SlovinIt19: Beach Holiday in Caorle

IMG_20190628_051620

After the action-packed hiking week in Slovenia, we continued sweating our arses off in a different way as we moved on to take a quick breather on Italy’s side. There are several tempting beach holiday destinations in Northern Italy, and after thorough google research we ended up picking Caorle, which is located halfway between Trieste and Venice. We were looking for a relaxing atmosphere, nice beaches and a bit of personality, reachable by public transport, and Caorle fit the bill perfectly.

trainItalian air conditioning = fanning yourself with a train ticket

From Ljubljana, we first took a Flixbus to Trieste on the Italian side of the border and continued on to the Portogruaro-Caorle station by train. Finally from there, we caught a local bus to the centre of Caorle. The early morning Flixbus had a plenty of room left, and we only bought our tickets the day before our journey. The train wasn’t packed either and we were able to get our tickets on the day of the journey. Both the bus and the train ran pretty well on schedule, only the bus got stuck in traffic for a while as we were nearing Trieste. However, Trenitalia’s claim of aria condizionata was just a bad joke. This was the week when all of Europe was hit by a record-breaking heatwave, so our train trip was nothing short of pure agony. Our thighs and backs got glued to the leather seats and little droplets of sweat formed small streams running down our faces. A sauna would have been wayyyy more comfortable than that.

 IMG_20190627_111232

We stayed at Hotel Fabrizio, which unfortunately ended up being a bit of a disappointment. The booking site advertised a room with a balcony, but in reality there was only a tiny window. The room was dark and dingy. The staff were very friendly but quite disorganised: for example, they tried to charge us twice for the same room. Nobody spoke English, but we were able to get by on body language and a few words of elementary school German. On the bonus side, the breakfast was pretty good (although only served for one hour from 8 to 9 a.m.), and beach chairs and umbrellas were included in the room price, whereas normally you’d have to rent them for 20-25€/day or 85€/week.

IMG_20190628_211156IMG_20190627_112320

Our pain and suffering subsided as soon as we settled in and got to wander around town. Caorle is a cute, small town full of colourful houses and beaches stretching as far as the eye can see – a perfect spot for simply loafing around for a few days. Each day of our three-day beach vacation pretty much followed the same routine: breakfast at the hotel, off to the beach until lunch, a shower and a nap in our air-conditioned room, and finally venturing out to enjoy the colour therapy while looking for a nice place for dinner.

IMG_20190628_061711IMG_20190627_110414

The Old Town of Caorle is made up of a maze of narrow streets and tiny squares surrounded by cheerfully colourful houses. For that reason, Caorle is also called Little Venice, even without any canals. For me, the low and colourful buildings are reminiscent of Miami Beach, and I love that! When I see these kinds of places, I’m always hit with architecture jealousy – why don’t we use any colours in Finland? (NB! Grey and beige are not colours!) It would make November a million times more bearable if we got to enjoy a rainbow of colours on our way to school and work like they do in Caorle.

Caorle

When it comes to restaurants, the menus in Caorle are naturally full of all kinds of seafood in addition to the usual pizzas and pastas. All of it is definitely worth sampling! And even though it’s the promised land of pasta we’re talking about here, I have to make this outrageous recommendation for an excellent Chinese restaurant called Nuova Hong Kong: they serve incredibly tasty food at reasonable prices, the service is friendly and fast, and they have outdoor seating at a charming little square away from the noisiest streets. This is a great opportunity to add a little variety to your diet, especially if you’re staying in Italy for an extended period of time.

IMG_20190628_203613

One morning we made an exception to the routine I mentioned earlier and walked to the beach to watch the sunrise. At 5 a.m., there were only a handful of joggers and photographers around. We also got to check out the outdoor art exhibition, consisting of dozens of carved rocks, without herds of German tourists blocking the view. I really, really love the sunrise vibe, but I never have the energy nor motivation to wake up for it in Finland. Everything’s different when you’re on holiday.

