Thursday, 26 August 2010

The difference between Montenegro and Croatia

Both have their richer sides and inhabitants however in Montenegro there are more obviously a poorer group of people and this can be seen in the cars that are on the road. Which taxi would like to take?

Cable Car - Picture of the Day 14/08/10

You can take a cable car from the old city to the hill below. As with all tall buildings the best time to go is when the sun is going down so that you can take pictures while it is light and then while it is dark. Here is my best attempt


Cavtat (Tsavtat) is a small resort about an hour boat ride from Dubrovnik. We had the option of staying here and while it is very nice I am glad we did not stay there and were only a stones throw from the old city as it allowed you to go for a meal or a stroll rather than being dictated to by when the boats were leaving. The other option was to own your own boat and drift down the coast to the city for the evening.


The city walls might have been quite successful at keeping out medieval invaders but the ships that arrive now still provide an invasion that it is best to try and avoid. Some cruise ships are nicer than others but either way only having five or six hours in a location means it is not the type of holiday I would particularly enjoy.

Dubrovnik Aquarium

There are only really three reasons for visiting
1. It has a toilet
2. Its cool and shady
3. It's a challenge to take photos.

The displays could be bigger, the fish more exciting and the more interactive. I felt a bit sorry for the turtle as it did not seen to have enough space.


One evening we went to the more modern part of Dubrovnik. Catching a bus from the hotel we were told to tell the driver Posta Lapad as the place that we wanted to get off. We were merrily driving along when we realised that we were heading out of the centre of town. At the next stop we got off and end up at the other end of the promenade than we intended. This turned out the be good as we walked back from the more remote areas into civilisation as it got dark, We were also in the perfect place to see the sun go down.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Picture of the Day 13/08/10

The iconic thing to do in Dubrovnik is walk the city walls. We started at 8.30 in the morning and by 10.30 it is uncomfortable as the heat reflects off the marble, there are lots of steps and no shade. The views however are worth it whether they are sweeping panoramic shots, guilty snapshots into the lives of the residents or arty shots like the one above contrasting the Orthodox church bells with the red roofs of the typical Venetian cityscape. The mountains form a barren and dramatic backdrop. A must to for any camera fanatic.


There were lots of pigeons, swifts, swallows and martins but very few sea gulls. At one point the swallows were swooping down and taking a drink from the surface of the swimming pool.

City lay out

Each end has a gate - this is the Ploce Gate

Dubrovnik has a main street called the Stradun

To the East is up hill and there is a tangled maze of streets and steps

To the West are more open areas as it is flat so there is the church of St Blaise

the harbour

Around the outside are the walls which would have deterred me.


Dubrovnik is a lovely place to visit in the Spring and the Autumn but the heat makes it less pleasant in the Summer and makes the need to get into water very important. On our first full day in Dubrovnik we went to the island of Lokren in the bay and after an aborted attempt to walk to thr summit we headed for the sea. There are not really beaches bit rather a set of rocks with a ladder into the sea. This means that the boring bit of wading out till you get to a deep point is lost.

Lokren is a lovely island and has a numerb of "wild " peacocks roaming left over from when Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria as in charge and they had a large number of medium sized chicks. Some of the bolder one came hunting for fruit amongst the sun bathers although a small child and a stone gave one a nasty suprise.

Picture of the day 12/08/10

There are a lot of stairs in Dubrovnik as it is built on a hill

How to cross a border

Sandra was the rep that took us through the border from Montenegro to Croatia. There was another group who were heading in the same direction but were going to the airport.

As we approached the border we had a lunch stop as Sandra thought we had plenty of time but then she found the flight was an hour earlier so we hurried into the minibus and drove through the Montenegrin border and into no-mans land. This is where we joined the queue which must have been two miles long and Sandra knew we were not going to make it.

They were considering driving up the lane reserved for traffic coming towards us when a coach decided it was going to do that and we followed. As we went up the hill we found traffic coming towards us and we blocked the road until someone let us into the queue.

