Sveti Stefan: The Elitist Island of Montenegro

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The tiny island of Sveti Stefan on the coast of the Adriatic Sea is rumoured to be the most photographed location in Montenegro. While planning a trip to the Balkans, it’s nigh impossible to avoid the bajillions of laudatory recommendations naming it as the #1 Must See Holiday Destination for everyone visiting Montenegro. Historical atmosphere, carefully restored 15th century villas, narrow cobblestone streets, high-quality food, turquoise sea and a pink beach – oh my heart-eyed-emoji, how heavenly! And sure enough, it does sound tempting when you put it like that. Often these same people singing the island’s praises conveniently forget to stress the point that it is strictly off limits to the common man. If you haven’t got a black Amex, you have no business on the island.

The luxury hotel chain Aman clutches its five-star tentacles tightly around the whole island and has completely taken it over. Only hotel guests are allowed to stride along the narrow causeway connecting the island to the mainland. Or better yet, few of them actually seemed to strain themselves by walking the distance of a couple dozen metres on their own feet – no, an array of luxury cars with tinted windows did the heavy lifting for them, at least when I was passing by. Rude gatekeepers kept the rabble at bay, ensuring the luxurious air on the luxurious island stays pure for its wealthy patrons.

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Many of the Sveti Stefan love notes I’ve seen littering the vast seas of the interwebs all feature this cunning tip: the average joe can game the system by making a table reservation for the hotel restaurant, in which case the guards cannot help but grant entry to the exclusive island. I’m not sure if these protip-sharers are trolling, or if they’re even entirely sane. When the price of a one-night stay at the hotel can be anything between 850 and 6 000+ (yes, six thousand) euros, then what kind of a check might one expect at the restaurant, hmm? And I very much doubt an order of a tall glass of tap water would be tolerated if someone were foolish enough to try and infiltrate the dining crowd of fat cats on the island. Seriously, stop giving this crappy “advice” already.

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Onto the “pink beach”. Yes, in certain lighting the tiny pebbles on the beach have a pinkish hue, but a pink beach? Who left the ad agency door open again? There’s a nice, curved stretch of beach facing the island on both sides of the mainland, but only one side is open to the regular folk. And that side is crowded as hell, and also made of sharp pebbles. At this point, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the better, sandy half of the beach is reserved to the hotel guests, though Aman has made some compromises there. For the low, low price of one hundred euros, anyone can redeem a sunbed on the private beach and see how the good life feels for a little while. There is a 1 000 euro fine for anyone caught on the beach without having paid the 100 euro troll toll. Still fascinated by the hospitality of Sveti Stefan?

IMG_20180623_162043A piece of the best of Montenegro reserved for a single family – excellent use of resources!

A common argument for the big shots’ shenanigans is that “it’s free to look” – any old bonehead can ogle the island to their heart’s content, as long as they keep a healthy distance to the better folk. I just wonder why anyone would be interested to loiter behind the gate spying on Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags’ doings. Are people hoping to catch a fallen crumb of the superabundance? Maybe they’re the same people who also keep up with the Kardashians? I just don’t understand.

IMG_20180623_163813Minimum wallet thickness level: must not fit in a pocket

Personally, I was fooled by the numerous Montenegro Top 5 lists and went to see Sveti Stefan because I believed the hype. This bitter rant is the direct result of a wasted half-day. It rattles me how a highly praised historical location and long stretches of beach can be completely closed off from the public. It’s not illegal, though, and who am I to meddle in the Montenegrin politics. Millionaires need their playgrounds too, right?

However, there is one thing I do ask: could we all please stop hyping up Sveti Stefan as the must-see destination for every traveller? In reality, only a select few are welcome there.

For more on my Montenegro trip in English, click 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 III: Bobotov Kuk & the Black Lake

Day 5: Bobotov Kuk, Durmitor National Park

Bobotov Kuk (2523 m) is at least officially the highest peak of Montenegro, and therefore an especially tempting destination for an overly optimistic amateur mountaineer like me. On a good day, the roof of Montenegro offers views of the entire country and beyond, all the way to Serbia and Albania. I hadn’t originally planned to attempt to summit Bobo at all, but after the spectacular failure at Planinica I was keen to try my luck. Quick googling revealed that Bobo is usually only recommended for experienced hikers due to the difficult-ish climb near the peak. However, I also found a blog post by a girl who did the hike in regular sneakers. If Sneaker Girl could do it, why not Hiking Boot Sloth, too?

