Montenegro: Our Travel Journal

A FEW THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO…

  • Pretty much the same language is spoken in several of the former Yukloslovian countries – Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro – with only small differences in a few words such as “coffee”. So you can use “dobra dan!” to say “good day!” and “tochino!” to say “draft beer!” in any of them!
  • Montenegro is on the euro so no need to do some crazy conversion math here!
  • The roads are crazy and wind up the side of giant mountains with horrifying drop-offs on one side. They are technically two lane roads that the locals seem to navigate well so if you pull off to the right a bit, squeeze your eyes shut and say a prayer, they’ll figure out a way to get by you.
  • Most of Montenegro didn’t seem all that touristy to us, which we appreciated. Although a giant cruise ship docks at Kotor daily so around midday it’s swarming with people.

WHEN WE WENT…

May 2017

WHERE WE WENT…

Kotor:

We arrived to Kotor after an 8 (!!!) hour bus ride from Mostar. Apparently you can drive from Mostar to Kotor in 4 hours (for 100 euro) and the bus (34 euro/person) is supposed to take 6 hours but we must have been randomly selected at one of the border crossings (there were 4 (!!!) border crossings) to be thoroughly investigated. Nick was actually selected to be searched twice – once likely because of the number of stamps in his passport and once likely because his travel duffle bag is so dreadfully grey and boring that it seems most likely to be transporting drugs. AND we only had ONE proper bathroom stop along the way so I would highly recommend NOT drinking any liquids unless your bladder is of enormous strength and/or size.

Anyway, we arrived to Kotor at around 3pm and had a tochino – we deserved it! – before checking into our absurdly underwhelming Airbnb apartment. For starters, I went to have a shower first thing and my towel was already wet before I even attempted to dry off. They they only left us half of a roll of toilet paper – for 3 nights! The bottom sheet was just a regular flat sheet and barely covered the mattress so when we awoke every morning we found that we’d just been sleeping on bare mattress all night which I find highly disturbing. And lastly and worstly, the toilet leaked so badly that the floor of the bathroom was completely covered in water at all times and honestly kind of a slipping hazard. But I guess that’s what $30 gets you in Kotor…

IMG_9217We had a giant meaty dinner at Tanjga (PS vegetarians would have an incredibly difficult time in Eastern Europe) and then had a Turkish coffee and a looooong chat with a friendly man in a leather shop while he fixed my travel bag. He relocated to Kotor from Turkey a year ago and didn’t really speak Montenegrin… or English. So we had a challenging time understanding him but were entertained nonetheless (and he fixed my bag for free!)

 

_DSC4222-2We were up early the next morning to hike along the fort walls that rise above the city. It costs 3 euro per person and was quite a workout to get to the top. There were breathtaking views of the city along the way as well as interesting rooms covered in overgrowth foliage to explore. After hiking to the top we decided to check out the backside of the fort which is accessible through a small window on the side of the main trail (marked by red and white painted trail markers). We had heard that you can continue up the trail to some old ruins and great lookouts on top of the mountain and since we really had nothing to do that day, we decided to check it out. The trail passes by a darling little restaurant that sells goat cheese plates, beer, and overpriced bottled water (1,5 euros) but he lets you steal cherries from his cherry trees so we let bygones be bygones. The trail is basically a series of switchbacks all the way up. We decided to turn around at a lookout near the top but the trail continued on to God only knows where. I didn’t have enough energy or water to find out.

_DSC4482

After hiking back down (all in, bottom to top, we hiked about 8 miles that morning) we had a shower in our swamp bathroom and then lunch and live music at Scorpio Restaurant. We also had what appeared to be the tiniest baby scoop of gelato one has ever seen at one of the local stands. We scoped out several while in Kotor and the baby size seemed standard. They could take a few lessons from Croatia on the gelato scene. We had decided to rent a car since Montenegro is a pretty tiny country so we took a very expensive (21 euros to go 5-ish miles) to the airport to pick up our car. Shockingly we got an automatic! Every rental we’ve encountered in Eastern Europe to date has been a manual transmission which means I have to drive since this is literally the only thing that I can do better than Nick.

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Perast:

DJI_0003-4And since we had a mode of transportation it was the perfect opportunity to check out the Our Lady of the Rock church that is on an island in the middle of the Adriatic. We parked in Perast (apparently Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones have a house there?) and took a 10-minute boat to the island for 5 euro per person. They said 30 minutes would be enough time to explore the church and it was definitely more than enough. I was finished in about half of that time.

From there we had a nice walkabout in the tiny town and had a delightful dinner on the water at Caffe Djardin. We agreed that Perast seemed like a lovely place to stay for a night and if we could do it all over again, we’d definitely opt to stay there over our torturous airbnb.




Njegos Mausoleum:

The next day we decided to drive to Njegos Mausoleum and my new friend from Perast had said that drivers would definitely not be passing me on the road up there because no one can drive their normal death-defying-speeds… so I was nervous, to say the least. Turns out he is right – the horrifying barely-one-lane road that snakes up the side of a giant mountain with jaw-dropping drop-offs had me white-knuckled and clenched-bum-cheeks the entire way up. And once we got up there we were… underwhelmed? There’s a ton of construction going on all over Montenegro and this was site was no exception. The parking lot was in disarray which meant the visitors had to park haphazardly along the side of the tiny road. After walking up about a gazillion stairs you reach top where there truly are amazing views of the area.

