A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about heat

Montenegro and Albania

Kotor, Podgorica and Budva in the former; Shkoder, Durres, Berat, Sarande and Elbasan in the latter...

sunny 30 °C

Um, it's been over a month since I've updated this, and some of the memories of what I've done are no longer as fresh as previous chapters! At least I still remember where I've been though!

Anyway, my last post would have ended with me leaving Makarska, which was a lovely but crowded little town on the Croatian riviera. I spent an entire week there chilling out, which I certainly needed having barely rested since leaving the UK.

The drive from Makarska to Kotor was a breeze. Passing the border was simple, though it was the first time a border guard did ask for more than just my passport, having to show him registration and insurance details, though the process was over very quickly. The road from the border to Kotor circled the bay, and the scenery already on display was, at times, spectacular. I'll probably use that word a lot going forward.

My accommodation was a little Airbnb no more than ten minutes walk from Kotor old town. It wasn't huge, and I'll be honest, I thought it might have been a little bigger. No harm though, as I just wandered the streets on my first full day, taking plenty of photos, and definitely enjoying a beer or two as the heat was still beating down. For the afternoon, I booked a boat tour to nearby Perast and Our Lady of the Rock, the latter a man-made island in the middle of the bay. There were only a few of us on the speedboat and it's always alarming when the pilot spends more time on his phone than watching the horizon, but we got everywhere and back in one piece, and the breeze crossing the water certainly helped cool everyone down. Perast was a gorgeous little village while the church on the Rock was utterly stunning inside.

For day two, I organised a tour of Montenegro. (I've had to go check my Get Your Guide app to remember everywhere we visited!) We had a mini-bus, choc full of people, and the first event was climbing the mountain road, which I was originally planning on driving myself, though glad I didn't. Again, the views provided were breath-taking in their beauty, particularly when stopping at the 25th Serpentine, giving us views of the entire bay far below. I'll try and upload a picture later.

After that was a stop for breakfast at a traditional village, named Njegusi, where I got to know some of my fellow travellers, and I may have enjoyed a breakfast beer too. After that was the drive to Lovcen National Park, where we climbed the steps to the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, from where you can nearly see all of Montenegro from one spot. From there, we headed to Crnojevic, enjoying a spot of lunch, before enjoying a boat road up and down the river, one or two enjoying a swim in the water as well. The rest of us may have enjoyed some local wine or rakia.

A stop in Cetinje, the old capital, was next up, visiting the local monastery, which includes the remain of St. Peter and other holy relics, including what is purported to be particles of the True Cross. I've been told that more than once visiting churches and monasteries around Europe, but if it's what people want to believe, fair enough. We also did a little walking tour around the town, but it had been a long, hot day, so the guide cut it short and we headed to our last stop, Sveti Stefan, for a quick photo of the now private island, before returning to Kotor.

Nothing to report of my third day there. It bucketed down nearly all day, so apart from heading out for some drinks and snacks, I stayed indoors where it was at least dry.

My drive to Podgorica sucked for most of the trip, as I was caught in either heavy traffic along the coast, or the rain was still heaving down, and driving conditions were horrible. It was only getting close to the capital that the rain finally abated, and finding my hotel was simple.

I had organised three days for Podgorica, as my original intention was for one day there, then do some tours to the north and west. Those plans fell apart quickly. Tour groups don't operate from the capital, generally only doing so from Kotor, and perhaps Budva. And I'll admit, the stories about Podgorica are mostly true. I think there's enough there to see and do for a day, but nothing more than that. There are Roman ruins outside of town, but at the moment, it's not very interesting, and many of the artefacts have been moved away.

One thing you should check out is Ostrog Monastery. The drive from Podgorica eventually followed a road cut into the mountain, providing some... you guessed the word, spectacular views of the valley below. The monastery itself is a marvel of design, cut right into the side of the cliff, and is definitely a pilgrimage site for those of the Orthodox faith. It was well worth the drive there and back, stopping on the way back to my hotel at a waterfall that's also called Niagara. Nothing like those in the US/Canada, but the rock formations were interesting at least.

