Island Hopping in the Finnish Archipelago: Nötö, Utö and Jurmo

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At the end of this summer, I suddenly realised that the Finnish archipelago remains a mystery to me, even though I’ve been living on the southwest coast of Finland since 2012. What a sad state of affairs. I immediately employed a “two birds with one stone” tactic and took my stressed-out fiancé Chef on a relaxing three-day birthday vacay to the Archipelago National Park. Chef was delighted about the mini-break while I got to educate myself. Win–win!

(Disclaimer: This post is longer than the Pan-American Highway. Might as well take the day off if you’re planning to read it all in one sitting. If you’d rather skip the travel babble, just scroll down to the bottom where you’ll find a condensed itinerary and a bunch of useful links to help you plan a similar trip of your own.)

Creating the Itinerary: Googling This Stuff Is a Bitch


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M/S Eivor

Before we could embark on our epic adventure, I first had to figure out where exactly we would go and how we would get there. Since the trip was meant to be a surprise birthday present for Chef, I naturally had to do all the planning by myself. I had naively assumed this would be a two-hour job, three hours max, but it turned into more than a week of pure pain and suffering. I mean, the information is out there, but it’s all scattered around the internet. I’m sure it would be even worse for any foreigners, because most of the info I found seemed to be offered in Finnish and Swedish only.

There are rental cottages, rooms and saunas on the inhabited islands of the Archipelago Sea, but most hosts don’t bother with any 21st-century online booking tools, supposedly because that would be just too darn convenient. No no, you must arrange your accommodation by phone, email or messenger pigeon, or simply show up and hope for the best. For example, I had originally wanted to take Chef to the island of Aspö, but the person in charge of the cottages never replied to my email query and didn’t have a phone number listed anywhere. Do you people not want my money?! Back to the drawing board. I must have clicked through hundreds of websites. Keep going, Sloth, find out where the legal camping spots are located. Check if there are any shops or restaurants around. If yes, how expensive are they and what are their opening hours? Stop tearing your hair out, Sloth.

My budget was limited and I had to work around the specific days I had been given off work. In addition, the plan needed to be executable by public transport. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the ferry between Pärnäs and Utö started to run on winter schedule already on the second week of August – smack dab in the middle of our hottest summer in living memory! As if that wasn’t enough, I also had to keep gently threatening Chef’s family and friends just so the SOBs wouldn’t even think of arranging any competing activities for the same weekend. After going through all this hassle, I, too, started to feel the need for repose, but at least I managed to perfect the plan. Or that’s what I thought, but there were some unexpected variables I didn’t even think to take into consideration. More on those later.

IMG_20180803_184530Charming fellow traveller aboard M/S Eivor

Excursions to the Archipelago National Park seem best-suited for the wealthiest 5% of the population, seeing as many of the islands and therefore camping areas can only be reached by one’s own boat or kayak. There are some taxi boat services available, but none of them have their prices posted. Now, we all know what that means: it means that the prices are exorbitant for the average joe. On the plus side, planning gets a whole lot easier when it’s no longer about where you want to go, but where you’re realistically able to go. Through this type of elimination process, I finally came to the conclusion that we should simply follow the free ferry route. So, for practical reasons alone, our final destinations were the three islands of Nötö, Utö and Jurmo.

Nötö: Home of the Ringing Rock

IMG_20180803_215106Day growing dimmer on Nötö

On Friday, our first vacation day, we were supposed to catch the archipelago bus from Turku to Pärnäs, but ended up getting a shared ride all the way to the ferry port with our friends who just happened to be heading in the same direction. At the port, we still had a nice little chunk of time left to visit the port restaurant for burgers and drinks. I wasn’t hungry yet, but when it comes to Chef, it is critically important to stuff his face with food at regular intervals. Take it from me, the secret to a successful couples holiday lies in hanger prevention.