_DSC4922And you can pay 3 euro each to go into the mausoleum and to a another, more exclusive viewing platform (the views are exactly the same). All that to say, was it worth the scary drive to visit a dead poets final resting place? Debatable…

Budva:

Prior to visiting Montenegra we had read several blogs that did not have very nice things to say about Budva. They called it a party town with dirty beaches and rude tourists. So we weren’t very keen on staying long and decided to make a short day trip out of it. So we left Njegos Mausoleum and drove down the other side of the mountain to Budva. We made a quick stop in Cetinje to get a cappuccino which we came to find out is actually the secondary capital of Montenegro and the official residence of the president. It’s a darling little pedistrian-friendly town with a ton of history and various museums scattered throughout. Apparently John the Baptist’s right hand is housed in one of the museums in Montenegro… creepy. 

We attempted to navigate the crazy traffic outside of the old city in Budva to find parking (it appeared that we should be paying for parking but none of the other cars had receipts in their dashboards so we followed suit and crossed our fingers). We found the old city to be quite quiet actually. Based on blogs we had read we expected a party city but there were hardly any people actually in the old city walls. IMG_9368When we arrived it was around 3pm and it was a nice day so we assume the elusive party crowd was either at the beach or out on a boat. And the old city was just like all of the other old cities we’d been to in Montenegro but with cheesier shops. So we grabbed a glass of vino at a nice restaurant on the water in order to get internet to find a restaurant to patron for the evening. We decided Konoba Bocun based on the hilarious looking gentleman on the front of the menus. The food was fantastic and cheap and it was incredibly entertaining to try to order since the waitress didn’t speak English.

Ostrog Monastery:

What is with all the supposed two-lane roads that are barely wide enough for one car that zigzag up the side of giant mountains with harrowing dropoffs in Montenegro? Ostrog was no exception. When we arrived at the top we were greeted by a beautiful white monastery that was built right into the side of a cliff. It appears to still be in use and when we entered one of the small rooms we encountered a monk was sitting in a chair, looking somber and staring straight ahead and a woman on the floor in a downward dog position, crying. I almost stepped on her. It was so awkward and one of the many many reasons that I much prefer to admire churches from outside of the building. There were nice views from the top floor of the monastery and a few souvenir shops in the courtyard but really our only excitement of the visit was the creepy room.

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IMG_9416On our way back down we stopped at a few other small churches along the way and then right as I was asking Nick if Monks drink alcohol we spotted a little shop selling wine that was produced at one of the monasteries in the area. So of course we had to stop in and buy a bottle.

IMG_9419We headed back down the mountain to drive on to Durmitor National Park. On the way we stopped in Niksic for a walk around the ramparts but found them to be less exciting than the others we’ve seen so far in Montenegro.

Zabljak and Durmitor National Park:

Views from Zabljak

We planned to visit Durmitor National Park for a day or two as we heard that the Black Lakes and Tara Canyon were must-sees in Montenegro. Nick randomly picked Zabljak as the town to book room in based on it’s proximity to the park. Turns out it is a darling little town with a backdrop that is to-die-for. Giant snow-speckled mountains rise from the green rolling hills that house the multicolored unique houses. We stayed in a lovely apartment inside of a larger house that was about a mile away from the main street. We agreed that if we hadn’t rented a car, we probably wouldn’t be as into this town due to the lack of walkability. The drive through the park to Zabljak right before sunset was absolutely stunning. The 20-or-so-mile-drive took us about 2 hours as we stopped every 50 meters for a photo (technically, Nick stopped every 50 meters…).

The next day we loaded up on snacks for a day in the park and went to the tourist office in town to get their hiking recommendations. She wasn’t very helpful and said that most of the hikes were closed due to snow and suggested that we hike around the Black Lake and drive through Tara Canyon (both were sights we were well aware of and certainly didn’t need a tourist office for that). Anyway, we drove the short 5 minutes or so to the park entrance and then hiked along the road for a bit after paying our entrance and parking fees (2 euro/person to enter the park and 2 euro to park in the lot). The hike around Black Lake was fairly short – about 3 kilometers. It was nice but I didn’t understand why is was called “black lake” as there didn’t seem to be anything particularly black about it. And they were pretty crowded with young children that appeared to be on some sort of field trip.We finished our hike early, before noon, and realized our snack bag was pretty pointless since the entrance to the park is so close to town. So we decided to head over to Tara Canyon since we had so much time to kill.

DJI_0036Turns out the popular tourist destination is really just a bridge over a beautiful canyon with loads of souvenir shops on each side and a bunch of ziplines running parallel to the bridge on both sides. We parked and walked along the tiny pedestrian walkway the length of the bridge and then back again and I could see the wheels turning in Nick’s head about what a great drone video this canyon would make. After some debate about what would happen if he hit a zipline we determined that if he kept the drone really low or really high that he could avoid the wires. All was going quite smoothly until I heard him say “oh shit” and we both watched the footage in horror as the drone spun around a few times, hit the ground, and rolled to a stop. The view from its resting place was a down tree, a few scattered leaves and plants, and a gap in the trees above where sunlight was streaming through.

