It was the morning of Sarah’s arrival. For the last two days I had battled my way from Istanbul through rain storms, bad roads and long nights – but now the sun was shining and for the first time I saw the cliffs behind the port town, glittering. It felt like being on a tropical island. I had arrived at the ferry port 15 minutes before the ships ETA, bought a cheap energy drink to keep flagging at bay and sat on a bench to wait for my girlfriend. There was a gentle breeze but the day was starting to warm up – it was 8am. The ferry captain made a hash of the first docking attempt and had to try a second time before the trickles of people could make their way to the brown-glassed arrivals lounge in front of me.
I got impatient so went to lean on the bike to look cool. There wasn’t enough time to get the perfect poise before she emerged into the Montenegrin sun to greet me. We said a long kiss hello – we hadn’t seen each other in two months! Being one of the few remaining bastions of order in my life, I was relieved to find Sarah planning out details more than a fortnight before her arrival here. Now we just had to follow her plan back to a hotel on the coast road, me on the bike, her in a taxi (some days after she’d told me the drivers cab was full of porn).
It was a swanky digs – you could tell someone had put a girl in charge of booking it. My pokey condominium room last night uncivilized in comparison, but half the price. I was feeling the pinch of two months travelling and an already overdrawn card. Sarah was feeling lavish on the first day of her Adriatic Adventure. I wasn’t complaining. We managed to scavenge a free breakfast with our early check-in and I got the pleasure of introducing the girl to the wonder sludge that is Turkish coffee. Their expressions are always priceless. We walked along the beach-front in the sun until we found a spot to sit and drink beer. Neither of us were in a rush to get back and organise the bags for two people, that job would be shit, so we drank then ate then drank some more while the weather was fine. A brief grocery shop bought more beer and some clothes detergent into our lives. Though Sarah didn’t say I smelled bad directly, that’s a pretty irrefutable hint..
The day was a glorious waste, it was fantastic. Nowhere to go, nothing in particular to see, no planning required above a basic survival level. I’d been zipping quickly along since I’d left Spain a month ago, to stop and relax was exceptional, especially with good company. I revelled – drank too much and fell asleep. Lad.
Alas the much anticipated prospect of packing the panniers caught up with us in the morning and it didn’t take long to realise we had too much bulk. The saddlebags were extended to double their size and crammed full of everything we needed. I pulled my hair at the sight of Sarah’s two wash bags, decanting the contents of my own into a plastic food-bag before discarding it. One half of my trouser collection (i.e. one pair of trousers), my inflatable sleeping mat and the rest of the Baklava didn’t make the grade either.
I went outside to check tyre pressures – I’d have to be responsible now I had a little one on the back. I’ve got used to using Bar instead of PSI for pressure readings, not to say I understand them more, but 1.9 bar at the front instead of 2.5 recommended and a similar story for the back is probably low enough to cause problems – especially two up. Having occupied space in my pannier the whole trip without giving anything back, my much loathed air compressor came into it’s own. Albeit slowly. I’d been looking to throw it out at the earliest possibility but now it was proven useful. I stashed it in a rucksack – lucky little bastard.
The weather was a bag of dicks. That sort of piss rain that you underestimate but soaks you through regardless. And it was getting heavier.
The panniers went on in half the time with the help of my glamorous assistant, after which I lashed the tent and Sarah’s bag to them with the cord I’d bought. Candy was looking heavy. I was looking worried. It looked like an entirely unreasonable amount of bulk for a little 600 sports-bike, and with bulk comes weight. This might be a struggle…
All three of us were as ready as we’d ever be. Sarah and I strapped up – Candy got a pat on the shoulders for good luck. I was concerned over the size of the bag on Sarah’s back but there was nothing more we could do and we’d been organising for an hour and a half. Day one on the bike, fully loaded and in worsening rain, was about to start. I skittered down the steep gravel driveway, front end wriggling about unnervingly, and onto the open road.
Although the coastal mountains behind Bar had been stunningly beautiful in yesterdays sunshine we decided to ride north, into Croatia. If the weather was throwing curve balls it wouldn’t matter so much if we were in a city. And the weather was throwing curveballs. With a soggy crotch I pulled into a petrol station the other side of Budvar. I remembered why I didn’t trust my waterproof trousers. The road from the coast through the mountains to Kotor was plagued by waxy thick rain drops that stuck to the road as sheets of running groundwater. By the time we reached the UNESCO heritage town the rain receded but dampness prevailed in the form of gloves that need wringing and boots holding water like wellies. We disembarked on the shore of the bay, just outside the old-town gates (amongst a sea of BMW’s and Honda Transalps) and went for an explore.
We carried on around the Bay of Kotor after some hot food to ward off the damp chill, grabbing some photo opportunities along the way. The overcast sky was retreating and blinding stabs of sunlight were baking the roads dry again. It wasn’t long before we got our first glimpse of Dubrovnik.The road descended gradually and lost its vantage to tall cypress trees then clustered apartment buildings and walls. Old women rushed up to us as we rode past with signs advertising their rooms to rent. We ignored them all the way to the city where we found a place to park underneath the northern wall. We left our stuff with the bike, keen to walk through the towering arches and into the city proper. In the shade of the towering limestone walls we were immediately faced with a narrow stone staircase that led down to the Stradun, Dubrovnik’s shimmering marble main street. It’s an incredible place. We didn’t have too long to sightsee at the moment. I had worked my chaotic ideas upon Sarah and we’d decided to book somewhere to stay here rather than in advance. We sheltered from the bright sun under restaurant parasols with a beer each, scanning iphone and tablet for hostels nearby. The one we found certainly didn’t look like a hostel when we arrived 15 minutes after booking it. It looked like someone’s house – though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all the earlier dampness we were made to feel at home and spent the afternoon ferrying our gear to the hostel and settling in. Come evening we strolled to the old port for some restaurant sea-food and enough beer to make sleep easy. Sarah had planned something for tomorrow. I was keen to find out what.