Left Dubrovnik by bus and after a ride down the coast crossed over into Montenegro. Got my passport stamped and then my first sight of an authentic Montenegrin was a the woman herding cattle down the middle of the street, stopping traffic. The main road to Podgorica wound all along the coast and passes through many of the coastal towns before switch-backing its way up the mountains and inland to the capitol. I arrived well after dark and almost got off the bus at the wrong stop, but luckily made it safely to the main bus depot where Tim met me.
Tim and Lexi had an amazing apartment in the heart of the town, but we spent very little time there as we were too busy seeing the sights of the country. We went out in town and got a late dinner of the great Montenegrin delicacy of cheese wrapped in meant, smothered in cheese, rich and delicious, not very good for you but who cares on vacation.
Each day of the trip always began the same. A stop at the one and only indoor shopping mall to hit up Costa Coffee for Tim's coffee fix and my burgeoning mini-muffin obsession. Sometimes the chain stores are worthwhile after all.
The first full day in Montenegro we went to city of Cetinje. This was the original capitol of the country when it had a brief period as an independent kingdom. We walked around a bit and saw the old king's palace. It was a nice compact city and a good way to start the day.
We then drove into the nearby national park and drove to the top of Lovćen mountain. The views are spectacular and the top of the mountain has the crypt of Njegoš a famous Montenegrin poet and ruler. Even driving most of the way to the top there was still a significant staircase to be surmounted before reaching the pinnacle of the mountain. The picture to the left shows the view from the bottom of the stairs, and the path leading off the top of the parking area is actually the original Austrian road that was used to travel to the top of the mountain, and even to transport heavy equipment to the summit during times of war. The picture below shows the view from the top of the neighboring peak that is still used as an active military base.
Following this, we then drove over the ridge to the coast and visited the city of Kotor. Kotor, like many of the coastal towns still has the original walled city center intact. Had a good lunch there and then hiked up the old fortifications on the hillside behind the city. Was a great workout and well worth it for the views. Many, many steps, all protected as a world heritage site (like Dubrovnik). The ruins at the top are amazing, and well worth the climb. Overall it was an amazing day. We had perfect weather and traveled roads where we were eye level with the clouds and wound through dozens of switchbacks. The roads are a bit harrowing there and require some driving skill, but well worth it for the sights you see in the many pull offs along the way.
I couldn't resist taking a video of one of the switchbacks, thank goodness the Mini Cooper has excellent handling.
The next day we went to Kanjon Mrtvice (Canyon Death) for a day hike. This place was spectacular. We hiked into the canyon from a non-descript pull of of a country road. We hiked a distance in and had lunch by the stream side. Even in the height of Summer the water is ice cold as it comes directly from springs inside the mountains. Cold but delicious. We had a basic lunch and continued our hike further on. The trail runs on a ledge along the mountain side, and when that ledge runs out ambitious Serb engineers carved out a trail in the side of the cliff face. the mineral rich waters of the stream were the mos amazing blue-green color. The pictures barely capture how beautiful it was. (It is times like these that I wish I had Paul's camera and his expertise to work the digital SLR). The below picture is the view from the trail of one of the old Austrian roads that criss-cross the countryside and are still useful and beautiful.After the canyon we went back downtown and had an amazing Italian dinner, and went out on the town. The Europeans love to promenade (the best word I can think of for it), where they just walk in loops through the downtown through the evening on the weekends before settling on a place to spend the night. Seems similar to cruising Main St., but without the car. Provides for amazing people watching from the patios of the downtown cafes. The people of Montenegro love their glitter and sequins, I must say. We even had a few drinks at a cafe called Cheers, where it looks like they found the logo on the Internet and just photo-shopped it for their own purposes.
Sunday was a welcome break from the constant hiking and climbing of the past several days. Instead it was my upper body that got the workout kayaking all day on Lake Skadar. The lake is on the border between Montenegro and Albania. From where we were you could just make out the distant mountains of Albania on the horizon. My camera didn't do so well with stitching the pictures on the water, but still the views were very impressive.The lake is one of the largest, healthy wetland environments in all of Europe and crucial for many migrating species on the way between Africa and Europe. I'm not much of a bird watcher so I just enjoyed the natural environment. The tour guide was awesome. He was a Scot who had lived and worked in southern California before picking up and heading to Montenegro. Since I was the only solo kayaker he hung out with me at the back made the trip amusing by telling me many the most hilarious stories (many of which might not have gone over well with some of the couples on the trip...). Once we were beyond the outskirts of the village where we put in, the natural environment ruled, with only a few isolated houses on that portion of the lake. Hopefully it will stay much the same as the whole region is protected wilderness. Finally, we had a small meal while watching the sunset in the farming village where the trip began and ended. It was a great weekend overall.
Sadly my last day in Montenegro arrived on Monday. We drove down to the cost and stopped in several more cities. We did a driving tour of Bar, where we saw a 2000+ year old olive tree. This is a little more of an industrial city, being the main port for the country, and not quite as touristy as most of the other places we went. Much of the city was rebuilt since World War II, and the old town portion is mostly a ruin as a result of earthquakes and neglect (we didn't have the time to visit the ruins unfortunately so it will have to wait for my next visit...).
Following Bar we drove up the coast to Budva. This is the touristy heart of the coast, and I would have loved to have spent a night here to sample the night life and the promenading locals. To appeal to the tourists the town has reconstructed the old town and its walls to a reasonable imitation of authenticity. We wandered the town, had some lunch, and did a little souvenir shopping in some of the tourists traps. Apparently Budva is usually packed with tourists, but luckily I was there in the off-season but just before the rainy season so still had some great weather. I especially loved the Costa Coffee here, it had an amazing, vine-covered courtyard.
The next morning I took off from the Montenegro airport. It is surprisingly nice, even if they do treat checking and boarding times as the same thing on your ticket (luckily I got there nice and early). This airport was my first stop outside America where I had an actual Jetway to the plane.
My biggest complaint from the whole trip was the airport induced starvation. European airports are all devoted to the duty free shops. Often the best you can do is a cold sandwich to eat. Maybe it is just their international terminals but the American airports have much better food.
Overall my trip was amazing and I hope you check out my pictures on flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/studentlohn/sets/72157622449491305/), where my "Best of Croatia and Montenegro" set is chronologically ordered so you can tell where many of the pictures are from base on this blog until I possibly put more captions on the pictures I have. I took many pictures so it is a slow process. The full size pics do a bit more justice to the beauty, sorry there are so many to flip through.