Kotor, Montenegro to Prizren, Kosovo (by way of Albania)

It was a late start yesterday since I didn’t have to take the bus till noon. My host brought me coffee and treats for a final breakfast on the deck and I had a note prepared thanking her for her hospitality that I think said what I hoped it said… I had her call me a taxi around 11:15 and was correct in thinking that she’d get one not driven by a scammer. I actually gave her a hug before getting into the car!

There was a cruise ship right in town. I could not believe how huge this thing was and that it was practically parked on main street! Not a single one of these was taken with a zoom!

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I didn’t know how to pronounced Ulcinj, so I had it written down. The ticket seller look at my paper, then up at me and said slowly and kindly, “Ool-seen.” So there you have it! The bus showed up a bit late, enough that those waiting for it were starting to look concerned enough for the guy manning the gate onto the platform to call the driver to make sure he was incoming. I think we ended up leaving five minutes late, at most.

There is so much traffic coming into Kotor, not very practical for busses trying to leave town! Here we are stuck trying to make the left-hand turn.

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I was sent off with a giant bag of mandarins and I promptly tucked into it. This was the best one yet. Some have been super tart.

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It was lovely to do the return drive to Budva in daylight!

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I kept seeing this graffiti in several towns and it made me laugh every time. It says “PFK,” which is KFC (the chicken place) in Quebec. I have no idea what the letters mean in Montenegro, though. All I could find was the Maritime Faculty in Kotor or a Russian sports team.

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We arrived in Ulcinj around 3:00. At this point, I had no confirmation that there really was a 4:00 o’clock bus to Prizren, but there was. Woohoo! But I was disappointed that there was nowhere nearby to grab a quick lunch and that the convenience store was useless, having only junk food, nothing with which to put together a picnic. I didn’t fare any better at the grocery store next door as there was nothing in individual-sized portions.

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As I sat down to have a small snack in lieu of lunch, a stray cat jumped into my lap, burrowed in, and started purring. I was shocked… but not as much as when a second cat did the same thing! Do I reek of cat pheromones or something?! I named them Watson (the one with white) and Holmes. 🙂

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My layover went by really quickly and before I knew it, the bus to Prizren was boarding. I was a little disconcerted when I was asked for my passport by a kid without any sort of ID and it wasn’t returned to me by the time we pulled out. But everyone else had handed over their documents, so I figured it was okay.

We headed into the mountains again.

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The road was twisty and narrow. We frequently had to pull over to let cars pass.

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Before I knew it, we were at the Albanian border.

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We were at the Albanian border for a long time. The kid who had taken my passport kept coming to ask people to follow him into the customs building and the people returned looking a little harried so it was a bit disconcerting. But we were finally cleared and got our documents back. It ended up being just one stop, so it probably wasn’t really as long as it felt. I was really disappointed that I did not get an Albanian stamp in my passport. 🙁

I hope to come back to Albanian properly one day. Because I’m heading to Spain a little early, I had to choose Tirana or Prizren and going to Kosovo felt more pressing.

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I liked the coloured houses we passed in Albania. Here’s a bright yellow one.

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Another land of mosques.

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A Pepto-Bismol pink house.

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Another mosque.

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And another. I never get tired of these, the way I never get tired of beautiful churches.

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There was a fortress on top of this mountain.

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Yet another mosque.

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Yet another pink house.

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We eventually got onto a proper motorway and then what I noticed was the number of gas stations. It was just one after another after another. And then, it got too dark to see anything. 🙁

The boy passed out candy at one point and when I saw that they were coffee-flavoured, I accepted. Yum!

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He also passed out Coca-Cola, but I refused that.

We finally reached the Kosovan border and a very surly officer came on board to get our passports, then promptly returned them. It was a super fast crossing! I didn’t get a stamp again, but this time it made more sense, because having a Kosovo stamp can cause problems with entering in countries that don’t recognise Kosovo’s independence, such as Serbia and Russia.

Prizren was right over the border, so my journey was almost done. But when we got to the bus station, I didn’t know if I was really there because there was no signage. As I looked around trying to figure out if I was at the bus station or just at a bus stop the gal in the seat across from me said we were in Prizren, so I got off.

I was immediately accosted by taxi drivers. I told them no because I had seen food coming into the bus station and I was really hungry, but once I realised how cold it was, I just wanted to get to my hostel to find more layers before going to search for food. So I finally got in a cab and did not get scammed! 🙂 It was only a 1KM ride, but it was late and dark, so there was no way I was walking.

The owner of the hostel, a fairly young guy, immediately came out to get my luggage and take it up to my room while he had another guy get me a beer. WOW. Welcome to Kosovo!