It took the ferry around two hours to reach our first destination, Nötö. Time flew by while we were sipping on another round of drinks and making friends with every four-legged creature we met on the deck. Upon reaching Nötö, a friendly guy (whose name I forget) from the Backaro Guesthouse was there to meet us and lead us a couple hundred metres to the guesthouse, where I had booked us a double room for the first night. I also booked us the outdoor grill shed and put Chef to work. The result was a perfect barbecue dinner for two, made from the supplies I had brought along from the mainland. Chef wanted to end the evening with a quick dip in the freezing refreshing sea, and somehow managed to manipulate persuade me to join him.

IMG_20180804_115450Backaro guesthouse

IMG_20180804_115315The furious watchdog at Backaro. So fluffy!

The Backaro guesthouse has a warm ambience, but it could use some extra maintenance. For example, when you have to pay extra to use the grill shed, you might expect to find enough clean cups, plates and utensils instead of empty spice containers. There is something wrong with the grill igniter, too – probably an easy fix for a professional. It was also left unclear how and when guests would be able to contact the manager or staff, apart from randomly running into them in the yard. Everything else in the main building is clean and well-maintained, but the indoor toilet (which can only be used at night) and the adjacent shower really need a good scrubbing with the strongest detergent legally available. A crack in the tiling is covered with duct tape, and water from the shower pools in front of the toilet because an unnecessary doorsill makes it impossible for the puddle to drain properly. Eventually, you’re no longer sure if the dirty puddle is water or something yellower left by the other guests, which doesn’t exactly encourage you to tippy-tap around in your socks (shoes are not allowed indoors). There’s no lock on the bathroom door, instead you’re meant to hang up a little sign. The only problem is that nobody will be able to see the sign in the dark. All of these tiny annoyances could be easily fixed with a little money and effort, and it would greatly improve the value for money. Left in its current state, I might not stay at Backaro again, even though the experience as a whole was still ok. I’ve seen a lot worse.

IMG_20180804_095848In the eye of the storm?

On Saturday morning, we woke up to the included breakfast buffet. Then the sky suddenly went dark and we got our first taste of the notoriously fickle island weather. It was actually quite fun to watch the thunder and lightning from the shelter of the upstairs balcony. The storm only lasted for a little while, so we were still able to do some sightseeing before catching the ferry to our next destination, Utö.

The ringing rock of Nötö must be one of the island’s biggest tourist traps. In other words, I bet dozens of people flock there every year. It’s a big rock with differently sized dents on it. You beat the dents with smaller stones, and the result is music that sounds a bit like church bells. The demonstrative video above is not mine, I just randomly picked it off Youtube because I was too lazy to make my own.

IMG_20180804_133149 IMG_20180804_140520Nötö Cake, Café Skolan’s gift to the world

We also checked out the prehistoric graves (=piles of stones) found in the forest and met the island’s famous highland cattle out at pasture, before hanger started to creep up on us again. We ended our Nötö visit on a high note by having lunch at the much vaunted Café Skolan. Now there’s a summer café well worth all the praise it gets!

Utö: Where Finland Begins

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It’s difficult for a landlubber like myself to fully comprehend the distances in the archipelago. To reach Utö, Finland’s southernmost inhabited island, it takes about 4.5 hours on the ferry from Pärnäs. Add to that the extra 1.5 hours by car to travel between Pärnäs and Turku, and we’re at about six hours total for a journey that, on a map, doesn’t look much different from the route between Turku and Helsinki (which only takes around two hours by car). From Nötö, it still took us around three hours to get to Utö, but that was okay as we spent the whole time napping aboard Eivor.

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Nötö didn’t impress me that much, but there’s something about the tiny Utö that I really love. Those long and lazy summertime evenings in Finland always have a special air about them, and the maximum chill factor was even more pronounced on the island. However, a self-appointed village sheriff was eagerly working against it. We had barely set foot on the island when we already ran into the Sheriff, who at first only wanted to make sure we knew where we were allowed to put up our tent. Of course we knew, that was one of the most important details I had uncovered during my research week from hell. All in order, adios for now. We made it another couple hundred metres before we heard the Sheriff huffing and puffing behind us again. This time the tone was different, notably more cranky.

