It's COLD here (and windy...)
Even though it doesn't snow in Tivat, the weather can get quite cold (occasionally down to freezing) and damp. We managed just fine with Awildian's forced-air heaters, our little electric heater, and a fabulous dehumidifier. Winter is also bura season: "bura" being the Montenegrin spelling of the "bora" that I mentioned in some of my Croatian blog entries. In Croatia, we'd experienced the summer boras, which we now know are like "bora light." While windy, they were nothing compared to the full-on winter variety. In February of this year, Tivat experienced a strong bura that lasted for several days and packed winds of up to 100 knots! We happened to be visiting our family in the States when this happened, but we could "watch" the action via the WhatsApp posts of our friends who were in the marina. Fortunately, some of these friends made sure that Awildian's lines were secure, and kept an eye on him. It was apparently very intense.
A couple of our friends made a video of the conditions in the marina during the bura. You can watch it here Intrepid Bear bura video
beginning at 16:27. Of course, if you'd like to see more lovely scenes around Montenegro and Porto Montenegro Marina, including some lovely snowy mountain areas, you can watch their whole video.
A Trip to Germany
In January we flew to Germany. Before going, we rented a car and went shopping for heavy winter coats. We didn't own any "real" winter clothing - hadn't needed any since moving aboard our first boat, SCOOTS, in 2014 - and we were going to need it, in Germany.
We did need those winter duds.
Our reasons for going to Germany were to attend the Düsseldorf Boat show, and to visit our friends Heike, Felix, and Milena in the village of Roetgen, near Aachen (which is itself near Cologne).
Felix, Milena, and Heike
Flights to Berlin from Montenegro were cheap (30 euro without luggage, 50 euro with), so we flew there and began our time in Germany with five interesting and though-provoking days exploring Berlin.
We spent an entire day at the Mauer Museum ("mauer" means "wall" in German), located at Checkpoint Charlie. Beginning its existence at about the same time as the Wall, it chronicles the many desperate attempts - some successful, some not - of East Germans to escape to the West. With displays encompassing dramatic photos, riveting first-person accounts, and some of the escape devices themselves, the Mauer Museum is a fascinating dive into the abhorrent policies and actions carried out in Berlin during the Cold War.
Checkpoint Charlie during the Cold War
Checkpoint Charlie now
Checkpoint Charlie guardpost then
Checkpoint Charlie guardpost now
Anyone who was alive during the Cold War, and knows what went on in this intersection, can't be there without experiencing very strong feelings.
We spent two days at the boat show - which was massive, with seventeen huge halls displaying everything from deck mops to superyachts - talking with reps about various pieces of equipment we were thinking of buying, though our main goal was to find a kayak. We'd been unable to find a "sit inside" kayak, despite looking in Italy, Croatia, and Montenegro over the past year. If we'd wanted a "sit on" kayak, we'd be set. But I'm picky and wanted one that I could sit inside and tuck my backpack and binoculars into. We did find a very several nice kayaks,
Some of the contenders
and I even had a good time paddling one of them on the indoor river that had been built for the boat show.
In the end we didn't buy any of them because just the shipping to Montenegro would have been 700 euro. We eventually found a kayak, which we ordered online from a Montenegrin store, and had delivered to Awildian in Porto Montenegro for less than the price of the shipping of the other one.
Also at the boat show, we surprised our friend, Jeanne Socrates, who was giving a presentation about her record-breaking, non-stop, unassisted, solo circumnavigations (yes, she's done more than one). We had a good time palling around at the boat show with Jeanne for one of the days.
A Bottle Conundrum
One day, when Awildian was anchored at Kotor, we wanted to buy some beer, so we stopped into a supermarket. Eric pulled four large bottles of beer from the cooler and brought them to the check out. The checkout clerk looked at the bottles and told Eric (in quite limited English) that he couldn't buy them.
Checkout woman: "You cannot buy. You must have bottles."
We were perplexed. Fortunately, the woman in line behind us was Montenegrin, and she spoke English pretty well. She had a brief conversation with the checkout woman, and explained to us:
"You cannot buy these full bottles unless you are also returning some of these bottles empty."
