Friday, October 09, 2009

Best of Montenegro pictures

Here's ~25 highlight pics from my 3 days in Montenegro last month.

Here's my previous posts on Montenegro.

Up until 3 months ago, if you'd asked me about the country of Montenegro, I would have said it was the name of a fictitious country on some TV show, like the place where Jack Bauer's enemies come from. The country popped up on my radar screen because I was aiming to visit Croatia, and Dubrovnik was definitely a must-stop. Seeing another country just 30 miles south*, I thought it might be cool to pick up one more passport stamp, and inflate my "countries visited" total by one.

(* 30 miles = about a 3 hour bus ride each way.)

But the more research I did, the more appealing Montenegro became. Dramatic mountain views. Ancient fortress cities. Fantastic beaches.

So I was intrigued to the point where I traded a few days potentially on Croatian islands for 3 days/2 nights in Montenegro. While I know the extra Croatian days would have been spectacular, I definitely made the right move in visiting Montenegro.

My base for Montenegro was the town of Budva, which is at the center of a 20-mile stretch of coast called the Budva Riviera (BR). The BR had something like 10 different beaches each connected by walking trails and regular buses. Each beach had it's own personality - crowded or not, sandy or rocky, secluded or busy, quiet or noisy - from power boats or disco music, etc.

The one constant no matter which beach I was on was that the setting was unbelievable - clear blue waters, big mountains, and interesting coves, castles, and islands to look out onto.

Also constant through my time in Montenegro was the feeling that I was an outsider. During my 3 days in country, I never heard another American or British voice, and while I could occasionally order food in English, the dominant language and culture was definitely Eastern European - mainly Serbian and Russian. (Russian investors have been buying up Montenegro properties including the entire island of Sveti Stefan. Probably half of all expensive cars that I saw had Russian license plates.) The result is that  Montenegro is now a package tour destination for well-off Muscovites, and most commercial signs have both Latin and Cyrillic characters. (I'd typically see hand-written chalk menus written firstly in Latin-ized Serbian and secondly in Cyrillic Serbian or Russian, with no English available.)

But for all of the tourism and inward investment, Montenegro still has many aspects of a 3rd world country, though I suspect this won't last long. All roads are 2-lane roads in the entire country, and journeys that look on a map like 10 minutes are actually 40. There's also a lot of reliance on buses, and they don't behave like Greyhounds here in the USA.

I took a bus trip from Budva to Kotor, a walled city at the end of a bay surrounded by fjords. Total distance was about 18 miles, but the ride took an hour, as we picked up and dropped off randomly along the way. This route went right past the airport, so I decided to take the same bus to the airport the next day, even though the airport wasn't a scheduled stop. (My cab from the airport cost 30 Euros, so the 2 Euro bus fare was a big reason to try.)

I got on the bus (a shortened bus, or mini-bus) at the scheduled time and took a seat on the left side to get some great views as we traveled northwest along the coast then inland. Each bus in Eastern Europe has a staff of 2: a driver and a person collecting fares. You meet the driver when you put your bag in the bus' cargo area, as he personally pockets 1 or 2 Euros. Neither wear any kind of uniform, so it was a surprise a few minutes later when a regularly dressed woman walked up to me and asked me to pay her.

I'd prepared for this, so I busted out my best Serbian and said "Bilini aerodromo" - "near airport." She nodded, took my 2 Euros, and we were off.

I'd ridden the route before, so I had a good idea of when the airport was coming up, so I was really surprised, and ready to go into shock when we drove right past it!

I had plenty of time for my flight, and I always had the contingency of getting to the bus' destination (Kotor) and taxiing to the airport (or even walking - it would have been about 2 miles, though no fun with a backpack), so I wasn't panic'ed so much as disappointed that my communication skills stunk.

Luckily, though, the bus skidded to a stop at the first intersection past the airport at a dirt road about a half-mile past the airport. I hopped off, and within 20 minutes was in the terminal where I saw this quintessential Eastern European scene - 5 clocks, none of which was accurate!

Clocks and transportation aside, Montenegro far exceeded my expectations and I'd recommend to anybody heading to Dubrovnik to add a multiple day visit to their agenda.

Link to my Montenegro photo gallery.

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With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous