Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part VI: Detour to Croatia

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Day 12: Abandoned Hotel Belvedere & Crowded Dubrovnik

I finished off my Grand Montenegro Tour on the Croatian side of the border. Croatia has a special place in the depths of my dark heart because that’s where Chef foolishly proposed to me years ago. Back then in the distant past, we hitchhiked our way up the coast from Split, so we never had the chance to experience the magnificent tourist trap of Dubrovnik. A mistake I now got to fix, at least on my own behalf.

My bus arrived at the Dubrovnik station in the early afternoon. I queued up in the drizzle just to get to an ATM that only spit out big notes. I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy a bus ticket at the kiosk with a 200-kuna note, because from personal experience I know how maddening it can be to serve as an unofficial money exchange spot for tourists, especially when you’re already strapped for small change. (Yes, I’m looking at you thick fucks who think it’s OK to pop over, first thing in the morning, just to buy one euro’s worth of gum with a 50-100-euro bill. Stop doing that.) So, instead, I decided to be energetic and walk the three kilometres to Old Town Hostel where I would be staying.

IMG_20180627_143415Barba’s octopus burger: a million times better than I made it look

After a quick shower, I was immediately on the prowl for some late lunch. TripAdvisor did right by me: the much-vaunted street food joint Barba served the most delicious octopus burger, which was not only affordable and tasty but also so huge I didn’t even think about getting fries on the side. With my belly full, it was nice to roll up a hill to explore the abandoned hotel Belvedere.

IMG_20180627_163229Up-left: Belvedere roof peeking out from behind the trees

Hotel Belvedere stands in an incredible spot overlooking the sea, about a half-hour walk from Dubrovnik’s old town. The flashy and flourishing hotel of the 80s has been abandoned ever since the Croatian war, so for almost 30 years already. While planning my holiday, I read many blog posts by people who’ve trespassed on this private property to explore the secrets that lie within the building (f.ex. Belondoned). I’ve never even entered a “regular” abandoned house before, but all these fascinating tales about the labyrinth of hallways inside the Belvedere building were too exciting for me to pass up on the opportunity to go do some research of my own. Another tempting factor may or may not have been the fact that the hotel has served as one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones.

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The property is surrounded by signs against trespassing and there’s video surveillance, as well. When I got there, I was welcomed by a clowder of stray cats. I wasn’t the only tourist, either: I saw a couple of strangers climbing over the fence and disappearing towards the building. I was already at the gate when I noticed a seething guard appear from behind the building. He gave me a nasty glare and then started chasing down the other intruders while cursing profusely. Much to my disappointment, I had to settle for peeking in through the fence, because I really wasn’t in the mood to get manhandled. I suppose these Belvedere explorations have become too popular recently – none of the earlier blogs mentioned anything about guards patrolling the property, and it seems like many of the writers had managed to spend hours in the area. There’s nothing much you can see from behind the fence, so if the guards are always there, it’s probably best to just skip this one in the future.

IMG_20180627_164621I did make a beautiful new friend, though – not an entirely useless detour

Disappointed, I returned to the old town with the intention of seeing all the sights, but ended up having to change my plans again. In the late afternoon, it took some serious elbow action to fight my way past and through the hordes of cruise ship tourists on the narrow streets. I fully understand why there’s been talk of Dubrovnik setting some kind of a cap on the number of tourists allowed in the old town at a given time.

Every trip needs its own theme song, and this one came to me while I was desperately battling the crowds. This elegant classic by Ludacris suddenly started playing in my head, and it was stuck there for the rest of the trip. The chorus perfectly describes the feeling of trying to wade through the masses of people – and yes, I’m aware I was very much a part of the problem. :)

IMG_20180627_220658Only by night can you move freely within the city walls

Day 13: Patrolling the City Walls & Relaxing on the Island of Lokrum

Lucky 13, the last day of my holiday! Traumatized by the crowds of the previous afternoon, and against all my natural habits and instincts, I rose before the sun just to be able to take in the sights without someone constantly bonking me in the head with their selfie stick. At six in the morning, it felt like a whole other city – not a soul in sight. Fabulous!
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IMG_20180628_062250SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!
IMG_20180628_063636 IMG_20180628_063917Hi, I’m Sanni. I like to travel thousands of kilometres just to take pictures of cats.
IMG_20180628_064806 IMG_20180628_064050Even the cats are out to make a quick buck off the tourists

