Red Roofs, Teal Waters: Montenegro

Rather than deal with two more transfers and much confusion, we opted for a share taxi across the border and into Montenegro.  Of all the strife in this part of the world in the past 30 years, this country managed to avoid most of it by making friends with the strongest players and it shows in the land that has its preserved beauty and practically no scars.  Winding through roads past endless postcard scenes at Ulcinj, Bar, and Sveti Stefan, we finally made our way down to little Budva, where we were to spend the night.  As it was early afternoon, we had the rest of the day to explore.  The exceedingly kind hostel owner directed us to the best beaches and the cheapest food…and we set off.

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Budva’s Stari Grad (or Old Town) is a pocket sized little fortress…following our directions, we followed the edge of the walls to the western side where an unpresuming little walkway wraps around the sharp cliffs and out of sight.  From there, you get the best views of the town over the water and there is a statue that looks like it is doing one of those really difficult yoga poses.  We turned the corner and a gorgeous pebble beach opened out in front of us, bathed in the mid afternoon light.  However, we kept walking, going off our insider tip, and found a rickety little bridge over a water filled cave in the cliffside.  A moment later, we are on a second pebble beach, populated by exactly three other people.  Wading in the water, we can see that it is absolutely crystal clear…and not all that cold, even though it is October.

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As the sun went behind the arching mountains, we headed back into town to explore the intricate backways and main squares that have churches and history tucked into every little corner.  Even though the summer season is over, it seems that a lot of people have passed on the secret of Montenegro in October, because plenty of backpackers and other tourists have joined the yacht riders who sip drinks in their clubs and walk the cobbled streets in high heels…driving their Rolls Royces and gnawing on expensive cigars.  After exploring, we headed back into our hostel to cook our dinner with the close knit group of other travelers who had camped out there for a long time.  The next morning, before checkout, we took a long walk along the eastern side of the pier and public beaches…at one point walking out to look down into 15 meter (45 feet) deep water and we could clearly see the bottom.

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Around lunchtime, we took up our bags and got on the 30 minute bus to the next big town, Kotor.  Check any map of the Bay of Kotor and you will see this strange whale tale shape that means that the sea waters here remain perfectly calm pretty much all the time.  In other parts of the local bays, they even built churches and monasteries on little spits of rock out in the water so they look like they are floating out there.  Kotor town itself is another World Heritage site, famous for its flawless Old Town and Fortress perched high on the mountain perched over the town.  After hunting down our hostel, passing people shooting a movie in 1930s period costume, we took a look around the extensive streets that never seem to go in a straight line.

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That evening, we walked along the town promenade, where all the locals go with their children, friends, and fishing supplies.  The sun sets behind the mountains, leaving a long glow of slowly changing light, turning the bay all kinds of colors before the day finishes.  That night, we cooked dinner at the hostel and made friends with the three other Koreans who happened to be staying there–a couple and one lone traveler.  We made plans to climb the fortress wall early the next morning to beat the day’s heat.  At 9am, we convened and headed up the secret way that the hostel owner pointed out to us…it provides great views, a breakfast of pomegranates picked from the trees, and avoids the 3 euro entrance fee that they charge if you climb from the official entrances.  The fort itself is slowly being renovated, but it was full of buzzing bees getting their hives ready for the cool season.

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We spent an hour scrambling up and down the ramparts, snapping photos of each other, and ignoring the ‘high risk area’ signs to get the best views.  For most of that time, we had the peak all to ourselves and enjoyed the feeling that the whole fortress was our own for a while.  We were all hungry, but it took us a while to finally all want to go back down the mountain and cook our lunch.  We took the short path down and breezed past the ticket collector with big smiles.  In the market, we went together to buy supplies and made a big communal lunch.  Later that afternoon, Sangbyeong went fishing off the promenade, while I sat reading and writing in the sun.  We lead such charmed lives.

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Walking along the promenade for our last evening walk, we watched the mists rolling in over the water and the locals all enjoying each other’s company at the countless waterside cafes.  We noticed that Montenegrans are typically very tall…which is strange, considering the general short stature of the Greeks and Albanians we had been seeing for the past week and a half.  As the darkness rolled in, we stopped to snap some photos of the stunning fortress walls as they are lit for the night, looking for all the world like a necklace of light on the neck of the protective, dark mountains that give the country its name.

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That night we went to bed early, because our bus onto Croatia left early the next morning.  Turns out, all the other Koreans were also heading to Dubrovnik, as well.  The couple decided to take a later taxi, so we bid goodbye to them, but we headed to the bus station with the lone guy.  Turns out, he was suddenly heading back to Croatia, although he just came from there.  Apparently he had met the girl of his destiny and he turned back to go meet up with her.  At the Dubrovnik bus station, we got to meet her before they left for Split…hope things work out for them.  As for this couple, we headed into town and onto the next adventure.

 

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