IMG_20190628_051115IMG_20190628_060425IMG_20190628_054703__01IMG_20190628_054401IMG_20190628_062413IMG_20190628_061155

Despite its unique architecture, Caorle is quite a typical beach holiday destination in the sense that it comes alive in cycles and the atmosphere changes completely between these cycles. During daytime, people enjoy the sun and the sea, the beaches are teeming with tourists and pink skin sizzles in the heat. In the late afternoon, everything quiets down as people retreat indoors to have a siesta and perhaps something to eat. And once darkness sets in, the quiet streets are suddenly back to life and full of couples and families. Neon lights blink at arcades, ice-cream sellers rake in the dough and shoe stores (open until late night) invite people in for some impulse shopping. It’s a unique vibe I’m sure everyone who’s ever been to a beach destination recognises. Caorle is among the best, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone with a basic grasp of Italian or German!

IMG_20190628_212101IMG_20190627_223042

Prices (June 2019): Caorle

  • Flixbus Ljubljana–Trieste: 10€ pp (upstairs premium seat)
  • Train Trieste–Portogruaro: 9€ pp
  • Local bus ticket Portogruaro–Caorle: 3€
  • Accommodation, Hotel Fabrizio: 76.35€/night/room for 2 + tourist tax 0.70€ per night per person
  • Renting beach chairs and umbrellas: 20–25€/day or 85€/week
  • Pizza and drinks for two, Hotel Negretto: 28€ (incl. service fee)
  • Slushie 3€, water bottle 1€

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

 

SlovinIt19: Ljubljana

IMG_20190625_184528

After our exercise-filled nature holiday in Bled and Bohinj, it was time to move on to Ljubljana, where the wild mountain scenery made way for carefully maintained parks and impressive architecture. As we were only passing through, our brief one-day visit barely allowed us to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. We were originally supposed to meet a Slovenian friend of mine while in town, but the plan fell through due to unforeseen circumstances. (Hey D, I’ll be back for those drinks later!) We ended up spending the day wandering around aimlessly and just taking in the sights.

IMG_20190625_124511IMG_20190625_125708IMG_20190625_155221IMG_20190625_133807IMG_20190625_155532IMG_20190625_204522

At the time of booking the trip, I wasn’t aware that our timing collided with the Slovenian Statehood Day on 25 June. Many shops and other establishments closed early that day and the streets were surprisingly quiet, which of course made walking around easier but also meant that the atmosphere was a bit strange – most of the locals seemed to be celebrating out of town. But hey, at least we got to admire the architecture close up without always getting blocked by other tourists. I simply adore those colourful buildings! And how about that daycare playground with its green wall and cloud ornaments? For a capital city, Ljubljana seems surprisingly clean and charming.

IMG_20190625_140442IMG_20190625_144030IMG_20190625_144537IMG_20190625_144933IMG_20190625_144258IMG_20190625_144452

We also spent a good chunk of time in the lush Tivoli Park, which offered us some much needed shade and refuge from the afternoon heat. In addition to enjoying the park’s floral splendour, we also found an outdoor art exhibition and a small botanical garden whose collection of exotic trees was grown in pots out in the yard. However, my favourite Tivoli memory is from the water lily pond, where a plump duck was straining to park its behind on a floating water lily leaf. After making considerable effort and trying many strategies from straight-up climbing to backing up rear first, the duck finally succeeded, but the leaf couldn’t support its weight and dipped underwater. The duck still kept proudly chilling out on its freshly conquered, semi-sunken leaf pontoon. Obviously, I have a soft spot for chunky animals, but I never seem to have the time to pay attention to these details in my everyday life.

food-lj

When it comes to food, I can recommend the Icy Bobo ice-cream roll stands and the restaurant Druga Violina, which employs people with special needs. Druga Violina is located in a quaint old square near the Ljubljana Castle. The portions are big, the food is tasty and the prices are very affordable. For a quick snack, it’s also easy to grab a cup of fresh berries from the riverbank market.

IMG_20190625_205101 IMG_20190625_210311

After dinner, we (among many others) climbed up to the Ljubljana Castle to watch the sunset. The castle hill has great views over the old town rooftops, and as an added bonus, there are mountains shimmering on the horizon. Not a bad way to finish the day.