After the capital, I headed back to the coast and Budva. The town has a reputation more for nightlife, its beach and the partying, and my three days there pretty much back that up. The old town is even smaller than Kotor, and can easily be explored in a couple of hours. There's nothing else really of note there, so I treated it much like Makarska, a place to just sit and unwind in the sun. Prices were reasonable at least, even by the beach, so I spent two and a half days just relaxing.

My crossing of the border into Albania proved interesting. Before leaving the UK, I managed to insure my car for everywhere except Albania, though I knew I could buy car insurance just after crossing the border. €50 for two weeks. However, once I arrived, I was told I couldn't pay by card, only cash. That meant I had to cross the border back to Montenegro and drive back to Ulcinj, the nearest town, to get money. When crossing the border again, that raised plenty of questions, though the border guards were nice, letting me explain the issue. They performed a quick search of my car then let me go. Car insurance bought, I drove the rest of the way to Shkoder.

Lovely town on first appearances, more European than expected, and my hostel was great. First hostel stay of the trip. The owner even let me park my car at his house, which was a bonus. For my first day, I participated in a walking tour, the first one I'd done in quite a while, being shown all the sites offered, before doing a cycling tour that evening, where we rode through the rather horrendous traffic towards the nearby fortress, where the sunset provided a magnificent backdrop to the views of the city.

My second day in Shkoder was rather peaceful, as the heat and humidity prevented me from doing too much more than just more wandering, taking in the few sites I hadn't visited the previous day. The nightlife was good, though, the main pedestrian street full of cafes and restaurants where I could sit, eat, drink and people watch.

Next stop was Durres. I had organised another Airbnb, which was only a short walk from the main promenade, but I'll admit I thought it would have been a little busier than what it was. The walk to the actual centre of Durres was long, so for my first full day, I left my Airbnb early to avoid the worst of the heat. Durres has plenty of Roman ruins on offer, and enough other sites available to fill a day. I was tempted to travel to Tirana on either of my other days, but to be honest, I wasn't particularly interested in visiting the capital. Instead, I spent the other two days by the promenade, either sitting on or near the beach, enjoying the cheap food and drink available. My Airbnb hosts were fantastic, offering to help with laundry that I hadn't been able to do since Slovenia!

Berat is a beautiful inland city but was sweltering as it was away from the coast. My little hotel was fantastic and only a short walk away from the city. Again, I had a couple of days to wander, and did nearly everything the first day as usual. The best site is the fortress on the hill, again leaving early so I climbed that before the heat really started to beat down. Once again, though, it was the nightlife on the promenade that gave the city character, in addition to the architecture of all the buildings. Once the sun started to disappear, everyone seemed to head out and walk around, either sitting in the park or one of the cafes. And the prices of drinks were even cheaper than Durres, finding a place where I could get a Jack Daniels and coke for only a couple of quid. Let's just say I spent my three nights at the same place, enough the waiter recognised me by the third night and didn't even have to ask what I wanted!

The drive from Berat to Sarande was rather long, and involved crossing the mountain from near Gjirokaster to the coast. Probably the worst bit of road I'd driven along in quite a while, not helped by the usual Albanian lunatics, who drive like they're the only car on the road. By I got there in one piece, at least, my Airbnb a fifth floor apartment where, if it wasn't for other apartment blocks blocking the view, I'd have seen the nearby beaches and coast for miles.

There were two reasons for visiting Sarande. One, it's reputation as a tourist destination. But, two, the nearly Butrint National Park, which contains some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the region, if not Europe. I definitely spent a few hours there, glad that trees provided plenty of shade as I took numerous photos. The only shame was that some of the floor mosaics were covered up by sand, done so to protect them from the elements. It was definitely worth the visit, though.