Hey, hey! Did you notice the “Keep the archipelago clean” outhouses over there? So, yeah, keep the archipelago clean is what it means. And as you’re probably aware, the forest fire warning is in effect. Even though it has been raining last night, it’s still forbidden to make any kind of open fire. That means no campfires, and no camping cookers either. All clear?

And the same in plain English:

Don’t you goddamn arsonists dare come here and shit all over our island! Making your own meals is forbidden, go spend your money at our restaurants or go home!

Now, someone might construe that ramble as nothing but a helpful and concerned local sharing useful tips with us, but the Sheriff’s tone and gestures told a different story. At least for me, it felt like we as campers were automatically seen as useless, unwanted idiots. I suppose campers don’t bring enough money to the island, as they don’t pay for accommodation or restaurant meals. Can’t think of any other reason to hate on us right off the bat. As I’ve already mentioned, there is only one spot on Utö where you’re allowed to put up a tent. We and a handful of other campers stayed neatly packed up on this tiny and remote piece of land, well out of the locals’ sight and way. And we didn’t leave a trace. I’d also like to point out that actually you are allowed to use a camping cooker even when the forest fire warning is in effect. However, arguing with the Sheriff seemed pointless, so we just kept smiling and nodding until we were left in peace. Then we set up camp and cooked our evening meal on our cooker as usual.

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Utö is so tiny that it’s possible to see pretty much the entire island on a short evening walk. As we were approaching the rocky seashore, we ran into a lady who was a tourist herself. She kept staring at my hiking sandals and deemed it necessary to comment on my choice of footwear.

Hey, hey you! Those shoes leave your feet quite exposed. Are you aware that there are snakes around here?

I was aware, but thanks for the concern. Quite amusing coming from someone prancing around in her ballerina flats, though. Oh well, when in Rome – at least you don’t need to spend any energy minding your own business, since there’s always someone else to do it for you over there.

IMG_20180804_202623IMG_20180804_194353Now, this fine specimen would make the best Airbnb ever!

The Finnish military used to have one of its bases on Utö, but they relocated a few years ago, leaving behind several now abandoned structures – and even cannons! Parts of the old military area are still restricted from civilians. So much potential lost right there! Just imagine how cool it would be to get some of the old bunkers and watch towers remade into camping shelters.

IMG_20180804_212219Sunset views from the lighthouseIMG_20180804_215439Not too shabby for a campsite

At night, the unpredictable island weather made a glorious comeback. All the beauty and tranquility surrounding the sunset was nothing but calm before the storm. We were out brushing our teeth when we started to hear a low rumble from the distance. Dark clouds rolled over us, and soon we saw the first lightning strike in the horizon. I have to admit that right then and there I might have been ever so slightly scared, especially when the violent rain started lashing against our tent and the thunder grew stronger. What if the storm was moving right in our direction? All we could do was crawl into our sleeping bags and hope to wake up alive the next morning. Luckily the thunder stayed out at sea, but the gusty wind and rain kept trying to pierce our tent throughout the night. We had brought our brand new Jack Wolfskin tent out on its maiden voyage, and its quality was really put to the test right away. I’m happy to announce it passed with flying colours – we stayed 100% dry and cozy despite the raging storm around us. Excellent value for money, thanks Jack!

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On Sunday morning, we ignored the Sheriff’s earlier advice again and cooked ourselves some tasty breakfast porridge before heading out for a little morning swim. There are no beaches, as the shoreline is very rocky all around the island, but we did find a nice little spot behind the lighthouse, right next to the fenced-off military area, where you can wade into the water along a flat piece of rock. The sea didn’t even feel too chilly anymore, it was actually quite a comfortable temperature for a hot summer’s day.

I had originally planned to take Chef for lunch at the Utö Hotel before leaving for our last destination, Jurmo, but my research had failed me: the hotel restaurant was closed on that Sunday. I thought weekends would be the best time for emptying tourists’ pockets, but I guess not, then. While we were at the little village shop filling up our water bottles, I quickly bought us some ice-cream before hanger got the best of Chef. In the afternoon, we boarded Eivor once more and went straight for a traditional nap at sea. I had started to feel a strange kind of nausea a bit earlier, but managed to get some sleep anyway.