Prices (June 2019): Ljubljana

At this point of our holiday, I had already gotten lazy about writing things down, so I’ve only got a couple notes on prices.

  • Accommodation, Guest House Stari Tisler, room for 2 with shared bathroom: 50€/room/night + tourist tax 3,13€/person
  • Three-course dinner and drinks for two at Druga Violina: 35€ in total

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

SlovinIt19: Lake Bohinj and Triglav National Park

IMG_20190621_194221Welcome to Bohinj!

The third day of our holiday began in typical Bled fashion, with a refreshing bout of hail and rain. Naturally, it only started to pour down while we were outside waiting for the bus to our next destination, Lake Bohinj. Always fun to travel with your hair and clothes dripping with rain water, but at least the trip took less than an hour. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t leave behind some suspiciously damp bus seats – so sorry for the unsuspecting travellers who caught the bus after us! It wasn’t what you probably thought it was.

Bohinj

Sobe_CuskicSobe Ćuskić, Ribčev Laz

In Bohinj, we spent a total of four nights at B&B Sobe Ćuskić, located in the village of Ribčev Laz. The lovely hostess didn’t speak much English, but everything went smoothly anyway. Our top floor room was clean and spacious with lots of natural light. We also had our own balcony with views to the mountains, as well as free access to a shared kitchen. The location was very convenient: right next to a bus stop, about a ten-minute walk from the head of Lake Bohinj with shops and restaurants. Our room for two cost 50€/night, which in my opinion was excellent value for money.

IMG_20190624_073115IMG_20190621_195232

While Bled is known by “everyone” and has the crowds to show for it, Bohinj remains a relatively unknown oasis. An American man we met at the Bled bus station was puzzled about why we would, after Bled, bother to go see “another lake”. Well, Bohinj isn’t just another lake, Sir. I’d even go as far as claim that Bohinj is just a bigger, calmer and more affordable version of Bled. Anyone looking for peace, quiet, mountainous scenery and endless hiking opportunities should feel right at home in Bohinj. Kayaking, parasailing and paragliding opportunities are also excellent there.

st_johnChurch of St. John the Baptist, Ribčev Laz

We started off by investing 27€ each on the Mini Bohinj Package, available at the tourist office, which included a boat tour on the lake, a return trip on the Vogel cable car, a drink at the Vogel restaurant and a visit to the Church of St. John the Baptist, which is probably the best-known historical monument in Ribčev Laz. There were many different packages to choose from, but the mini was best suited to our purposes.

IMG_20190621_202716 Midsummer dinner at restaurant Kramar

We arrived in Bohinj in the afternoon on Midsummer’s Eve. Unlike in Finland, where Midsummer is celebrated as “the nightless night” because the sun doesn’t set at all, in Slovenia it gets dark quite early even in summertime. So, the first day, we only had time to unpack and wander around in search of a meal. We found the perfect restaurant a short stroll away from the village centre, located right by the water’s edge. The food at Kramar was simple but tasty, however it was the views from the outdoor terrace that really won us over and got us in the right Midsummer mood.

IMG_20190621_195938Bohinj blue hour

Savica Waterfall

IMG_20190622_104858Gloomy morning view through the window

The next morning was rainy and foggy, so we didn’t feel bad at all about lounging in our room until late in the afternoon. When the sun suddenly appeared from behind the cloud cover, we decided to make a quick visit to the Savica waterfall, which is one of the most popular natural sights in the Bohinj area.

IMG_20190622_163831__01__01

The boat tour included in the Bohinj Package is very convenient in that you get two separate tickets, each good for a one-way trip from one end of the lake to the other, and they don’t need to be used on the same day. So we took one of our tickets and travelled by boat from Ribčev Laz to Ukanc. The boat stops by the docks next to Camp Zlatorog Bohinj, and from there you can either walk or hitchhike to the waterfall entrance. During high season in July–August, there is also a bus that goes all the way up to Savica, but we were there a bit too early in June. We picked the easy one-hour walk instead of hitching.