As we got close to the border post a police van came up behind us and I thought we were for the high jump but it turns out Sandra and the policewoman were school friends and we got an escorted ride. The car that tried to follow us was made to go to the back.

The couple made the airport in time.

Driving Montenegin style

The road is one lane in each direction. As we come round a corner we find that there is a car coming towards us on both sides of the road. The car pulls into its lane and I breathe a sigh of relief only to see there is a second car behind it. It pulled in and there is a third car. In total there was a queue of 6 cars on our side of the road who all pulled over and while it was not very dangerous it was risky. The driver smiled and said "That's Montenegro driving for you"

Morača Canyon - Pictures of the Day 11/08/10

After three nights in the mountains we were off again heading down to the coast and then along to the city of Dubrovnik.

We had to leave at 7.30am in a taxi that had to drive out of the mountains and through the Morača Canyon (2nd most spectacular road in Montenegro) and I spent the time trying to take pictures of the scenery from the taxi window. Here are a few of the best.

This journey was done with a driver that had more phonecalls than the average office, a habit of caressing the crucifix hanging from the mirror on roads with flimsy looking railings and a lot of traffic. The most sobering moment of the trip was seeing the red tape where there was a missing part of the railing and the comments from the driver that a lorry had gone over the side. I doubt that he survived the long drop.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Kolašin Botanical Picture of the Day 10/08/2010

There is a small botanical garden in Kolašin run by the Vincek family. They are a very hospitable couple especially Daniel, the 70 year old curator who served apple brandy on arrival at 10am in the morning! He has officially retire but you can see the love and the care that he has for the garden and his knowledge of the plants and the conditions that they need to grow. His garden is unique as it is in a volcanic area (acid soils) in a predominately limestone area (alkali soil) and has many links with many botanical gardens around the world including Kew Gardens. We visited with two other couples from the UK and one of them really knew his plants gaining the nickname "The Professor". It was good to meet someone who lives in the area full time so we can get to ask about life in the mountains. You need 20 cubic metres of wood to get through the winter as it is cheaper then using electricity to heat the house and the locals were all chopping in mid August so they don't get surprised by an early Winter. The area looked like this

Biogradska Gora - Picture of the Day 09/08/2010

Is a 54 square kilomtere National Park located in Montenegro and was a short journey to where we were staying. We went to Lake Biogradsko and did a circular walk around it. The area is stunning and the forest in this area is virgin having never been cut down and is described as primeval. There are a serious of steep sided mountains containing glacier lakes and swift streams. There are lots of animals and despite my best effort I did not see a bear (well there are not many left). 1 other animal we did not see were the Tiger Mosquitoes that the man in the visitor centre warned us about describing them as tiny but "bite like crocodile" after using insect repellent we kept most of them off but some of them got in at A's waist and she was left with three of the largest bites I have ever seen - this also led to a comedy incident in an Apoteka trying to buy Bite Cream.

This is what the area looks like

Bianca Resort in Kolašin

The hotel was empty. We met no other guests until teatime. We met only three members of staff. We went for a swim in the empty pool, the empty jacuzzi, the silent corridors and the bar devoid of people. It got busier throughout the stay and at the end was being used by the Montenegrin and Italian basketball squads in preparation for their upcoming match (Montenegro won) but on arrival you kind of wonder what you had got yourself in for especially when it fells like a small Belgian detective might be sitting quietly in the corner awaiting a murder to occur.

Movin' on up - Picture of the Day 08/08/2010

So after three whole days at the beach it was time to head for the town of Kolašin.

On Wikipedia it describes Kolašin thus:-

Kolašin is one of the centres of Montenegro's mountain tourism. Although Žabljak is considered more attractive destination, Kolašin has the advantage of being easily accessible by road and rail.

Kolašin is located on the foot of Bjelasica and Sinjajevina mountains, which offer great conditions for skiing. Because of Kolašin's altitude (954 m), the town is considered an air spa.

Biogradska Gora national park is in the town's vicinity, and is considered a premium tourist attraction. The development of Kolašin as a tourist destination is bolstered by opening of Bianca Resort & Spa, a luxury resort in town's center.