Jurmo: Alpaca Kingdom

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If Utö is charming, then the rugged landscapes of Jurmo are positively fascinating, like something straight out of a fairytale. I cannot really even describe what it is that makes the island so special – apart from the free-roaming alpacas, of course. Jurmo is something that has to be experienced first-hand. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get to know the island as well as I had hoped. Those unexpected variables I mentioned earlier? This is where they came into full effect.

(Disclaimer: If you’re easily grossed out by gory details of bodily functions, I suggest you stop reading right about now.)

As soon as we arrived on Jurmo, the nausea got the best of me. I still managed to keep myself together long enough for us to set up camp again. The wide open Moringharu juts out of the island about a kilometre’s walk from the port of Jurmo, and it’s also the only area where you’re allowed to camp on the island. There are only a handful of lone trees out there, and three of them form a sheltered little nook, just big enough for a tent. So that’s where we set up camp, and then walked back to the port.

IMG_20180805_181008Moringharu camping area

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Right after my lunch plans for Utö fell through, I had already done a quick google search which informed me of a popular hamburger restaurant on Jurmo. Well, you always learn something new: for some incomprehensible reason, there are actually two islands in Finland that are both called Jurmo. One of them is located at the Archipelago Sea, where we were, and the other one near Åland. Naturally, I had been looking up information on the wrong island of the two. It never even occurred to me that I would have to double-check the exact coordinates. Sure, there is a restaurant on the “Alpaca Jurmo”, as well, but it isn’t one of those walk-in businesses. No, you have to order your meals in advance by phone or email. Oooff, so much for lunch, then. I sent Chef to the port café to get some coffee and pastry before we’d start bickering. Myself, I felt too nauseated to even think about eating. While Chef was enjoying his coffee, I was suddenly struck by a bout of explosive diarrhoea. Well, we’d been eating all kinds of crap as snacks, so it was probably just payback for that… right?

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I wasn’t going to let a little stomachache stop us from exploring the island, so Chef and I headed out for a little self-guided walking tour. I had to keep stopping every couple dozen metres, because the cramps were so intense they nearly brought me down to my knees. That’s when I finally started to wonder if maybe the pain derived from something more sinister than your average, run-of-the-mill faucet butt. But hey, at least we got to see some of the best of Jurmo: the 19th century chapel, the old windmill and the super chill alpaca gang.


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Jurmo chapel, built in 1846IMG_20180805_170113Cutiepies

When we got back to the port and took a quick glance at our camping spot, my blood ran cold. The storm from the previous night was about to come back with a vengeance. The sky darkened in the blink of an eye and the wind was picking up. How would you feel about enjoying a thunderstorm camped under the only trees on a flat piece of land, all the while suffering from debilitating stomach cramps with a 1 km hike to the nearest outhouses? Probably not the greatest idea, right?

IMG_20180805_182749Not what you want to see while camping on the flattest island ever

Thankfully, the friendly café owner also has several rental cottages on the other side of the island, and one of them was still available on Sunday. Chef even managed to negotiate the already reasonable price down and got us a nice little “thunder discount”, so there really was no question left about whether or not we should give up on camping for the night. We rushed to the tent to pack up our belongings and hurried back to the café. At that point, the wind was already so strong that it was difficult to move forward while lugging our backpacks with us, and the stomach cramps made it extra difficult for me to stay on my feet. Rain started pouring down right before we made it to shelter and it soaked us to the bone. Below is a short video that Chef shot while we were fighting our way back to the port.

We waited a bit for the heaviest downpour to subside, and then got a ride to the cottage. Our helpful host tried to make small talk during the short drive, but I had to focus all my energy on not throwing up all over the backseat. I probably seemed a bit rude. Sorry.