 IMG_20180620_063847Once again, I set off from the foggy Black Lake early in the morningIMG_20180620_065645Some kind of a Predator crab straight from my nightmares. Can’t tell its head from its arse.

Unbelievably, that morning I was up and hiking even earlier than the previous day. At six in the morning, the corrupt moustache man hadn’t yet made it to his post to raise my blood pressure, so that was a nice bonus. I spent the first couple of hours like I had done the previous day: climbing up a steep forest path, swatting off mosquitoes. Then, all of a sudden, the trees and the bugs just disappeared and majestic mountain tops came to view in the horizon. Even better, I could also spy bits of clear, blue sky! I was so happy about this sudden change of scenery I started to laugh – and immediately a kamikaze fly set its course straight toward my open mouth and dove deep into my windpipe. I carried on coughing and cackling as elegantly as I could.

IMG_20180620_080927Fly ambush spotIMG_20180620_082330Yes, the sign on the house says “beer”. Yes, you could buy beer in the middle of nowhere.IMG_20180620_082548 Now we’re talking! The trail toward Bobo twisting up on the right

The bleating of the sheep and the ringing of their bells together formed a beautiful symphony that echoed off the walls of the surrounding mountains. As I kept pushing forward and upward, I was briefly joined by a curious mountain goat. The goat gave me a pitying look and then airily bounced off into the horizon, as if to show me how it’s really done.

IMG_20180620_082729Buddy picture: me, myself and the mountainsIMG_20180620_083117Try not to stumble, it’s a long slide downIMG_20180620_085606No need to worry about how to stay warm while climbing theseIMG_20180620_092743Find the partly visible trail marks in the photo. Would be nice to have hawk’s eyes, but luckily it’s possible to cheat with contact lenses.

IMG_20180620_093910This is where my soul singsIMG_20180620_094028_01I mean, it’s pretty impressive, no?!IMG_20180620_094037Happiness awaits on a lonely mountain pathIMG_20180620_102353Oh my fogging shit, you’ve got to be kidding me! Not this, not now!

The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and the warm feeling of happiness was tingling in my chest… Until the snow stopped me in my tracks. This gigantic snow field had swallowed up the entire trail. Bobotov Kuk was straight ahead, so near yet so far. The final ascend is already very steep, but now I was going to have to climb a smooth wall of snow? Of course without any proper equipment. I slipped my way forward, trying to follow the handful of trail marks peeking out from behind the snow. I did that as far as I could, but then there were no more markings. Feelings of desperation and surrender started to bubble up, and I seriously and thoroughly considered giving up and turning back. I thought attempting this ascend would have been way too dangerous – straight up stupid, in fact.

IMG_20180620_103236It doesn’t look nearly as steep as it really is.

I threw a little pity party for myself and started to look for an easier way back down. Then I noticed movement in the valley. Normally, the best hiking day for me is one where I don’t have to see any other people, but this time was a happy exception to the rule. Two ant-like creatures were swiftly nearing my location!

IMG_20180620_105231_2Can you spot the wayfarers?IMG_20180620_105231_circleHow about now?

The ant-like creatures turned out to be Nick and Ann, a lovely couple from Colorado. I thought they would soon reach my waiting spot, but instead they started scaling the wall straight toward the saddle. If these people are gonna be dumb enough to try this, so will I! ‘MURICA! I hastily traversed my way to them like a proper spiderwoman, before they would get too far out of sight. After quick introductions, we continued the journey together with Nick leading the way. I must admit the ascend was truly, madly, deeply scary: we had to scale a near-vertical-feeling wall of loose rocks. You really had to be careful where to put your hands and feet – a single slip-up could mean starting a small stonefall and sliding all the way down along with the stones. I guess it wouldn’t have been enough to kill us, but we surely would have taken more than enough damage, anyway. However, as someone who’s been climbing trees and walls all my life, I wasn’t smart enough to fear as much as I probably should have. Despite the loose rocks under me, I felt confident and steady on my feet. Perhaps it was just the adrenaline. There’s no way I would have braved this alone, though.

IMG_20180620_115517A fun tunnel part between the mountain and the snow

After a scary half-hour scramble, and another slightly less scary half-hour scramble, we finally reached the summit. Oh boy, does Bobo deliver! Even though the weather was partly cloudy, the views from up top were incredible, a complete opposite to the foggy misery of the previous day. This Bobotov Kuk hike in its entirety must be the most beautiful one in all of Montenegro. I’m so glad I didn’t give up.