They let me drink most of my beer while we chatted and then invited me to join them for dinner. Oh, awesome! I assured them that I eat meat and off we went to a nearby restaurant that serves typical Kosovan food.

The official language of Kosovo is Albanian and I’d been warned about how different it is from the other Balkan languages and unlike any other language on Earth. Well, that’s complete horse hockey. Visually, I can see a lot of French, Italian, and even Spanish influence to the language. The menu at the restaurant made more sense to me than most Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian menus ever did. But I had my host order for me as this was my first time going out for dinner with locals and I wanted to see how they do it.

First, a giant salad came. It had two kind of marinated cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, potatoes, and more. The guys (five of them) told me to help myself and that they would just eat off the plate together.

Then, French fries topped with shredded cheese came. I had a few of those.

Then, our mains came. Mine was a huge steak stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with a creamy sauce with a side of carrots and broccoli! Wow! I hadn’t had a nice piece of meat like that in ages and dang was it good! The meat was marinated so it was flavourful. There was a basket of flatbread as well for mopping up the sauce.

We were there for a long time, which explained to me why people in the Balkans eat their food tepid to cold — they linger over it so long. I would never have thought I could get through that steak, but I found my second wind. 🙂 I had a nice glass of white wine with dinner as well.

The guys then decided we were going to move on to a bar for more drinks. I wondered how the bill would be split and the guys told me I just had to pay 5 Euros for my steak and part of the tip and they were covering the rest. WOW!

We went to a nice little bar not too far away and I had a few beers and shooters. We gabbed, mostly about Canada and my travels, and it was a very nice time. But as we got close to 2:00, I knew I had to get in. I only have the one day in Prizren and didn’t want to spend all of it in bed!

Prizren is small and, like the rest of the Balkans, safe, so I had no issue with the thought of getting back to the hostel on my own without an escort. My host gave me the most foolproof directions back to the hostel, not the most direct, and made me repeat them to make sure I’d get back okay. Sure did! And, get this, the guys said they would cover my bar tab!!!

I got in, had a shower, and lost consciousness. 🙂

This is the artwork in my room. I get such a giggle out of it as this is from a show, La Linea, that I used to watch as a kid. It is really good and the link takes you to a compilation of segments.

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Getting Turned Around in Old Kotor

It was overcast, but not raining when I got up this morning.

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I went straight to work and was delighted when the owner surprised me with coffee and mandarin preserves! My first project of the day went quickly and it still wasn’t raining at 11:30 when I finished it. So I thought to take a break and make a run for Kotor before the inevitable rain came. But guess what showed up just as I was able to shut down? Yep, more coffee. 🙂 So I figured I might as well get the other job done (it would take less than an hour). A heavy downpour arrived at the same time as my coffee. I wouldn’t have gotten very far…

I was finally done around 1:00 and the rain appeared to be letting up a bit. I gave it some time and it finally stopped altogether. I hurriedly headed out, hoping to at least make it to Kotor before another downpour.

En route, I noticed this pomegranate bush. Wow! I’ve never seen pomegranates in their natural habitat!

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So pretty!

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This one that was open is what caught  my eye and made me realise what the fruits in the bush were.

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I made it into Kotor with nary a drop from the sky and decided to continue on to the bus station to double check my departure time for tomorrow.

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There really isn’t much to Kotor. People come here for the old city and for the beaches. There were barely any restaurants and no fast food type joints.

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This building is right across from the bus station.

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I was able to confirm that my bus for the first leg of my trip tomorrow leaves at 12:15. As long as the information I found for the second leg is correct, I will be in Prizren, Kosovo, by about 10PM.

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This sign reminded me of one I saw outside the Ley in San Carlos, inviting customers to have their meat grilled by the store.

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I was famished by this point, so I headed back towards Old Kotor to get a slice of pizza at a place across from the Museum snack bar where I had my Kotor breakfast.

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The pizza was really good, but 2Eur (3.06CAD), wow! I’ve had equivalent quality pizza for 1BGN (0.78CAD)! I then got an ice cream (comparable price to what I’ve paid so far in the Balkans for half the quantity) and then just wandered aimlessly in the old city, delighted that the rain was holding off.

I purposely did not look for landmarks and frequently found myself going around in circles and completely turned around. It was so much fun!

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Marco of Montenegro…

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Rather reminded me of Neelix of Canada…

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I was ready to head home when I noticed people walking along the top of the Old City walls. Curious, I decided to find the way up there. It wasn’t from outside the city, so I went back in.

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And managed to find the way up without too much trouble.

