Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Fifteen – Maybe We Can Visit Hugo Montenegro, T (As In Trouble) With Mussolini, Detour To Another Coastal Town, Danger: Parking Ahead, Goodbye Buza, Dinner By The Sea And Mary Takes A “Short-Cut”
This was the day we had all been waiting for; our much anticipated day trip to mysterious Montenegro. I didn’t even have to rally the troops on this misty morning. It was as if everyone had been injected with double espressos.
We scurried down the 99 stairs, pushed our way through the assembled multitude of umbrella people at the Pile Gate, zipped down the Stradun, made our way through the Ploče Gate and walked to the Hertz office to get our car. Although we had asked for a car with manual transmission, they did not have one at Hertz and I was “upgraded” to an automatic. For me, that was not an upgrade because I enjoy a stick, plus I knew this car would not get as good gas mileage as a manual transmission.
In any event, nothing, not even the plentiful drops of rain, could put a damper on this day. I had prepared an extensive list of things to do and sights to see on “Montenegro Day.” As we headed down the narrow, main coastal road past the airport and the coastal village of Cavtat, the gang were all reading about the exciting new places we would visit.
We were going to travel though Perast, a supposedly beautiful Montenegrin town, through the village of Dobrota and wind our way down the marvelous Montenagran coast to the Bay of Kotor, where we would enjoy lunch and all the beauty this mysterious country had to offer. Oh, this was going to be a marvelous day of exploration, and it would be another new country stamp to add to our passports.
I had brought along this photo (left) taken from wikipedia to get everyone excited about our adventure. Expectations were running high.
Soon we reached the border that would soon be our portal to magnificent Montenegro; well, we almost reached the border. A line of cars about 15 or 20 deep stretched in front of us waiting to get into Montenegro. “No problem,” we thought, “we’ll get through this in no time.” So we waited. And we waited. And we waited. In the span of 25 minutes, we counted all of one car that had passed through the border checkpoint. We also only counted one car that had exited Montenegro back into Croatia. It was perplexing, and now just a tad bit frustrating. But, hey, we’re from L.A. and used to traffic delays, so we sat and waited patiently.
Then, out of seemingly nowhere, a man appeared, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Benito Mussolini (although he was not hanging upside down at an Esso station), and he strode out from amongst the cars and looked me straight in the eyes (well, I thought he was looking straight at me).
He began motioning me to pull out of line and come forward. “Is he talking to me?” I asked the other three. No one really knew for sure, but he was staring directly at me. I pointed at myself and, in a DeNiro moment, mouthed the words “You talkin’ to me?” He nodded “yes” (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). I then pulled out of line and headed (slowly) toward him. Suddenly, he began waving his arms like, well like Mussolini, and shouted something at me. I don’t believe he was saying, “Welcome to the beautiful country of Montenegro. Have a lovely stay.” I know this because he had a similar facial expression that my dad had when he learned I had flunked 8th grade algebra. But Mussolini’s expression was much nicer than the next visage I encountered.
A man, who obviously had been in line for a very long time, leaped from his automobile, came up to our car and started screaming at me in “Croenglish.” Croenglish can best be explained as “the ability to utter multiple expletives in Croatian and English at a faster than normal rate of speed.” His usage and vast array of American curse words bordered on the remarkable, and I remember thinking this guy would be a natural to drive on the Los Angeles freeway system. Back to the reality of the moment; I was now in the lane where people exiting Montenegro were to drive when they enter Croatia. Fortunately, nobody seemed to be entering Croatia, so any head on collision was averted. “Do you think someone will let me back in line?” I asked my traveling friends who were now ducking in case there was gunfire.
As Kim turned and looked out the window at 15 cars full of angry Croatians, he said quietly, “I wouldn’t count on it.” We decided to go to the back of the line, which, as it turned out, was only a few cars from where we had started this comedy of errors. There was really no place to turn around since, I’m sure, this is not an everyday occurrence, so I backed up past the line of cars. In a couple of minutes, we were in the queue again. “What the Hell happened there,” I inquired? Tracy told me that, as the Croatian driver was yelling at me, a large tour bus passed us, and that Benito must have been pointing at him to move forward, not us. For the next twenty minutes we sat, and no car was allowed to enter Montenegro, nor did one car exit from Montenegro. It had now been about an hour since we had reached the border, and only one or two cars had gone though. Obviously, besides my erratic driving, there was a major problem. Well, we will endure traffic jams in California, but not on vacation. In a unanimous decision, we decided to blow off Montenegro and head back. “Another time,” we sighed.