IMG_20190622_175536Savica

Our sporty choice kind of backfired once we made it to the ticket booth and found out there were still around 550 stairs to climb to even get within ogling distance of the waterfall. But none of that bothered us once we actually made it to the top, as it’s always pretty cool to see the most famous postcard views of your travel destination in person, rather than in the card rack of the nearest corner shop. The only bother was having to go back down to Ukanc the same way as we came, since the trail can get quite boring and there aren’t any sights along the way. At least the buses were still running, so we didn’t have to walk all the way to Ribčev Laz.

Vogel Hiking Trails

IMG_20190623_085605Orlove Glave chairlift

In the winter, the surroundings of Mt. Vogel operate as a skiing centre, and in the summer you can hop on the lifts and easily get to a height of 1537m to admire the spectacular mountain views without ever breaking a sweat. On the fifth day of our vacation, we spent our Bohinj Package cable car tickets to do a bit of hiking around Mt. Vogel. The same tickets were also good for the Orlove Glave chairlift, which took us even higher to the trails.

IMG_20190623_094405Snack break viewsIMG_20190623_104909Something that makes my soul sing
IMG_20190623_110607
A scared feller along the wayIMG_20190623_104236An excited feller at the top of a mountain (Šija 1880m)

The mountain weather forecast for the afternoon didn’t look too promising, so we decided to only do a short hike and summit one of the nearby peaks around the end station of the Orlove Glave chairlift. A very steep path took us to Šija in well under two hours, snack breaks included. In good weather, continuing further along the same trail would have led us to Vogel itself, but even this short route offered magnificent panoramas over the Julian Alps.

IMG_20190623_124505

After our brisk little walk, it was nice to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine at the cable car upper station terrace, with views all the way down to the lake. A tip to any drink ticket users: wine costs less than other refreshments there, so spend your Bohinj Package drink ticket on a Coke and pay cash for your 1,50 € glass of wine. I also recommend taking a moment to visit these furry friends living next to the upper station viewpoint!

Pigi_and_friendSpotted: a plump pig called Pigi

IMG_20190623_084218The Vogel cable car takes you straight to this picnic spot. Suits even the laziest of us!

Adventures and Adrenaline in Triglav National Park 

BohinjA happy mountain sloth in its element

On the sixth travel day, we finally got down to business, i.e. went on a proper day hike in the national park! In the morning, we caught a bus to the neighbouring village of Stara Fužina, where we started off on a steep forest trail leading to the Vogar viewpoint at the height of 1085 metres. That made for a nice warm-up ascent of about half a kilometre.

IMG_20190624_075706 IMG_20190624_113403

Our original plan was to do the five-hour circle route of Vogar–Pršivec–Planina Viševnik–Planina Jezero–Vogar, but the route between Planina Jezero and Vogar was unfortunately closed due to fallen trees on the trail. Our plan B was the one-way route of Vogar–Pršivec–Planina Viševnik–Crno Jezero–Slap Savica, which meant ending the hike at the waterfall we had already visited the previous day. I had a lot riding on this choice, since it was Redds’s first “real” mountain hike and I didn’t want to disappoint her.

IMG_20190624_130157Pršivec (1761m)
IMG_20190624_130132
Decent nap spot

At this point, we felt good about the route choice, and Redds didn’t let her fear of heights stop her from tackling a few scary points where we had to do some light climbing. The highest point of our route, Pršivec, offered incredible 360-degree views on the surrounding mountain range and down to the valley. It was also a great place to have a snack and a bit of rest before heading back down.

IMG_20190624_135307 Bregarjevo zavetišče

On the way down, we stopped by the Bregarjevo zavetišče hut, where we were able to purchase some cold drinks. Hot meals prepared by the hostess were also available. A cold soda cost 3 € and a sausage plate would have cost 10 €, which is incredibly reasonable considering the location. Best make sure to bring some cash for this one!