The cottage was very warm and cozy, and it had its own fireplace and sauna. However, neither one of us got to enjoy the amenities, because by then, Chef too had started to feel a bit weak. The situation soon escalated to the point where Chef was indoors throwing up in a bucket and I was doing the same outside by the bushes. Our bodies completely dried up and drained, we spent the night shaking on our bunk beds. It took me hours to muster up enough energy and willpower to crawl for two metres into the kitchen and pick up our water bottles. We still don’t know if the whole thing was caused by a violent stomach bug or food poisoning. Nevertheless, our romantic couples holiday sure got a memorable climax right there. So, yeah, I really don’t think this whole mess was something I could have reasonably anticipated or prepared for.

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On Monday morning, life was beginning to look worth living again. We even managed to eat some breakfast porridge and keep it down. There was still a couple hours left before we would have to leave, so we heated up the sauna and washed off the horrors of the past night. Unfortunately, the waves were too big for swimming, but I could have stared out to the sea forever. One of the bravest alpacas hanging out in the yard even let me pet itself! Jurmo is absolutely breathtaking, and I’m sure we will return there many times in the future – hopefully with a little more success when it comes to health and safety.

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Summarized Itinerary and Some Helpful Links

For those of you who don’t want to read 3,500 words on fake island sheriffs and diarrhoea, I’ve made this brief summary of our itinerary. I’ve also listed some of the prices (August 2018) and linked some of the most useful websites to help you plan a similar trip of your own. Perhaps it will save you from the week-long pain of googling that I had to endure.

  • Archipelago National Park: general information, maps, rules and instructions. Read this very carefully, especially to find out what is and isn’t allowed in the area.

Day 1 (Starting in Turku, Finland)

  • Turku–Pärnäs, Archipelago bus, buy tickets from the driver, à 13.70€, cash only. The bus runs year-round. To check the timetable, use the Matkahuolto connection search (From: Turku / To: Pärnäinen)
  • Hamburger meal and drinks, Pärnäs port restaurant, à 15.20€. Their Facebook page has no info in English.
  • Pärnäs–Nötö, M/S Eivor. The free ferry runs year-round and you don’t need to reserve a spot, just show up on time (at least 10 minutes before departure, preferably earlier). Cars must be left at the parking lot in Pärnäs and cannot be brought on board. The timetable has information in Finnish and Swedish only, but here are some of the most important things to take into account:
    • Each weekday has its own schedule. The timetable starts with Monday on the left and ends with Sunday on the right.
    • Yellow highlighting means there is a matching bus connection to take you to and from the Pärnäs port.
    • x means that the ferry will only stop at that port “if necessary”
    • y means that if you want to get on or off at that port, you must call Eivor 1.5–0.5 hours before departure. Their phone number is +358 44 5000 503. Don’t text them, they won’t read your messages.
    • Weather conditions may lead to changes and cancellations.
  • Beer and cider at the restaurant aboard Eivor, 12€ in total.
  • Accommodation on Nötö: Backaro Guesthouse, 80€/night/double room + 7€ fee to use the grill shed / 2 people. Only open in the summer season.
  • We brought our own barbecue supplies from the mainland, as the island shop is closed in the evening.

Day 2

  • Breakfast at Backaro Guesthouse, included in the price of accommodation.
  • Nötö sightseeing, e.g. the ringing rock and prehistoric graves. There are signs on the island which point you in the right direction.
  • Lunch on Nötö: Café Skolan. Fish, drinks and desserts for two, 59.50€ in total. Only open during the summer season.
  • Nötö–Utö, M/S Eivor
  • Camping on Utö: map of the only allowed campsite
  • Dinner from our own supplies (pack a gas cooker or something similar!)

Day 3

  • Breakfast from our own supplies. Utö handel village shop has limited opening hours year-round and you can replenish your snacks and water supply there.
  • Utö sightseeing
  • Utö–Jurmo, M/S Eivor
  • Accommodation and sightseeing on Jurmo: e.g. Ethels Bastu cottage with its own sauna, 85€/night, sleeps up to 4 people. Available year-round. The same website has a lot of useful info on the island, but unfortunately everything is in Finnish and Swedish only. Email jurmo(at)jurmo.com for cottage reservations.
  • Alternative accommodation on Jurmo: free camping in Moringharu. Look it up on Google Maps before arriving on the island, or ask someone at the port to point you in the right direction.
  • Dinner from own supplies (port café offers a selection of fresh food and vegetables etc.), or book a homemade meal in advance from Jurmo Inn.