Sarande itself isn't for browsing museums or full of monuments. It's for relaxation during the day and partying at night. As usual, once the sun started to set, everyone headed for the beachside promenade. Some of the restaurants were full to bursting, others were completely empty. The bars generally filled up quickly, and if you wanted to eat somewhere popular, get in quick otherwise you won't be eating.

My last stop in Albania was a town called Elbasan, chosen simply as it was close to the Albanian/North Macedonian border, and I'd heard stories about how long it might take to cross. Elbasan itself was worth a few hours visit. For the drive from Sarande, I followed the coast road. The weather was glorious, some of the views outstanding, though the road at times was awful, the traffic rather busy as I had to make my way through numerous coastal towns and villages. Elbasan itself was rather quiet, my hotel on a hill overlooking the town, and I think I was the only guest that night! Once again, there was a main street full of pubs and cafes, again finding one where I could drink for cheap, though after a long day behind the wheel, I had to pull up stumps earlier than normal.

The next morning, it was time to pack up my car again and head to the border, as I would be visiting North Macedonia, three cities within, before driving south to Greece and the ancient city of Athens...

Posted by benjamin2981 00:04 Archived in Albania Tagged mountains road_trip history sunsets bay monasteries montenegro albania kotor budva mausoleum roman_ruins heat durres butrint day_trip humidity shkoder sarande Comments (0)

Slovenia and Croatia

Lake Bled, Zadar and a week by the sea in Makarska

sunny 30 °C

After all the fun and excitement of Italy, where to be honest, I barely rested for longer than a day except for Reggio Emilia, and that was only because I felt like crap, my days in Slovenia and Croatia were meant to share one theme only. Relaxation!

My drive from Verona to Bled was via autostrada the entire way. I would have liked to take the scenic route but it would have taken forever, perhaps an extra 2-3 hours, and that's without traffic, so motorway was the better option. The weather changed not long after entering Slovenia, encountering my first major thunderstorm while driving, and the weather remained unpredictable the rest of the day.

Though I wanted to relax, my first day in Bled was to walk the lake, visit the castle, and do the other bits of touristy thing I had planned for. Though it wasn't a very warm day, it was disgustingly humid, a reminder of Italy, so I definitely earned a cold beer climbing to the castle overlooking the lake. Walking the shore of the lake provided some wonderful views, particularly of the small island in the middle, which I did visit later, catching a lift on one of the many little boats that make their way to and from the island. I did stop for the occasional beer and treated myself to a nice dinner. Prices were reasonable in Bled, much cheaper than Italy.

Second day in Bled was relaxation. Sure, I did walk the lake in the opposite direction, but made sure I took all day, stopping in nearly every little hamlet for a small beer, and the weather was much nicer, a little warmer but the humidity had disappeared. It was definitely very relaxing. For my last day, I decided to get in my car and have a wander of the surrounding region. First was a visit to Vintgar Gorge, which was spectacularly beautiful, though rather busy, no surprise considering the time of year. Ended up going for a drive into Triglav National Park, heading to the remains of a village an a monument to partisans of WWII. Finally, I drove back towards Bled and visited Iglica Waterfall. That wasn't particularly spectacular, but I did climb the nearby ladders, where I was provided with some awe-inspiring views of the lands surrounding Bled. Definitely worth the few minutes climb up and down.

Between Bled and Zadar, I did stop in Trieste for two nights / one day. Definitely worth a visit. The weather was great. The prices are reasonable. And there is actually plenty to see, particularly the fortress overlooking the city, and if you love architecture, you can see the different styles around as Trieste has belonged to both the Austrians and Italians in recent history.

The drive from Trieste to Zadar was quite easy. I was amused at the border, ready to show them all my car paperwork, licence etc. Nope, all they wanted to see was my passport, gave me a stamp, off I went. You read up about horror stories of long delays, yet I'm just waved on through. Still, could be worse...