IMG_20180620_122936Livin’ on the edge, you can’t help yourself from fallin’IMG_20180620_122859The trail we took up is partly visible thereIMG_20180620_123355Guestbook / proof it happenedIMG_20180620_123839Livin’ on the edge, you can’t help yourself at all

Nick and Ann headed back down almost immediately after signing the guestbook. People die in Colorado every year when they are caught in the mountains during thunderstorms, so these brief summit visits have become an understandable habit for them. Me, however, I wasn’t too worried about the scattered little clouds teaming up against me. I stayed behind to enjoy my lunch with a view.

There was not a snowball’s chance in hell I was going to take the same suicide route back down. Sure, on our way up we had toyed with the idea of using the raincovers of our backpacks as sledges, so we could just slide back down toward Žabljak. Wheee! Then I remembered my trusty Haglöfs pack doesn’t even have such a high tech accessory. Fortunately, there is another way. On the other side of Bobo, a shorter, faster but also steeper route takes you back down toward Sedlo. My strained knee was already cracking in excitement at the mere thought of it, but there was no better option. The important thing was that most of the snow had already melted on the Sedlo side. I knew this because we asked this from a couple of Germans we met at the summit. Nick, Ann and I turned out to be the only dumb-dumbs to reach Bobo from the Žabljak side on that fine day in June. Oh, well.

IMG_20180620_124057The cables bolted to the rocks help hikers ascend to and descend from the peak. This part wasn’t nearly as terrifying as it looks.

IMG_20180620_133838More cables, even when you no longer need them

IMG_20180620_135013Now this here swimming hole looks very tempting – until you remember its turquoise waters come from the melting snow all around the pond. Brrrrr!
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If I had to choose one thing to stare at for the rest of my life, this would be my choiceIMG_20180620_140844Oh my god, look at those curves!IMG_20180620_150346Sedlo viewpoint and mountain road right behind the corner

The bad thing about this return route is that Sedlo lies 17 kilometres from Žabljak, which obviously creates some logistical issues for any hiker without a car. I wasn’t too worried – you could always call a taxi if hitchhiking didn’t work out. There was no reason to worry: the two people clad in red you see in the photo above were a friendly Slovak couple who kindly gave me a ride back to the village. It was comfortable, fast and easy. I was happy to hitchhike; even if I’d had a car, I wouldn’t have dared to drive on these narrow serpentine roads. Just glad somebody else dared. This amazing day was a total success, and it’s all thanks to some international teamwork: thank you Montenegro for providing the views, thank you USA for providing the guidance, and thank you Slovakia for the safe return!

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Day 6: Crno jezero, Durmitor National Park

My time in Durmitor was coming to an end. On the last day, I decided to really give my knee some rest. I was only going to walk to the Black Lake and chill out there. So far, I had only seen the lake in its misty morning suit and rainy afternoon suit. However, it is truly at its best in sunny weather. I was unable to capture the true beauty of the bright turquoise water and the surrounding forests and mountains, but here is a small collection of my best attempts at it.

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I may have accidentally forgotten about the whole “give knee some rest” plan when I took off on the 1.5-hour circle route around the lake. It is not to be missed, if you ever find yourself in that corner of the world! Dozens of benches are scattered along the path, so you can take as many snack breaks as you want in amazing scenery.

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IMG_20180621_131707My llama bag fits just enough snacks for an afternoon excursionIMG_20180621_133858

My knee finally had to give up its last glimmer of hope when I decided to do another 1.5-hour walk to the Savin Kuk ski lift, which would (painlessly!) take me once more to the top of yet another mountain.  As soon as I got to the lower station of the lift, dark clouds appeared out of nowhere and gathered around the peak. Then the thunder started to rumble. Loud. I half walked, half ran back to the lake.

IMG_20180621_144818Total gains of the extra 3-hour walk: I saw a cow, the cow saw me.