This is almost entirely accurate and the Kolašin is located in a lovely area of the country but describing it as easily accessible was not exactly how i would have described it. It involved travelling two of the eight most spectacular roads in Montenegro climbing and winding into the mountains on three occassions and then winding back down the other side. Travelling through Podgorica and the unbelievablly gorgeous Morača Canyon (more of this later). After three hours of travelling along roads consisting of 1 lane in each direction we arrived at the Bianca resort which looks like this. Love the hexagonal windows.

Sveti Stefan - picture of the day 07/08/2010

Sveti Stefan is a hotel that has taken over an island. It is everywhere. It is very pretty and is linked to the mainland by a causeway. It is on the cover of most guide books. There are post cards of it in most places. The beach and the cove it is in is one of the few really sandy beaches. Steps climb into the hills to surrounding villas. In the guide book it talks about the shady lanes and the smell of jasmine that drifts through its courtyards. After a hair raising taxi ride down the cliff from the main road we found it was closed for rejuvenation - oh well. Here is a picture of the outside.

Becici, Budva and Petrovac

Three of the resorts on the Montenegrin coast all differ vastly in character and the levels of enjoyment that they bring.
Budva old town is a beautiful old medieval Venetian towns with winding streets, elegant courtyards, decent if expensive restaurants and it is a lovely place to visit. The buildings are mainly reconstructed after they were mainly destroyed in the 1979 earthquake and I wish that they had been a bit cleverer hiding the air conditioning units that are necessary if unattractive. The area attracts the rich and famous of Balkan society and also stocks Jaffa Cake Ice Cream. Close to the old town is the tacky bit with the ubiquitous shops selling tourist tatt and I this is the area that I enjoy least.
Becici apart from a nice beach and a row of nice bars is over developed and the infrastructure has yet to catch up meaning that there are major traffic jams in the area and large areas are still being built. The government bans building work after May and after a little persuasion (like confiscating keys) there is noise but the building sites still remain. It is a shame that after the economic melt down in the early 90's the same building restraints had been put in place.
Petrovac is my find of resort, laid back, low rise, well gardened. From the areas along the Budva Riveria this would be my choice. A on the other hand disagrees.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Picture of the Day - 06/08/2010

Never saw a tornado or at least a waterspout (a non-supercell tornado) before- this one was at least far enough way not to be a risk to anyone at least until it started moving towards us!!

Kotor Bay

In all the literature written about Kotor Bay it claims that it is a s fjord - but although it is a steep sided valley it was not created by a glacier so is a submerged river canyon called a ria. I resisted the urge to correct it each time I saw it - just.

Why animals are smarter than people

Middle of the day and hot so
a. Look round a town
b. Lie on your back with your paws in the air
c Hide behind a shady shutter


Kotor was the first white wall, limestone and marble clad ex Venetian style town that we visited on the holiday. Both Dubrovnik, Bubva and Kotor were all ruled by the empire based in Venice at some point and they all share the white walled, red roofs, twisted street layout. Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site that stills bears one of the few tributes to communism left in Montenegro as rules forbid them from altering them.

The road from Budva to Kotor via Cetinje - Picture of the Day 05/08/10

First you go up from the coastal resort of Budva into the coastal mountains until you get to a point where you can take pictures like this
You then go down the otherside and reach the town of Cetinje. You then go up again to the village of Njegusi where you can see the view to the valley floor.

As you go down to the valley floor you can see a small hill again and you think that then yo go up the small hill there will be a short drop that you can see up ahead to get back to the coast.

As you crest the hill your jaw drops and you get this view. Only 25 hairpins in a coach to get to the bottom almost 1 kilometre below.