At eight, I was first in line for a walking tour of the City Walls. This one should not be missed, nor postponed to the afternoon! Early in the morning, I was able to walk in relative solitude, whereas the crowds in the afternoon seemed to form a tight queue around the whole old town, not unlike a record-breaking human centipede. The tour easily takes an hour or two, because from every corner of the walls there’s a different view over the old town and the Adriatic sea. Normally, tickets cost 150 kuna (~20€) a pop, but I got a hefty discount with my student card. They did twist and turn and stare at it for a good while, though, but eventually accepted the fact that this ancient sloth of 31 years is in fact still a student.

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The island in the background of the picture above is Lokrum, the official recreational oasis of Dubrovnik. Lokrum is fast and easy to reach from the old town harbour by boat, and after the City Walls tour I soon found myself on a picnic, surrounded by the rabbits and peacocks that freely roam the island. Although the boats connecting the island and the old town were always full of people, somehow all the crowds just disappeared into the forests and parks of the island. There was finally space to breathe, relax and swim.

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Unfortunately, my carefully selected, solitary swimming spot was soon ruined by a pack of loud Lads™ whose only swimwear was their birthday suit. “Oi lads, oi! Oi, check dis out bro! HEHEHEHE LOL!” Cue: helicopter dick. I moved away from them to another solitary spot, but soon enough an older gentleman laid his towel right next to me. He also started an odd ritual of putting on and taking off his teeny-tiny speedo, over and over again, as if to show off his wrinkly junk.  I honestly wouldn’t even be surprised if he turned out to be the godfather of Professor Massage. At that point, my daily dick quota had been met, so I slinked away to the return boat before the old guy could follow.

Back at the hostel, my dorm mates were looking for a wingwoman to join their club tour that night. After careful consideration I left them to their own devices. I was about to catch a super early return flight the next morning, and the thought of travelling hung over did not entice me at all. The boys promised me that they would wake me up with drunken noise upon their late-night return, just so I wouldn’t oversleep and miss my flight. How kind of them.

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I left the boys to pre-game in the common room and quickly jogged over to the Velika & Mala Petka forest park just in time for the sunset. From atop the hill, I had the perfect vantage point to admire the stormy sea and the sky that slowly changed its colour from yellow to pink. Congratulations to me for a holiday well executed!

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P.S. Oversleeping was certainly not a problem for me: the hostel bathroom smelled of stomach acid and the guy sleeping in the top bunk coughed and snored so heavily that he made the entire bed shake. I didn’t get one iota of sleep. A fitting end to a wonderful holiday!

To read the whole story of this Montenegrin-Croatian holiday, use the tag Montenegro18EN – complete itinerary and budget still coming up!

Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part V: Boka Bay / the Bay of Kotor (feat. Professor Massage)

IMG_20180624_121212In the background: Hostel Pupa. Talk about perfect location!

Day 9: Professor Massage Strikes – Hitchhiking from Kotor to Perast

After the relaxing weekend in Petrovac, I packed up my bags again and caught a bus to Kotor. Surrounded by mountains and turquoise waters, the historical old town of Kotor is currently one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, though its protected status is now threatened by excessive development. Around the bay, there are also several other picturesque towns, of which Perast appears to be the most popular one. So that’s where I needed to go, too.

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A road trip around the Bay of Kotor appears to be a very popular choice among travel bloggers, but I wasn’t keen on renting nor driving a car there. Since the end of June is still officially low season in Montenegro, there were few if any buses running on a Sunday. I started to walk along the coast toward Perast, which allowed me to really take in the views and the sights along the way.

IMG_20180624_160448IMG_20180624_144512Decent views for a little Sunday afternoon stroll
IMG_20180624_145330__01The most common “beach” type around the Bay of Kotor: a private concrete platform with stairs leading into the seaIMG_20180624_152426Instead of going to public beaches, it’s also possible to find your own empty stretch of rocky beach – perhaps not ideal for sunbathing, but swimming is definitely possible!

Kotor and Perast have 12 kilometres between them, which would have been a bit too much on foot – especially since there are several parts along the way with no room for light traffic. That’s why, at first, I was delighted when a tiny red car stopped next to me and its driver offered me a ride for the remainder of the way.

