Sunday, 27 August 2017

Slavic Style

Travelling between Montenegro and Croatia should be simple. It's no further than from Brisbane to Tweed Heads. The narrow roads between Kotor and the border can be slow but after the border I expected it to be plain sailing.

We took a short cut from Kotor and headed in the opposite direction to our arrival route, towards Tavir. We were taking the car ferry to cut off the drive around the shores of Boka Kotorsky Bay. Queues for the ferry can be a nightmare we were told. But it was Sunday morning after the "Boka Night" festivities in Kotor, so we caught the Montenegrins napping. No queue.

We used a bit of Slavic attitude and barged our way on to the ferry. The crossing is quick and all was good until we approached the Croatian border. Again we had two check points about one kilometre apart to negotiate, one Montenegrin, one Croatian. This time we were prepared. We were stocked up with water, fruit, books. We were  of little interest to the Montenegrins because a) it's clear we were not any threat and b) we weren't exporting large quantities of local cheeses or narcotics (hidden in cheese blocks) and c) we're leaving not arriving; so we sped through the first checkpoint. 

Not so at the Croatian border. There were guards and guns everywhere. I figured that unless they mistook us for refugees entering the country ilegally in a Thrifty Rental Car; or worse Serbian we should be okay. Now this is where the Croatian/Slavic style made an early appearance. The border guard who collected our passports was deeply involved on a mobile call. I can only guess it was to his girlfriend. He holds our passports in one hand, the mobile in the other and has an: "I'm a bit busy right now" look on his face. No wonder this lane is so slow. As luck would have it we've only taken 40 minutes to traverse these two gates as opposed to two hours on the way in. And then we're in.

Whoopee. Into Croatia. Hugging the coastIine. Granite ranges plunging into the sea. The Adriatic sparkling below. And then another queue of cars. Oh, God. What's going on?  We've already crossed the border! Perhaps it's the entrance to the motorway? The line splits into three. I choose the shortest and then find we're in the trucks and bus line! How did that happen?

Turns out, it's another border check.

Guess what - there is a stretch of land about five klm long where Bosnia jags a piece of coastline between Croatia and .............. Croatia???!!! Exit Croatia, enter Bosnia, exit Bosnia, enter Croatia. Thankfully the guards give us a cursory look and wave us through each time. Didn't notice we weren't a bus. Still, it involved a queue each time. And not a criminal in sight. Demonstrates that the policy must be working I guess.

And then ..... plain sailing. We by-passed Dubrovnic; looked down on it from the high coast road. It looked lovely. By now it was after lunch and we were starving. We'd been on the road for more than four hours and travelled about 120ks. I spied a bakery cut into the cliff-face and pulled in. Andrea was desperate for a toilet stop.

Do you have a toilet? Shrug of shoulders. Took that to mean yes. Could you point me to it? Wave of hand in a non discript direction. Translated as "could be out the back; or up the road; or in here somewhere." And there it was, behind Andrea, disguised as a storeroom. No sign, no help. 

Next, onto the motorway and 'here we come Split'. We have a coffee break at the half way point and are served (loose use of the term) by a grumpy young woman who refuses to look at coins and notes being proffered by the confused man before me. He's trying to convert Euros back to Kunas (local currency). She Just keeps repeating the price.

I don't often make generalisations about national character but in the Croation case I'll make an exception. One word - SURLY. Maybe they're sick of tourists by end of August but it seemed more pervasive than that. 

Of course there were exceptions - Davros, our host in Split, who lives with his mum at the age of 47 was delightful; Slobie our host in Kotor, who is Montenegrin born but lives in Manchester, UK, smiled all the time; Alex, the Serbian boatman who took us for a three hour ride from Kotor to the Adriatic was very funny; the man at Thrifty Car Rentals who apologised for having to charge me for the broken mirror on the car was matter of fact but not churlish; while others in shops in Split were pleasant if not effusive. But overwhelmingly the service has been abrupt, dismissive and unfriendly. 

Maybe that comes from many years (generations) of hardship and oppressive regimes - the Venetians (400 years), Tito and his Russian allies (though he is regarded much more affectionately than the Venetians); and most recently Milosovic and the Balkan War of the 1990s.

Pity. It's an area rich in culture and natural beauty. And tourists are flocking here.

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