From the lake, there was still a 45-minute walk to my guesthouse. Fortunately, I had had the common sense to pack a pocket-sized raincoat in my llama bag, because I really got to put it to good use when the skies opened up and torrential rain poured down on me. I hurried toward the village by the side of the road when I heard heavy footsteps behind me. That’s when I met a fellow soaked traveler, Ana-Marija, who had gotten lost in the woods on her way to the lake, and now had to follow the road back to her campsite. She had tried to get a ride from the tour buses, but their drivers are not allowed to pick up hitchhikers. Soon, though, a small car with three older Montenegrin gentlemen stopped next to us and told us to get in. The car was tiny and the backseat even tinier, but the men really saved our day. They dropped me off at the pizzeria of my choosing, and had even driven Ana-Marija all the way to the campsite located in the next village. Quite hospitable, if you ask me.

To read all my posts on this Montenegro trip 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. The 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

Hitchhiking from Northern Sweden to Norway: Abisko-Tromsø

Well, well, well. It’s been a while (!) since I last wrote anything here – all my writing energy was spent on my Bachelor’s thesis. But now that I’ve wrapped up that project, it’s time to finally finish the grand Kungsleden saga. At the end of our hike, we hitchhiked from Abisko to Tromsø, where we rested for a couple of nights before flying back home to our beloved Turku.

Day 7 Continues: Hitchhiking from Abisko to Tromsø

Due to its sparse population and even sparser traffic, it’s easy to assume Northern Sweden would make for terrible hitchhiking territory. However, in our experience it was quite the opposite: our journey from Sweden to Norway was smooth and comfortable. It is possible to catch a train or bus from Abisko to Narvik, and a connecting bus from Narvik to Tromsø. The total price would be around 45-60 EUR per person, and there’s only a handful of daily connections. We managed to save both time and money by hitchhiking.

In the afternoon we left the Abisko mountain station and positioned ourselves by the only road (E10) leading to Narvik, Norway. It didn’t take long for us to catch the first of our four rides, when a father-daughter duo picked us up and dropped us off at the next village, 10 km closer to our destination. In Björkliden we kept our thumbs up for twenty long minutes until a young Norwegian woman stopped her car and told us to get in. Right before the Norwegian border, we stopped for some last-minute grocery shopping before continuing all the way to Bjerkvik, Norway.

There’s a perfect hitchhiking spot right next to the Esso in Bjerkvik, where cars heading north slowly exit a traffic circle to get on the E6. Before we knew it, an older Norwegian gentleman had picked us up and taken us all the way to Nordkjosbotn. On our way he stopped for gas and bought a coffee for Chef and, upon hearing I’m not a fan of coffee, a chocolate bar for me. :) At this point, Mister D. texted Chef to let us know he had made it to Abisko and was ready to party. Sorry D., too late! We were long gone by then. We did invite him to visit us in Turku so we could celebrate again together, but so far he hasn’t taken us up on our offer.

IMG_4287Hitchhiking views in Nordkjosbotn – Santa biking in the river?

Our final hitching spot was where the E6 ends and meets the E8. Again, we were soon picked up by a man from Tromsø who took us all the way to the campground parking lot! His own house was located a bit outside the city, but he said he was happy to make the extra five-kilometre drive for us. He had also used to hitchhike when was younger and wanted to pay it forward. Feeling extremely grateful, we accepted his offer and finally made it to Tromsø Camping, where we put up our tent in the dark. Our plans for the rest of the evening only included a meal and a hot shower, oh the luxury!

Day 8: Touring Tromsø

During the past week, our towels hadn’t completely dried up even once, and on the eighth day our clothes, too, began to exude a hint of an exotic aroma. We decided to make full use of the campground facilities and do a load of laundry while having breakfast. Washing one load cost a whopping 10 EUR, but a clean set of clothes would be worth it. Unfortunately, the price didn’t include any washing detergent! Figuring that a wash without detergent would be better than no wash at all, we put all our textiles through the washer and dryer. Another mistake! The rotten aroma of dirty towels emanating from the dryer filled the entire room and lingered in the air long after we had already slinked away in shame (I checked later). Sorryyyy.

IMG_4335View from the Tromsø bridge connecting the mainland to the city centreIMG_4339Arctic Cathedral

Unwilling to let the laundry disaster discourage us, we set out for the sights and walked a couple kilometres from the camping to the city centre. Chef had managed to break the frames of his glasses, so we visited the first optician we spotted on our way. They just happened to be celebrating 50 years in business, so we got to enjoy some cake and refreshments while waiting for the glasses to be repaired. Perfect timing!