The GPS on the drone wasn’t working and based on where the drone hit the zipline, Nick made a guess on what side of the river it had landed on. So we hauled ass down to the thick, steep, forest and started our search. An hour and a half later, Nick had finally given up and was headed back my way when he spotted a blinking red light from under a pile of leaves. Luckily the drone was intact and somehow only 2 of the 4 propellers were broken (2 extras came with it) and the gimble needs a little TLC. But other than that, it survived the 800 foot fall spectacularly! And Nick realized that he needs to modify the blogpost he’s been writing that was meant to be titled “Things to Know as a new MavicPro Owner”…




Biogradska Gora National Park:

Bigradski

On the way to Skadar Lake we decided to stop at Biogradska Gora National Park for a quick hike. We encountered an absolutely stunning lake with an incredibly well-maintained trail around it. The flowers were in full bloom and we only saw a handful of other people there so it was an amazingly peaceful 2-ish mile walk. We ended at the dock and hadn’t had enough of the park yet so we decided to rent a boat for an hour for 8 euro to have a paddle around the lake. We basically turned it into a giant photoshoot but it was great fun to be soaking up the sunlight with such a spectacular backdrop!

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Virpazar and Skadar Lake:

We decided to stay in Virpazar for 2 nights and take a few day trips to check out the surrounding area. Nick had originally planned to stay in Rijeka but figured that Virpazar would be a bit more “bustling”. Turns out, bustling is a bit of an overstatement. The town is tiny and as we later learned, it’s only now starting to be on the tourist radar so the infrastructure isn’t really there to support tourism yet. Our first night we had dinner at Restaurant Silistria which is basically a pirate boat restaurant on the lake. Great food, good prices, sweet views, no complaints. Our room at Apartments Four Countesses was very nice but a bit outside of the center of town and although it would be only a short walk, it would be along the highway.

There are loads of touts in the area trying to get you to take boat rides which are probably really lovely but we found them to be a bit pricey for our taste – 25 euro for an hour. So instead we opted to check out the town of Rijeka. We found Rijeka to be kind of lame to be honest. There were 2 restaurants, a small market, a wine shop that was closed, and a nice bridge. And that’s pretty much it. There were also expensive boat rides being offered that we again declined. After a mediocre lunch we departed and wondered why we went there in the first place.

One thing in abundance in the Skadar Lakes area is wineries and since we (I) love wine more than pretty much everything, we had to have a gander. Turns out a previous Montenegro leader who ruled for 60-ish years made a law that men must plant 200 grape seeds when they were married which led to loads of grapes which led to loads of wine. We visited two wineries that day – Kalimut which is a fantastic family-owned winery that has recently built small, reasonably priced villas on their property. We got a free and very informative tasting and bought a bottle of white that cost us 10 euro. We then headed up a terrifying road to Garnet Winery where we had to pay for tastes but had generous pours and we agreed that the wine was better than the first winery (although the tasting experience was better at the first). We paid 7,60 euro for our tasting and opted not to buy a bottle simply because we agree on the same philosophy which is – IMG_9649if a tasting is free, we buy a bottle; if it’s not, we don’t. Wineries – why are you still charging for tastings??? From there we had a drive up the P16 (according to google maps) which was another bum-clenching, winding road where every time we managed to pass another car I was shocked and amazed that we didn’t scratch the side of their car or plummet off the side of the cliff.

That evening we had a walk around the tiny town but since we had so much wine at home and couldn’t get excited about the nightlife in Virpazar, we headed home early for some drunk blogging (enjoy!).

Bar:

_DSC6318I decided I wanted to visit Bar based on seeing it on a map and liking the name. We asked several people in Virpazar about it and they said it was a good place to spend maybe an hour, maybe two, walking around and grabbing lunch. So, no one seemed stoked. We decided it was a good stop on our way back to Kotor where we had to drop off our rental and catch a bus to Albania. And they were right, Bar is a great little town for a short walkabout but you probably wouldn’t need more than a few hours there. We ordered WAY too much food at Konoba Spilja (we couldn’t resist – everything was SO CHEAP!) and then spent an hour or so exploring the fort. Nick ranks this fort high on his list – top 2 actually along with the fort in Blagaj in Bosnia. So it’s definitely worth a visit.

IN HINDSIGHT…

Montenegro is small, full of culture and history, and fairly easy to cover with a car and Google Maps. We loved the freedom of driving around, stopping for photos at sunset, and exploring little towns that we would otherwise never visit if we were relying on public transportation. But driving in Montenegro is also pretty horrifying so prepare to be aggressively passed no matter how fast you are going and how winding the road is and get over your fear of heights if you want to visit the more popular landmarks. It’s easy to travel in Montenegro, it’s cheap, great food, good people, great experience!

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