The Hotel in Montenegro was an Eastern bloc throwback, with appalling food, a band that played covers on keyboards during dinner and unsmiling service. I cancelled my taxi to the airport two days in advance but it still appeared on my bill. The Hotel Manager was called out and demanded that I pay. When I refused she said she’d simply charge me for an extra night on the Hotel! She’d have been better suited to a career as a prison warder.
But it was the journey back, after speaking at the Conference, with an old mate in a hire car, that turned out to be eventful. We took the long route round an immense coastal inlet in Montenegro which was staggeringly beautiful. A one lane road hugged the shore with the occasional church, house and fortress, the water as flat as glass. We were advised to stop for lunch at the Hotel Conte in Perast – bloody good recommendation. Great fish soup, seafood, beer and coffee on a quay next to the lake in the spring sunshine. Idyllic.
The off to Croatia and Dubrovnik. Or so we thought. Suddenly a policeman was waving us down. We stopped and his first words were ‘You’re in real trouble’. Mark, the driver, got out and was told to sit in the passenger seat of the police car. I just watched as both gesticulated, then Mark retuned to the car and said, ‘Just smile and wave when we pass the police car, we need to get out of here. I’ll tell you what happened round the bend.
He was told that he had crossed the white line (we never saw any white line) and that we were driving too fast. This was difficult as our hire car had a lawnmower sized engine. As the cop took his passport and started writing out a form, he said, ‘You must go to the Magistrate Court at 10 am tomorrow morning.’ As our flight was later that day from Dubrovnic, this was a little tricky. Mark’s a smart guy so he responded with, ‘We’ve just been at a meeting with the UN (true) and we have to be in the UK as we have a meeting with the Government tomorrow (not true).’ He said nothing, handed Mark back his passport and said, ‘off you go’. And off we went - relieved.
Next hurdle was the border. We stopped and the guy was grim and shouted something at us. He had asked us to switch off our car engine. Mark thought he had also asked for his car keys and handed them over – but the guy just rolled his eyes threw them back and said ‘Cur restgration dokmint’. Turns out he had asked for the car registration document. As it was a car hire, so we handed over the hire agreement sheet. He shook his head again and asked for the car registration. After rooting around in glove compartments and door compartments we found something – that was it apparently. This was grumpiness at another level. This guy was a guru of grumpiness And off we went.
Then we hit Croatian customs. Learnt our lesson this time; engine off, car registration document at the ready. And off we went, only to hear a cry, ‘Stop!’. We looked in the mirror and a guy in uniform was shouting and waving on us to reverse back. Apparently we had to go through a custom’s search. We opened our tiny boot, emptied its contents onto a table and he looked inside each of our bags. Packed up and off we went.
Now I never knew much about Montenegro, not surprising as it’s only two years old as a country. I didn’t even know it was in the EU. But what I learnt wasn’t good. The architecture is drab, the food horrible and the people (not all, but most) decidedly unfriendly. I could count the smiles I saw in three days on one hand. There are some beautiful spots, but on the whole it isn’t ready for tourists who want a relaxing holiday. They’re inflexible, seem to want to trap tourists into paying for things they don’t want, and don’t seem to care of you don’t come back.
Our afternoon in Dubrovnik was a joy by comparison. Smiles everywhere, even laughter, beautiful walled city with no cars, coffee and cake in a lovely cafe surrounded by stunning architecture. It felt just calm and relaxing. At the airport, we asked the girl at information whether she had been to Montenegro. Her reply was telling. 'No, I have no reason to go there’. We smiled, she smiled - we all knew what she meant.