My Airbnb in Zadar was a little out of town, so during the summer, it certainly got me sweating. Zadar old town (Stari Grad) is beautiful, though. Completely pedestrianised, it was once ringed by walls though much of those have disappeared. There are plenty of little alleys to wander down and get lost. Plenty to keep oneself amused for a day, though most people would head to Zadar for the water activities, as it was rather warm while I was there, and the beaches were definitely full. What I would say is that, in the years between visiting Croatia (I'm sure it's about five / six years), it's either more expensive than what it was, or the drop in value of the pound just made it seem that way. Still, I found an excellent pub in the old town, eventually meeting people in there who could speak some of the lingo at least.

Following the Croatian coastline south, I ended up in a little town called Makarska, which will be the longest stay of this journey, an entire week! Another Airbnb apartment to myself, it was actually at the top of a rather steep hill, so made getting home each night a pain. But it was barely a ten minute walk to the seaside, and turning left or right provided me with endless bars, cafes and restaurants to eat and drink at.

For the entire week, I did practically nothing except relax, may be a bit of walking, certainly hours spent on the beach, enjoying a beer or two. I did do a boat trip one day, to the islands of Hvar and Brac. It was definitely a highlight, considering they served raki by 9am, wine by 10am, and by the time the trip ended at 7pm, many were carrying sore heads back to their hotels and hostels. For the last three nights I was there, concerts were held in the main square, a small stage for tribute acts to perform. 1st night was AC/DC, 2nd night was U2 and the third night was Guns n Roses. The square filled up nicely each night, and there was a small bar that served very cheap beer. I did find a few cheap bars around Makarska, as it seemed that prices were kept reasonable, probably due to the competition. The place was packed with people but it was always a friendly atmosphere, even late at night after a warm day and people may have consumed a few drinks.

Considering I'd spent over two weeks through Slovenia, Italy and then Croatia, I have to admit that I probably didn't do as much as before, certainly Italy and southern France, and I'll admit, the constant heat was the cause. Walking around in the heat and humidity day after day is draining, and I know I've started to put on a little bit of the weight I'd lost as I have enjoyed my beer recently. Once it started to cool down in late September, I'll start doing the long walks I was doing before.

But that's for later. I was about to enter my first new country since San Marino.

Montenegro!

Posted by benjamin2981 07:38 Archived in Croatia Tagged beaches driving trieste castle drinking croatia seaside nightlife slovenia heat boat_trip lake_bled humidity tribute_bands Comments (0)

Southern France

From Toulouse to Nice (before heading into Italy...)

sunny 28 °C

Can I admit that I'm actually far too busy to regularly write a blog post? Only reason I'm writing this now is that I've just arrived in Pisa, needed something on my car seeing to, and as it's rather sweltering outside, I figured I'd stay in my air-conditioned Airbnb until heading out for dinner later. So I had a few spare minutes at least...

Anyway, my last post ended with my visit to Andorra. Still have some great memories of that place, and I thoroughly enjoyed my journey back into France. I took the old route, avoiding the tunnel, and had some great views passing over the top of the mountains. Going down the other side was quite amusing, particularly once I hit the border and the line of cars looking to enter Andorra, mostly French cars and people, looking for the cheap booze and fags on offer.

I was staying with a local in Toulouse but not through Airbnb, organising it through Booking.com. I hadn't been aware that was on offer and it is something I'll keep an eye out for later. Anyway, Michel was a lovely gentleman, spoke great English, and we enjoyed some good conversations, when I was about.

As I was only spend three nights / two days in Toulouse, I had plenty of time to wander and looking around. Being France, most museums were closed on Monday but I could still wander and take in the sights, the cathedral, basilica and other churches, while also just walking the streets. One thing I learned quickly is that Toulouse shared one thing in common with Bordeaux - the great pubs on offer! One pub I'd visited in Bordeaux was the Frog & Rosbif, and they had another pub in Toulouse. These sort of pubs are also good places to find fellow English speakers, and I eventually found myself chatting with an English RAF serviceman by the name of James. Top lad, and it was amusing to hear he was based only a few miles from where I used to and still live in the UK.

