Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part I: Podgorica and Lake Skadar

There are two simple factors that traditionally determine the destination for my summer vacation. First, there must be mountains. Secondly, the price level must not blow up my tiny budget. Montenegro, the trendiest destination of yesteryear, ticks both boxes so that’s where I headed this summer. I hopped on the bandwagon quite late, since all the hipsters have already abandoned the Black Mountain and are now travelling to its neighbouring state, Albania, instead. Luckily that doesn’t bother me at all.

My two-week holiday included hiking in the mountains, chilling on the beach and strolling around cities, but still the total cost came in well under a thousand euros. Strongly recommended for all cheapskates like me! I’ll revisit the detailed budget right after I’ve managed to churn out the whole travelogue.

Hostel Q Podgorica

I spent the first three nights of my holiday in the capital. The only downside to the otherwise wonderful Hostel Q was its location in the suburbs. The neighbourhood itself was very nice and peaceful, but the three-kilometre trek to the city centre was a bit of a pain. Sure, a taxi would take you back and forth for around five euros, but that’s already one third of the accommodation cost per night. You might as well stay in the city centre for less fuss and the same amount of money. It’s not the most social hostel, either: there are only a couple of dorms and a couple of private rooms, and people seemed to spend a lot of time in solitude. I would still warmly recommend this hostel to anyone that likes peace, quiet and hammocks.

IMG_20180616_091455The terrace outside the dorms with a mountain view
IMG_20180616_090948Breakfast is served in the common room – you can also grab a fig right off a tree in the hostel garden!IMG_20180616_091127Bingo tips for next year’s Eurovision
IMG_20180617_172827What’s better after a long day of hardcore touristing than a nap in a hammock?

Day 1: Day Trip to Lake Skadar and a Dip in the Adriatic Sea

The first whole day of my holiday, I visited the Lake Skadar National Park. Podgorica is a great base for a variety of day trips around Montenegro, all thanks to its excellent bus and train connections to every corner (ok, most corners) of the tiny country. Instead of an actual train network, however, there is basically just one train line between Bijelo Polje and Bar. I paid one euro for a train ticket to Virpazar, the closest entrance to the national park. However, before I could enjoy the nature, I still had to make my way from the train station to the centre of the village. I wish I could have adopted all the stray dogs hanging out at the station, especially the tiny pupper all the bigger dogs kept bullying. :(

IMG_20180616_111639IMG_20180616_112254
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Montenegrins don’t seem to be big fans of pavements – I guess everyone just drives everywhere, even the shortest distances? I had to balance on a narrow piece of concrete separating the highway and the railroad tracks for over half a kilometre, just because I couldn’t come up with any better route to the village. There were signs warning people to drive slowly and watch out for otters crossing the road, but I doubt the drivers even saw the signs at those speeds, let alone noticing a lone balancing sloth on the side of the road.

As soon as I made it to the village, I was immediately ambushed by over-eager travel agents.

“Hey, lady! HEY! Want a boat ride? Kayaking? Hiking? Taxi? Hey, HELLO! Anything? I can take you anywhere! HEY! Just give me ten euros!

The only thing I gave them was an exasperated sideways glance. If you think about it, ten euros is a great price for a relaxing boat ride on the lake in the stunning scenery, but the aggressive approach of these guys was a huge turn-off for me.  If you’re not bringing a car, booking a tour would probably be the best way to make the most of your visit to the park. I wish I had had the common sense to do some advance research on these options. Now, all the surprise yelling and pushiness just made me want to run away and hide. I also wasn’t keen on ending up on a boat alone with any of these guys – the last time I was in that kind of a situation, the guy made me watch a video of mating tortoises on his phone instead of just letting me enjoy the scenery.

