Kotor, Montenegro

We arrived in Kotor, Montenegro only to realise that our accommodation was hidden somewhere in the labyrinth of “Stari Grad” or the old town. After a brief attempt to make sense of the numbering system we gave in and asked at the nearest information centre. Within minutes a guy arrived to lead us there, with a massive grin on his face and an endless curiosity about two Australians fumbling their way through his hometown. We quickly grew to like our new friend called Dragan, and he was eager to show us around.

Today was actually our two year anniversary, and it also just happened to be one of the biggest days of the year for Kotor. I’m not sure what the purpose of the celebrations are to be honest, though I did ask a few times, but essentially it was akin to our new year. We started the night with dinner at a seemingly quaint and ambient restaurant, though unfortunately the food was quite disappointing. We didn’t want that to ruin the night so we set off to the water-front and walked around the harbour. There were hundreds of boats in the marina, and each had been carefully decorated with lights for this occasion. We couldn’t believe it, but out of nowhere a massive stage had formed and there was a band entertaining a large crowd that had formed as the evening went on. We had already polished off a bottle of red over dinner, so we were primed for any celebrations that were to come. With a beer in hand we danced and enjoyed the band even though we had never heard any of the songs before. Hey, they were catchy! Here’s Dan!

The next day was spent looking for more accommodation as we only reserved one night upon arrival. We wanted something much cheaper, but in the same area. Long story short we got a hot tip on a place and were able to get a local bakery assistant to call the owner for us. 10 minutes later, and who arrives to show us the room? Our mate Dragan! He never told us what he actually does for a living, all he said was that he doesn’t own any of these properties and instead is just helping a friend? Whatever the case, we secured an awesome apartment for the next five days! Our new home.

It was here that our long lost travel companion, Megan, arrived after an incredible travel story including her catching bus after bus from Athens through Albania and finally here. Apparently the night before she ended up being the only one in the bus at 10pm when it broke down in the middle of nowhere and got towed to a mechanic (with her still in it). When you can’t speak the language and you have no idea where you are, I can only imagine what was going through her head at that time! We also met our other new roommates sharing the same apartment who turned out to be awesome! Here are some pics of us exploring the old town.

 

 

I loved the moat around the fortress with a great white shark patrolling the perimeter! Swimmers Beware!

 

What a diverse group we now were – three Australians, an American, three Kosovans, and a German. We decided to sneak into the fortress that night with some wine as it had a great view over the city. There was one problem though, we didn’t have a corkscrew to open the bottle! Despite Jacob’s theory that it is possible to pop it open using only a shoe (here is a picture of him banging the bottle and his shoe on the wall) we borrowed one from a restaurant.

 

Usually the fortress is manned during the day and there is a small entry fee, but we managed to sneak in and avoid this. We all got to know each other really well, and it was here that I learnt a lot about couch surfing. Avi (one of the Kosovans) was a host and both Josh and Miriam were currently using the network to meet new people as they travelled. For those of you that don’t know, the couchsurfing community is truly unique. The idea is that someone will welcome you into their home, at no cost, and hopefully show you around their city if you are lucky. Most hosts do it either to meet new people and learn about new cultures, or more commonly because they have been the benefactor of being hosted and now want to give back and do their bit in return. Some people like Avi take it a step further and organise events and gatherings where like-minded people can meet and share stories or become friends. We agreed that it is definitely something that we would like to do, so here’s hoping we get onto it in the near future! Avi also had some cracking jokes – even though we didn’t quite understand them. I found it funny how his version of the standard “there was an English, Irish and an American” jokes were actually “there was a Kosovan, Irish and an Albanian”. Where the Americans and Albanians cop a pretty bad wrap!

The next day we decided to do an excursion to a beautiful little town called Perast. It was only a 20 minute bus trip away and turned out to be one of our favourite places around Kotor. Apparently Catherine Zeita Jones owns one of the luxury apartments here, and I can see why! We had lunch, swam, and that was about the best way I could think of spending a day in Perast. It was just so nice!

 

 

Here’s a cool photo of a lady painting the scenery 🙂

We arrived back giving ourselves just enough time to start the trek up the fortress for the sunset. Armed with water and proper shoes, we found it a lot more strenuous than anticipated but it was all totally worth it once we got to the top!

 

 

That night involved more wine, though this time we added a girl from Luxembourg and a Serbian to the mix! We found a small pier on the water that we took over for the rest of the night. It had a great view of a cruise ship over the water. Dan and I decided to try a different bottle of red tonight – 1 litre for 2 euros! Honestly it was still exceptional wine made in Montenegro. Soooooo goooooood!!!!