DIGRESSION: A couple of days later Mary was talking to her daughter back in the U.S. who told her that she had seen a news report of an incident in our general area of the world and the border of Montenegro had been virtually shut down in an attempt to locate whoever the authorities were looking for (thankfully, not me). For once, timing did not go our way, but as my dad used to always tell me, “Roll with the flow.” Oh yeah, back to our little story: On the way to Dubrovnik, we saw the exit again for Cavtat again. “What the Hell,” Mary said, “Let’s see that town.”
We sat at a harbor side café, drank some cappuccinos and ate some sweets (gotta put that weight back on), and then took a wonderful hike along the sea that eventually brought us back to our car. We could see Dubrovnik in the distance as kayakers stroked by.
Next stop was Lapad Bay for lunch at Casa Bar Restaurant. Today, Lady G had been flawless to this juncture, but she forgot to give one last, little detail as I started down the street toward the restaurant. “What did I do this time?” I thought, as I saw a young man waving his arms at me. At least, he didn’t look like a former dictator. “You are driving in a pedestrian zone,” he said. “It would be wise to back up.”
Well, wisdom had not been a key word for me on this day, but I backed up, and we ended up having a nice lunch on the water at the Casa Bar and Restaurant. It had commanding views of the sea, and the food was quite good. I really liked the spaghetti with olio.
We hopped back in the car and drove to Dubrovnik to attempt to find the parking lot, which was nearby our apartment. Yes, there was a parking area, but the route to get there was a little more difficult than we had been told. Although a two-way street, only one car could navigate it safely at a time. Plus, there were more than a couple of blind spots. Having already nearly caused a border incident and, shortly thereafter, driving in a pedestrian-only zone, my confidence was not at its peak. Fortunately, the troops had my back. Forming a human parking attendant chain, Tracy, Kim and Mary positioned themselves along the route shouting directions and warning each other if any other vehicles were coming toward our direction. A few near misses later, and with looks of amazement from other drivers, we were safely ensconced in our parking spot at the top of the hill (which, by the way, had terrific Adriatic views). By the time we got back to old Dubrovnik it was mid-afternoon.
We all had things to do. Kim and Mary finally got their opportunity to walk the Dubrovnik Town Walls….
…while Tracy and I strolled through town for our final visit to the Buza Bar.
Of course, it wasn’t God, but Kim on the Town Wall with his camera ready to shoot photographs of the most contented couple on earth savoring their final hours at this remarkable spot. As the enchanting voice of Diana Krall singing “I Remember You” drifted out into the afternoon breeze, Tracy and I counted our blessings that we were able to share moments like this together.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear that song, and I will always remember the Buza Bar, from the death-defying seating arrangements to the lovely, nimble wine server to the flirty, little bar cat and finally to the incomparable Adriatic views that have left an indelible image in my brain, in my heart and, most importantly, in my soul.
The Buza Bar has to be experienced to be believed. If you can’t be relaxed here, you might as well give up the quest. If you can’t be happy here, seek professional help as soon as you return home. If you can’t be contented here, satisfaction will always be beyond your grasp. I hate to over-hype a place, and as a rule I do not, but the Buza Bar was that special for me. I can still close my eyes and picture us sitting here, sipping wine and taking in some of the most incredible atmosphere on earth. I shall definitely return here!
Dinner was quite good, and afterward, it was time to climb those steps back to the apartments…or maybe not. Mary told us she had discovered a “short-cut” back to the apartments. “I saw this earlier today, and I don’t think we’ll have to climb 99 steps if we go up this way,” Mary said confidently.
Well, Mary was correct. About three thousand steps later (that’s a slight exaggeration) we were back at the apartments, and those calories from dinner were but a distant memory (as was the feeling in our legs).
…wonderful memories to be sure.
Tomorrow, the road warriors would be back on the highway, terrorizing Croatian drivers at every turn, as we drove up the coast to our next stop, Trogir, a destination where we would soon be enveloped in red and white madness.