Friday, July 21, 2006

The Tourist Shy Traveller

(warning: traveller's moan ahead)

Wanted, tourist shy traveller to see tourist meccas in the height of peak season tourism. It is a tough gig, and I mean it. After being blessed with a fraction of tourists seeing cool Albania, I have stepped into wadding pool with the rest of crowd and am going shoulder to shoulder, barging my way through. It definitely puts a dampener on it, especially when the sights are obviously worth it, it is a pity that tour guide umbrella keeps getting in the way of the view.

But back to the beginning. I made my way back to the popular coast after a three nights in Tirana. In the end that was probably enough for the Albanian capital. The traffic especially started to grate. It was some of the worst .. actually probably the worse .. traffic I have seen (and I have seen a few cities). They were not shy to use their horn and unfortunately the hostel .. although a very cool place to hang out and meet other travellers .. was right on a busy intersection, sans traffic lights. The horns blared at all hours.

So I hit the road again and headed north to the town of Shkodra. I was going to spend at least a few hours there to have a good look, but as soon as I got off the bus I was bombarded with offers to take me across the border and to the Montenegrin coast. Another traveller had been waiting for another passenger to fill the private car for a couple of hours, so I said why not, and headed straight out of town in the old Mercedes for the short journey west to the seaside beach town of Ulcinj (the towns I have discovered are now getting harder to pronounce).

I have done enough beach side towns in my past to know that they are much the same. And I can have my fill back home at far better beaches, with surf and a quarter of as many people, so I went straight to the bus station and found out when the next bus was off to the next cool old medieval town without a nearby beach. This just happened to be Kotor, which sat grandly at the end of an actual fjord (the southern most one in Europe .. hard to believe, I know, but it is true) and has a picture perfect little walled town with old labyrinthine laneways winding through it. My idea of a cool place .. what else could you want .. but wait there's more. There was also the fantastic ancient fortress built high above the town up the step sided cliff walls of the fjord. Just what I felt like doing, climbing up a mountain to a fortress and get rewarding views.

Prime viewing spot

Luckily with the brilliance of no preplanning and just turning up in town at the end of a long travel day, all the way from Tirana (three buses and one car) I wandered through the old town's lanes and discovered a homestay with a free room. The lovely Montenegrin woman, running the place, chatted with me in a mixture of english, french, italian and serbian, while she gave me a turkish coffee, after I unloaded my pack in the room, and we sat out on the steps in the warm evening and watched the world pass on the little laneway outside the front door. These are the sort of unexpected delights that make travelling worth it. Instead of just two nights, I had to settle for three there.

There were certainly more tourists than Albania in Kotor but it was no plague proportions. So it was hard to leave my little homestay, but I had a date to make. An old mate was going to be in Dubrovnik, Croatia, so I wanted to catch up with her and possibly do some travel together.

I bused my way up over the border and hugged the coast to the famous old town. And it was here that I certainly discovered the tourist mecca I had been dreading all along. I knew it was going to be popular but I didn't realise just how popular. I met up with Jen and we stayed for a couple of nights in a relatively expensive place quite a way out of town. Prices were a jump up from everything I had come across so far (well expect probably Greece), and this transferred across everything, eating, seeing and sleeping. It was enough to put me off doing much there at all, and so I didn't really. I wandered the old town, saw the sights, bumped shoulders, swam from rocks, but then had to escape.

Rock jumping

We jumped on a ferry and tried our luck for the island of Korčula, to see if this would be less touristy .. umm no. It was easy to see on the boat itself, it was full up with backpackers, flashpackers and packagers from all corners. I just wasn't used to it on my trip so far.

Crowded deck space

Korčula was nice, another little old walled town .. somehow I think the coast is somehow just old walled towns .. but the hoards drove us out of town quickly. We were both tourist shy, and we headed to the other end of the island to see if we could escape them. Luckily there were less and it was a nice little spot to spend a night, before catching another ferry to part company with Jen at Spilt (thanks Jen for the company, by the way).

And this is where I currently am, moaning about tourists at an internet cafe in Spilt. But I am about to spilt Spilt and head off out on the next part of my shuffle into, hopefully, less visited, but in my eyes must see places. First up is the historic town of Mostar in Bosnia, scene of bridge destruction and symbolic rebuilding. Then Sarajevo, which from all I have heard should be a pretty special place.

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