left travelling tended to be young german-speaking families, tourists driving back with their cars laden with kayaks and bikes, and a small group of well heeled well kitted out middle aged Harley Davidson mototourists.
We were able to disembark at the town of Split for an hour or so, and were stunned by the beauty of the place. . . . the old town is substantially built around the former summer palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian around AD 200. It had significant Roman splendour, and his mausoleum had been taken over by the church a few centuries later Just as we came up to the building a sung mass was to begin after a full 15 minutes (or more) of spectacular bell ringing.
Unfortunately we did not have too much time to explore the area before scurrying to get back on board the ship for dinner and a restful nights sleep.