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The man, who was about my age, spoke very little English, but I thought we had reached a mutual understanding of where we were headed. After all, Perast must be Perast in any language, right? Well, we had only been driving for about a minute before he already changed his mind. From his Montenegrin babble and miming I was able to deduce he wanted to go for a swim with me on the secluded beach nearby. I wasn’t interested and told him I just wanted to get to Perast, please. It didn’t work; he simply stopped the car by the road in the middle of nowhere. Then he introduced himself as Professor Massage – I kid you not. Professor fucking Massage. The next thing I know, his hands were already reaching for my shoulders and below. That was my cue to get the hell out of the car. I started walking away from the car at a brisk pace, and fortunately the “professor” didn’t follow me. Instead, he stayed behind in his car and kept yelling at me through the open window: “No massage? No massage?!” Nope, no thanks. Not now, not ever.

I don’t claim to be an expert at hitchhiking, but I have done it a number of times very successfully. However, this was only the second time I had ever hitched a ride by myself, and it didn’t exactly encourage me to try the same for a third time, anymore. Even though he did scare me, I never felt like being in any major danger. The man was so scrawny I’d like to think I could take down at least three of his kind at once if it ever came to that. It still wasn’t a pleasant experience. I guess I should try to get over my distaste for taxis and give them a try sometime.

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Well, Perast was alright when I finally got there. I suppose the tiny scare on the way kind of ruined the mood a bit, as I wasn’t all that interested in touring all the sights anymore. There was at least a clocktower, several churches, narrow streets and paid boat tours – in that sense Perast seemed like some kind of a Mini-Kotor. A nice day trip destination, but I don’t think I’d want to book any accommodation there. I only stayed long enough to walk through the village once and finish eating my snacks. Then I headed to a bus stop hoping for a miracle, and within minutes my faith was rewarded – I had never been so happy to see a tour bus before! It was luxurious to get back to Kotor in a comfortable, timely and safe manner. I ended the day with a long evening swim to wash any professor bacteria off my back.

Day 10: Kotor Fortress and Old Town

On Monday, it was time for some hardcore touristing in the form of climbing up to the Kotor Fortress. Normally, tourists are charged 8€ a pop for the privilege of hauling their own arse up the hill. However, I got this nice money-saving tip from my hostel, which I’d now like to share with others: the entrance fee is only charged to those who start the hike in the old town, but there is another route to get to the fortress for free.

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I was going to embed the Google map here, but it seems to default to the paid route. Instead, here’s a screenshot of my walking instructions: first up the serpentine goat trail marked in blue, then down the stairs marked in gray. When hiking up, you’ll always see the outer wall of the fortress on your right. Eventually, you’ll reach a small abandoned church, and from there a trail marked with red-and-white dots takes you to the fortress. You can enter the fortress by climbing through a window in the wall – and yes, the entrance through the window is still part of an officially marked trail, and using it requires no criminal tendencies.

IMG_20180625_114622I still made this crime against aesthetics – goodbye to chafing! No wonder people so often mistakenly think I’m German.IMG_20180625_115920Added bonus: you’ll meet plenty of goats. It is a goat trail, after all.IMG_20180625_120424Goat trail with the best views over the bay

IMG_20180625_120855Follow the danger!

IMG_20180625_122550Entrance to the abandoned church
IMG_20180625_123753Enter through that window! Note the trail marker on the wall.

A nice chunk of the fortress is marked with signs saying it’s a “high risk zone”, which I assume to mean to enter at your own risk. Few people paid any attention to those signs, though. Even if for some reason you’re not particularly interested in touring the fortress, the views alone are worth the climb.

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IMG_20180625_134456Despite the herds of visitors, nature is slowly beginning to claim the area back to itself

In addition to the fortress, the old town of Kotor with its terracotta roofs is also worth a visit. The area is very compact, but it’s still easy to get lost in the maze of narrow cobblestone streets. One of the curiosities of the town is the Cats Museum, which despite its name is not dedicated to the famous musical but countless cat-themed items and artwork. The museum is said to be located in Kotor, because “Kotor” is almost the same thing as “Cattor”… Umm, ok? The locals do seem to be quite fond of cats, of which there are many strolling the streets of the town.