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I was standing down at the lion when I noticed people above me. I rather felt like I was in a video game and had found my way to the next level! 🙂

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I love the old aerials on these houses!

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The terracotta roofs in the Balkans are interesting. They use cement to keep everything together. I’ll have to see how the Mexican roofs are constructed.

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And, boom, a dead end! I had actually come up a staircase on the other side of that yard the other day and was disappointed that there wasn’t much. I think the homeowner would be better off letting people walk that very short bit through their yard with a prominent, “Passage: 0.50Eur” sign. 🙂

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I turned around and marvelled at how different the view was in the opposite direction.

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Here’s the main entrance, with a lot fewer people than there were on Sunday!

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October Revolution Square.

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I couldn’t believe the rain held off all that time! What a gift! It’s pouring now.

What was not so much of a gift was that I got ripped off by the taxi driver with a fast metre (same scam as in Belgrade) who charged me a whopping 6Eur to get home. 🙁 I’m going to have my host call me a taxi tomorrow if it’s raining as I’m sure she’ll get someone who is reputable to take me to the bus station. I would actually rather walk since it’s only 3KM and straight downhill, but rain will probably be an inevitability.

The taxi ride not withstanding, what a great bookend to my Kotor getaway! This stay was exactly what I was hoping it would be! I got as much work as I was hoping I would, but not so much as to be overwhelming, and with two non-rainy afternoons, I completely got my fill of Old Town Kotor. This is a super expensive and touristy area, so being able to self-cater at the hostel (and having a host who kept bringing me coffee and fruit!) was a bonus. With prices being at Canadian levels, this was definitely not a “vacation stop” for me.

So I’m off to Prizren tomorrow for two nights. Accommodation there was twice what it costs in Kotor, which is about twice what it has cost me in the rest of the Balkans, so it’s another hostel and non-vacation stop, I think, but I did want to spend a full day there. Then, on to Skopje for the weekend ahead of my flight on Monday. Can you believe I’ll be having my first dinner in Barcelona at this time next week?!

Down Days Are Important When Traveling

Even though I put in a decent day of work, it was a really relaxed and lazy day here in Dobrota. The day got chillier as it progressed, so I just kept adding layers. My host showed up late morning with a bowl of some sort of warm fruit compote (possibly pear) that was really lovely. Just as I was ready to quit for the day with only about 30 minutes of work left as I was starting to get chilled, she showed up with another pot of coffee for me, and then a bowl of plums! I can’t believe how lovely and generous she is.

I was done by 3:30 and promptly went out in search of the food store to get some stuff for dinner and breakfast tomorrow. The store was a lot closer than I expected it to be.

I cannot get over the fact that as long as the person is speaking clearly, I can understand prices when they are said to me. It’s just a small thing but feels like a linguistic victory. Numbers in Serbo-Croatian are almost identical to Bulgarian, but have fewer syllables, so that’s why I’m making such good progress with them. As an example, my total today was 5.43Eur. Forty-three is literally “fourten and three” in Bulgarian and “forten three” in Serbo-Croatian (the word “four” is long in both languages and is abridged slightly in Serbo-Croatian in this context).

When I got in, I put on a movie and enjoyed the heat in my room for a bit before catching up on some very neglected bookkeeping and figuring out how I’m getting to Skopje for my flight (hint: looks like I’m going through Albania and Kosovo!). Can you believe I’ll be landing in Barcelona this time next week?!

I have work for tomorrow, so it’ll be a similar day. I have to say that if it wasn’t raining, I’d be chomping at the bit to do more exploration, so this weather is a blessing in disguise. When you’re traveling long-term, you have to treat the experience like a marathon, not a sprint, and make sure you take care of yourself and have regular down days to recharge your batteries. I’m going to be on the go pretty solidly for the next two weeks as I make my way to Almería so, really, I’m happy to just have a couple of grey days on the Adriatic getting spoiled! 🙂

A Lazy Morning on the Adriatic Coast

I got a big work project for today! This is my office!!! I’ve  never worked outdoors before, but this terrace is covered and the furniture is perfect for typing. I will be very happy here as long as my computer battery holds out.

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I brought down some breakfast stuff and rather hoped to be offered coffee again. This showed up within minutes of my setting up shop.

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I was really disappointed with this hostel when I arrived the other night. Now that I know I do have a private bathroom even if I have to go into the hallway to access it and I have such a wonderful workspace with my coveted view of the Adriatic, I am so happy. Coffee and fresh mandarins are just a bonus.

It will be a mostly staying in day. I will go out in a bit to find the food store to get lunch and dinner fixings since the kitchen is usable.