Day 4

  • Morning sauna at Ethels Bastu cottage
  • Coffee and pastry at the port café, à 4€.
  • Jurmo–Pärnäs, M/S Eivor. Lunch and a juice box at the Eivor restaurant, à 11.50€.
  • Pärnäs–Turku, Archipelago bus, à 13.70€.

In total, I spent around 350€ on three nights for two people. Amazingly enough, that was also my original budget and I managed to stick to it despite the, uh, unforeseen circumstances. I suppose you could technically do it even cheaper, e.g. by camping every night instead of paying for accommodation. However, as in our case, things don’t always go according to plan and you can never fully predict the island weather. I strongly recommend leaving some slack in your budget to cover for any last minute surprises and catastrophes.

If you made it this far: however did you even manage to read everything?! Let me know in the comments. :)

Budget Holiday in Montenegro: Two-Week Itinerary and Breakdown of Costs

Montenegro is a dream for a budget-minded traveller: so far, accommodation, transportation and food in the country is so inexpensive it’s practically free. Depending on the price level of your home country, a backpacking holiday in Montenegro might actually end up saving you money – at least if you take into account how much you would normally spend back home while enjoying the summer. This blog post is a summary of my two-week holiday to Montenegro and Croatia. I’ve included both an itinerary as well as a breakdown of my travel budget. I hope it can be of some use to others planning a similar holiday to the Balkans.

IMG_20180617_150724Thunder in Podgorica

THE BUDGET

All in all, my two-week holiday ended up costing less than 850€. All the prices are from June 2018, and the total includes everything:

  • Travel within Finland: Turku – Helsinki-Vantaa airport – Turku: 19€
  • Turkish Airlines flights Helsinki-Podgorica // Dubrovnik-Helsinki: 221€
  • Accommodation: 12 days in Montenegro 205€, 2 days in Dubrovnik 82€, 287€ in total
  • Transportation in the destination (train+bus): 61€
  • Restaurants: 12 days in Montenegro 97€, 2 days in Dubrovnik 48€, 145€ in total
  • Shopping (groceries+snacks): 78€
  • Entrance fees and tickets: 33€

My 14-day holiday was divided into two parts: 12 days in Montenegro and two days on the Croatian side in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is significantly more expensive than Montenegro: those two days in Dubrovnik ended up costing me around 190€, whereas 415€ carried me through all the 12 days in Montenegro. Therefore, excluding the flights and the travel costs within Finland, my average daily budget was as follows:

  • Montenegro: 35€ per day, of which
    • accommodation 17€
    • food (restaurants+groceries) 14€
    • transportation 2,65€
    • other 1,35€
  • Dubrovnik: 95€ per day, of which
    • accommodation 41€
    • food (restaurants+snacks) 27€
    • transportation 12€
    • other 15€

These figures may be helpful when you’re trying to create an approximate budget for your own holiday. If you like to drink, party and eat out three times a day, you should at least double or triple the restaurant budget. I prepared snacks and meals for myself quite often. I usually don’t drink a lot of alcohol, either, which obviously saved me a nice chunk of money here. (I know, I know, what kind of a Finn admits to not drinking?!) In Montenegro, I usually ate out once a day, and in Dubrovnik, twice a day. When it comes to accommodation, note that I was travelling alone. Outside of hostels, I had to pay the full room price by myself, whereas people travelling in groups of two or three would have been able to split the costs. So, if you’re travelling with a friend or two, you might be able to drive the accommodation costs even lower than they already are in my examples.

IMG_20180627_081222 Friendly farm animals on a morning walk near the flashy Porto Montenegro

ITINERARY

My strongest recommendations go to all the activities and destinations marked here with an asterisk. By clicking the links, you can read more on my experiences of each place. I’ve also included some of the most relevant costs where applicable.

Day 0: Arriving in Podgorica. Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Hostel Q Podgorica (13€).