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A special shout-out must also be given to a grill called BBQ Tanjga, located near the bus station. It doesn’t exactly seem tempting from the outside, but as we all know, looks can be deceiving. First of all, the owner’s larger-than-life personality is something to cherish in its own right. The concept is also interesting: on the inside, the place kind of looks like a butcher shop, and customers get to pick which slabs of meat they’d like for the staff to grill to perfection. Though there are a couple of tables inside, the best tables can be found in the beautiful and hidden inner yard of the building. Out in the back, they also have a cooler from which customers can get whatever drinks they want, self-service. After eating, people go back inside to pay for their meals and drinks – the trust is strong here, because there’s no staff watching the cooler. It seems to work, though. The portions are huge, the size of a tray, and inexpensive too: I paid a grand total of 7,50€ for a chicken skewer with two fillets, fries, salad and a coke. I can warmly recommend this place to everyone other than vegetarians!

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Day 11: Tivat and Porto Montenegro, “the Monaco of Montenegro”

Tivat was the wild card of my holiday – I had absolutely no prior knowledge of the place. While planning my holiday and browsing the TripAdvisor message boards, I came across an anonymous comment which briefly mentioned Tivat as an interesting destination. The commenter didn’t elaborate on why it was interesting, and I didn’t really even care. I had saved up one free Hotels.com rewards night which was about to expire this summer. I had no other use for it, so might as well spend it on an apartment with a sea view in Tivat.

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On the bus to Tivat, I finally decided to google the town. Its harbour, Porto Montenegro, kept getting compared to Monaco, so I expected to see fancy yachts and all kinds of luxury on top of luxury – not really my scene at all. Oops. Next time, I swear I’ll do my research better. However, my first impression of Tivat came in the form of two goats leisurely strolling past me on the pavement*. Well, that’s not too bad. Nice and down-to-earth, right?

*Yes, unlike in many other parts of Montenegro, there are actual pavements in Tivat! Kudos for that.

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Pretty soon it became abundantly clear that even though goats and chickens do freely roam the many parks of the town, the good people of Tivat also have the luxury part down. Wide seaside boulevards, well-maintained palm trees and flower instalments, fountains, fancy boutiques, expensive restaurants and massive yachts as far as the eye can see – that’s what Porto Montenegro is made of. Still, in late June, I could feel the peculiar vibes usually found in abandoned villages, and the harbour area seemed quite unfinished. There were many cranes and fenced-off construction areas all around the place. I’ve actually never even been to Monaco, but I’m still pretty sure Tivat has a long way to go before it can seriously compete in the luxury seaport cup, no matter what all the random bloggers and marketing gurus are claiming. Let’s give it another ten years and see if the scales have tipped yet.

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I hadn’t realized I was missing out on the perfect Instagram moment. No self-respecting social media influencer would leave Tivat without posing by the 64-metre infinity pool at the Porto Montenegro yacht club, but my quick googling had failed to inform me of its existence. Fortunately, the number of my followers (love you all!) is still in the double digits, so I don’t have to worry about any kind of influencing whatsoever. This happy oversight also saved me the 50-euro entrance fee. Whew. I spent the evening chilling out on the Ponta beach. The day had been too windy and cloudy for swimming, but I had zero complaints about the sunset.

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As a brief summary: Kotor is an incredible town everyone should see, and personally I could have easily spent a lot more time there than I already did. In my opinion, the Bay of Kotor is the second most beautiful location in the whole Montenegro, right after the mountains in Durmitor National Park. I could have done without Tivat, since my itinerary was already full before adding it to the list, but it was still OK because my accommodation was free. If I had had to pay nearly a hundred euros of my own money just to go look at rich people things, I probably would have regretted it. Tivat would be a good choice for someone looking for luxury and perfectly composed Instagram photos, but a budget backpacker is probably better off going somewhere else.

Read the rest on my Montenegro tour in English here: Montenegro18EN

Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part IV: Petrovac with a Hint of Bečići and Budva

IMG_20180622_140603Balcony with views to the sea, Apartments & Rooms Vjera, Petrovac

Day 7: The Three Beaches of Petrovac

After my busy, sweaty stint on the mountains, it was time for a change in pace and scenery. I wanted to combine my hiking holiday with a relaxing stay by the sea. I picked Petrovac for that, because the good people of the internet had been saying it’s a beautiful, sleepy town with no nightlife whatsoever – a perfect sloth resort. I needed two separate buses and one train connection to travel Žabljak-Podgorica-Sutomore-Petrovac, but I still made it to my destination early in the afternoon.