Sarajevo, BiH, to Kotor Bay, Montenegro

I had a lovely stay in Sarajevo, but I would lie if I didn’t admit that I was relieved to go this morning. It is good that I went, but I felt such overwhelming grief at being there. Everywhere I turned was a reminder of what a lost cause humanity is. I came to Sarajevo with so many questions and left with no answers.

The alarm rang at 7:00. I’d had a pretty good night, but hadn’t slept the night before, so I was rather groggy. I was almost all packed, so I finished that, dressed, did a final tidy up, and was out the door by about 7:30, with the bus being at 9:00. I made my way down to the taxi stand at the bottom of the hill and arrived to find… no taxis. It was 7:45 by this point, I had no idea how traffic was going to be, and I didn’t know where to get my bus ticket once I got to Lukavica station. So I really didn’t have much time to wait. I looked around trying to pick out a business that was open that might be willing to call me a cab when one came down the hill! I flagged him over and not only was he was available, but he quoted me a flat rate of 20KM! That’s what I paid for my transfer on arrival and a full 5 to 10KM less than the expected cost of a taxi to East Sarajevo. I was very happy with that!

There was no traffic down “Sniper Alley” and we got to Lukavica just past 8:00. As it turns out, the bus station is tiny. I followed the “tickets sold here” sign (prodaja karata/продаја карата) and found two windows. One had no lineup and an attendant who appeared to be on break and the other had a short line up as well as a sign for the Sarajevo-Herceg Novi route I wanted. So I got in the line. Got to the head of the line, gave my destination, and the man pointed to the other line. Ah, I love buying bus tickets in the Balkans. 🙂

My destination was Budva, Montenegro. I was ultimately going to Dobrota, but there was no direct route. The owner of the hostel where I’m staying said to get off at Budva, take another bus to Kotor, and then take a taxi from Kotor. I was going to go to Tivat, which is closer to Kotor, but when I looked at a map, I understood why she said to transfer at Budva as going to Tivat would mean having to double back.

I noticed today how much calmer, for lack of a better word, I am about getting around. I remember when I was looking up the route to Belgrade and freaking out that I’d have to get off in Nish and figure out how to get buy a ticket for the Belgrade leg! But today, I was serene. Research told me there were a bunch of buses from Budva to Kotor and if there weren’t, a taxi would be less than paying for a room in Budva and the room here in Dobrota. Might as well sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Ticket bought, I went into the very smoky onsite café and ordered a coffee, then went back to the terrace to wait for it even though I could see my breath! A great espresso was just 1KM (0.78CAD)! I can’t get over how cheap coffee good coffee is out here. I drink my coffee black in restaurants, not willing to pay the hefty surcharge for milk. But I’m not quite ready to drink it black at home.

Before getting on the bus, I decided to brave the toilet, expecting a squat one. Nope!

I was surprised that we got a little bus, not quite a mini, but not full size, and was pleased that it wasn’t packed. I was able to spread out and be really comfortable for the very long ride to the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

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Leaving Lukavica station.

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Countryside mosque.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was pretty as a postcard, all verdant green under the fog.

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We began to climb a mountain and before I knew it, SNOW!

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But blue sky at last!

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We stopped for our first pee break in Foča. Google the name of this town at your peril. I wish I hadn’t.

I really hoped it was our pee break as we’d been on the road almost two hours, but nobody moved to get up until the driver stood and said something of which I understood “pause” (pronounced “pa-u-za,” just like in Spanish) and “15 minutes.” I was out of there fast! 😀

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From Foča, we continued climbing on the other side of the river. This would be the day, just going up and down switchbacks at a glacial pace. Thank goodness the scenery was great!

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I saw lots of beehives today and honey (med) for sale.

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We sometimes got way too close to the edge of cliffs.

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This was terrifying! The bus was bouncing so hard I thought we were going to bounce of the road entirely!

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We eventually reached the border of Montenegro, which had the cutest border control officers ever! 😉

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It was here that I had a I’M SUCH AN IDIOT revelation. I had crossed from Bulgaria to Serbia, Serbia to BiH, and now I was going from BiH into Montenegro. With the first two crossings, I thought that we went through two different checkpoints, one customs and the other immigration. No, no, no, no. The first one is basically an exit interview! This is why the guy on Serbian border day was so interested in how long I’d been in Bulgaria. He was a Bulgarian, not Serbian, official! It was only today that I realised that his stamp was to mark my exit and so, no, I did not get two entry stamps into Serbia. So this is why they collect and return the passports twice!

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Take my word that this is a welcome to Montenegro sign. 🙂

The area we had just passed is rafting country and apparently the deepest canyon in Europe.