My second day was much like the first, though this time I visited a few museums, learning that Toulouse was once a Roman city by the name of Tolosa. Few Roman remains are left around the city, but the museum I visited was interesting, with quite a bit of information in English. Found museums can be very hit and miss regarding that, depending on the city you are in. I eventually ended up on the other side of the river, away from the centre, but to be honest, there wasn't much on offer. The one place I did want to visit was closed on Monday and Tuesday. Just my luck sometimes!

I can definitely recommend Toulouse as a place to visit. Plenty of places speak at least a little English, and as always, they appreciate if you at least try a little French.

On the way to Avignon, my second destination of three, I stopped at two places on the one. The first was rather unplanned until Michel suggested I really do stop there, a city by the name of Carcassone. I'm glad I did, as although I only spent maybe 90 minutes there, it was certainly an interesting old city, though absolutely teeming with tourists (yes, yes, I know I'm one of them!)

My second stop was planned, and had been on my itinerary from the moment I planned the whole thing. Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct still in great condition. Knowing they were onto a good thing, the French have built an entire park around it, with all sort of restaurants, exhibitions and a museum. Plus you can also take a towel and your swimmers and go for a drip in the river, if you're so inclined. Anyway, the place was as spectacular as I imagined, while the museum was interesting, giving plenty of information about the construction of the aqueduct, but also the history of the region itself, mentioning one city that I would be visiting later on.

Avignon is a lovely French city, one perhaps overlooked by many tourists, though that's not to say I didn't run into a lot of them! I was staying in another Airbnb, not far from the centre. The first day was, of course, wandering Avignon. First thing was the whole reason I was there. The Papal Palace. And, I'll admit to be... slightly disappointed. I'd read plenty of reviews, and while it wasn't awful, nearly all the walls were bare, though there were plenty of artefacts to see. The walls that were still painted, and a couple were magnificent, we weren't allowed to take photos of those. But the rest of the palace was brought to life by THE PAD! Given some headphones and it give the history of the palace and the popes who resided in it.

The second major attraction is the bridge. There's bugger all left of it standing now, but again, in addition to the bridge was a museum which gave plenty of history and the one amusing feature was the rumour about the bridge. Was it ever completely finished? And, if it was, what was it like? According to the museum, it was built, but collapsed centuries ago, and was probably a good idea poorly implemented.

Avignon is full of museums to see, and just wandering the old city can see yourself finding little cafes to sit and enjoy a beer or coffee, or perhaps a small shop or museum. I followed one of the trails on the map which took me through the medieval heart, the streets and paths where cars simply cannot go. Stopped for the occasional beer before hitting the pubs for happy hour. France do love their happy hours!

Next day was a trip to Nimes, another French town with strong Roman origins. The main attraction is, of course, the Arena. Around two thousand years old, it's fair to say perhaps half of it is the original as it had required plenty of work over time. But it's still spectacular, again an audioguide provided, giving history of the arena itself, but they also focused on the gladiatorial contests that once took part. I guess they found a lot of information about them so added that in. The arena is still open to this very day as it will host plenty of concerts during the summer.

Nimes is a gorgeous old city, the old town full of narrow streets, again inhibiting cars from going down most of them. The ruins of a couple of Roman temples are definite attractions, and if you don't mind walking up a steep hill, you can also climb the remains of a tower overlooking the entire city. Admittedly, I'm not a real fan of heights. If I feel completely 'safe', I'm okay, but the climb up the tower itself was narrow, and... well, let's just I didn't look down until I was at the very top! The climb was worth it, though. The view was outstanding.

