As I’ve now been in Moscow for almost a week now, I figure it’s time to throw out my final thoughts about my trip. I really enjoyed getting out in the sun and spending time in a lovely part of the world, so you’ll be reading about a lot of positive things. However, as part of a responsible traveler, you’ve got to be honest with yourself, so I’ll talk about the good, bad, interesting, etc. too.
- Kotor was a gorgeous town, and it was a superbly convenient 15 minute taxi ride from neighboring Tivat Airport. The people there were absolutely friendly, which greatly enhanced the trip. Plus, people generally spoke English despite me trying to say a few things in my basic Montenegrin, so I didn’t feel like a yokel speaking my native tongue.
- The food. Ah yes, the food. Being in Moscow and thus deprived of quality seafood, I loved being able to chow down on freshly caught fish, shrimp, and scallops. Even when I was ordering something else (like pizza), I made it a point to go for the options with fish. Should this type of food not appeal to you, there’s other options. Of them, my favorite was the family-run grill Tangja, just outside of the old city and a minute away from the bus station. Prices there were super cheap and you absolutely got your bang for the buck-I would spend 5 euros on a meal and a beer. If you’re feeling luxurious, you could also go for full steaks, which were a reasonable 15-20 euros. Also, the wine there was excellent! While the Montenegrin countryside is rugged, the fertile land they have produces top-notch wines. They’re also super cheap, and a glass can cost you about 2 euros. I even saw 0.33L bottles of rosé in most shops I ducked into. Basically, you’ll eat well when in the city and the country.
- The juxtaposition of tourism and culture was fascinating to see, and Kotor managed it very well, I thought. You definitely were hit with a lot of reminders that yes, you’re here for tourism. Yes, the menus were bi (and even tri) lingual, but it didn’t smother you with the tackiness. When strolling around, you saw the occasional placard denoting the historical buildings scattered around the city, which was a nice touch. You couldn’t go inside and really investigate, but at least the city wants to preserve the old days. On the flip side, Budva outright mortgaged their heritage for the tourists. Their Old Town is full of tacky souvenir shops, and our excursion guide mentioned that it’s actually closed in the off season due to lack of people (and revenue). It gets even more tragic considering Kotor has roughly 960 inhabitants and Budva 14,000, so you’d imagine things would be the other way. Nope. Not to dump on the latter too much (and I know it may seem unfair), but Wikipedia has an apt summary of what I saw: “The term Budvanizacija (“Budvanization”) has been used regionally to denote a form of chaotic and massive urban growth, tailored to the needs of individual land owners and developers, without regard for sustainability or environment.” Which is why, despite traveling around quite a bit of the coast/bay of southern Montenegro, Kotor just felt perfect-there’s none of that chaotic mess that stems from tourism.
- My hostel. As a noted defender of hostels, I’ve been in plenty before. However, this one felt just right. We were in the old town, but just past the restaurants and square, so things were pretty quiet. I’d also like to thank Danilo, Miloš, and Marko for being excellent hosts in the hostel, and especially since they put up with me and my millions of questions during my stay there. Hvala! (You can find their website here: http://www.hostel-kotor.me/)
- I count my blessings that taking day trips were so easy to do in Montenegro. I mean, I paid 20 euros to go to Dubrovnik and Shkodër for 17 euros, via the local bus station that was 5 minutes away. No matter how you look at it, that’s amazing. Over the last several months, I had attempted to try to fly directly there, but was thwarted by the high airfare. Fast forward to this past week where I managed to make it over for far cheaper than I could imagine. If you’d have told me that in one week, I’d be in three awesome countries, I wouldn’t have believed you. Hey, I’m not complaining how things turned out!
- Getting ripped off at the airport was pretty crap. I paid 35 euros for the ~20 minute ride to the outside of Kotor, but the official rate costed 15; my driver on my last day was furious at the drivers who do this. To some extent that was on me, as I knew I obviously was getting screwed over, but after dealing with a long day of delays, I didn’t care what I paid. The moral of the story is that your taxi ride, coming from Tivat Airport, shouldn’t break the bank.
- Also related to the airport, I didn’t notice any currency exchange places when I arrived, so I had to rely on the drivers themselves. Things went okay, but you’re placing your currency issues into the hands of guys clamoring to charge you higher. Tivat Airport really needs to address that issue, because I’m sure I’m not the first and last tourist to have this happen.
- Okay, so I kind screwed up when booking my vacation (regarding the days), but I gave myself a week in the country. Sounds good, right? Well, once you’ve gone on an excursion of the country, you’ve kinda seen a lot of it. Granted, I didn’t go up to the northern parts of the country, but there’s really only so much you can see before it gets kinda redundant. Taking day trips to the neighboring countries can alleviate the sense of boredom, but by the end I was struggling to come up with things to do. Prepare accordingly.
- Prior to heading on over, I thought that I’d be reading a lot of Cyrillic letters, given the a) Slavic ethnicity and b) their relationship with Serbia, where said alphabet is everywhere. Nope. As I found out when there, Montenegrins prefer the Latin alphabet, though you did occasionally see Cyrillic. Never found out why, but I thought it was pretty neat.
- Seeing random stores and houses in the hills was cool. Given how rugged the terrain can be, people made due with what real estate they had. Hence, driving through semi-isolated routes and seeing residents was jarringly neat.
- On that note, I’m entirely surprised that Montenegro isn’t used more for movies and shows. Maybe I’m a nerd, but the hills and mountains would make for a killer fantasy movie setting.
- With the steady stream of Russians coming to Montenegro and with the locals speaking a similar Slavic language, it was a bit of a challenge figuring out who was from where. This lack of distinction did come in handy at times, especially when I was trying to figure out where my bus would take me. Thank you, Slavic language tree!
- I know Kotor/Budva are the main tourist destinations in the country, but for whatever reason, I didn’t expect to see as many Asian tourists here. Heck, a guy from Taiwan on our excursion said he left his country to get away from them, and it was a shock for him to not accomplish that goal.
- I swear I didn’t see any car dealerships, so where are all the cars coming from?
- There was a massive candle in the common room of the hostel, and it was placed by the window. Because it was so burned out, it looked kinda like a cake or a mountain, depending on the angle you viewed it from. It was massive. So, you had the occasional (and often Russian) tourist actually taking pictures of it. People were even posing next to it! It was just a candle when you boiled it down, so it was bemusing to see so many people be irrationally excited to see it.
- Fellow tourists would take pictures of the side alley our rooms were in. I sometimes felt like an accidental model due to being included in so many people’s shots.
- Side note: the Albanian leke doesn’t feel real; it just feels too thin.