There are no hostels in Petrovac, but the cheapest of the mirthless private rooms would have cost less than 20 euros per night. This time, however, I decided to treat myself and paid a whopping 90 euros for a weekend stay at an apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. The main selling point was the huge balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Such an incredible spot to line-dry my laundry.

IMG_20180622_154018Always good to travel thousands of kilometres just to take pictures of cats

Petrovac was everything I had been hoping for: beaches, tranquility, narrow streets and beautiful views. There was also a good selection of shops, restaurants and random Nutella pancake stands, everything a sloth might need. However, the best part of the town are its three beaches: the town beach, Lučice and Buljarica. I tested all three on my first day there.

IMG_20180622_155007Petrovac town beach: easily accessible with lots of services

IMG_20180622_171902Lučice: tiny beach tucked away in a sheltered cove, a 10-minute walk from downtown. Features a popular, reasonably priced restaurant.

IMG_20180622_173403Buljarica: a four-kilometre stretch of peaceful beach far from everything and everyone

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Buljarica was my absolute favourite of the three. In Montenegro, most beaches are run by beach bars, which means you’ll have to pay for a sunbed and a parasol, and listen to the generic bass boosted noise poorly chosen by the DJ. The law requires that the bars always leave a small stretch of beach free for everyone to use, but usually those are so crowded you can hardly see the pebbles from underneath all the laid-out towels. That’s why Buljarica is so great: most of the beach is still in its natural state, and you can easily get your own private spot by walking a little further than others.

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It takes around half an hour to walk from the centre of Petrovac to the beginning of Buljarica. On the Petrovac side, there is a small area filled with rentable sunbeds and a couple of bars, but the other side is free from both services and people. When heading out toward the quiet side of the beach, it’s good to note that there’s a small nudist area on the way. I was not aware of that – until, all of a sudden, I found myself staring straight into the depths of the brown eye of a dude happily sticking out his bum for all the world to see. Not quite the views I was after. I kept going for another half a kilometre until I finally found a good, solitary spot to swim and admire the sunset. It was wonderful to spend a whole day doing nothing much in particular.

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Day 8: Bečići, Budva, and the abandoned Hotel As by the Perazic Do Beach

I actually spent the first half of the eighth day in Sveti Stefan, but I’ll make a separate post for that next. There’s no way I could reasonably include it here, because there’s no place further removed from a “budget holiday” than that.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up walking through the Bečići and Budva beaches before returning to Petrovac. I’m not even claiming to know anything about these two holiday destinations, but based on my first impressions, I don’t really even care to find out more, either. It seems as though nobody actually lives in Bečići, because the whole beach boulevard was all hotels, hotels, and more hotels. Even though the beach is quite long, it was also extremely crowded and therefore not to my taste at all. I think Bečići is mostly marketed to Russians, because most of the restaurant signs included Russian, or even went as far as being written in Russian only.

IMG_20180623_171626Bečići
IMG_20180623_171940The best of Bečići: a house swallowed by flowers

Budva didn’t impress me any more than Bečići: Coca-Cola and Tuborg sunbrellas ruined the views, and the aforementioned, generic bass boosted noise poisoned the air. I must admit I was too tired to visit the old town, maybe there could have been something to see there?

IMG_20180623_182409Budva beach with views of the old town

No, Petrovac is surely the shining star among the beach resorts in the Budva region in every way imaginable – unless you enjoy getting wasted at beach bars, in which case it’s best to stay away from ruining Petrovac to us (mentally) elderly people. I felt like I had wasted the day, so I saved it by going for a little sunset walk from Petrovac to the Perazic Do beach. The half-hour, one-way walk is half amazing ocean views, half scary tunnel through the mountain. In other words, nicely balanced.

IMG_20180623_203723OK for a jogging pathIMG_20180623_203240Views from the roadIMG_20180623_204132This beach can only be accessed by boat, or by climbing down a vertical wallIMG_20180623_205603In through this end of the tunnel…IMG_20180623_204706and out from here.

