Montenegro + Dubrovnik, Croatia — [Sat 7/11 thru Tue 7/14]

WOW. Montenegro! What a beautiful country! We have definitely added Montenegro to the list of places we’d like to go back to. In case you’re wondering, the other two are Kho Tao, Thailand and Budapest, Hungary. But first, how we got here.

I had researched on the Eurail website how to get from Brasov, Romania to Bar, Montenegro. They had listed a path involving 5 trains! First train headed back towards Budapest overnight, then 3 day time trains leading to Belgrade, Serbia, then a final overnight from Belgrade to Bar. Problem was, the International train counter in Brasov couldn’t get any of the tickets through Serbia or Montenegro. We could only reserve seats on the first train out of Brasov towards Budapest. After more research on both the Serbian and Montenegran railway websites I discovered a train direct from Budapest to Belgrade plus another overnight from Belgrade to Bar. Back at the Brasov train station we got 2nd class seats for the final 2 hours into Budapest on the same train (again, they couldn’t book tickets into Serbia or Montenegro).
Once we boarded the train, the conductor saw both our ticket reservations (one sleeper then 2nd class seats) and said:
“Wouldn’t you like to stay in the sleeper all the way to Budapest?”
Me: “Yes, of course”.
Him: “And wouldn’t you like to have your own 4 bed cabin that I have over here instead of the 6 bed cabin with those other two people?”
Me: “Yes, of course”.
Him: “Hmmmmm… you know, I do like Cognac a lot”.
Me: “Oh… Hmmmm… We do have Euros”.
Him: “OK. That will work too.”
30 Euros later we had our own 4 bed sleeper all the way to Budapest. Gotta love Eastern Europe! 🙂

Once in Budapest, I ran to the International ticket window and was able to reserve 4 2nd class seats to Belgrade, Serbia.

Once in Belgrade, I ran to the International ticket window and was able to only reserve 4 2nd class seats on the overnight train to Bar, Montenegro. It was in a 6 seat cabin that we shared with a nice young couple from Poland plus about 20 people standing/sitting/smoking in the hallway outside our cabin… ALL NIGHT LONG. It was quite a long ride with very restless sleep.

As it began to get light outside, I began to see the beauty of Montenegro which is probably 90% mountains. The beautiful mountain peaks, forests, lakes, mountain side villages, mountain top monasteries, and the fog… I couldn’t dare go back to sleep, I was soaking in all the amazing views as we went through tunnel after tunnel. It was like riding a train in the high Sierras I would imagine. At about 8:30am we pulled into Bar, Montenegro which is on the coast of the country. To us Bar was akin to boring. As I explained to my wife, Bar was the last stop on the train and thus would only serve as a place for us to sleep and take day trips from to explore, as well as where we needed to catch our ferry to Italy.

Central Square with Communist era UFO buildings
Central Square with Communist era UFO buildings
Catching the sunset on the beach
Catching the sunset on the beach

Our original thought was to take public buses out as I’d read Montenegro’s bus system is very good. The guy at our hotel suggested we walk down to the water and promenade looking for people selling bus tickets to the Ostrog Monestary, one of the 3 places we wanted to visit, so we took a walk. We saw the signs for Ostrog, but no people selling. Eventually we found a travel agent who told us the price for a tour to the Monestary (no public buses go up there apparently). We continued to walk around thinking of our plans and options when we came across a sign for a real-estate agency that said; Rent a room / boat / car + Tourist Info. The lady was very friendly and informative and said with the cost of a tour to Ostrog plus public buses to Ulcinj and Kotor / Budva, might as well rent a car. We did the calculations and agreed. She unfortunately was sold out. So the hunt for a rental car began. Here’s how it goes in Eastern Europe / Montenegro:
Walk around for a while and see a sign for Rental Car. Can’t find the office so walk into the nearest store (Kids Store in this case). Ask at front desk where the rental car company is.
“Oh… yes. He’s my friend. You want to rent a car? How many days? I call him now.  [pause]. OK… You go to central square and ask anyone where Wasabi is. They all know. Across the street from Wasabi is my friend Duska. You tell him Boris sent you. He rent you car for 30 a day.”
We found Duska’s place, but he was out of town and wouldn’t open again ‘till 6pm. So we started walking back to our hotel when I saw another car rental sign at a car wash.
“Oh… yes. She’s my friend. You want to rent a car? How many days? I call her now. [pause].  Ok… she coming now. Wait.”
[pause]
“Hello… come. You get in car now”.
Me: “Where are we going????”
Her: “My office to sign papers”.
Me: “Um… OK”.
Her: “You have cash? No? OK, we stop first in city”.
After arriving at an apartment complex with a tiny 6’ x 6’ office downstairs, I signed the rental papers and we had a car for 3 days. Fun!