IMG_20190624_144931Back into the forest

IMG_20190624_151435

Our last pit stop before Savica was the dazzlingly turquoise Čzrno jezero (literally “Black Lake”). I wonder why each and every one of these lakes with clear turquoise water is always called the Black Lake, no matter where in the world they are located, hmm? There was a similar-looking puddle of the same name on my last trip to Montenegro. Anyway, at this point we had been hiking for at least eight hours, so a little soak in the cold water did wonders to our weary feet before the last leg of our hike. Perfect weather, perfect scenery – Redds’s maiden voyage into the world of mountain fanatics had gone almost suspiciously well.

IMG_20190624_151357

And suspicious we should have been, since bad luck struck us mere 20 minutes before the Savica parking lot. The descend from Črno jezero to Savica is a super steep zig zag trail, and while we were making our way down, some poor bastard above us stumbled and set off a bunch of chunky pieces of rock and failed to yell out a warning. The falling rocks bounced off the cliffs and thumped Redds straight in the forehead. Suddenly, there was enough blood to shoot a damn slasher film, and for the first time ever, I got to practise my first aid skills in action.

I managed to stop the bleeding, but the rest of the descent was nearly impossible due to the uncontrollable shaking in my thighs from all the adrenaline (oddly enough, I was more shaken than Redds). At Savica, we asked the staff to call us a taxi to the nearest hospital, but there were no taxis anywhere in the vicinity. Thankfully, a friendly restaurant worker gave us a ride to the nearest ER, which was a 35-kilometre drive away in Bohinjska Bistrica. The nurse who patched Redds up said that another person had gotten hurt on the same dayin the same spot and for the same reason. So, if you’re planning to take this route from Savica to Črno jezero, bringing a helmet definitely wouldn’t be overkill.

Thanks to beginner’s luck, Redds only suffered a fright and some nicks and bruises – well, a bruise the size and shape of a golf ball on her forehead. Stylish! As an added bonus, at least we got to see how the Slovenian health care system works, and no complaints there. However, Redds wasn’t too excited about the idea of me publishing a picture of her monster bruise, so here’s a bunch of pictures of alpine flowers we spotted along the way, instead. Enjoy!

alp flowers

Prices (June 2019): Bohinj

  • Bus ticket Bled–Bohinj: 3.60€
  • Accommodation, B&B Sobe Ćuskić: 50€/night/room for two
  • Mini Bohinj Package: 27€
  • Entrance fee to Savica waterfall: 3€/adult, 2.50€/student
  • Bus travel between the villages in Bohinj: 1.30–1.80€
  • Dinner at restaurant Kramar by the lake (incl. main dish, drink and dessert): 17.50€

+Tip: See arriva.si for local bus schedules and ticket prices

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

SlovinIt19: Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Lake Bled

Once again, the first half of this year has been a bit of a blur for me, but that’s just how it goes with the rat race, I suppose. At least I got to go on a few short holidays this summer! Ever since I first started (this admittedly intermittent) blogging, I’ve spent my midsummer alone in the mountains. This year, however, my friend Redds made a delightful special guest appearance. I planned us a little tour of Slovenia and northern Italy with the goal of maintaining a nice balance between the cities, the mountains and the sea – in other words, a bunch of mini vacations in one low-budget package.

Bled

The first stop of our grand SlovinIt tour was Lake Bled, best known for its clear, turquoise waters and its tiny church island. Bled is easy to reach from Ljubljana, as buses run regularly, and accommodation-wise there’s plenty to choose from, as long as you book early.

castle_hostelCastle Hostel: views from dorm and roof terrace

Mainly for budget reasons, we picked a hostel for the first two nights. Castle Hostel is located smack dab in the middle of Bled, a short stroll from the lake. The roof terrace features excellent views over the town, and they even arrange free morning yoga classes there. Our four-bed dorm shared the same view, which seemed great at first but turned out to be not-so-great after all. With no air-con it was really hot in the room at night, but it was also nearly impossible to keep the terrace-facing window open since the party people would smoke and make noise right in front of it until the wee hours. Decent accommodation for a couple of nights, just don’t forget to bring your earplugs and inhalator.

