Montenegro: Kotor and Podgorica

We took a bus from Dubrovnik’s main bus station to Kotor, Montenegro – a trip that should have got us there at 1pm, but ended up being more like 3pm. Be warned – although the schedule claims that the Dubrovnik-Kotor bus runs at 10am, this is misleading. There are actually 2 buses due to high volumes of people. What we didn’t notice was that our ticket said “bus 2”, so that when the bus arrived at 10am, we were told to wait for the next one, because that was bus 1. Confused, we sat back and waited, expecting a second bus to pull up at any moment. After fifteen minutes we were a little worried, although the group of other “bus 2” people around us was comforting. One girl went to ask the ticket seller when bus 2 was actually arriving, to which she dismissively replied “Oh, 11, maybe 11:30.”

It turned out that this was in our favour, as we later met some people from bus 1 who told us the air conditioning had been broken. Whew! Still, the journey took 4 hours, with the joy of a border crossing. We got in at around 3, arriving at what looked a dirty, run-down bus station surrounded by crumbling buildings. Chancing a visit to the toilet, I quickly changed my mind when I saw it, thinking to myself “What have I let myself in for?” Jeff was ecstatic – somewhere real, somewhere interesting and different, this is what he travels for. I have to admit that his attitude was infectious, and I quickly realised that I was thinking like a spoilt princess – I’m definitely not down with people who travel just to stay in expensive hotels and get pampered, especially not when that country’s residents have such a different quality of life. Besides, things got a lot nicer after the bus station.

Very hungry at this point, we gravitated towards the nearest place selling it – a little burger shack, guarded over by a rabid-looking dog. I noticed that people were wandering around and leaving their keys, phones and wallets on tables – very trusting. We ordered the only thing that we could make out – burgers – and the beefy man behind the counter dipped his hand into a tub of processed meat, squashed them into patties and whacked them onto the grill. I don’t remember now, but I’m sure he wasn’t wearing any gloves and didn’t wash his hands. On the counter there were tubs of toppings – sour cream, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and a red spicy paste that I later discover was ajvar. The burgers were good, but my stomach was in agony that night.

We asked where the old town was, and found that it was just around the corner. Everything was beautiful from around that corner – the bay, the mountains surrounding it, a random collection of ruins, the walls of the old town with the mountain behind them, fortress ruins trailing up to the top. Outside the old town walls, there were market stalls bursting with fruit and surrounded by flies. The heat was probably 40C by now, and I was getting good at dealing with it, although the thought of Guarana – which was advertised everywhere for some reason – with ice and some juice sounded great about then.

The old town itself is great – similar to Hvar, Split and Dubrovnik with its walled-in nature, narrow alleyways and shelter from the heat, but with a nice difference – not many tourists! Don’t get me wrong, there were people there, but it was nothing like the crowds of Croatia. We were able to find a lot of peaceful corners, quiet pubs and even some nice, abandoned buildings. We spent the afternoon walking around the old town, before checking out the nearby shopping centre (very nice and modern) and walking along the bay, where plenty of people were swimming and dipping their toes. The water was nice and cold, of course. I’ll let you look at some pictures…

For dinner, we took advantage of the Montenegro Hostel’s 5 Euro dinner. It was very filling – peppers stuffed with rice and beef, potatoes, bread and beer (no lack of carbs here) – and we met a lot of people who were travelling from all corners of the globe. After a lot of conversation, an Australian girl (Claire) came outside with us to soak up the nighttime atmosphere. It was pretty cool – no massive neon lights, just the glow of lamps and the moonlight, music beats pumping through the old stone and luring us around corners to lively bars. Above the old town, the fortress ruins were lit up, a slightly tacky advert being projected onto the mountainside.

We woke up early (after a long night of stomach cramps and ineffective air conditioning) to set up that mountain before the sun could catch us. Claire, our Australian friend, came with us, which helped  because she was just as exhausted as I was after a few minutes. Being in the shade was some relief, but the way up was steps for the most part, and all in all it was a good hour’s climb. I would still recommend it, though, as the path was quiet at 8am and the view was beautiful. It’s not really a long climb, and you’ll feel healthy afterwards. Entry was 3 euros, which was fine. Here are some of the pictures from the climb:

After that, we found some lunch at headed to the bus station to make our way to Podgorica.

This was not a coach, as we had become familiar with. This was a tiny bus, crammed with people and with open windows as air conditioning. Luckily, I managed to find us a seat in the back, wedged against three others with the wind throwing my hair into disarray. The little bus struggled up what felt like a mountain for the best part of two hours, giving us glimpses of beautiful coastline and a lot of phone numbers for emergency pick-ups graffitied onto the side of the wall. It took just over two hours to reach Podgorica, which is a rather plain city, from what we saw.

This time, we were Couchsurfing with an Italian guy, who picked us up from the city and showed us to his beautiful flat. We waited for him to finish work, relaxing and reading some of the English magazines that he had. After a while he asked if we wanted to go to the river with him and his friends, which sounded good, so we agreed.

After a while we had an Italian girl in the car with us, and two other Italians driving behind us through the countryside, near the Albanian border. It was beautiful – open, empty fields, abandoned farmhouses, dogs playing, children running up to the car to wave at us. A man who we asked for directions hopped into his van and drove ahead of us to show us where to go. We saw a “bar”, all of its chairs and tables sitting in a good few inches of water. There was a forest fire, and a girl herding sheep down a hill. Eventually, after passing beautiful, orange-tinged canyons and following a river for a while, we pulled up on the side of the road and clambered down towards the river, stepping precariously on crumbling stones as we made our way down.

The river was beautiful – perfectly clear and full of fish and plants of some kind. I dipped my feet in to the icy waters and little fish started to play with my feet. The Italians, far braver than we were, stripped down to their swimming clothes and jumped in. We sat for a while, watching them and lamenting our own lack of swimsuits (they were back in our bag), before realising that they were actually only in their fabric underwear – woo! In a moment of forgetting my reserved Britishness, I (and Jeff) joined them. The water was cold but so clean and beautiful! We followed it by going to a big, beautiful restaurant somewhere along the way back and shared a load of Montenegrin food – very filling, all cheeses and meat and bread and beer, only 11 euro each for everything!

After a good night’s sleep, we set off for the airport and headed to Belgrade…

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