IMG_20180623_204714The abandoned Hotel As

The massive skeleton of the abandoned Hotel As looms over the Perazic Do beach. This place would have been amazing if they had been able to finish construction! It’s not really a beach for swimming, since there are huge boulders and random pieces of concrete probably left there when the construction site was abandoned. The beach seemed to be a popular sunset chill-out spot for a lot of people, though, and I can see why: the abandoned hotel creates an eery vibe while the colours of the sky slide from pale pastels to flaming orange. Don’t miss this walk if you ever find yourself in Petrovac!

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To read the rest of my Montenegro posts in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

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. :(

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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.
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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

How to Get from Podgorica Airport to the City Centre by Public Transport: Yes, It IS Possible (Kind of!)

Google the question in the title, like any budget-minded traveller heading to Montenegro would, and prepare to be met with a resounding response boiling down to just one word: “impossible”. Advice forums are full of people saying that there are no buses or trains, and that the only way out of the airport is by taxi. These same helpful folks often continue by recommending their “favourite” taxi company, which is not suspicious at all, nuh-uh. However, while planning my own trip, I came across a lone, rebellious comment stating that there might be other options. Being the cheapskate that I am, I obviously had to investigate it further. So, here are the results of my empirical research. In brief: yes, it is sort of possible, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Option 1: Podgorica Airport to Podgorica by Train

Try this first! There is a train station about one kilometre from the airport, and it’s a fairly quick and easy walk that takes about 10-15 minutes. When you first step out of the airport, shake the numerous taxi drivers peddling their services and yelling about how there is no bus, and exit the parking lot to the only street leading out towards the main road. Note that there are no sidewalks and the cars drive by fast, but for most of the way you can walk on a gravel path that follows the road on the right.

IMG_20180615_194905This is how the gravel path looks, the road is on the left behind the bushes

IMG_20180615_195257This is right before the bridge over the railroad starts – do not enter the bridge; instead, cross the road to the left side

IMG_20180615_195330Keep walking down on the left side of the bridge

IMG_20180615_195534When the tarmac turns into gravel again, you’re almost there

IMG_20180615_195639Aaaand there it is! Cross the tracks to get to the station

IMG_20180615_195730 Looking in the Podgorica direction

The empty shack of a station may seem abandoned, but don’t let it fool you: the train does stop there. I’ve seen locals hop on the train on my way from Podgorica to Virpazar and back. However, the main problem is that there are only ten daily connections, so if your flight schedule doesn’t match the train schedule, you’ll have to opt for the bus. You can check the train timetable here: http://www.zcg-prevoz.me/search, from station “Aerodrom” to station “Podgorica”.

Option 2: Podgorica Airport to Podgorica by Bus

Okay, so the train schedule doesn’t match yours? No worries, you’re already halfway to the bus stop. Keep following the path on the left side of the bridge to reach the main road.

IMG_20180615_200003Walk past the basketball court and keep going

IMG_20180615_200113The bridge across the tracks ends here, keep walking on this narrow path. At some point you can switch back to the right side of the road again

IMG_20180615_200514The road from the airport meets the main road at this traffic circle. Take the exit to the right in the Podgorica direction

IMG_20180615_200701A wild pavement appears! And disappears. And appears again.

IMG_20180615_200752Almost there! Just have to cross this blue bridge and walk a tiny bit further

IMG_20180615_201134Voilà! The bus stop is next to the Pizza Restaurant Ester

IMG_20180615_202639A single journey ticket costs 0.90€ (June 2018)

A bus sped up past me a minute before I reached the stop, but on a Friday night I only had to wait about 15 minutes before the next one arrived. I tried to look for the bus timetables online, but had no luck there. I assume they run fairly regularly. If you see any locals waiting at the same stop, you’re golden. I’ve also come across a few random comments on a mysterious “L20” bus line that supposedly runs all the way to the airport seven times a day, but unfortunately I could not confirm its existence. Further research is needed there.

But Is It Worth It?

Alright, before you embark on this epic journey to the bus stop, you must first decide how much you value your time, effort and safety. A taxi to the city costs around 15€ (or less if you manage to negotiate it down or book in advance), a single bus ticket costs 0.90€, and a train ticket costs 1€. It is a 2.5 km walk to the bus stop, which took me about half an hour + 15 minutes of waiting time. How much would you have to save to make it worth the hike, the time, and the risk of being run over by the reckless drivers?