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It was at this point that we actually went through the Montenegro checkpoint. The official came on board and asked the driver how many passports were on board (as opposed to national ID cards) and the driver replied two. Yes, I understood that exchange! I’m getting enough of an ear for the language now that it’s not entirely gibberish and I can pick out some words. I was really excited listening to the radio this morning when I heard, “Good morning! And now, for the football results!” 😀

Interestingly, the other passport on board was Canadian. But owned by a Montenegrin, who was not as excited as I was that there was another Canadian passport on board and just glared at me when I asked her where she’s from…

Instead of taking the cards and passports, the official came on board with a portable scanner (kind of like a debit machine) and swiped all our documents one after the other. Then, he went out to get a huge stamp. He opened my passport on top of the seat back in front of me and stamped it there. So informal! But I was in, no questions asked again.

The scenery continued as before, but grew exponentially in its faery tale nature.

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There was a pothole or something right in the middle of the bridge and the driver had to conveniently nearly stop completely.

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I couldn’t believe this place exists.

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I was surprised by how many roofs in Montenegro are metal, rather than the terracotta tiles I’ve been used to seeing.

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We stopped at a little cafe before Podgorica for another pee break. I was disappointed there wasn’t any food. You see, I woke up at 3:00 this morning famished and could not go back to sleep unless I ate something. So I ate my breakfast for today, which means I had my lunch for breakfast and my snack for lunch and ran out of food. 🙂

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Our little bus.

I’d heard that some bars out in this part of the world serve hard boiled eggs in lieu of, say, peanuts, but had never seen it. Until now.

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We continued on.

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Then stopped minutes after the break to get fuel. I’ve only ever seen fuel pumped into Coke (or other “non-approved”) containers in Mexico!

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It was late, nearly 4:00, when we reached the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. I’d heard of it described as “the armpit of Europe” and as a shockingly unappealing city in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Indeed, I saw nothing in our long meander through town that made me want to stop there, just new construction next to tenements. I know bus stations are rarely in a good part of town, but there didn’t seem to be a good part of this city.

Except maybe this view.

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I’d be annoyed if I lived in the building behind this one and lost my view and light through my windows!

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This appeared to be the pedestrian core and should have been appealing, but wasn’t.

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But, wait, palm trees!

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“Crnu Goru” is Montenegro in Montenegrin.

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I had thought that the Podgorica bus station would be a good place to get a snack, but the driver said “Five minutes!” so there was no time to go exploring.

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First glimpse of the Adriatic Sea/Mediterranean Sea high above Budva.

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We went down an impressive series of switchbacks. The effect was rather like landing with an airplane.

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The promised rain appeared to be incoming. 🙁

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We arrived in Budva around 5:30. I went to the ticket counter to ask about a bus to Kotor and there was one in 20 minutes! Unfortunately, there was no food other than pastries or junk food, so I preferred to stay hungry.

The Budva bus station is in scenic surroundings.

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The bus to Kotor pulled up and left a few minutes early! Thank goodness I had stayed by the platform! For some reason, I thought it would be another hour to Kotor, but it was less than 30 minutes. From there, I had a five-minute, 5 euro taxi ride to the hostel. I did have to argue with the driver and threaten to get out as she wanted to charge me 7 euro. I was told that a ride should be 3 to 5 euro!

I’m glad that Montenegro’s currency is the euro because I’m starting to have quite a bit of small change left when I leave each country. Always less than 5CAD because I’m pretty good at budgeting, but those piddly amounts are adding up. I’m also going to get some experience with a currency I’ll soon be using for several weeks!

The hostel wound up being disappointing so far, although the host is super friendly (I appreciated the offer of a coffee upon arrival even though I declined!). I was sure I’d booked something with a private bathroom and desk, but she does not speak much English and we couldn’t sort it out. I checked my booking and I think she’s correct and that I looked at the wrong picture. At any rate, it’s super cheap compared to everything else I’ve seen out here, clean, has a comfy bed, is convenient to Kotor, and there’s a kitchen I can investigate for self-catering. I also appear to have the floor (and bathroom) to myself at this time. So it’s a bit of a shock going from my cosy Sarajevo flat to this, but it’s only for four nights and, again, a bargain for the location. I will make do!

I regretted not investigating food around the bus station as there is no restaurant handy. My host wanted to send me off in a taxi, but no. Thankfully, I had a smooshed bit of a loaf of still fresh bread and a full jar of peanut butter in my suitcase and I made myself a couple of sandwiches for dinner. Emergency rations at their best!

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Here’s a map of my day.

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And here are the Balkans and my journey from their east to west coast over the last four months. 🙂

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