IMG_4328Hustle and bustle in the city centreIMG_4332Feathered street patrolIMG_4330

The cake made for an excellent appetiser before lunch, which was our only chance of eating out budget-wise. We chose the cosy-looking Emma’s Dream Kitchen, where Chef got a taste of whale and I ended up with a fish dish. After this welcome break, we rolled on. Literally.

emmasEmmas Drømmekjøkken

IMG_4308Lunch à la Polaria

The obligatory sights in Tromsø include both the aquarium Polaria and the beer hall of Mack brewery, and naturally we checked both off our list. At Mack’s, Chef ordered the tasting menu which included six (I think?) varieties of beer, while I focused on emptying my pint of cider. Fortunately, we made it to the pub about half an hour before a busload of loud Germans arrived, otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to look around and take in all the decorations.
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mackBetter advice for Norway: “keep your life savings, drink water”. Compared to the price list from 1939, the cost of getting wasted had risen ever-so-slightly :)

To finish off the day, we headed to the final, obligatory tourist destination: the Fjellheisen cable car takes visitors to a viewpoint 421 metres above the sea, which boasts terrific views over the city and the surrounding mountain ranges. Once again, our timing was perfect to enjoy the glorious sunset. Unfortunately, I’m not good enough at photography to really do any justice for the majestic natural spectacle we got to experience, but it was definitely worth the price of the cable car ticket (~19 EUR). An excellent end to an excellent trip!

IMG_4350Happy campers. Notice the snack chocolate peeking out of my pocket :D
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Kungsleden, Part 4: Alesjaure-Abiskojaure-Abisko

Day 6: Alesjaure – Abiskojaure – Almost Abisko

Chef really had the perfect timing to splurge on indoor accommodation. On the fifth night, the temperature dropped well below zero, and by the sixth morning, the nearby mountain tops were covered in a fresh layer of snow. Many campers complained they hadn’t slept much due to the freezing temperature. The only people who seemed happy and well-rested were the few who had been smart enough to pack a fleece liner for their sleeping bag. And of course us, the fat cats from the moneybags section indoors.
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After breakfast, we continued on the tried-and-tested splurge track and paid 350 SEK (~35 EUR) each for a boat ride across Lake Alisjávri, which shaved about 5 km off the next leg. The Alesjaure-Abiskojaure leg would have been 21 km of hiking in total – 16 km sounded much better, so we were more than happy to cheat this way. I think I’ve already mentioned how we rejected a similar boat ride offer on the first hiking day at Lake Láddjujávri because it “seemed like a rip-off”. Curiously, we began to appreciate comfort more and more the closer we got to the end of the hike… Of course, our official excuse for being lazy like that was protecting my hurt knee from any extra strain. The dashing Mister D. did not join us on our lazeathon and chose to walk the whole way, so we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.
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At the wheel, there was a delightful reindeer herder who told us these boat rides usually form his main income in the summer season. No wonder business is booming: who wouldn’t enjoy the luxury of admiring the scenery from the comfort of a soft seat on a boat speeding across the turquoise lake? We passed by a small village only inhabited in the summer; in late August it was already deserted. We also caught a glimpse of a giant waterfall – I already forgot its name, but I remember the man telling us it’s possible to walk behind it! The waterfall would make a nice day trip destination from Alesjaure. Technically, it would be also possible to pass the waterfall on the way from Alesjaure to Abiskojaure by hiking the eastern side of Alisjávri (Kungsleden follows the western shore). However, that would require some seriously difficult wading where Alisjávri meets Rádujávri. Noobs need not apply, only recommended for experts.
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Although the frost had subsided, the weather was still super chilly before noon. Regardless of the cold, I couldn’t stop smiling like a crazy person, all thanks to the amazing hiking poles. My knees were beginning to feel normal, the trail was fairly easy to hike, and we were making fast progress (at least compared to the past few days). This Alesjaure – Abiskojaure leg was my favourite in terms of the scenery, as well.
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The closer we got to Abiskojaure the more the nature started resembling our own ‘hoods in Finland. The climate in the valley between Abiskojaure and Abisko is unusually warm considering the latitude – there are birch trees growing there! In the picture below, you can see Lake Ábeskojávri looming in the distance. The Abiskojaure huts are located right by the lake.
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The valley belongs to the protected Abisko Nature Reserve. Camping is only allowed at three marked locations: the first spot is at the Abiskojaure huts, the second spot by the trail approximately 5 km before Abisko, and the last at the Abisko camping site. The reserve begins approximately 1 km before the Abiskojaure huts. Our guide book recommended setting up camp by a large bridge a few kilometres before the Abiskojaure huts, and sure enough, there were several beautiful spots in a small forest by the river. Chef and I had originally planned to spend the night there, but we got there quite early and weren’t ready to call it a day yet. We decided to continue past the huts and on to the second camping spot, which meant an additional 10 km of hiking.
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But first, we had a proper lunch break at the huts. I would have very much liked to buy a can of coke to go with my sandwiches, but the tiny shop had already been conquered by a nightmarish group of indecisive Brits. The ladies sure took their sweet time shopping: Gore-Tex trousers rustling, they kept shuffling between the cash register and the shelves, switching out the products in their grubby hands, and calculating out loud whether the budget of eight people would allow for the purchase of both a chocolate bar and a can of pop, or only one of those. Or maybe neither, or possibly a double amount of each…?  Hrrrnnnnnggghhhh! All this kerfuffle over euro prices in the single digits. It became abundantly clear that I would not be advancing to the cash register until long after my spirit had already left my mummified body. My patience wearing as thin as my body from hunger, I left the queue and pretended water was as good a drink as any. We feasted on our lunch at the yard while mosquitoes feasted on us.