Eric: "But I don't have any bottles, because I haven't bought any yet. Can I just pay the deposit or something?"
Another discussion ensued between the two women in Montenegrin.
Helpful Woman: "She says no, you must have empty bottles to return, in order to buy these bottles."
Eric: "How do people get their first large bottles, if they can't buy them? Are they gifted some at birth? Do they have to find them in the trash?"
Helpful Woman: "I don't know. But you can't buy them without returning others."
The Checkout Woman said something to the Helpful Woman, who translated. "She says that you can buy the smaller size bottles, just not these."
Eric: "Oh, Ok. Can I buy some of the smaller bottles."
Helpful Woman translates. Checkout Woman shakes her head, says something back.
Helpful Woman. "She says 'No, we don't sell those.'"
So we left the big bottles behind and didn't get any beer that day. From then on, we always bought our Montenegrin beer in cans, just to be safe.
A trip to the Dubrovnik Police Department
While we were in Croatia last year, we began the long process of applying for Croatian citizenship, based on some of my ancestors having lived in Korčula. In addition to collecting the relevant birth certificates, we also had to have an FBI background check. If we were in the States, this would be a simple, digital process, which could be accomplished quickly. Because we're overseas, it's more complicated: the FBI doesn't allow digital prints from international locations: they require paper prints, taken in a specific way, on a specific form, sent back to their headquarters by postal mail. They will then send the results back via postal mail.
The Expat in Croatia website mentioned that some police stations in Croatia would take fingerprints, but they were - not unexpectedly - mum on Montenegro. Hoping that the US Embassy in Podgorica might be able to help out, I gave them a call. They were friendly, and answered my questions, but were only marginally helpful.
Me: Does the US embassy take fingerprints for the FBI background check?
Embassy: No. But we have the official FBI fingerprint cards. If you come to the embassy, we can give you some.
Me: Where can we get our fingerprints taken, according to the FBI's requirements, in Montenegro?
Embassy: You can't.
Me: OK...how does a US citizen get a background check done, in this part of the world?
Embassy: I don't know.
Me: (sigh) When can I pick up some fingerprint cards?
Embassy: How about 10am next Monday.
We rented a car from Mirko, looked up the location of the US embassy, and made the two-hour drive over the mountains to Podgorica, where we picked up four copies of the official FBI fingerprint cards (a couple of extras, in case of mistakes), and drove back to Tivat.
Once we had the fingerprint cards, I scoured the Expat in Croatia list of Croatian police stations that might do fingerprinting. One of them was in Dubrovnik, which was only a couple of hours' drive from Tivat. I sent an email to the address given, asking about getting our fingerprints taken. When several days had passed with no response, I sent another. A few days after that, I found the phone number for the station's public relations officer, and gave her a call.
Fortunately, she spoke some English. She asked me what I needed, and when I told her we needed to get fingerprinted, she seemed perplexed, but she said she'd try to find out, and asked if I could call her back in ten minutes. I figured she was just brushing me off, but when I called back, she said, "You can come on Thursday at 10am." We texted our buddy, Mirko, and scheduled another car rental.
On Thursday, we drove to Dubrovnik. Once we located the police station, and a place to park our car, we entered the large, austere stone building. When we checked in at the front desk, we were relieved to see our names on the daily schedule. A burly man came down the stairs to meet us. He said his name was Ivan, and he led us up the stairs...to the crime scene lab. Ivan was very friendly and chatty, though he spoke only a modest amount of English. He told us that, among other things, he was responsible for fingerprinting all the people who were arrested, and taking their mug shots. He let us sit in the swivel chair that was in front of the height markings, and showed us the placard with its places for putting the name and date using letter and number tiles. Just like on TV.
Ivan was a highly trained fingerprinting professional. He took our prints efficiently and expertly, and within 20 minutes we were both done, our official FBI fingerprint cards decorated with sharp imprints, signed, and dated. It was good that we'd brought them, because he only had the European fingerprint forms and who knows if the FBI would have accepted them. As a backup, Ivan even sent us scans of our fingerprints, by email.
When we got back to Tivat, we sent our fingerprints to the States via DHL, beginning the months-long process of proving that we aren't criminals.