Sunday, July 31, 2016

Country #103: Speeding through Montenegro

Country #103 was a toss-up. From Dubrovnik, there are two days trips that are widely available. You can either head north to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina or go south to Kotor and Budva in Montenegro. Both sounded promising. Mostar has the middle eastern architecture I love and one highly photogenic bridge. Montenegro has beaches and a miniature walled city version of Dubrovnik. Since a good portion of the day was going to be spent going to and from, it came down to which was the more scenic drive.

Everyone I asked had the same answer. "The one with the Bay of Kotor!!" Either this is very common knowledge or I asked some all the right people because stunning does not begin to describe the vistas around this meandering bay.

Out of practicality and because I wanted to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time, I opted to do one of the organized bus tours.  And then I remembered why I don't like them very much. If it was up to me, I would have been pulling over at every village, every overlook and every roadside cafe. The bus driver thought otherwise.

I must admit I understand why.  There was a lot of ground to cover in a 12 hour period.  After a quick customs stop at the border, we boarded a ferry which took us across the eel-shaped bay of Kotor itself. This is a 15 minute auto-ferry that saves you from having to drive all the way around the bay to get to Budva. When the tour touts wax poetic about their excursion including a cruise on the majestic bay, think less cocktails on the Lido deck and more heavy car exhaust with beautiful scenery.

Somewhere between the ferry ride and our arrival at the first stop, I must have dozed off.  I had expected to arrive at the beachside resort town of Budva, but we must have kept going because I am pretty sure I disembarked somewhere in central Moscow.  I knew going in that the Montenegrins use the cyrillic alphabet so the signs did not seem out of place.  It was the fact that all the souvenirs stands (of which there were many) were selling matryoshka dolls and magnets of Putin that had me perplexed.

As I walked through the small old town, I noticed everyone from the multitude of tourists to the shopkeepers vying for their attention were speaking Russian.   Forget Crimea, Putin and his pals have taken over this one corner of Montenegro and no one has noticed.  Even during the low season, there are three flights daily from Moscow.

It's a beautiful place, so I totally understand why someone from a place as gray as Moscow would want to come here and catch some sun. What I still don't get is all the Putin key chains and magnets. I love me some Obama and am already missing him terribly but, that said, I don't see myself going to the beaches of Rio and snatching up a Barack Beer Coozy.

The town itself was small but animated, with people crowding the small alleys and relaxing at the many cafes.

I was told that this was the must-try Montenegrin beer.  It was cold, cheap and light so I give it one sweaty thumbs up.

Just outside the old town, there is a walk which goes along the cliffs and provides the view shown on every postcard.  I know this because in trying to figure out what to do with the one hour's worth of free time we'd been given, I had looked through the postcard racks and asked where I could find this ubiquitous ballerina.

Once I found her, I had to wait while a trio of bikini-clad Russian girls carried on a sultry photo shoot on the rock.  I saw this scene repeated multiple times throughout the day.  The travel selfie and the Playboy submission shot are one and the same for these girls.

We had been instructed to meet the bus near a construction crane.  Thanks to the multiple condo projects going up, I of course found myself at the wrong crane and had to do a mad dash to the right one. Thankfully, I made it and was soon heading towards our next stop, the walled city of Kotor.

Once we arrived, we were handed over to a local guide who took us on a walking tour of this miniature Dubrovnik.

He then gave us forty-five minutes to see the town on our own.  I wanted to climb the walls which go up the side of the mountain but the consensus was that the entire loop would take between 90-120 minutes. However, about 1000 meters up, there is a church which takes about 20 minutes to reach. Even though I had climbed an ungodly 74 flights of stairs the day before and was walking like Frankenstein's monster in flip-flops, I was determined to get up to that church.

About ten minutes in, I already saw the error of my ways.  It was well over 90 degrees, the path was pretty steep in places and that church was not getting any closer.

But I continued up the path and sure enough, at the 20 minute mark, there was the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.

I had enough time remaining to sit for one moment while swigging a water bottle bought from the enterprising church people before heading back down.

It was the inevitable rush of being on a bus tour (or on a cruise or any other organized mode of travel for that matter).  Forty-five minutes is not nearly enough to fully explore a town, particularly one with a 2 hour wall in its midst.  Had there been a way to visit both cities independently in a day, I would have much preferred to have done that but this was really my only option.

On our way back, we skipped the ferry, instead going the longer route back around the Bay, affording us spectacular views all along the way, which after all was what I was looking for in determining which country would be #103. Rushed as it was, it was still a spectacular day.

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