Montenegro, Mostar and Medugorje

Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
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Trip End Nov 25, 2007


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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Montenegro
On an overcast Wednesday, Alicia and I set off in a rental car for Montenegro (Alice's back is hurting badly and she is also feeling ill). The drive south is high above the coast and we drop in to the small seaside town of Cavtat (the ancient city of Epidaurum) for an espresso and a pastry, then continue for another 30kms until we reach the border.
The scenery changes almost immediately we enter Montenegro - southern Croatia is all dry, barren mountainsides whereas this part pf Montenegro is heavily forested. We quickly drop down to the shores of Southern Europe's largest and deepet fiord. The first section is full of relatively modern, ugly villas built during the latter part of the communist years, until we round a bend and see the giant bulk of Montenegro (Italian for Black Mountain), after which this tiny country is named, looming through the cloud. The day is grey and cloudy and we just keep ahead of the rain
We cross over the narrow section of the fiord in a ferry then drive alomg a very narrow and winding road through lovely seaside villages with tiny harbours and people sunbathing, and swimming off stone jetties virtually on the side of the road.
We are heading for the walled city of Kotor, which is at the head of the fiord. In many ways it is similar to Dubrovnik - most of it was built in the 12/13th centuries in Venetian Gothic style and among a maze of narrow streets and alleys there are beautiful churches and palazzos.
Directly behind Kotor is a mountain and a long and steep zig-zag path leads to the ruins of a fortress at the top. It's a long way up but Alicia is a real trouper and we set off to climb up there. We very quickly are above the town and have great views. After a while we reach a large terrace about 2/3rds of the way up and Alicia says she will wait for me while I go the rest of the way.
Soon after I reach the top three South Africans arrive. While we are all admiring the view one of them says he would love a gin and tonic and I jokingly say if they are having one I would love to join them, at which they pull out a bottle of gin and a couple of lemons and a packet of chips out of a rucksack. Unfortunately they have forgotten to bring glasses, a knife, and the tonic water. So we improvise - luckily I have brought my new Swiss Army knife, so we cut slices of lemon and stick them in our mouth, then take a swig of the gin - where there's a will, there's a way. Just about then Alicia turns up - she has decided to go all the way (having also done this when she was much younger :)
The view is awesome (a word I use very infrequently), with the dark grey craggy mountains, steel-coloured fiord, black clouds, and lightning flashes accompanied by thunder rolling up the valley, and the rain pours down as we descend. The descent is all broken steps and rocks, and the already slippery smooth surfaces are made even more slippery by the rain, especially as we are both wearing thongs (yes, I can imagine all the non-Australians wondering how wearing sexy underwear makes the steps more slippery, but thongs is our word for what others may call flip-flops, but at least we don't call them jandals like they do in New Zealand).
We wade our way through the streets of Kotor, which have flooded in minutes, to a faux glamorous bar swarming with mosquitoes, and a surly waiter, drink a glass of red wine and drive back to Dubrovnik in the dark. When we arrive Alice is feeling much better and Miho's mother has made her a nice soup for her upset tummy.

Mostar
Another day, another country - we decide to visit Mostar, which is the main city in the Hercegovina part of Bosnia-Hercegovina. As you will know, this area was subjected to a terrible war in the early 1990's and we really don't know what to expect.
Instead of going north along the coast, then inland, we take a route up through the mountains, then along a high plain, before rejoining the main road from the coast.
When we reach Mostar we head for the old centre and park the car virtually next to the tiny 'Crooked Bridge', which has been rebuilt after being swept away by floods in 1999 (it was severely damaged during the war).
We eat a gargantuan meal (at least Alicia and I do) on the terrace of the Restaurant Taurus, which is built over the river overlooking the Crooked Bridge - roulade of veal stuffed with cheese and smoked ham, home-made sausages, eggplant and pepper dip, salad of tomato, cucumber and fresh creamy sheep's milk cheese, and home-made wine. I have to have a home-made liqueur to help me digest :).
Mostar is divided into a western Croat side and an eastern Muslim side and we walk along the narrow cobbled streets over the Stari Most (Old Bridge, which was blown up in 1993) across the Neretva river. There are tiny wooden shops with slate roofs and it reminds me of Nepalese and Tibetan shops. There are cliffs on both sides of the river and bars and restaurants have been built into the rock.
We reach the main mosque, which had it's minaret blown off (since rebuilt) and climb to the top, for a wonderful view.
There are a number of badly damaged derelict buildings and many still in use with bullet holes in them, and on such a sunny and warm peaceful day it's hard to imagine the viciousness and bloodshed here over a decade ago.

Medugorje
We head back to Dubrovnik, but take a detour to the town of Medugorje, where in 1981 six teenagers claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a nearby hill (now called Apparition Hill). Medugorje is now awash with religious tourist buses, hostels catering for them, and shops selling statues, pictures and every sort of trinket of the Virgin Mary. Both Alice and Alicia know about Medugorje but I know nothing - it's as big as Lourdes and other sites of religious pilgrimage, whose names escape me.
There is a large, new cathedral and we join the throng of worshippers. People are sitting, standing, kneeling and even prostrating themselves - on the seats, in the aisles, etc, and a soft hypnotic song is playing over the loudspeakers, repeating over and over, each time in a different language. Outside there is a huge marquee, with priests officiating and a large crowd sitting in the cold.
Everybody seems to be in their own little world of ecstasy, prayer or suffering. Later we hear people saying how going there has changed their lives, and on Hvar we meet an aggresive proponent of Medugorje, who organises pilgrimages from the US. This type of thing very much fascinates me - the faith these people have clearly can provide an enormous amount of consolation for many people, and no doubt even the odd miracle, but in other ways it has a cheap, tacky, feel to it and in my (admittedly non-religious) mind there is a feeling that this can only appeal to gullible or needy people - however this is not correct as there seem to be many educated and intelligent people who are believers in this type of thing, so who am I say to say.
It's a long drive back to Dubrovnik in the dark.
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