Day 2

Our first real day we decided to drive down the coast to Ulcinj. Word is, if you want to visit Albania without visiting Albania, go to Ulcinj. It is 75% Albanian about 30 min. from the boarder. I had also read that just south of Ulcinj was the “12 km beach”… that turned out to be a bust, so we headed back into Ulcinj and their public beach right by the old town. BEAUTIFUL! Rather unfortunately, Tia got a bit sick after playing on the beach and in the water for the afternoon. So we hiked back to the car and drove around a bit. Tuyet got out at the old city gates and explored while we stayed in the car. Tia fell asleep while we were driving back to Bar, so we decided to just continue up the coast north of Bar and checked out lovely Sveti Stefan. WOW! Amazing. Again, Tuyet got out of the car to explore, came back, then I got out and snapped a few pictures before we headed back to the hotel.

Ulcinj-1    Ulcinj-2

 

Ulcinj-3

Ulcinj-4

Day 3

Driving north along the coast of Montenegro is amazing. Views of the Adriatic Sea are unforgettable with old towns hugging the water along the cliffs. We drove past Sveti Stefan, through Budva and around the Bay of Kotor. WOW. Our plan was to come back to the town of Kotor for dinner and see the old city with it’s fortress walls in the hills lit up at night. But first, on to Dubrovnik, Croatia. After crossing the boarder into Croatia, it was another 30 minutes to Dubrovnik. Rounding a corner high on the cliffs, you look down on what can only be described as a fairy tale scene…. a beautiful large old city enclosed by city walls right on the water of the Adriatic! It was quite the site. We ended up spending 5 hours in Dubrovnik walking around the city but mostly enjoying all the amazing views from walking along the city walls. The city was very crowded with tourists, but due to the price to walk the walls, it was far less crowded up there which made it very enjoyable. We loved Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik-1    Dubrovnik-3

Dubrovnik-4

Dubrovnik-5    Dubrovnik-2

Dubrovnik-6

Now, our original travel plans were to go to Croatia. On our flight to Prague I had read about Montenegro; cheaper and just as beautiful. I looked it up in our Lonely Planet and we went back and forth for a bit also seeing what made sense with the trains and ferrys. Turns out, we made the right decision not to stay in Croatia. It is way overpriced and overrun by tourists (this of course is mostly based on our one day in Dubrovnik). Montenegro is still very un discovered, inexpensive, and almost nobody from western Europe or the Americas. Most of the tourists are from bordering countries or Russia.

After Dubrovnik, we drove back into Montenegro and to the town of Kotor. The bay of Kotor is stunning. Like a Norwegian Fjord… deep blue/green waters surrounding by soaring mountains and hillside villages splattered along the drive. Off the coast of Perast is a man made island with a church; Our Lady of the Rocks. We didn’t get out to the church, but the sight was awesome.

Lady of the Rock
Lady of the Rocks

Every other turn on the road you come to a tiny village with people swimming in the waters jumping off piers and just enjoying the summer in the bay. Kotor is the place to be though. The old town is small and crammed with beautiful houses and 3 churches with narrow cobble stoned streets… no cars here… surrounded by city walls nestled right up to the mountains. Leading up the mountain are the old fortress walls that are lit up at night… and yes,  you can hike up the walls as well. After a lovely dinner at a restaurant on one of the many lovely small squares in Kotor next to the Church of St. Luke and the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, we got lost around Kotor looking for the fortress walls (always fun to get lost in a magical old town like Kotor!). We hiked up a bit to a lovely spot with a great view of the town and the water bathed in lights.

Kotor-2    Kotor-3

 

Kotor-5    Kotor-8

Kotor-6

Day 4

Exhausted from the previous day and Tia still recovering, we decided to skip Ostrog Monestary and head back to Sveti Stefan and chill at the public beach there. Now that’s what I call an awesome beach day! Sveti Stefan is an island 50 feet off the beach that was once it’s own town. It is now a private resort, so you can’t get on, but the views are still amazing. The waters were very clear and nice and cool on a hot summer day. A great way to end our stay in Montenegro.

Stephen-1

Stephen-2    Stephen-3

After driving back to Bar, we had a quick dinner, returned the car, and waited for our ferry to Bari, Italy then our train from Bari to Venice.

See you in Venice!

Bar-3

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