Croatia is not an easy place to get to. At least not the way I traveled there.
In June of this year I did a two week trip with my mom, sister, and grandparents to Belgrade, Italy, and Croatia to visit the birthplaces of my great-grandparents and meet European family and friends.
Since we decided to go from Belgrade to Croatia, we ran into some difficulties. First of all, there are no flights that go straight between Serbia and Croatia. You always have to fly through another country like Austria, and it’s always ridiculously expensive. This is despite the fact that they have been at peace now for about seven years. But since they all still dislike each other so passionately, alas, there are no easy, cheap one hour flights. So, instead, the fam and I flew the hour flight from Belgrade to Tivat, Montenegro. We disembarked off the plane and walked with our fellow passengers to a waiting platform to go through customs. Although we were some of the first to leave the plane, my family somehow managed to misunderstand the concept of lining up in Tivat. (You line up to the side in a sharped curved line, not in a straight line that gradually curves. Which, if you had seen the place we were lining up, would have made much more sense.) So we were at the very end of the line. For the whole time, might I add, since no other planes landed while we were there. Tivat has a small airport.
Now, this wouldn’t have been quite such a problem except Tivat had the slowest customs line I have ever been through. Even slower than the U.S. It took almost forty minutes. Why, I am really not sure. They had multiple booths open and it took them less than a minute to process my passport, but the important thing is we got through. We picked up our bags and crossed our fingers our driver was still waiting for us since we were forty minutes behind schedule. Thank you customs.
Luckily, he was. Since no buses go from Tivat to Dubrovnik, our Belgrade friend, Borko, had arranged for a car service to pick us up and drive us across the border.
The driver took my bag.
“Thanks!” I said.
He grunted. Oops, perhaps I insulted him by speaking English. Could be, but it also could be he didn’t understand English or just didn’t like to talk. He ended up only saying three words during the almost three hour drive and didn’t smile once. Not used to unfriendly Europeans in this part of the continent, we clambered into the van and sat in awkward silence.
That ended when we drove onto a ferry. The driver got out without a word to go have a smoke with some other drivers.
“It’s so beautiful here!” my sister Angela said.
The rest of us nodded in agreement because it was. Tivat was lush and green with large rolling hills covered in trees. We were crossing some beautiful body of water, though we had no clue what it was because we were all too scared to ask the driver.
“I think the driver hates us,” I commented.
Before he came back on the bus, Angela and I dug around in Mom’s bag for some Serbian crackers our friends had sent along with us. We were starving and saw no “No Eating” signs in the van, but we hid them and ate them quietly, just in case. If the driver noticed, I’m quite sure it didn’t endear us to him anymore. Also if he noticed, he didn’t say anything. Surprise, surprise.
After about an hour and a half we reached the border of Croatia.
“Passports,” the driver said. Word number one!
We scrambled to get them out of our purses and money belts and handed them over.
We stopped at a drive-thru like window where a security person examined our passports and asked the driver where we were headed. “Dubrovnik,” he answered. Word number two! The passports were handed back and we were moving once again. The driver kept a hold of our passports. I wondered why, then quickly realized we had stopped again at another small building. A new window and another security person. This one took the passports and quickly stamped them. I was quite intrigued by this. Why couldn’t the other security person had stamped them? Maybe the government is trying to provide jobs, I thought. “You be the passport examiner and you be the stamper.” The driver didn’t seem dazed by it and we continued along. Again, the driver didn’t give us our passports back. Actually…wait…as I thought about it, I didn’t remember the driver ever being handed back the passports! Oh my goodness, they stole our passports and now we were probably being driven to some Eastern European jail where we would remain for the rest of our days.
“Mom!” I whispered fervently since she was in the front seat and I was in the way back seat. “Did he get our passports back?”
She shrugged worriedly and turned her attention to the driver. “Umm…excuse me, but where are our passports?” she asked.
He grunted and bestowed them from between his seat and the door and waved them in the air impatiently. He then returned them to the same spot.
Great, now he really hated us.
We all exchanged confused glances wondering why this man wasn’t returning our passports to us, but apparently we all came to the same conclusion. It was best not to ask.
A short while later we came to some more buildings. Aah…Bosnia. That’s right. Now I remembered. Bosnia occupies a tiny sliver of coastal land that divided up Croatia. The reasoning for the holding onto of the passports was now clear. The driver handed our passports over to a security person once again and the Bosnian stamped them without barely glancing at them. I guess the Bosnians don’t care who comes into their country. Maybe they’re happy for all the visitors they can get. After spending the past two days in a city where buildings still had the marks of past bombings on them, it was hard to believe when Borko told us the Bosnians had to endure the worst of the war, until I remembered news stories from that time. I’m guessing Bosnia has a hard time getting any tourists, whether that be good or bad. They also in the future might have even less people going through their country since Borko had also mentioned the Croatia government is trying to get a bridge built that would go over the sea and around the Bosnian coastal land to get rid of the annoyance of having to go through customs. Not a bad idea, really.
After we passed back into Croatia (and were in possession of our precious passports once again) it was only a short while until we came to Dubrovnik. We were driving along a windy coastal road, when suddenly, we came around a turn, and there was Dubrovnik, in all its red roofed splendor, jutting out into the sea below us. It was magnificent.
We were dropped off by the driver at the car rental place. He unloaded our bags and my mom tipped him. “Thanks,” he said. Yes! Word number three!
He quickly hopped back in his van and drove away. I’m quite positive he was thrilled to be rid of us. We never did figure out if he was from Montenegro or Croatia. My guess is on Montenegro, because the Croatians, we were soon to find out, are absolutely wonderful people.
Tags: Croatia, Dubrovnik, Montenegro