IMG_20180616_115932Apocalypse? Nah, not raining bugs, just chillin’ in their massive web

After losing the peddlers, I decided to do a couple-hour hike to the nearest town, Godinje. I walked along the narrow, winding road that circles the lake, and fortunately there was barely any traffic at all. It felt so good to breathe in peace without anyone trying to sell me anything. The views just kept getting better, too.
IMG_20180616_120712 IMG_20180616_123606
IMG_20180616_135154

roskat

In Godinje, I ran into this unofficial dumping ground and the EU-funded sign telling people to please dispose of their trash properly. It wasn’t the only heap of trash of its kind, either – similar dumping grounds (and signs) can be spotted through the train windows, too. Here’s hoping the signs do their job in the future. I think it’s the same global phenomenon you also see back home: people often just don’t fully appreciate all the amazing things around them.

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Trash aside, most of the scenery was total postcard material. A boat ride on the lake would have offered a different perspective on the surrounding mountains, but I was still quite happy with my snack break views as pictured above.

Hiking in the scorching sun had made me want to go for a swim, but the best beaches were too far to reach by foot and as far as I know, there are few if any buses connecting the small lakeside towns. The little ball of sweat I was, I didn’t even consider hitch-hiking. Instead, I returned to Virpazar by foot. Since the day was still young and public transport practically free, in a moment of fancy I hopped back on the train and rode it all the way to the Adriatic Sea. For one euro, again.

IMG_20180616_161320Rare pedestrians-only access to the beach – better have strong knees for this one
IMG_20180616_181028Rainbow!

I got off the train in Sutomore, just because on Google Maps it seemed to be the closest train station next to a beach. The town of Sutomore is basically just a single, long stretch of a narrow beach boulevard with a plenty of cheap food and knick-knacks for tourists to spend their money on. The beach is a foot-massaging pebble beach. Based on my short visit, I got the impression that this is the locals’ choice for a beach holiday destination. There is nothing that really sets it apart from any other similar coastal towns, but it suited my purposes perfectly: all I really wanted was to cool off in the crystal clear waters, and that’s exactly what I did.

On my two-euro train ride back to Podgorica, I had a plenty of time to admire the views for all my money’s worth. In Montenegro, train travel is always a great idea even if you’re not really going anywhere. Just go for the views.

IMG_20180616_183728 IMG_20180616_183550Yes, this photo too was taken through a train window

Day 2: Podgorica City Tour

On the second day, bad weather was forecast for the whole country. I had originally planned to catch the train in the other direction toward the Biogradska Gora National Park, because so many people have been saying it’s the single most beautiful train journey in all of Europe. Hiking in the mountainous national park in heavy rain and thunder would have been a spectacularly stupid idea, though, so I begrudgingly went for Plan B and spent the day touring the limited sights in the capital.

IMG_20180617_133647First impression: it’s really quiet in here?

IMG_20180617_134019Not the President’s castle, just your average municipal assembly buildingIMG_20180617_153020Hey there, Bob!
IMG_20180617_133043Keep it up, boys!
IMG_20180617_133059Hooligans
IMG_20180617_133128Is this some type of guerrilla marketing? Bachelor of Business Administration wants to know
IMG_20180617_151223I like the sly moustachioed one in the middleIMG_20180617_133259This explains the reckless driving!IMG_20180617_134433DRAMAIMG_20180617_134831Obligatory statue of Very Important Man on a Horse ™
IMG_20180617_160040Could we please have some of this jungle in the Finnish suburbs, too?IMG_20180617_140523My favourite fountain
IMG_20180617_142524Apparently, this humble bell tower is the main tourist attraction in the old townIMG_20180617_143306Another humble towerIMG_20180617_143824Anatomy of electrical wiring
IMG_20180617_150313AcrobaticsIMG_20180617_150724River Moraca, my favourite thing about Podgorica

Half a day was plenty enough to walk around the city and see the sights. For the rest of the day, I hid from the rain in a hammock under a tree. Podgorica wouldn’t be my first choice for a city break, but it works fine when your other plans have been cancelled.

To read all my posts on this Montenegro trip in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

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