Friday, 6 September 2013

Exploring Montenegro

After reading about Montenegro in Lonely Planet's 'Best of 2013' and realizing how close it was to Dubrovnik we thought it was best to go down and check it out. So after seeing mum and dad off at the airport and some pretty horrendous queuing at the border we made it into Montenegro. Almost instantly we could notice the change between the two countries, but most notability was the price of fuel as it dropped significantly, which was a nice surprise. With mum and dad having been down here only a few days prior we got a few good tips on the highlights, so first on our agenda was to stop in at the small medieval town of Kotor. Much like a smaller version of Dubrovnik, this old port town was still well preserved and swarming with tourists straight off the boat. Walking around for some time admiring the beauty of the ancient city, we soon grew hungry for some local delicacies. So after asking some locals about the top spot to grab a bite to eat we were soon pointed into the direction of a little seafood restaurant just by one of the city gates. Consulting the menu, along side our trusty guidebooks recommendations we quickly decided upon a thick fish stew to start, followed by squid ink risotto and prosciutto/cheese stuffed squid for mains. Needless to say as long as you are a seafood lover these were amazing.
Being stuffed to the gills and with the temperature way too hot to do anything active we opted to skip the 1350 step climb up the city walls and jump back into the car and make tracks for Budva. Whist mum and dads reviews of the costal city weren't raving we thought we would check it out anyway. The drive was pleasant, cruising along the cliff tops with views of the bay of Kotor below, but once we rounded the final corner we hit the non awe inspiring view that is Budva. Imagine an endless horizon of 80's style designed skyscrapers stretching along the entire coast line, with hoards of leathered European tourists battling amounts the hectic traffic in the streets and the only thing that out numbers them all is the amount of umbrellas that line the beachfront which I can only assume are there to mask the fact that it is not actually a beach at all but rather a stone quarry waterfront. So not really 'feeling it' we decided to keep on truckin', down towards the Albanian border as we had heard good recommendation for food down there. After another 2 hours of driving, we reach the other end of the country, although again weren't really inspired to stay for too long. The beauty of not having any plans when travelling means you are free to do as you please and explore the unknown, however this can also be a problem as our days worth of driving had brought us to the end of the country, with no desire to stay and no accommodation options available anyway. So again with no real plan in mind we picked a spot on the map, a large looking lake inland, and followed the GPS hoping to find a camp site along the way. As we started the climb up into the mountains, the realization of finding a camping ground quickly faded as civilization dwindled and the road conditions turned from 'all right' to 'I hope that pot hole isn't landmine related'. Instantly forgoing the idea to just camp road side, as we had passed numerous wild bear and wolf signs, we continued on towards the lake. For most of the trip the GPS has been a god send directing us straight in/out of some of the most difficult and confusing city streets, however every now and then it has its own little brain fart and takes in the strangest direction. Just before reaching the lake we passed through a small community which looked like it might have somewhere for us to crash. So with hope of ending the drive early we consulted our trusty GPS and searched for accommodation near by, to which our surprise resulted in a potential campsite just off the main road. Now this campsite was easy enough to find, however upon arrival we were greeted to an empty paddock with no sign of potential camping. A little disheartening but still staying positive we drove around a bit for one final search. Unfortunately most of the town was residential and farms so we punched the lake back into the GPS and took off following the quickest route. Now this is where things started to go a little wrong... As we continued driving, we noticed the road ahead getting smaller and smaller with each turn of the wheel. Whilst the GPS assured us that there was a road ahead and this was the correct way, things just did not seem right. All of a sudden the road seemed to change from bitumen to gravel, which was ok at first, as its not our car and the road seemed pretty well worn. However as we kept trudging along, wondering when the gravel would end, it actually turned out that the 'previously used' section of the road ended and we found ourselves driving down a wheel rutted track with grass growing in the middle almost higher than the bonet. On the plus side the undercarriage of the car got a good clean...
The bonus about going the 'scenic route' is you get to see some things that you wouldn't normally see, travelling the more 'beaten path'. Being in part of the former Yugoslavia I was excited to see some of the Spomemik's which are scattered around the country side. These monuments were commissioned in the 60/70's by the then president Josip Broz Tito to commemorate WWII battle sights and concentration camps. So, when we happened to drive past the state below, needless to say I was pretty excited. Later on however I discovered this wasn't one of the major sites (more on this later) it was still a pretty cool thing to see along the way.
Just as the sun was beginning to set and we had dodged our last pot hole for the drive we finally arrived into Virpazar. Whilst the town itself was quite small and surprisingly touristy we struggled a little to again find suitable accomodation. Feeling pretty tired from the drive and not in the mood to haggle with most of the very pushy hotel owners, we luckily enough came across a nice lady from a tourism office who found us something.
The next morning we woke up well rested, decided to pack up again and start exploring the local area. The town itself was quite nice, set just back from lake Skadar and offered numerous water related activities. Whilst some of these were tempting we didn't really have the time as we had to get moving since we had another few hours driving ahead of us to reach our final destination in Montenegro. As I mentioned earlier the beaches weren't exactly tempting, so we thought we would give the mountains a go and try our hand at some river rapids. After a very pleasent and windy drive through the mountains of Montenegro we reached the Tara River, our rafting adventure point and new home for the next night. Scoring a great deal with one of the local tour groups, which included rafting, meals and a roof, we settled in for our first night taking in some of the beautiful scenary and preparing ourselves for tomorrow's rapids.
The next day started with a late start, as we waited for the busses to arrive in from Kotor and Budva. After a hearty local breakfast of sausages, fried pastries and sour cream cheese, we geared up and headed down to the river. Scouting out for some other English speaking tourists to enjoy the rapids with, we found a couple of Aussie blokes who were travelling around together and a couple from the Netherland who had rode their bikes all the way to the eastern block. After a quick meet and greet we jumped into our inflatable rollercoaster and took off down river. Now whilst the sun was beating down by this stage, crisping up the tops of our heads, the water below was icy cold, which made for an interesting ride. As the rapid season was coming to an end, the 'extremeness' of the ride was pretty moderate, with only a few small rapid sections. However, the 2 hour cruise down the Tara River was really pleasent as we got great views of the 1300m deep canyon. Once back on dry land we showered up and got changed, whilst our tradition lunch of grilled meats and fish sizzled away in the kitchen. After lunch we said our goodbyes before setting off over the border for another country and another adventure.
- Ryan -

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