Monday 14th June Albania - Ulcinj
|Ulcinj bay from Dulcinea restaurant|
What a glorious journey from
Tirana into Montenegro. As there aren’t any trains, I took the bus from
Tirana two-and-a-half hours north to Shkodra near the border (£1.50) on a road flanked by
lush green mountains to the east and farmland all around, with dozens of empty
newly-built houses and showrooms, or half-built then abandoned buildings along
the way - not sure if it's a result of speculative construction which ran out
of cash, or some kind of tax relief scam. Anyway, there's a lot of them about
Time for a beer in Shkodra,
then on a minibus to Ulcinj in Montenegro (€5). I couldn't figure out why a 35km trip should
take an hour and a half until we got to the border where we sat boiling our
heads in the bus for forty minutes listening to shockingly bad Albanian pop on
the radio while the driver hung around having fags and kicking his heels
waiting for the border guards to look at our passports.
We snaked around the foot of
the Albanian mountains then climbed into them as we reached Montenegro, through tunnels and rocky ravines, and along
twisting vertiginous passes, all quite stunning.
I had one night in Ulcinj,
in a room overlooking the bay in the old town, drinking Montenegran beer and wine
in the Dulcinea restaurant attached to the apartment and being chewed by
Ulcinj is basically three-quarters of a basin, with a beach at the
bottom, and if you want to go anywhere you have to go up.... And up... Then up
a bit more... Then down a bit... And more up. But it's very beautiful and hot
and humid, and the Montenegran wine seemed to improve after breathing a bit,
although the local brandy may be an acquired taste.
Brutalist monument, Ulcinj
Tuesday 15th Ulcinj - Dubrovnik
And so the last two days of
the Grand Tour were in Dubrovnik, somewhere I've not been since the 70s but
Rather A Lot has happened there in the intervening years.
A five and a half hour bus
journey up from Ulcinj in Montenegro with quite the stroppiest driver and his sidekick you'd
(n)ever wish to meet: overtaking on blind bends as we thundered round rocky
mountain passes, shouting at passengers at every opportunity, and generally
offering service with a snarl.
Our trip was spectacular
though, via cloud-shrouded verdant mountains, over bridges crossing deep
ravines, and snaking around the twisting coastline with views down to rocky
bays and the almost luminous blue waters of the Adriatic.
As we approached Dubrovnik, roofless and partially destroyed buildings became
apparent. The war of '91-95 is ever-present, and I went to not one but three
photographic exhibitions dealing with it.
It's in contrast to Albania, where their past seems to be put in a box labelled
"The Past" until they decide what to do with it, while the attack on Dubrovnik appears very much to be part of the contemporary
I took a cable car up to the
steep hillside overlooking Dubrovnik and visited the Napoleonic fort Srd where the
defenders of the old city (a UNESCO heritage site at the time, so they thought
it would be safe) fought the attacks coming from sea, land and air. It houses
an exhibition of photographs, documents, weaponry and other artefacts from the
siege. The plight of the civilians caught up in it was very moving, and it
felt shocking that such a conflict could occur in the late 20th century in
|Display, Fort Srd|
The place I stayed in was
lovely, with views up to the hillside and fort, and after doing the touristy rounds
I felt almost ready to head back to Blighty now. Lots of lovely places and
people, and Albania was brilliant - I really want to go back and I'd really
recommend it as an untouristy place with fantastically friendly people and a
fascinating history, and - I'd hope - a good future.
Labels: Albania, Balkans, blog, Brighton, Croatia, Croatie, diary, Dubrovnik, Europe, European, journey, Montenegro, train, travel, Ulcinj Ulcinn, war, writing