Montenegro? Where's that?

When we finally left Tirana, we were looking forward to moving on. A busy city combined with stifling hot weather and a stomache bug tends to have that effect. Transport out of the city turned out to be a challenge, as the only way we could find into Montenegro was to use the transfer service of a hostel in Montenegro, which we ended up staying in for convenience more than anything else. The trip was uneventful, air conditioned, and our driver, was accomodating and friendly. Once we arrived at the hostel we were already feeling better.

Our hostel was down a windy lane, and was possibly the nicest hostel building on the trip so far. Apparently, the building was at one time the Turkish Embassy, and before that a house for a wealthy local. It had a nice outdoor area (for when it wasn’t too hot), and half of the bottom floor was a comfy common area. After being holed up in our room in Tirana most of the time, it was very welcoming to have contact with other humans.

Podgorica (pronounced pod-goh-Ritza, not pod-Gorri-ka as I had assumed) was the capital city of Montenegro, but it did not feel like it. As we went to get some dinner on the evening of our arrival, there was hardly anyone about, and the traffic was notable by it’s absence. We bought a cevapi roll, which cost all of two euros and was enormous. We sat in the local park, watching the sun go down as we ate.

There wasn’t much to see in Podgorica apart from a nice restaurant area and some lovely parks, but one of the nights we were there there was a free concert in the centre of the city. The musician was Zdravko Čolić, who I have never heard of but is like the John Farnham of the Balkans as far as I can tell. While his Balkan rock/pop style was catchy enough, and Zdravko and his band were in top form, it is hard to get into a concert when you don’t know the genre, the songs, or the language that the songs are sung in. After a few numbers, we headed back to the hostel.

The next morning as we sat in the common area, and said hello to Alex, our driver that brought us in from Tirana, who had just arrived. The transfer service stops briefly at the hostel before dropping passengers at their own accommodation. A few of the passengers wandered inside to stretch their legs, and one of them made eye contact with me. After a few seconds, we realised that we had met before. He had asked us for directions as we sat eating our lunch one day in Tirana. I had a terrible thought that the directions I had given him were bad, and that I would now have to deal with the concequences, but thankfully I had directed him correctly. It was a surreal moment to cross paths with him again.

The man himself; Zdravko Čolić
The crowd was aged from 0 to 100 years, and everyone was singing along.

As I was getting a little bored and felt like I hadn’t done any physical activity in weeks, I went kayaking. Jess had little interest in such follies so I went on my own. The hostel organised transport and hire of the kayaks, and the operator provided a barbecue lunch for the group. The kayaking itself occurred on Lake Skadarsko, which Montenegro shares with Albania. We paddled out into the lake a bit, and then into the lillypads near the shore, before heading back up the short inlet to where we started. The barbecue was in the national park that surrounds the lake. After paddling around in the heat for a couple of hours, a cold beer and a hearty lunch really hit the spot.

Finally, our time in Podgorica was over, and we headed to the town of Kotor, which is on an almost completely sealed bay near the coast, colloquially known as the “Fjord in the Mediterranean”. We arrive and lug our packs to the hostel, which is in the heart of the small but dense old town. The place felt a bit like I imagine Venice does, with cobblestone roads, quaint cafes and bars, tiny laneways and a shitload of tourists. The biggest building in the town was the enormous cruise ship that had arrived some days before.

One of the main attractions is the Ottoman era fort up on the hill behind old town. The only way up is to walk the 1200 or so steps carved out of the sometimes vertical face. Knowing that the weather was going to be hot, Jess and I got up early to make the trek to beat the sun. We took it fairly slow, and finally made it to the top. After a breather, we were about to explore the surprisingly intact remains when I discovered that I had forgotten to bring my camera. Grrrr. We had a look around for a bit before heading back down. At the bottom, there was a booth set up to take the admission fee that wasn’t there when we went past earlier. I tried to pay, but the attendant refused to take my money. I suppose they were grateful I attempted to pay at all.

Later in the day, I finally managed to convince Jess to come Kayaking, and we went out on the bay for a couple of hours. It was good fun, but my feet, which I had forgotten to apply sunscreen to, got fried by the sun. After returning our double kayak a couple of hours later, we went for a swim, before returning to the hostel. Having done more physical activity in one day than we had in weeks, we relaxed for the remainder of the day.

Remember when I said I didn’t bring my camera? Well, I couldn’t leave town without getting photos so the following day I got up early again and headed up the stairs to the fort on my own, checking twice that I did indeed have my camera. The walk wasn’t too bad, as I could get into my own rhythm. I got to the top and started snapping away. I headed back down, but I took my time, making sure to explore all of the little side paths. I discovered that you could climb through one of the windows about half way down, and get to the other side of the hill. I found a tiny abandoned chapel, and scores of ruined buildings, and the best part was that I was on my own, not having to duck selfie sticks or jump out of the way when a tour group trundles past.

After exploring for a bit, I continued back down the hill from where my tangent began, and one of the drink sellers spruiked his wares as I walked past. He sold water, cola and beer. I kept walking for a few meters, but the B-word resonated around my head a few times, and I thought “Stuff it”. I drank a beer, looking over a centuries old town and the bay beyond it, at 8am. Bliss.

I descended at a rather rapid pace, as I realised I was gone for quite a bit longer than I said I would be, and arrived at the bottom sweatier than I had ever been in my life. The attendant again refused to take my money, but it could also have been that she didn’t want me to get too close, as I can imagine I was rather aromatic after perspiring so much.

The rest of the time was spent either wandering around or relaxing in the hostel, chatting and swapping stories with our fellow travellers. Being away from home, friends and family for such a long time, you really appreciate the camaraderie and friendliness that you get from other travellers. We have met people from all different countries, from all walks of life, but we all have the same thing in common: we want to explore and experience what this planet has to offer.

We utilised the same transfer service that we used to get into Montenegro to leave it again. Coincidentally, we had the same friendly driver, Alex, who greeted us as old friends, much to the confusion of the other passengers. It was nice to see a familiar face. The scenic trip ran through hills and valleys surrounding the bay, and was a good way of capping off our time in this little country.

Montenegro was a breath of fresh air from Tirana. A young, small country that you don’t hear about very often back home, it felt like we had discovered a hidden gem. Not that hidden of course, as there were still scores of tourists, but I’m learning to ignore the irritations they cause me and relax a little more. When you fixate on such things it can overshadow the positive things around you.

— Thomas 2015.08.02

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