Montenegro: Crazy beautiful and some crazy weather

Photo Credits to Erik Tazegul

After two short days in Budapest to go to class and finish some assignments, we were back traveling again! This time we had a discount flight to Podgorica, the small capital of Montenegro. This capital doesn't have a lot to see, so we were headed strait for the bus station! There we caught an evening bus strait for Kotor, a charming city on a striking bay. 

I have to say, riding the Montenegrin buses has been quite the adventure! The buses are run by private companies, with no schedule posted reliably online. (As I'm writing this I'm waiting for a bus right now, because we managed to miss the early morning bus). I have actually seen a bus driver shift gears, steer and write out a ticket at the same time. If it wasn't a little scary it would be very impressive!! The buses also seem to stop in the most random places including locals' homes or where their cars are parked. This bus-adventure sure beats the alternative of driving! The roads in Montenegro have not been recently renovated like in Croatia, and the landscape between the bay and mountains really doesn't allow for large scale highways.  

Kotor was a bit smaller than I imagined, but the city walls held some of the oldest buildings I've had the pleasure of seeing. Including a church that was building around 1,000 A.D. We also walked into a much newer Orthodox Church (what an oxymoron!) with very large paintings of prophets. When we first saw these, a few of us noticed immediately the striking resemblance to Propaganda art from the Cold War. They were in fact painted by a Russian artist in 1990! 

Erik had us try some Borek from a bakery in town, which is a traditional Turkish pastry that his grandma would make. I'm not going to lie, it was like a really good cheese danish! You can also get them with meat and spinach. The bakery offered a Borek with peanut, but Erik hadn't heard of this before. 

Views from the most beautiful restaurant. Aka a bench in Kotor.

We ate a meal on a bench near the marina, which included some amazing olives and strawberries from the market. Then we caught another bus that took us around the bay to another small town. There we grabbed a ferry out to a man made island. This island is known as "Our Lady of the Rock". There was an incredibly detailed tapestry that was apparently made by a woman who lived on the island for many years waiting for her husband to return from army service. 

Our Lady of the Rock

The food in Montenegro has been absolutely fantastic and really affordable! We ate at an Italian restaurant on the bay and got some weird looks when we mixed lemonade and ice tea to make an Arnold Palmer. I guess that drink hasn't made it to this part of the world yet! 

This restaurant had the bendiest straw

Back in Kotor we got ready to hike up to the fortress to see the sunset. On our way we heard some very loud Irish music outside the hostel and turned to walk towards it. There we met some very nice gentlemen who worked for the hostel. The invited us in and bought a round of the local beer. Their names were Marco and Darco, and despite being native Montenegrins, they were loudly singing along to Irish folk songs. We told him we were students, and I said that I studied chemical engineering. He looked off really wistfully and told us how he used to love studying chemistry. He switched to study English as a result of the civil war in the country. Now he's a sort of businessman, managing the insurance for the hostel in the bay, and returning to his family inland on the weekends. 

We were taken aback by his life story, especially because none of use can relate to having our plans derailed like that. We weren't really sure what to say...but then before we knew it he was back to singing and clapping along to an Irish tune. 

We managed to politely leave the bar in time to catch the beautiful sunset over the bay from the fort. We hiked up more than 1,300 steps to see this view! 

On top of the world...we were absolutely shocked to run into two of our classmates from back in Budapest! We took in the view together and then we joined them for dinner! They had found a great restaurant in town, that served big platters of T-bone steaks and salad for really cheap. Most of Montenegro is farm and grazing land, so the quality of the meat is unbelievable! 

A few of our plans were changed because of the weather in Durmitor national park. We were originally meant to travel into the mountains for this night, but because of the blizzard we booked an eight dollar hostel in the center of old town. The building itself was from 1400!! The people in the hostel also helped us call the bus station....but more on that later. 

The next morning we managed to catch a ride with our Budapest friends up to lovcen national park! The mountain view overlooks almost the entire country. Even though it is situated at 4,500 ft., you can also see the sea! The views were breathtaking and so was the tomb built on top of he mountain for a renowned Montenegrin poet! The only issue was that it was construction season, so our driving time round trip when from just over two hours to almost five! It did leave a lot of time for photos of the beautiful town of Budva.


Lovcen National Park

We made it back to the bus station just in time to catch the 5:30pm bus! Again the buses are a little crazy, but we arrived in Niksic right on time. Niksic is the second largest city in Montenegro, and a necessary stop for someone traveling to the mountains in the off season. 

We got off the bus and I walked up to the ticket counter and asked for two tickets to Zabliak on the 8pm train. Her face fell and she looked concerned. I explained it again and she nodded but still looked at me without doing anything. 

At this point I was waiting for her to tell me the city didn't exist.

Turns out the bus we wanted to be on was very small, and headed all the way to Serbia. We ended up standing for two hours and getting off at a barely-scheduled stop. We did have a fantastic chat with an electrical engineering PHD student! I seem to find engineers everywhere, and we always have something in common. I asked him about a hand signal that I saw being used in an Orthodox Church. Montenegro is overwhelmingly an Orthodox Christian country, and although the young engineer couldn't explain the gesture, an older gentlemen joined in and used the student as a translator. He explained that bringing together three fingers represents a pillar of he Orthodox Church, the equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We chatted a bit more about some of the natural wonders of the area, and some of the beautiful monasteries built into the mountains of Montenegro. 

Once we got to Zabliak we were immediately met by the hostel owner at the bus station. Thank god because it was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit!! It was way to cold to be wandering around by ourselves. 

The city is a small mountain town, and it reminded by a lot of Bailey, or another small mountain town in Colorado. It is a charming gateway to a fantastic national park! Even though a lot of our hiking plans fell through because of the snow, we were still able to enjoy the beauty of the park! We also picked up a few stray dogs who decided to go hiking with us. That's who the random puppies in the photos are. 

In the afternoon we took another bus ride to a very famous and large bridge across the Tara river canyon. We spent some time taking in the view and even riding a zip line! 

When we got back to our hostel some horses from a nearby farm had decided to wander over and see the playground. 

We stopped into a tiny restaurant that was recommended to us for dinner and we were not disappointed! We shared some amazing roasted lamb and veil! 

The snow was coming down the next morning and we decided to head back to the capital early. 

We got a chance to check off a third national park from our list! We took a quick bus outside the city to lake skadar for a last minute boat ride and some bird watching! 

Until next time Montenegro!! This place was absolutely amazing, and home to surprises and local culture around every corner! 


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