With roads that look like this

A decided to sleep from top to bottom thus reducing the terror as we approached each hairpin


Cetinje (Setinyah) was the traditional capital of the Montenegrin region, a region that has changed with the ebb and flow of the empires around it. Montenegro has never been conquered as it is far too mountainous and poorly located from a tactical stand point so apart from occasional burning no-one stayed around for long. To reflect this the monastery has a somewhat fortress like appearance to keep the raiders out. The Montenegrin Orthodox church is trying to establish itself as different from the Serbian Orthodox church and if it happens then this will be where it will be based.

Things I learnt on holiday

1. Montenegrin cuisine rarely includes mushrooms
2. Croatians don't understand spoons
3. Montenegrin taxi drivers believe themselves to be equal to Ayrton Senna and some might be
4. You can only be scared for your life so many times in a short period
5. Cats understand how to deal with the heat best
6. The most dangerous animal that exists is a small child with a stone
7. In the former Yugoslavia you can tell where a car comes from by the letters on the number plate
8. Tiger mosquitoes are small but "have bite like crocodile"
9. 3 of the most exciting roads in Montenegro really are
10. Basketball players are really tall and make you feel really short.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The 10 Montenegrin Commandments

I can't recall them all but they include

Work causes all ailments. Don’t die a young man
If you feel the urge to work, have a rest and it’ll go away
If you see someone else working encourage them to stop
Only break periods of rest for meals
Wake up late, rest and go to bed early

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Why Academies are bad

If you devolve academies from the LEA there are a number of issues

1. They stop being locally accountable so you can't vote for anyone local to go in and change them as the town/city/county council are no longer in charge.
2. If you devolve power from the LEA then academies will have to buy in services such as Computing, Insurance, Transport and Payroll. While they could go to an outside service the people who are best set up to deal with the problem are the LEA who will charge a premium as they are now in the business of making a profit. The same job is now more expensive.
3. Pensions - as the LEA is now longer the employer of the staff at the school they are not responsible for the pensions contributions so that added burden on the each individual school budget will wipe out the extra money given from central government.

Michael Gove has to go

The Minister in charge of education has to resign due to incompetence some time soon.
This is why

1. Using anti-terror legislation for pushing through the academies bill for the thousands of schools who want it - or rather the 153 that showed some interest
2. Exaggeration of the number of free schools - 63 have shown some interest down from the 700 the claimed earlier in the year. This made it seem like it was a popular idea rather than the fringe concept it really is.
3. Cancelling the Building for the Future programme of school renewal to help fund academies and free schools. I mean why improve a current site when there is an empty shop nearby.
4. The inability to produce a list of school programmes he was cancelling accurately.
5. Spouting the idea that A levels do not help discriminate between the clever and very clever students. This is before the new A* grade has even been awarded for the first time and before the number of candidates getting each grade is known.
6. Wanting to return to full A Levels rather than modules as it better reflects universities - who are all modular. This is also despite Cambridge University saying they like AS as a useful indicator of progress. It will also mean people get to the end of a two course and then fail rather than realise that A Levels are beyond them and finding something more appropriate.
7. Calling people thick - it isn't helpful and it doesn't help them improve
8. Making Outstanding schools academies - so if they are really good give them extra cash and stop checking who they let it allowing them to get better and cream off the brightest students in every town - good holistic thinking.

What parents want is the local school to be providing a quality education and that should be the aim.

Homerton College

Once again I am in Cambridge attending an exam board meeting for two nights and the booking system has placed me at Homerton College. Having experiecnced the Royal Cambridgeshire, the Gonville and the University Arms the sound of an ancient college in the centre of Cambridge sounded quite nice.

1. It is not central but stuck out in the suburbs
2. It is not ancient, the university is from 1976 although some of the older buildings date from early. It does present a nice mix and the grounds are quite attractive

The main issue is that essentially they are hiring out a student hall of residence and calling it a hotel so amongst the luxuries it would be nice to have include a towel, a television, a net curtain or blind, free internet, some kind of guide to the services they provide and food and reception in the same building as the one you stay in. There are also some strange ideas like check out is 9am (I am pretending not to have read that notice in the foyer), when I want a towel I have to collect it and the idea that the cost of this should be equal to the cost of the usual hotels.

Good thing I am not paying directly.