*Day 1: Hiking in the Lake Skadar National Park, beach bumming in Sutomore. Train travel Podgorica-Virpazar-Sutomore-Podgorica (4€). Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Hostel Q Podgorica (13€).

Day 2: City tour in Podgorica. (Better alternative: visiting Biogradska Gora National Park by train, if weather allows.) Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Hostel Q Podgorica (13€).

IMG_20180620_123000Bobotov Kuk, Durmitor National Park

Day 3: Arriving in Durmitor. Bus ride Podgorica-Žabljak (6€, student price). Wine and decent food at the Hotel Soa restaurant (15€). Accommodation: executive suite, Rooms and Bungalows Sreten Žugić (10€). Note: the room sleeps up to three people.

Day 4: Hiking, Planinica Fail Trail. 3-day entrance ticket to Durmitor National Park (6€). Overpriced pizza at Zlatni Papagaj (8€). Accommodation: executive suite, Rooms and Bungalows Sreten Žugić (10€).

*Day 5: Summiting Bobotov Kuk! Dinner at restaurant Podgora (8€).  Accommodation: executive suite, Rooms and Bungalows Sreten Žugić (10€).

*Day 6: Crno jezero. Delicious pizza at the pizzeria next to the post office (4.60€).  Accommodation: executive suite, Rooms and Bungalows Sreten Žugić (10€).

*Day 7: Arriving in Petrovac, chilling on the three beaches. Bus ride Žabljak-Podgorica (6+1€, student price), train ride Podgorica-Sutomore (2€), bus ride Sutomore-Petrovac (2€). Lunch at the Hotel Admiral terrace (18€). Accommodation: apartment with sea view, Apartments and Rooms Vjera (43.50€). Note: the apartment sleeps up to three people.

Day 8: Sveti Stefan (a huge disappointment), Bečići, Budva, and sunset walk to Perazic Do. Accommodation: apartment with sea view, Apartments and Rooms Vjera (43.50€).

IMG_20180624_144512 Boka Bay views

Day 9: Arriving in Kotor, day trip to Perast. Lunch at Konoba Akustik (19€). Bus ride Petrovac-Kotor (3€), hitchhiking Kotor-Perast, bus ride Perast-Kotor (1€). Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Hostel Pupa (15€).

*Day 10: Kotor Fortress and Old Town. Excellent lunch at BBQ Tanjga (7€).  Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Hostel Pupa (15€).

Day 11: Tivat and Porto Montenegro. Bus ride Kotor-Tivat (2.50€). Dinner at Ponta Veranda (12.50€). Accommodation: apartment with sea view, Rosic Apartments (7€. The real price was 79€, but I spent a Hotels.com rewards night on this.)

Day 12: Arriving in the crowded Dubrovnik, exploring the abandoned hotel Belvedere. Bus ride Tivat-Dubrovnik (18€). Burger lunch at *Barba (10€), dinner at *Ten11 (8€), dessert at an old town ice-cream parlour (4€). Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Old Town Hostel (41€).

*Day 13Dubrovnik sunrise, City Walls walking tour (7€, student price). Breakfast menu at Dubravka 1836 (11€). Picnic and swimming on the island of Lokrum (20€). Sunset walk in the Velika & Mala Petka forest park. Dinner at my favourite snack corner, Ten11 (12€).  Accommodation: bed in a dorm, Old Town Hostel (41€).

Day 14: Return flight to Finland. Bus ride to Dubrovnik airport (5.50€).

IMG_20180628_200533Golden sunset at Velika & Mala Petka forest park

HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS – Don’t miss these!

  • Virpazar: Lake Skadar National Park
  • Durmitor National Park: Bobotov Kuk and the Black Lake
  • Petrovac: the three beaches, walk to abandoned hotel on Perazic Do beach
  • Kotor: fortress and old town, grilled food at BBQ Tanjga
  • Dubrovnik: City Walls walking tour. Restaurants: Barba (octopus burger), Ten11 (tortilla “Cape PrimaDona 1805”) and Dubravka 1836 (delicious, reasonably priced breakfast menu)

To read the entire travelogue in English, use the tag Montenegro18EN

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.
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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

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.

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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