Day three was another day trip, this time to Arles, another old town with Roman origins. Again, this had an arena, in roughly the same condition as Nimes. But Arles is perhaps more famous as the home of Vincent van Gogh. He only lived there for around a year, but the city takes pride in the fact one of the world's most famous artists once lived there. If you look at his Wikipedia page, his work while in Arles was prolific, but don't expect any museums in the city to have any of his work. Anything to do with van Gogh in the city is simply to entice tourists who don't know any better!

There is a fantastic archaeological museum worth checking out, just a little outside the centre (a 15 minute walk at most). The best exhibit there is of an old Roman ship, which laid buried under sediment in the nearby river for two millennia. Dug up and painstakingly restored, it now takes pride of place in a new part of the museum. Unfortunately, this new part is the only one that really provides English translations of all the exhibits. The other areas, while incredibly interesting, had next to no English translations. Slightly disappointing, but at least entry was free that day!

To be honest, I could have spent another couple of days in Avignon, as there is Orange and Aix-en-Provence nearby that are also interesting to visit. Perhaps another time...

Anyway, my third and final destination in southern France was Nice. Now while I had the idea of travelling the coast road instead of the autoroute, I knew, at this time of year and the day I was travelling, the traffic would be horrendous. So I took the probably quicker way. My Airbnb in Nice was another apartment, quite smaller than my one in Avignon, but I didn't plan on staying there too much during the day, though it was still quite the walk from the centre.

As always, day one would be spent in Nice, but let's be honest, you don't go to Nice to spend all day walking around. You go to stroll the promenade, perhaps wander the old town, definitely hit a beach and just... relax. So the morning and early afternoon was spent doing the 'touristy' things, particularly going up the nearby ruined castle / fort to take in the views. Spectacular! Other than that, it was a wander around the old town, but to be honest, it was far too hot to be walking kilometres around town, so I made sure to stop every so often for... something cold... perhaps with some alcohol in it...

Made a friend that night in another pub, this one with an Irish theme. Yes, yes, shoot me for being typical but all the bar staff spoke English. In fact, most were Irish or American, and one or two couldn't even speak French! Anyway, made a friend that night by the name of Grant, and he was a drinking buddy the next three nights.

Day two was a trip to Monaco. It just had to be done. After grabbing a map, not that I needed one for what I wanted to do first, I walked the track, taking my time, and an enormous number of photos were taken during my walk. Took perhaps a couple of hours, before heading up towards the palace, which provided even better views of the whole of Monaco. The final thing for me to visit was a museum full of cars owned by Prince Rainier (and probably owned by Prince Albert) now. Though called a museum, it's actually a private collection. Quite a few F1 cars, sports cars and normal cars... though I'm not sure you can call a few Rolls-Royce's 'normal' cars. It was a great collection, though, an obvious sign of the family wealth.

But Monaco wasn't as expensive as feared, at least when it came to food and drink. Never paid for more than €5 for a beer, and food was cheap as well. Just stay away from the harbour-front, look around for deals, and it could definitely be cheaper than Monaco. Wouldn't want to know how much a night in a hotel cost though. An Airbnb would probably be far too expensive too! (Doubt anyone would even offer, to be honest.)

My last day in southern France was one of relaxation. I stayed in Nice and did precisely nothing. Woke up, slowly walked into town, had a rather ordinary lunch (suckered in by one of those cheap three-course meals. Should have read TripAdvisor first!) before enjoying one or two cheap beers, before meeting my drinking buddy for a final night of revelry. In addition to him, we were joined by all sorts. Remember chatting with a Canadian fellow who'd just moved to Nice, and also an old American guy who was living life to the full now that he was retired and widowed. It was a long night, probably not the best idea considering I was leaving the next day, but it was well worth it.

The next day, I did need a couple of hours to feel right before I left. It was time for country number eight of the trip so far.

ITALY!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:26 Archived in France Tagged beaches road_trip walking beach palace palaces cathedral roman hot nice nightlife avignon arena monaco toulouse arles heat arenas nimes roman_history Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]