Sitting at a bus stop waiting for a bus is usually dull. Today was just as dull, but got ‘exciting’ when our bus arrived 45 minutes earlier. The driver jumped out, locked his door and went for a coffee. All pretty standard, until he wandered out to open it up. We noticed him scratching his head and realised he had locked his keys in the bus. It was pretty funny as all the other bus drivers and passengers watched him come out with a broom and ladder as he tried to poke the handle through a gap in the window to open the main door. He did eventually succeed but it did keep us entertained for a while – small things, small minds and all that jazz!
The view from the coach as we drove around the Bay of Kotor was unbelievable. After each bend, we would get a glimpse of a beautiful village across the water and tell ourselves it was the town of Kotor, home town for the next few nights. As we reached the village we spotted, we would then have to tell ourselves the same thing about the next town we could see.
When we finally got there, we jumped of the bus and wandered through the main gate of another walled town. You would think we would be getting sick of them, but each place was unique, and this was no different. A much smaller town, with less cruise clientele, it made finding Montenegro Hostel, our home for the next few days, very easy. The weather was pretty much how we left Dubrovnik, but we ducked from awning to awning, avoiding the rain until we arrived at a recommended restaurant, Konoba Roma. The rain was heavy, and our bellies were rumbling as we sat patiently waiting for our Veal Soup to arrive. It was delicious and the perfect choice for such a wet day. We sat a while longer waiting for the rain to ease and guessing if the patron next to us had ordered the fish soup. As we deliberated, a waiter tried to relieve the awnings of their pooling puddles of water. As he reached Mr Fish Soup, he pushed up the awning as the equivalent of a 10-gallon bucket of water poured over him and his soup. Time to leave.
We just wandered around the town, getting our bearings before heading to the supermarket for some dinner supplies. For €5, the hostel would cook you a traditional meal, but for €2 these thrifty travel folk can make a creamy tuna pasta for two people for 2 nights. Exactly! We headed back to the hostel and were disallowed the use of the downstairs kitchen so had to walk down the stairs to go upstairs to the second floor. There was no one there, so we had a choice of tables and chairs, one of which sat at a shutter window that overlooked the square and the mountain behind lined with the old stone fortress walls. We opened a bottle of wine and sat there for the rest of the evening admiring the view.
There are numerous tours that Montenegro Hostel organises, one of which is a day trip into Albania. Being so close, we thought, why not. We were picked up at 8:30am, paid our money and as we jumped in the car the said, it was kind of a tour, kind of a transfer. We were a little confused but went with it anyway. We picked up another guy from their other hostel in Budvar before picking up Dean, our guide. He said it was a bit different but as we didn’t have the minimum amount of people, we would be picking up two more people from the capital Podgorica before passing through the Plantaze, one of the biggest vineyards in Europe, and into Albania.
Our first stop in Albania was at an artists restaurant for brunch at midday. We had already eaten another one of our salami sandwiches but Dean said it would be for more hours before we would eat, we though we should order something. So what is the traditional Albanian meal we should order. There was only one choice, a wood fired pizza… Arrgghhh! We had a Margharita this time, in case you were wondering. We sat chatting to the other guys we had picked up from Podgorica who were travelling the world from Brazil. It was well worth the chat as they were able to give us plenty of advice for when we get to northern Brazil.
We drove up the hill towards Rozafa Castle where we climbed the last 100 metres of slippery cobblestone to the entrance. The castle had incredible views over Skadar Lake, the largest in Southern Europe. As we walked around the castle we almost fell down an unmarked hole that had tiny steps down into the darkness. Dean mentioned he had once gone down with his phone as a torch and a few metres in decided it was too freaky so gave up. Investigationing Sarah’s eyes lit up and said, we have torches in our bag, let’s go. The three of us ventured in followed closely behind by some inquisitive Korean students. We made to the end to what would have once been a prison cell, before climbing steps into another section where the only way out was though a tiny doorway, fit for Alice in Wonderland, and into a dark tunnel. We eventually made it out safely as the skies decided to open up once again, but this time, it was set in.
