Montenegro

Written by on August 10, 2012 in Europe, General

Montenegro has been on my wish list of places to visit for years…ever since seeing Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and thinking that the poker scene was actually filmed in Montenegro, which I was later informed that it was actually filmed in the Czech Republic!  Hilarious.  Well…I probably saved money as I most definitely would’ve gone to Casino Royale at Hotel Splendid and played some cards and who knows how that would’ve gone.

Montenegro lies just to the south of Croatia, sharing the same gorgeous Adriatic coastline, but with rugged peaks jutting up from the beaches, and canyons and river gorges inland that are second in size only to the Grand Canyon.  What’s not to like?

Well…aside from the throngs of annoying Russian and Serbian tourists on package holidays, and the Serbian “turbo folk” music blaring out of most bars and clubs, the answer is…not much.  Montenegro was beautiful, but tougher to travel in than Croatia.  There was very little English spoken, even amongst the crowds.  It’s just a little farther than the everyday vacationer would go, I guess.  But, it’s a very small country, so I decided to base myself in a town called Budva as my hub, and try to see the rest of the country on day-trips from there.

Budva’s old town is like a mini-Dubrovnik with marbled streets and Venetian walls, surrounded by the same sapphire blue water.

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Budva has a couple beaches within walking distance, and dozens of others accessible by bus or water taxi.   And, Budva was meant to have an amazing nightlife to boot.  I decided to treat myself and stay at the Hotel Mogren, which was in a perfect location just outside the old city.  70E/night.  Not cheap for the solo traveller trying to extend travels for a year, but thought I’d treat myself one last time.  Right on the beach and next to the action, what could go wrong?  Well…the air conditioning and the wifi, to start!  Ugh.  Working wifi with a strong connection is a lot harder to find than I’d thought, and one of the reasons I’m so far behind on writing.  I solved this problem over several pints at the tiny Irish bar in town, which had a strong signal, good beer and where I met a couple sets of new Irish friends.After a couple days of walking through town I’d come across the Montenegro Hostel and decided to finally take the plunge and book a room in a dorm, rather than going the private room route and continuing my “flashpacker” ways.  16E for a bunk bed in an 8-bed mixed dorm was actually a small price to pay when it comes along with free wifi, working A/C, and instant friends to go out partying with!  They also were the only game in town that arranged English speaking “tours”, so I quickly signed up for the white-water rafting trip to Tara Canyon leaving bright and early the next morning.

It was nearly a 4 hour drive to get up there, but the scenery was stunning.  We drove around most of the Bay of Kotor…a gorgeous deep-blue bay surrounded by steep mountains and sprinkled with a few cute Venetian style seaside towns.

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The mountainsides were arid and dry, though, so it wasn’t anything like what you’d see in Switzerland or Norway, and not quite as picturesque as I’d imagined it would be.  Anyway, we continued on through the rocky countryside and knew we were getting close as we pulled around a corner and then saw the bright turquoise water of the Tara River below.

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The Tara Canyon is second in size only to the Grand Canyon, dropping off 1,300 meters at its steepest point.  We finally stopped, had a quick breakfast, donned our wetsuits, helmets and funny-looking flowered water shoes, grabbed a paddle, and off we went.  I’d been warned that the trip wouldn’t really be “white water rafting”, and might not even need much paddling, as the river was low, but I’d also been told how beautiful it was and that was enough to get me out into nature.  I’d been doing beaches and cities the whole trip, so it was a pleasant change to be in the middle of the mountains and felt very much like Colorado.  The river was gorgeous and the people in my boat were fun.

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Apparently in April/May, the same river stretch we went on has raging class 5 rapids, but when we went I think they were more like class 2 L We made a few photo and swim stops and finished our 2.5 hour float just in time and got back to the restaurant 2 minutes before the sky opened up in a torrential downpour.  This was the first time I’d seen rain since back in SF, which again was a nice and welcome reprise from the heat.The hostel was smack in the center of the old town, and directly above Jef’s Café, which stayed loud until 2am, so there was really no option but to go out as there would be no way to sleep anyway.  I met 2 young Americans in the hostel and we ended up going to a nice dinner right on the beach, and then hopped around to a few of the cheesy bars on the pedestrian street that ran parallel to the beach.  We lost one, and then Carla and I rallied to check out Top Hill, an aptly named club at the top of one of the hills in Budva.  We’d been hearing how good it was all week, so had to check it out.  Wow.  This place was HUGE!

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What an amazing open-air venue to hear a DJ!  It felt almost more like a small amphitheater built for concerts and holds approximately 5,000 people.  We were there on a Monday night and it was probably 70% full.  I could only imagine how spectacular it would be with the right DJ and a full house.  I saw a sign that I was a week early to see Roger Sanchez, which would’ve been so much fun.  He must be following me as I think he was supposed to be in Hvar, Croatia a few days after me…and now Budva…and as I’m writing this entry I’m in Bulgaria, where he just played at Cacao Beach Club in Sunny Beach, the place we stayed, on Friday night.  Hilarious.

Anyway, it was kind of crazy that with a club so huge that I would run into Tom and David, the two Aussie guys I’d met in Mostar the week before.  The four of us ended up partying with a fun group of guys that were working on a yacht docked in Budva and had the night off.  I think Carla and I stumbled back to the hostel around 5am and wereprobably asleep for half an hour before 3 girls in my room woke up to alarms and started rustling plastic bags and zipping and unzipping their bags for what felt like forever.  A harsh welcome back to dorm living in hostels!!  Ugh…hangover kicking in, I struggled to sleep more than a few more hours before others started getting up and making noise, so I rallied to get out of bed and go catch a boat to take a “panorama tour” from the beach that basically did a drive-by of 5 of the nearby beaches that were exclusive only to people staying in hotels near those beaches, as well as around Sveti Stefan, which was supposed to “provide the biggest ‘wow’ moment on the coast”, according to Lonely Planet.  I’m not sure about that, but it was cool to see it from the water as well as land later on in the trip.

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The boat then dropped us off on “Hawaii”, an island off the coast with gorgeous views back to Budva across the water.

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I don’t remember the real name of the island, but everyone called it Hawaii.  This was the best value “tour” I’d taken this trip so far…5E for the tour and drop off, and then I could take any water-taxi back to Budva whenever I was finished on the island.  I met a great Polish couple on the boat and hung out with them on the rocky but picturesque beach…another great afternoon.I got back to the hostel and a plan was forming amongst most there to go to a beach party taking place that night on the beach about 400m from our hostel, where Hernan Cattaneo, a DJ I really like from Argentina, was going to be spinning.  About 15 of us walked over together.  I didn’t know what to expect, but there was a huge stage and light show, with a few opening DJs and a few thousand people dancing with the sand beneath their feet. 10E to get in and 3E beers.  Fantastic!  A lot of the youngsters from the hostel weren’t digging the music, but me and the only other guy over 30 hung in there for Hernan to finally come on around 330a and he did not disappoint.  Unfortunately, I was still pretty spent from the night before, so only made it til about 5am when it seemed like the DJ was finally warming up.  Would have been nice to stay for sunrise…and maybe even a few more days to check out more of the country, but I had a 6am bus to catch to Albania.

 

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