Stepping Back in Time
"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive" wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in a rewrite of the Taoist saying "The journey is the reward." Could he have been visiting Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast? Certainly not by Jet2, I suspect – the north of England's response to FlyDubai and Jazeera Airways.
I was travelling hopefully when I set off in the early morning drizzle for Leeds Airport and found myself deposited at Jet2's do-it-yourself check-in desk. Everything at Jet2 is cut price – and you just know you are going to get exactly what you paid for.
"Good bordig, ladies add gedlebed. This is your captaid speakig," announced an adenoidal voice through the plane's loudspeaker system, before wishing us all a pleasant flight.
We had thought to book an in-flight meal as one of Jet2's optional extras. And boy, could the likes of KLM, Qatar and Cathay learn a thing or three from Jet2. For a start it was actually edible; quite scrummy in fact. Sure, the pot of yoghurt looked somewhat "ripe" and you just knew it would explode the moment it was opened. (It did, bazooka-style… but I was ready!) The coffee cup warned that the contents might be hot (I'd jolly well hope so) and also that it had a "Rainbow Alliance Certification", though when I asked the trolley dolly if this applied to the coffee or the cardboard cup she told me she didn't know. She was just there to serve it. (For my part, her chirpy smile made up for her total lack of curiosity. For her part, I could see it written all over her face as she gave a knowing look to her colleague… uh oh, we have a right one here!)
We arrived at Dubrovnik airport 45 minutes early. A strong tailwind, we were told. Then herded through immigration where I got the distinct impression that Dubai Airport had had a hand in their training (grab, scowl, plonk, thrown back passport) and out to enjoy the warm welcome of Hrvatska Republika – or Croatia to us mere mortals.
The last time I had been here was 35 years ago. And despite the brochures I picked up at the Arabian Travel Market tagged with the marketing line The Mediterranean as it Used to Be I was delighted to find that apart from a few shelled buildings and walls riddled with bullet holes from the civil war of 15 years ago, the marketers had got it right. No Starbucks; no McDonalds; not even speed cameras on the roads. Just a bunch of smiling people glad to have the tourists returning back to their country and going out of their way to make them feel welcome.
They also go out of their way to make it clear who were the goodies and who were the bad guys during the civil war. Sveti Vlaho reads a sign stuck onto the side of a mini-battleship parked on the pavement by the new harbour. The symbol and pride of resistance against Serbo-Montenegrian aggression on our town, it reads, just in case we're in any doubt.
We pass an SAS Radisson– until just a few months ago the bombed out remains of a flourishing hotel on the northern side of the town. But we're friends again now explains one of the locals to us, none too convincingly, it has to be said.
Aziliay Toilet? I am accosted by a woman of indeterminate origin as I make my way through the old town. Do I look like I'm an expert on public conveniences, I wonder as I regretfully have to shake my head in ignorance. Minutes later I pass a sign reading To let, but it is too late; she has disappeared into the crowd.
We settle down in a café for a bit of light refreshment. I am intrigued by one of the menu items – blubbery juice. Blubbery Juice? I have to order some, all too aware that there are precious few whales to be found in this part of the Adriatic. But it's just a typo and the blueberry is extremely tasty.
The next day we're off on a one-day package tour to Montenegro – or Republika Crna Gora as it is known locally. There is a preponderance of male couples on the trip – a bit like downtown Riyadh on a Thursday night – and I get to wonder if Crna Gora is the pink capital of Europe. Russian guys, Swedish guys, Polish guys … have we come to the wrong place?
But it's too late to worry about things like that as the forests of Viagra-fed Cyprus trees give way to the signs for Carina-Douane. We're at the border with the old enemy and the long queues of cars are testament to the fact that though the two republics are now at peace, there is still a strong feeling of distrust between them.
No use here are the Croatian Kuna; euros are the order of the day. More of an accident than anything else. During the two years of the "new Yugoslav Republic" formed by Serbia and Montenegro it was decided that the German Mark would be the official currency; but come the demise of the Deutschmark they had no choice but to adopt the euro. Still, it doesn't seem to have done them any harm.
The Dalmatian coast was really lovely and the week passed all too quickly. But thinking positive, I at least had the pleasure of not having to wait too much longer for my return flight on Jet2. No exploding yoghurt, this time though. Instead we enjoyed exploding apple crumble – but that story, as they say, must keep for another time.