Balkan State of Mind III: Montenegro to Croatia
After waking up in Bosnia, we pushed on to the border with Montenegro. The officials leaving Bosnian scrutinized us a bit, but let us pass across a bridge into Montenegro. The roads were much better once we crossed. We had been following the Tara river some on the Bosnian side & on the Montenegro side things got more dramatic—the river cutting a gorge almost as deep as the grand canyon (in fact the deepest river canyon in Europe). We were hoping to go rafting on the Tara, but it seemed all the facilities were still closed, or it's something you have to arrange on a tour from one of the cities. Spectacular to drive along though.
The river eventually turned into a series of lakes. Great scenery, but slow driving. Once we got out of the gorge we took a detour up some winding road to the Ostrog monastery.
By late afternoon we found ourselves on the shores of lake Skodar, the largest lake in Montenegro. Never have i seen so many bugs as in this town on the shore, Virpazar. We ate dinner surrounded by bug zappers emitting the sickening smell of burning flesh & bugs & mosquitoes biting us & trying to fly into our open mouths with each biteful.
Until now we hadn't stayed more than one night in a place & were thinking of using Virpazar as a base for 2 nights while exploring the nearby Lovćen national park, but after eating a burnt omelet in the heat, reflecting on all the bugs from the night before, we decided to push on. We went up some windy road into the mountains towards Lovćen. We hardly saw any other cars or people, except shepherds herding their sheep or cows.
We were hoping to do some hiking in Lovćen, but couldn't find any trailheads, or at least trails that diverted much from the road. We tried to hike away from the road but when we got to the top of the mountain (the namesake Monte Negro?), not only did the road also go to the top, but there was a tunnel & set of stairs leading to the top where there was some sort of monument (with a guy wanting to charge us money to see it & the view from it).
We tried to hike up the other peak (with a radio tower) but there wasn't much of a trail either, besides some red paint marks going up a steep incline of skree. And another trail we found was nice, but the second we got into the shade of the forest we got bombarded by mosquitoes (at least we got some much needed exercise running away from them!). Other hikers we saw (a group of inbred-looking children) were just hiking on the road, which seemed kind of ridiculous. So we drove on.
We drove the infamous road from Lovćen down to the bay of Kotor. This road (& many of the others we'd been on) were single lane roads with no room to pass, so every time a car (or worse, tour busses) came from the other direction you'd have to stop & either drive into the ditch or back up until there was a place to get by, side by side. The road to Kotor wound dramatically down the side of a steep mountain with views of the bays below.
Here's the middle third of the «Balkan state of mind» playlist we were listening to while driving these roads:
We continued past the touristy sounding Kotor & Budva cities without stopping, to a place called Sveti Stefan. I got so used to saying «Sweaty Stefan» that when i pulled up to a roadblock & the guy asked where we were going, i said «Sweaty Stefan».
Sveti Stefan is a rather exclusive island connected to the mainland by a land bridge. After realizing that rooms at the resort that had taken over the island ranged from 750 to 3000 euros a night, we retreated back up the road to a place that had a room with a terrace overlooking the ocean for less than 50 euros.
After feasting on calamari & fish, we went & swam at the free beach (above). Other beaches in Sveti Stefan charge as much as 75 euros just to use the beach. These roped off beaches were pretty much the same as the one we swam at (certainly the water is the same), so the only reason we could think that people would pay such a hefty price to have a lawn chair & umbrella on these exclusive beaches was to be seen as rich enough enough to afford it. And most of these beaches were completely empty. Free public beaches should be a basic human right—there should be a global law that no one can own a beach.
We woke up in Montenegro & split for Croatia. If i sound down on Montenegro it's because, for all the hype it gets, we for the most part thought it was overrated. We were much more impressed with what we'd seen of Slovenia, Bosnia & inland Croatia.
We drove around all 2 or three fingers of the bay of Kotor & across the border into Croatia, to Dubrovnik. We left the car in a parking garage outside the city walls & ventured into the polished white marbled streets of the old town. Even with all the cool baroque & medieval shit we've seen in Italy & elsewhere, we were still quite awed by Dubrovnik. It's like a mix between Venice & Viterbo, with a laidback flavor all its own. And the food rocks. Had some «Dalmatian Bucatini» with fresh anchovies & lemon & some sort of green mixed in.
Some of the places we checked about rooms told us the whole town was booked for the summer, but then we found some guy at a sushi restaurant that, after some calling around, tracked down the owner of this cool top-floor loft apartment with a view of the cathedral.
Then we went down around the harbor to the open sea & took a swim off the rocks.
Then we walked the city wall that runs the entire perimeter of Dubrovnik & took some of these photos from up there.
There are swallows everywhere in Dubrovnik, darting in & out of the narrow alleys & into houses where they have their nests. They give the town a certain sense of energized fluidity, like electrons buzzing around the nucleus of an atom. There's also nuns dressed in black everywhere, even more than we see around Vatican city. Must be a nun convention in town.
From the moment we crossed the border into Croatia we started seeing people & cars decked in the checkered red & white pattern of Croatia. At one point we had to slow down for some construction workers & when they saw the Italian plates on our car, they stopped working & starting dancing around & chanting. Little did we know that Croatia was playing Italy this evening.
As gametime approached, the piazzas & bars with big tv screens filled with people wearing red & white. We found what seemed to be the last available table & watched the game drinking mugs of Croatian beer. We tried to root for Croatia (for own safety) but couldn't help cheering when Italy scored first. No one seemed to notice or care, it was all good-natured (granted we were in a very touristy town). Here's what it looked like when Croatia scored next:
As we were watching the game, this little black kitten kept coming up to us. He slept on our shoulders & lap for most of the game & we were starting to think that he had chosen us to take him home. But when we asked the people at the bar they had been feeding him & sort of taking care of him, so we were off the hook.
Feasted on more excellent seafood & then sat & watched (along with an accumulation of cats) this old man come in from the sea on his boat & pick the sardines from his net.