Monday, 26 January 2015

Daylight robbery!

Why did we fall victim to a robbery on a train from Patras to Athens in broad daylight?  There was only one person, admittedly a large male, on the train when we stood up to get off. We always cover each others backpacks and keep them in sight when travelling. He was very practised and very quick!

Luxury accommodation on board the ferry.

We had come overnight from Brindisi in Italy on the ferry and caught the train on landing in Greece, to go cross country. When buying the tickets, hubby got out his wallet and forgot to return it to his front pocket, easily done when tired! (Our money belts were securely on and I never carry a purse or wallet at all on overseas trips.) As soon as the train departed, and checking everything, we realised the wallet was missing. That horrible feeling comes over you, that feeling of disbelief, then the reality! Hubby had just received cash from the hole in the wall, to pay for the tickets as well! Worse still was the cards we lost, though we always had another with me.

The railway police were terrific, offering us the phone and helping us get through to numbers to cancel cards straight away. First question was, " From Australia! Do you know my cousin in Melbourne?" Surely do! However, we thought it a bit strange when they took us over the busy street to the police station and pointing it out, left us on our own! As our hotel, very budget friendly, was in this slightly run down area, we took our weekenders on wheels with us to get a statement for insurance purposes. Simple you would think? Wrong! It couldn't have been worse. We were holed up on the third floor of that awful cement building in the Athens intolerable heat, for hours of our afternoon. We had no food left, but luckily had water with us. Police officials kept squeezing past us with prisoners in line, in handcuffs... and no detective in that dingy, dark room wanted to bother with our little complaint!

 Finally, some ladies of the night, who were waiting with us on the stairs, took pity on us and through sign language , we managed to see the door open and hubby whipped his head in to get the scrap of paper required! My advice, do not commit a crime in Athens! The incarceration would be awful if our experience was anything to go saying, we had a wonderful time in this foot friendly city walking around the Parthenon and other ruins so close by!

The Parthenon, a spectacular monument to the might of ancient Athens!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Why no one takes the shortcut through Albania by bus to get to Croatia!

My first post is about a disaster, yes, unbelievable I know after I had thoroughly researched online comments on ways to get from Greece to Montenegro! They were very limited, but I have always believed in the power of  one's own instinctive urge to go where no one else has been and ploughed ahead regardless. This was 2010 and we had enjoyed a fantastic few days in Meteora, visiting the Greek Orthodox Monasteries and overcoming my vertigo to crawl across a narrow bridge to one monastery, but that's another story! The food there was to die for, as in all Greek towns, Kalampaka being no exception and this comes into play later on in our trip to Tirana, the capital of Albania. With the help of the local lass at the bus counter, who interpreted our request for a bus that night, we got our tickets, a Friday night as I recall. This was very significant as this is the night Albanian workers, all men, return to Albania for the weekend.

Our first view of a  Meteora monastery.
 We holed up in our hotel for several hours of rest before waiting at the bus station. It was this trip north or having to fly back to Athens and fly up to Croatia, a very complicated and seemingly long and silly retracing of our steps. The trains were very unreliable , as I had researched that also: they were very complicated with slow and frequent changeovers.
 Well, we set off on this bus with a driver who had complete disregard for safety, roaring around what must have been thousands of corners at top speed mostly with one hand on the wheel, smoking AND texting, in the teeming rain that started when we got on! It seemed everyone on board either had a death wish or just had to get home!

 Of the entire passenger list, only 2 were female. There is nothing more threatening than 40 or so Albanian men and us - with no knowledge at all of their language. It was quite terrifying enough by then as my hubby and I were separated also and he was forced to sit up the back in a puddle of water that ran in from the roof onto the seating there. To make matters worse, hubby then became violently ill, perhaps from food poisoning although we couldn't be certain of that, except that he had had a fabulous seafood dish at lunch that he normally enjoyed in Greece and I had not! As he advanced to the driver, he managed to yell at him to implore him to stop at once or the bus would be the receptacle of his lunch! Somehow by sign language, he managed to achieve this, only to get back on and continue to feel worse again.

 By midnight, we had reached the border and what ensued was nothing short of nightmarish! The other poor woman was a girl, and her clothing and articles from her luggage were strewn outside on the ground as the Albanian Border Police searched it thoroughly. They had taken our passports and I actually thought that we would never see them again, as I did at other places like the river police on the Cambodian border when we lost our tour guide who was refused entry,  but that's another story! It seemed like hours later, but in reality only an hour, when we were able to continue, with some stops for poor hubby, eventually reaching Tirana at daylight.

View from bus of Albanian capital Tirana.
 We jumped off the bus as fast as possible, and hubby ran for the nearest toilet, fortunately there was a nice coffee shop man opening up. I bet he didn't anticipate a demonic looking man bolting past him for the loo at that hour of the morning! By various hand signals, we gathered there were no buses to Montenegro and the best we could do was to get on a small mini van for commuters to the next major town of Shkodra on our way to Ulcinj and thus to Kotor. We noticed there was a terrible evidence of poverty everywhere with run down communications and the use of horse and cart, also field work carried out by hand.

Local transport from taxi cab, the old and the new!
On arrival at Shkodra, we found a hotel to have a cup of tea and coffee and a friendly doorman who tried out his English on us. He told us of the years of post - Communism that things such as living standards were improving but very slowly. No doubt, as in other countries, the internet and mobile phones were beginning to be accepted by the authorities but there was not much infrastructure to support them. We hired a cab, amazingly a BMW but extremely old, to drive us over another policed border to Montenegro and that went without incident! He was so happy to receive what would have been a minimal amount of Euro to transport us such a long way to Ulcinq, the cost in Australia would have been astronomical!

 Needless to say, we reached Kotor, my mini Dubrovnik, by late afternoon, and as I fell off the bus, I literally plucked one old lady out of the usual crowd of people scrabbling to nab these helpless tourists and cart them off to their places for accommodation for the night! I rounded on the nearest one to ask, how far? She indicated in broken English, two minutes....Done! I chased her down the street nearby and we found a pretty and clean, if bare room with an old bathroom for the night in an old stone cottage with magnificent views of the harbour and countryside.

Prettiest medieval fortress in Kotor, a mini Dubrovnik.

Outside our cottage door in Kotor. 

 I set up my notebook computer and happily downloaded our photos and off we went to explore the prettiest mini medieval town in the Adriatic Sea!