The Orange Dragon has been hopping around the Balkans in the past few weeks. Our detour through eastern Europe took us through Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bulgaria, passing through Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania on the way. Because our stay here was a bit ad hoc and we did not have any preconceived plans, I gaven over to what I called tourist mode; short stays and sightseeing. And there were many sights to see! In Croatia, Zagreb was cold but majestic with it’s cathedral, stately buildings and squares. The signs from the recent earthquake were still visible everywhere, with many buildings covered in scaffolding and construction going on all around, but life seemed to be back on track for the most part.
We went on to Split, where the holiday mode kicked in in earnest, because of the beautiful weather. Sunshine and 18 degrees, beaches and boulevards and to top it all of, the gorgeous old city (backdrop to many a Game of Thrones scene) with its stunning combination of medieval and roman buildings, where even Kaira was allowed to roam free. But, our mission was still to make it to Turkey, so we stayed only a few days. From Split we drove to Montenegro, crossing through Bosnia and Herzegovina on the way, at the Neum corridor, between Split and Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik and its surrounding area, though part of Croatia, are effectively an enclave, cut off from the rest of the country by a little strip of Adriatic coast that belongs to Bosnia. So, we crossed the border with Bosnia, and about 20 minutes later crossed back into Croatia.
Then, on to the second border crossing of the day, into Montenegro. Here I miraculously managed to misplace my ‘green card’, the document that proves my car is insured. Oh boy! I was quite sure I had it, I had even made an extra copy. Neither was anywhere to be found. Not to worry, these days everything is digital, so the insurance app should bring relief. Sadly, because Montenegro is not in the EU, my provider decided that I was not getting any wifi access there. What followed was an interesting interaction with both the Montenegran border guards and the insurance company.
The border guard was adamant that I should not cross. In a last attempt to solve the problem, I called to the insurance company where I was put trough to the emergency service, because it was a sunday. This turned out to be the best thing ever. The nice insurance lady could not really do anything concrete, but did so happen to speak Montenegrin (!!). She convinced the guard to give me acces to the wifi of the border post so I could show the app and the digital green card. Just when I thought the problem was solved…the guard insisted that he saw it on paper as well. He sent me into the border office to make a print, which for all the office workers was the highlight of the day, and when the connection to the printer turned out not to be so easy as thought, all 25 of them pitched in with a solution. Finally, print out in hand I went back to the border check point, where the car, Kaira and the guard were patiently waiting. The guard looked at my printed paper for all of two seconds, and sent me on my merry way… (side note, I found the wretched green card back in a stack of papers in another bag three days later).
Once we were in, Montenegro was stunning, living up to its name with its dark mountains that surrounded the city of Budva, where I stopped, on all sides. Montenegro also turned out to be the land of monasteries, Kaira and I encountered many on our walks through the old city and our drives through the country side and there happened even to be one right next door to our apartment! The monasteries, the old city of Budva and the rough sea that crashed into the old buildings and the pebble beaches made for beautiful walks and meant that our spirit could not be dampened even though we had almost constant rain.
Turkey was coming slowly into view, but we where not there yet…A few more stops were necessary. So, onwards…to Macedonia. Well that sounds easier than it actually was. To get from one to the other we had to cross through Albania and Kosovo, making for a grand total of 3 border crossings in one day. I was a bit much. We were exhausted when we arrived in Skopje. The drive through Albania was absolutely gorgeous and I was sad not to stop there for a few days, but the importance of getting closer to Turkey and also making the most of yet another corona test, meant that I went as far in one drive as I could.
Skopje turned out to be a wild wonderland of curiosities and contrasts. Old meets new, east meets west, adorned on all sides by statues of every kind. We added an extra day to our stay here, to take some much needed rest, but also to take a proper look at all these statues. Oh, the statues of Skopje… the word overload does not begin to cover it. Every square has at least 5, every park at least 10, and every bridge, building or landmark is somehow flanked or guarded by a minimum of three. They are of varying style and subject. Some modern, some classic, some reminiscent of Soviet days. Kings, writers, politicians, Greek gods or fantasy figures, you can find them all. Even the old fortress, towering over the city since time immemorial had a couple added for good measure. And so we wondered around, and wondered aloud…and then it was time to finally get back on track: we were going to Bulgaria, where we had intended to go all along…and Turkey was shimmering in the distance!