We spent a bit of extra time exploring the castle than normal, so instead of visiting the town of Skhoder, we would head to the next stop Kruje. The plan was to drop us off and drive the other two to Tirana where they were getting the transfer to and come back to collect us. With the torrential rain we were unable to stop at, so we decided to carry on with the other guys to the capital. We arrived and the sun was out. The only problem was there were two people waiting to get a transfer from Tirana to Budvar and did not want to wait for us to look around the city. They were convinced to have a coffee and to chill out while we explored the city centre. 20 minutes later we had seen it, so we met them at the cafe where we tried a terrible Albanian beer, Korcha, before heading back towards Montenegro. Unbeknown to our two new counterparts, we had two more stops on our ‘tour.’ The first, a beach called Shengjin, which has been turned into a pretty poor attempt of Miami. Strange coloured empty apartment all Shitet (for sale) overlooking a black sandy beach full of deck chairs with no one on them. It had rained so much that behind the promenade, the kids playground was flooded along with the empty restaurants. As we were well behind time, we didn’t have the time to do the only fun thing at the beach, which was swim amongst a few of Albania’s 700,000 bunkers submerged in the shoreline.
We got back in the car that was parked in the same spot as 30 other cars. Unfortunately ours was the only one with Montenegrin plates, so as we were about to leave two corrupt police offices demanded €50 in cash for a fine before we could leave. Just outside of our last stop, the town of Skhoder again, and with heavier rain and roads flooding were were given an option, stop or keep going. We kept going. The other couple said that while Tirana is pretty dull some other places such as Lake Orhid were exceptional so next time, I think we will just head there. Dean was so upset that we weren’t able to stop everywhere he tried to organise free dinner, but we didn’t let him; he cannot control the weather or a corrupt police force! Back at the hostel near midnight, it was time for a quick meal and some sleep.
The following morning was clear, so we quickly raced down to the corner store to grab whatever breakfast we could find and ran up to climb the fortress above the town. It was already hot, so we only managed a few hundred meters of steps before we stopped to eat some fruit*. We had picked the best time in three days to climb and as we got further and further up the 1350 steps the view got better and better. The whole way up we were followed by a man with a big sports bag. All was revealed as we started our descent when he opened his bag to unpack some warm beers – just what you need after an hour long trek in the heat. We decided against a ‘tinny’ and made our way down 50 metres to an old window that we climbed through to walk back down the mountain side. Outside the wall on the edge of a massive valley in the hill was a little stone church amongst the remains of a small ancient village that must have been the original quarry of the town. It’s a shame no one could tell us anything about it.
We wandered down to the old town where we caught a local bus to Perast, another town on the bay. Much like our trip into Kotor, we would spot a town on the bay and think it was Perast. This time, I decided that as we would stop at each town, I would ask someone different if it was Perast. Each time I was met with a no and a little giggle from Mrs L. About 15 towns later, the 10 remaining passengers turned in unison to me and said “Perast!” Of course it was, there is only one town that has two islands in front of it, did they think I was an idiot?
We stopped for a unique lunch of cheese and mushrooms rolled into a crepe then deep fried as the rain pored down outside. Once cleared we wandered out to a local boat to head across the islands. The first boat told us €5 so we laughed, said it was too much and choose the other boat that charged us €5 instead. There are two island, St George Island which was unable to be visited and the Rock of Sacred Heart which we were dropped off at. We arrived at the same time as groups numbered 2-5 from today’s cruise ship, so the small island was pretty packed. It is actually the only man made island in the Adriatic. There is a legend behind it, but I won’t go into it, but every year hundreds of boats go past with people throwing rocks into the water for good luck. We were able to spend half an hour on the island, which was only just enough time wandering through the church and adjoining buildings. We jumped on the bus and headed on back to Kotor where it looked like the sun was shining.
Our last afternoon was spent walking throughout the puddles of the old town, flicking water up the back of our legs and perhaps sometimes the front of anyone behind us. We stopped at a small wine shop that provided tastings of local Montenegrin Wines, none that really floated our boat, so we had a quick drink at Havana Bar before dinner of Cow Face Soup and a couple of beers watching the World Cup chatting to other backpackers.
We left Montenegro the following morning in a private transfer to Mostar (same pice as a nne hour bus). As we climbed the mountains up out of the bay, our driver, Ivan would stop and let us stop for photos of the amazing view. We drove the new highway towards Mostar and he told us about the rest of Montenegro. We wished we had more time, but as we are sure we will have happen quite often, we were heading to a new place with more new things to see. We hope to be back there soon where we will definitely hire a car to explore even more.