I feel like the train/bus option is great for cheap solo backpackers like myself, but when you have two or more people in your group, the cost per person is significantly reduced if you just take the easy way out and hop on a taxi. I would also think twice before attempting this with a heavy trolley bag.

For me, a major perk of this public transport option was the mere fact I got to avoid taxis! I haven’t been scammed often when travelling, but the few times I’ve been left feeling ripped off or just generally bamboozled, a taxi driver has almost always been somehow involved. So, personally, I’m willing to go the literal extra mile to avoid them. Your mileage may vary.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was helpful! :)

Read more on my budget holiday in Montenegro by clicking here: Montenegro18EN

A Weekend in Reykjavik

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After the Golden Circle tour, we had two full days left to spend on a Reykjavik city break. Our guesthouse was located right next to Hallgrimskirkja. The church is massive and can be seen from nearly any part of the city – for someone who could get lost for a living, it was the perfect landmark orienteering-wise. We started the day by hopping on the elevator to the top of the church, and from there we could gawk at all the colourful houses of Reykjavik.

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After our church visit, it was time to roam the streets of the city. My first impression of Reykjavik is a mish-mash of adorable wooden houses and tons of graffiti covering the walls. It also seems like a pretty laid-back city (even though they’ve deemed it necessary to specifically ban tractors on the roads during rush hours). A young man tending a hot dog stand tackled his grey day blues by singing out the tiny window of the stand, singing out so loud his voice echoed throughout the block. While my mum and I cursed the rain, a man in a suit closed his eyes, lifted his face up against the sky, and smiled at the raindrops bouncing off his cheeks to join the puddles on the ground.

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As we reached the harbour, we started to wonder about the crowds of people, families and couples, all going in the same direction. We joined the march out of pure curiousity and soon found out that the local rescue services were holding some kind of an open doors event. We actually got to go on a free tour on the Coast Guard boat! They also had a cavalcade of different rescue vehicles in a neat row outside, including a gigantic 4×4 for the difficult inland terrain. It seems that car rental companies are scaring tourists about Iceland’s dangerous small roads for a good reason.

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We finished off Saturday night at the Harpa concert hall, where we saw the amazing How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. This hilarious one-man comedy show included not only stand up, but also a lot of props and video material, and the goal of the evening was to turn the audience into fresh, new Icelanders to help keep their tiny nation afloat. This show is pure gold and I can absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Reykjavik! I dare you not to laugh for an entire hour at Bjarni Haukur Þórsson’s mercy. The concert hall in itself is also quite a sight.

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On Sunday it was time for another soak, this time at the Laugardalslaug geothermal outdoor pool. This is another strongly recommended destination for Reykjavik visitors. The entrance fees are reasonable, under 1000 ISK, and for the price you get to enjoy a variety of different pools and other services. In addition to the “normal” sports pool, they also have a steam room, a seawater pool, a waterslide, and a bunch of smaller pools of different temperatures up to 44 degrees Celsius. All of the water is geothermally heated and the pools are open year-round. It seems swimming is one of Icelanders’ favourite hobbies, and what better way to catch up with friends and family than soaking in a warm tub of awesomeness.

Since we had already seen most of the must-sees on Saturday, on Sunday we could focus more on the details. I was charmed by the streamlined, bright red street lamps, geometric roundabout art, and sidewalks tiles that made them look like pixel art. Unfortunately I managed to destroy my memory card before I had the last day’s pictures safe on the computer. I lost them all, I cried, but what can you do. Fortunately the good memories of this trip will be much better stored on my brain than they were on the SD card.

Finally, here are a couple of Icelandic music videos. We kept hearing the first brainworm all the time on the car radio. The second video takes you to the streets and roofs of Reykjavik. The third video features a rapper riding through the suburbs on an icelandic horse. :D So heartwarming!

Around Belgium in Six Days: Romantic Bruges

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We saved the best for last: Bruges is definitely worth all the hype it gets. Back at the wedding, when we mentioned our plan to finish our holiday in Bruges, the response was always the same: “Heh heh, so the lady wants to go to Bruges? *wink wink, nudge nudge*” In fact, the idea was Chef’s, and what a brilliant one it was. Bruges has a well-deserved reputation of being the perfect romantic destination for two. Ornate buildings, cobbled streets, beautiful canals crossing the city: you simply cannot get enough of leisurely strolls around town. Let the pictures speak for themselves!

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