Friday, July 30, 2010

Where to Next?

Do I go south to Greece through Albania? Maybe a few days on Korcula before heading up to Zagreb? Or maybe Montenegro and Bosnia?

And the winner is- Montenegro!

I caught an early morning bus to Kotor, Montenegro, another beautiful walled city.

Sure, maybe you only need a few hours here, but I was spending 3 days. Why? Good question.

Despite a total lack of anything to do, other than the 1300+ step climb to the top of their fortress, and the insane heat, I had a lovely time with my fellow travelers.

Like Croatia, Montenegro has a big cafe culture, so I finally joined the locals and basically sat at a cafe for two days. Andrew, the Australian everyone seemed to know, was my buddy for day one. We were delighted when we found a bar boasting 24 degrees! While there, our Serbian waiter told us that if we tasted the water from the fountain near the south gate we would never leave Kotor. As it happens, we had dinner right there, so when we ran out of beverages Andrew filled our glasses from the fountain-- it was really tasty and cold, but not sure the restaurant approved.

On the second day I met Terese from Sweden for some more cafe time (finally, something other than pizza) and a walk around the city which took all of 10 minutes.

After a few days of nothing, I had to get motivated for something other than the cafe, so it was the next laziest thing- the beach. Terese and I walked out of the old town a bit and found a lovely piece of concrete to hang on for the afternoon, followed by a couple drinks at the beach bar. The beach bar was AMAZING people watching--- basically Montenegrin teens in speedos dancing to techno music--- it was hilarious and so un-American. I also accidentally got to sample the drink that I said sounded disgusting the night before--- coke and red wine (not AS bad as it sounds).

Once the heat of the day died down (who were we kidding, it never died down), Terese, Michele (Sicilian who has been traveling for 20 months already) and I climbed the 1300 steps. It wasn't really all that hard, but we were all dripping with sweat since the Balkans appear to be super humid in addition to super hot.
After a few days of nothing, I had to motivate for something other than the cafe--- so it was the next laziest thing- the beach. Terese and I walked out of the old town a bit and found a lovely piece of concrete to hang on for the afternoon

We were back just in time to catch Montenegro's fashion week in the square outside our room- not sure when Montenegro became known for fashion?

After a late night out, it was an early bus to Zabljak, the highest town in Montenegro and the one closest to Durmitor National Park. While waiting for the connecting bus in Niksic I met an Australian couple, Jess and Nick, who were my comrades for the next few days.

The 3 hour bus ride from Niksic was an experience: 1) there was some standing involved in the mini van since it was oversold, 2) it was hours of switchbacks through the mountain (again, so thankful for motion sickness patches) and 3) the driver chain smoked right under the no smoking sign. Needless to say we were happy to finally arrive.

Since we had no lodging reservation, we wandered around a bit until a hotel hooked us up with rooms in someones house for 10 euro a night (as it turned out, it was HIS house)! Plus, the mom gave us this delicious cake/bread thing that I have no clue what it was, other than yummy.

Go figure, Zabljak is the polar opposite of Kotor in that it was freezing. Seriously, we went from 90's to 50's in a days bus ride. It was also a little foggy and rainy, so the beautiful hikes had more of a creepy feeling.

We made instant friends with the tourist information office (Montenegrins are really very helpful, and apparently very fit based on what they told us wasn't too hard). In no time we had booked our rafting excursion for the following day (the primary motivation for heading all the way up here) and were dining at our beloved Restaurant Durmitor, complete with its lovely waiter and "different kind of meat" which I ordered and quite enjoyed (I am sure it was some sort of pork, everything around here seems to be pork, maybe why we haven't seen one pig?).
Rafting was pretty hilarious, given it was about to rain, but we enjoyed it anyway. The guide/owner was really cool, showing us a good time that included a 6m cliff jump into icy water (it was so cold, not sure why we agreed to do it, but we had wetsuits so it wasn't that bad).

After a hamburger, which I am pretty sure was actually made from ham (again with the pork), we hiked around Black Lake which was nice in crappy weather, so must have been stunning in nice weather (you can imagine how many times we said that!).
I was thinking Angelo and Elena would like it here since we were able to buy home grown raspberries, wild blueberries and mini strawberries (they were like little bursts of yumminess) on the walk home.

Outside of Zabljak is a canyon larger than the Grand Canyon, so I have to go, right?

Despite temperatures that felt more like winter, I decided to venture out on the 8km bike ride to the canyon. The people at the tourist office claim it is easy, so what the hell.

Yeah, not so easy in the crap bike I rented for 1 euro an hour! The 8km is basically all UP hill. After taking a major detour on the way when I was wishing for flat road (but I did find the ski resort that had been eluding us), huffing in high altitude and fixing the chain that popped off, I eventually found my way through the totally deserted pine forest (it smelled like Christmas).
Minor problem- once I spotted the tiny sign there was a hike involved on a difficult to identify trail. Perhaps I was being an overly cautious American, but I wasn't quite sure 1) what to do with my bike, would it be there when I returned? and 2) how safe is it to go traipsing through the forest alone (I was already questioning how good of an idea it was biking through the pine forest alone, but at least then I would have a quick getaway ;-)

Needless to say, mission aborted. I decided to be responsible and bike back without seeing anything :-(
I know 8k doesn't sound bad, but the hills were really steep, which of course led to a fun and very speedy ride back to town (perhaps a helmet might not have been a bad idea?)

One final trip back to Restaurant Durmitor (this time I had him point out what on the menu wasn't pork) and my time in Montenegro was coming to an end.

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