Upon leaving the huts, we ran into Mister D. again. Talk about perfect timing! He was just arriving and going to camp by the huts, but we just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. So we bid farewell for the second time that day.
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Now, I have nothing against roaming birch forests, but after hiking for 24 kilometres we did begin to feel a wee bit tired. According to my calculations, we were nearing the next allowed camping spot – and then got ambushed by the sign pictured below. Huh, two more kilometres? And in the wrong direction? And also uphill?
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At this point, a smart hiker would have consulted the guide book and the map once more. However, I had memorised the fact that there were only three possible camping spots within the entire nature reserve, so obviously this had to be one of them. So we dragged ourselves in the direction the sign was pointing at. The path kept getting narrower and ran through a muddy forest in steep uphill, and the promised camping spots were nowhere to be seen. Our slight annoyance quickly turned into sheer rage, but we had already gone too far to turn back. So we kept trudging on while scaring off any living thing within a five-kilometre radius with our loud cussing.
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The “two kilometres” suggested by the sign was in reality at least three (hundred). We finally made it out of the cursed forest and into the scenery pictured above. This obviously wasn’t the original camping spot we had been looking for, but it was the camping spot we deserved. It was an old, abandoned campsite! We had accidentally hiked outside of the reserve.
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The mood lightened substantially after Chef had managed to feed us both. We realised that making this wrong turn had in fact been a real stroke of luck – the most majestic camping spot of our entire hike was right there, high up, surrounded by mountains, next to a waterfall, with magnificent views over the lake below. I’m so thankful we were too stubborn to give up as soon as we realised our mistake.
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Day 7: Almost Abisko – Abisko
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Last hiking day! I taped up both of my knees just in case the impending downhill would wreak havoc with them. Then we were off to follow in our own footsteps back to the actual Kungsleden. Back down on the right trail, one of the rivers had dried up but the forest was flooded. Pictured below are the outhouses close to our planned camping spot – camping higher up really hadn’t been a bad thing at all.
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The rest or the trail was wide and extremely easy to hike – so easy that it became boring. Could we just finish already! Now I understand why so many people recommend starting the hike in Abisko: this birch forest highway would make for a nice, soft landing to the gruesome hike ahead. Finishing in Abisko means the hike ends in a bit of an anticlimax, at least terrain-wise.
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There are several “meditation spots” along Dag Hammarskjöldsleden. These spots always feature some kind of an aphorism carved in stone. The last meditation spot is pictured above. Carved in stone or not, this one I have to disagree with: den längsta resan är faktiskt Kungsleden.
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Never mind my complaints about the anticlimactic finish line – we really felt on top of the world upon finally reaching the Abisko mountain station! It was simply exhilarating. 108 km of physical and mental challenges and we made it! We also scored high on the relationship-testing aspect of this all: we did not fight once during the entire week (which is unheard of).
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The enormous mountain station, located by Lake Torne, seemed almost like a hotel, but the decoration still made it feel cosy. Our arrival could have been timed better, though: at two in the afternoon, lunch had just ended and the restaurant would not be open again until six in the evening. We didn’t end up staying for long: only for the time it took us to prepare a quick snack and reply to all the accumulated messages from the past week. Then we were off again, this time aiming to hitch-hike to Tromsø, Norway.