This post is a day late due to me being away for most of Thursday, but it’s worth the wait due to the activities I partook in. My awesome hostel, the Old Town Hostel, offered excursions, and the day’s one was called the “Great Montenegro Tour”. The title alone was enticing, but the itinerary solidified my desire to book it!
After meeting just outside our hostel and heading to the tour bus, the first order of business was to make our way up to the mountains surrounding the Bay of Kotor. Continuing on on the snaking road (just want to say kudos to our driver Saša for masterfully getting us up and about!), we reached 1,000 meters/3280 feet above sea level. I will also admit to feeling kinda nervous when we were driving up to the vantage points, because the road barriers weren’t high enough for my liking and the dropoff was pretty steep; I remember feeling the same in Bosnia, but when you throw in mountains things change. As I chronicled in my last post, I had seen the panorama of the bay and city from the top of the citadel. However, the views we saw put them to shame-we were able to see both, Tivat, and further! Seeing a wide perspective of the way was incredibly spectacular, and one could see why the bay earned its nickname of “stone gates”-the terrain offers natural protection. Prior to booking this trip, my dad had sent me a link highlighting why Montenegro is a gorgeous country, and so far the morning was justifying that. In fact, the theme of this excursion seemed to be “how much further can we convince tourists that our country is heaven on earth?”.
A few minutes after leaving the top, our tour guide asked us if anybody was interested in zip lining, and being the foolhardy young lad I am, my hand shot up immediately. I mean, opportunities to zip line in the mountains and hills of Montenegro don’t exactly come by very often. So, we drove to a small but and I cheerfully paid 10€ to be kitted up and sent on my way. While the distance was a bit smaller than I kinda hoped it would be, the zip lining was pretty sweet. As the wind blew by me, I looked down and the sights, and boy was my adrenaline pumping! My only regret was not getting someone to film it, cause I bet it would’ve been a sight to behold.
Moving on, our next destination was the small village of Njeguši. Why this place, you might ask? What could a small village on the slopes of Mt. Lovćen have to offer? Well, it was home to the country’s oldest restaurant (established in 1881) as well as the region’s best smoked ham (it truly was). It also happened to be the ancestral home of several members of the Petrović dynasty. To get to said village, we had to (naturally) drive through mountains then picturesque fields, replete with stone houses and even some goats. A cool part of being in the town was checking out the smokehouse, which was exactly like you’d image it: smoky and full of several blocks of ham waiting to be served. Oh yeah, a glass of conveniently placed homemade brandy was waiting there for us. Normally I’m not one for drinking at ten in the morning, but hey, free alcohol. Plus, the kick I got from it was better and stronger than coffee. After that shot, we proceeded to chow down on the aformentioned ham and fresh cheese. Oh, and the bread was probably the best I’ve ever had! Seriously, God bless fresh food.
Now, it was time to continue on to the famous Lovćen National Park, where we would climb the peaks. Remember when I said the ones outside of Kotor were about one thousand meters above sea level? These ones here were roughly 1,660 meters, or about 5,446 feet above sea level. At the top of the second highest one here, we visited the world’s highest mausoleum. Montenegro’s famous ruler and poet Petar II Petrović rests here, and you could see an enormous 29 ton granite statue created to serve as tribute; the cool part is that it was a single piece! Moving past it, there was a balcony where you could see over a staggering 70 percent of the entirety of the country, and our guide mentioned that if the sky was clearer, one could actually see Bosnia, Serbia, and Albania! Wow! Though, I concede to being a bit scared due to a noticeably sharp drop from the unnervingly small pathway. If you’re afraid of heights, you’d probably be in the fetal position at the base of the monument. Thankfully, we carefully yet quickly departed to head off to our next destination.
The ancient capital of Montenegro is Cetinje, which was about a 40 minute drive from the park. Founded in the 15th century, it’s the spiritual home of the country, as the various churches attested to. I had already planned to visit there, so I was pretty curious to tour around. Unfortunately, the already grey skies opened up on us, so our immediate priority was to find shelter. After waiting out the rain in a local cafe, we strolled around a bit. Our guide, Sandra, pointed out to us that as the former capital, many countries set up embassies here. Since the government’s move to Podgorica, those buildings obviously weren’t needed anymore. Coupled with the local economy’s fall into shambles thanks to factories closing and the presence of perfectly adequate buildings, the former embassies were converted into places of art and culture. On the way to the the small monasteries, we passed by an unassuming building that just so happened to be the old King Nikola’s palace. I mean, had there been no indication of its significance, you never would have guessed what it was. Sandra liked that fact because it indicated the royals weren’t too high and mighty for their people, and I agreed with her. We left about twenty minutes later, and maybe it was due to the rain or just a general adherence to the schedule, but we didn’t linger long there. And honestly? I was okay with that. We drove through the outskirts to get there, and while appearances can be deceiving, I didn’t exactly feel all warm and fuzzy to be there. So, moving on was rather okay in my books.
The Crnojević River was our next stop, and it was pretty spectacular. As I look back at the pamphlet for the excursion, it rightfully touts the river was being one of the most famous pictures of the country. Nestled between mountains, the river emulates a snake and crawls a long way. I believe it comes from the biggest lake in the Balkans, Skadar, so that is my guess for its origins. Naturally, being so close to the river, we made a stop for lunch at a charming restaurant. We all chowed down on fresh trout and fish soup, which was washed down with some excellent (and cheap) white wine. After happily lying back in our chairs digesting the food, we braced ourselves for the chance to swim in the lake itself!
We all were ushered down the road to where our pilot was waiting to take us. To get to the spot where we’d stop, it was a pleasant twenty or so minutes. In all her blessed foresight, Sandra brought some wine and the brandy from the morning, making it very ideal. The guys there and I were joking about how the presence of water lilies gave off an Asian vibe, which felt somewhat uncanny, actually. Finally, we were at our spot! I wasn’t the first to jump in, as I was a bit paranoid about getting temperature of the water. Rest assured, the water was pleasantly warm, and four of us swam around enjoying it. I hadn’t swam for a long time, so I had to remember how to not drown. After a while, we got our kicks in, and as a group, we turned around.
Finally, the last part of the day involved swinging by the neighboring city of Budvar. We were warned that in comparison with Kotor, we could expect a larger yet more touristy city. For whatever reason, Russians flock to Budvar, so plenty of stores catered to them. The old town was rather disappointing since it was much smaller and blatantly showing signs of mortgaging its history for tourism. Now, I’m not saying Kotor is entirely innocent of this, but at least they preserved their heritage. All in all, we were in Budvar for less than an hour, because we merely were swinging by. My very last conclusion is that Kotor is definitely my home base here in wonderful Montenegro, and I’m proud of it!
Thursday was a long, twelve-hour day, but absolutely worth the exhaustion! I now feel that I better understand the country, and I genuinely feel blessed for what I saw and did. Let’s see what the next day’s hold for me!