Saturday, September 29, 2012

holidays 2012 - day 06: some serious mountains, some serious rain, some seriously old place

when we get up at 7, it actually isn't raining. once again our timing is spot-on: the moment we're done packing, cleaning the tent as best we can, and are about to get in the car, guess what? yep. the sky has more of that wet stuff, and we might not know it yet, but there is way, way more to come.

freshly showered citrus fruit

we drive along the road to kotor again, but then on to new territory. despite the dismal weather, we have our hopes up that this will stop some time soon. we are not sure we'll be back this way and therefore decide to take the spectacular road to mt lovćen, the black mountain that gave montenegro its name. it's a winding road with some challenging hairpin bends, and due to the weather there is lots of gravel and even rocks on the road. we are lucky in that the fog clears occasionally, and the rain even ceases a few times, so we stop and get out to enjoy breath-taking views of the bay of kotor and its surroundings, as far as the open sea. stunning, and made all the more dramatic by wisps of white and grey clouds floating around both above and below us, by thick curtains of fog being lifted for glimpses of mountains opposite us, by the grim sky never allowing the sun to break through clouds completely.

dramatic landscape, dramatic weather: bay of kotor

after a while heavy rain sets in again, and we decide to wait out the worst. parked at one of the many passing places/vista points, we play a couple of games of settlers of catan, rolling dice and eagerly building roads, towns, and cities in an imaginary country where it doesn't quite rain so much.

eventually we drive on to the pass and decide to turn right onto the even narrower road to the famous and popular njegoš mausoleum. the closer we get, the more it rains. but - true explorers cannot be detained by mere rain and wind, right? right. but maybe they should sometimes be. or maybe a rain dance before getting out of the car might have proved helpful. anyway: we are not quite sure how far it is from the carpark to the actual mausoleum. more information would have made us stay in the car and turn around, no doubt.

so we find out that 1560 m above sea level combined with a very chilly, very strong wind and pouring rain makes for some not-so-pleasant outdoor experiences. instead of the expected 2 or 3 staircases up, there are countless stone steps, some in the open, some in a freezing, draughty tunnel. within about half a minute i am soaked to the skin anyway - at least from the hips down. the rain stings my face like needles. i run so fast that after about 2/3 of the way breathing becomes painful and i feel on the verge of a panic attack. i am too hot from running upstairs to feel cold, which seems weird.

eventually we reach the top, where they explain that there is no electricity - and no panorama, ha ha - and hand us a tiny flashlight. we are in no mood for long exploring anyway, so we just take a couple of photos of the mausoleum - a couple of dark, solemn statues in national costume and the grave and statue of montenegro's national hero, petar II petrović njegoš - and turn around for the way back, which is somehow even worse than the way up. it is so dark in the tunnel, and our glasses are so wet, that we have to be really careful with the slippery steps, which slows us down.

couple standing guard over petar II petrović njegoš

we grab some dry clothes from the car and rush into the restaurant. there is no light except a tiny little lamp in the ladies' restroom, and by that light i towel myself dry and change into dry clothes. quite an interesting pastime, if you ever get bored. some hot tea and bowls of delicious, steaming soup warm us up. and we do our best to imagine the panorama that is hidden behind walls of rain and clouds.

sad substitute for a panorama

thank goodness for heating in cars, too, as we drive down the other side of the mountain towards cetinje. more rain. on to the coast near budva. more rain. sveti stefan, the famous picture-postcard montenegrin island just off the coast, looks a lot less alluring in this kind of weather than under a brilliant blue sky, so one picture of it set against a grey sky and grey-green sea is all we take home. every time we think the sun might finally win the battle against the clouds - nah, more rain.

sveti stefan in the wind and rain

in bar (that's the name of a town, not a place to go for drinks!) i drop in at the tourist info, but contrary to what the lonely planet guidebook promises, the guy there barely speaks english and isn't very helpful. i pick up a small brochure of private accommodation in/around bar, and heinz and i find something that looks promising, in stari bar (old bar), where we want to go for sightseeing anyway. by the time we arrive there, the miracle has happened: the rain has stopped and the much-longed-for sun is out! what a difference that makes! the room we get is very communist era, but spacious, with a big, firm bed, a nice bathroom and a mini balcony - and: it's DRY! very soon, however, many surfaces inside and outside are also covered with damp clothes ...

our hotel is situated right beside a simple mosque as well as next to the old city wall and the entrance to the once big town that lies in ruins a few kilometres inland from modern-day bar. so off we go exploring - and there is lots of that to do: ruins of houses, churches, turkish baths, walls, streets, and a miraculously intact aqueduct await us.

ottoman aqueduct, outlasting even disastrous earthquakes

vines strangle many walls, intact or broken, grass and wildflowers grow in abundance. what a project they've got on their hands there, trying to reconstruct this place! a few places have already been done, but this is something that will take immense amounts of time and money. i love such places - imagining the lives of the many people who lived there, under slavic, venetian or ottoman rule, how elders might have met in the bath house, young girls whispered behind the church after mass, watchmen run up and down steep staircases bearing good or disastrous news.

the ruins of stari bar

i also find a church dedicated to sv veneranda - which is interesting as my father's grandmother's name was veneranda, the only veneranda i've ever heard of. to one side of the old town, olive groves cover the hills, many trees old enough to have seen the rise and fall of this place. it only drizzles for about five minutes, although dark clouds hang threateningly over the hills just behind this place lost in time. this makes for rather gorgeous light though, and the sky to the east attracts attention with ever-changing cloud formations that stir the imagination.

bird or dolphin?

dinner at our hotel's restaurant turns out to be a marvellous affair: grilled calamari for me, and about 5 tons of food for heinz (ražniči and peppers stuffed with cheese), and just when we think we're finally done, they serve figs and watermelon, on the house. a little walk around the block, so to speak, is perfect before retiring to our room.

and just when i'm about to turn off the light ... thunder, na na na nah na! just in case, i move some of our stuff from the balcony to the room. and just when i'm falling asleep ... rain! even heinz wakes up, and for about two minutes there is crazy hail, really big hailstones! after that, it rains for another 15 minutes, and that's that. at least we've got a real roof over our heads!

photos of day 06

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