Two of Megan’s friends from Sydney, the twins Peter and Martin, just happened to be in Kotor the next day – which was a genuine coincidence! We all decided to catch a bus to Budva, an extremely popular town on the Montenegran coast with a really nice “Stari Grad” (old town). Budva was totally underwhelming, with the beach littered with thousands of beach chairs and umbrellas. Big hotels and restaurants lined the waterfront and the charm of Montenegro was totally lost in my opinion. It is very popular with Russian tourists, but I definitely prefer a quieter beach – which there are many! The only picture of note was this one of Dan and Megz kicking back at a cafe.

Oh.. and this one where she found some veggies!!!! 🙂

As a result we took a 15min ride to a small town called “Sveti Stephan” or more affectionately known to us Australians as “Sweaty Steve!” This was a small island attached to the mainland with a really historical hotel on it. Apparently it was a premier destination in the 70’s for the likes of Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, now owned by a large hotel chain. Basically it was chalk and cheese compared to the hustling Budva – just what we were looking for this afternoon. We all jumped in the water, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We also discussed at length Peter and Martin’s conspiracy theory about the Illuminati! You will have to ask me about this one day.

 

 

All we had left was a 30 minute bus trip back to Kotor and it would have been yet another fantastic day, but things are never quite so easy! We were about to get on a bus, when we were ushered over by a taxi driver. Considering there was five of us, we asked how much? We explained that we would only pay the amount of 5 combined bus tickets otherwise it just wasn’t worth it. After a few minutes of untranslatable shouting among three cab drivers eventually one agreed our fare. Now Montenegro, like most former Yugoslav countries, have had a history of war including a strong presence of the mafia – lets just say this guy fitted the bill! After an uneasy cab ride including some fairly reckless driving, our suspicions were soon to be confirmed. When we got to our destination and handed him the money, he demanded more. We refused and got out of the car and started walking away. He was extremely intimidating and stopped one of the twins. When that didn’t work he moved to me and started screaming right in my face. We knew we were being hustled, and stood our ground until he decided to grab my ear lobe! Haha! Dan cut in shouting ‘No!’ which definitely caught him off guard. We slipped away with him cursing in the background, us checking over our shoulders the whole way home! Not the greatest experience, but we learnt a lesson about catching cabs.

Considering our place was so big, we squeezed the twins in for the last two nights. Splitting our accommodation made it even cheaper at only AUD $7 each per night! The next morning we decided to make use of our numbers and pooled together to hire a car for the day. We managed to get this fairly large van, where I was the driver. Rather suspiciously they only asked for my drivers licence, and I didn’t even pay for a deposit. No credit card? They were highly recommended by the information bureau so we just went with it. We decided to find a secluded beach, much in the vein of ‘Sweaty Steve’ the day before. Without a GPS we ended up taking some extremely treacherous dirt roads until we found what we were looking for. We had a nice swim and some lunch but found that we still had plenty of time left in the day to explore.

We embarked on an absolutely fantastic scenic drive up Mount Lovcen towards the historic city of Cetinje. We had heard of a really beautiful viewing point atop a hill where there was some sort of Mausoleum. About 25 hairpin turns later I needed a break from driving my Scooby Doo Mystery Machine. Thank god I was on the right hand side as we passed the other vehicles, flirting with the ominous drop-off. We stopped halfway up for a bit of a break and to check out the view over Kotor.

To our greatest surprise and delight we stumbled upon the most random roadside vendors approaching the top. We were seemingly in the middle of nowhere but were able to buy some cured ham, cheese, fig jam and some bread – perfectly washed down with rakia…!!

We will breeze past the part where I somehow got a 20kg boulder stuck under the car (we literally all got out and lifted the car up and pulled it out from underneath) until eventually arriving at our destination. The second highest peak in the country!

The views were spectacular as you can see. To the left was Albania, to the right Bosnia, and ahead we overlooked the beautiful Adriatic sea with Italy on the horizon. We ate our snacks, and just enjoyed ourselves until the sun finally set.

 

Here’s a rather funny video of me being a creeper as I take our viewers backstage – narrating Dan’s actions as she sips on some Rakia!

Another treacherous drive back in the dark, handing the car back to the dodgy car company (who brought their henchman to inspect any damage) and our time in Kotor was up! Our good Kosovan friend Avi had twisted our arm to visit his home in Kosovo, and we were in the position to take him up on it. Considering you can only enter Kosovo from Serbia or Albania, we decided to head towards Serbia. We had heard great things about Belgrade, which was about a 18 hour bus trip away. The next most logical destination was Zabljak on the border of Montenegro and Serbia. An inland city well known for its beautiful lakes, rivers and scenery! Megzy, Peter and Martin were also keen so the five of us set off on our next adventure!

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