IMG_20190621_121229Lake view from the Bled Castle

Bled is one of the most popular tourist traps in Slovenia, and no wonder why: the astonishingly turquoise lake with its crystal-clear waters is surrounded by mountains and castles that could be straight out of a Disney film.  The lake keeps changing colours depending on the viewing angle and weather conditions. And those changing weather conditions seem to be able to pack all four seasons into a single day! Out of the two days we spent in Bled, both included sunshine, cloudy but dry weather, drizzle, thunderstorms and hailstones the size of a tennis ball. A storm can rise seemingly out of nowhere and soak you to the bone in a matter of minutes while the hailstones gently hammer your muscles, and the next minute the sun comes back out and there’s no trace of dark clouds anywhere. In this sense, Bled reminds me of Iceland – it is said in both places that if you don’t like the weather, wait for five minutes and check again. Unfortunately, that works both ways.

IMG_20190621_120527Better remember to bring an umbrella…

IMG_20190620_145935__01__01…or face the consequences! This only took five minutes.

My favourite thing about Bled is the trail circling the entire lake, with a plenty of nice wild swimming spots and opportunities to admire the lush vegetation and chubby duck families along the way. My least favourite thing must be the ceaseless echo of church bells from early morning until late evening  – the locals have found a way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of tourists by offering them a chance to ring the “famous wishing bells” of the island church and people positively flock to do it. Oh well, as long as business is booming, right?

 

When it comes to food, I can definitely recommend paying a visit (or two) to the reasonably-priced bakery Slaščičárna Zima, where you can easily sample the local delicacies. Make sure to taste the cream slice! And, even though it might seem silly to travel to Slovenia just to order a pizza, the popular Pizzeria Rustika is also worth queueing for – even going as far as making a table reservation might be wise with this one. These two joints won’t disappoint!

IMG_20190620_131024__01Cake break at Slaščičárna Zima. The hot chocolate was as thick as pudding, 5/5 from me!

The obligatory sights of course include Bled Castle. Built high up on a hill, you’ll get a nice, quick workout climbing there on foot. The castle overlooks the entire lake and the surrounding mountains, and the views from the courtyard are magnificent.

 

Vintgar Gorge

Bled is a great base for all kinds of tours and day trips, but if you’ve only got time for one activity (like we did), go for the Vintgar Gorge! It is one of the finest sites of natural beauty I’ve ever stumbled upon and my pictures don’t do it any justice. The start of the 1,6-kilometre walking tour is about 4 km from Bled, and can be easily reached by bike or on foot if you’re not fond of busy tour buses. By walking or biking, you’ll also be able to make an early start before the biggest  tourist hordes arrive.

IMG_20190620_090008Country scenery along the way from Bled to Vintgar

As I recall, Redds and I made it to the ticket window at around ten in the morning, and the number of visitors was still at a reasonable level then. The entrance fee includes a return trip from the starting point to the Šum waterfalls and back. As you’ll be walking in the gorge on narrow boardwalks and gravel paths, with people simultaneously going in both directions and stopping along the way for pictures, foot traffic gets easily stuck in various bottlenecks. Therefore, it’s best to go as early as possible in order to spare your nerves. By noon it’ll be too late, already.

IMG_20190620_095905IMG_20190620_095119 IMG_20190620_094719

Another benefit to an early start is the chance to see the morning mist quietly hanging above the river, making the atmosphere a bit more eerie and mystical. As the day warms up, the mist slowly disappears and the crowds appear. So be early if you’d like to enjoy this sight in (relative) peace and quiet! Reserve at least two to three hours for the whole thing.

IMG_20190620_102120 IMG_20190620_103155

Prices (June 2019): Bled and Vintgar Gorge

  • Bus from Ljubljana airport to city centre: 4,10€ pp
  • Return bus ticket Ljubljana–Bled_Ljubljana: 11,34€ pp
  • Castle Hostel: 19€/bed/night + tourist tax 3,13€/person/night
  • Vintgar Gorge entrance fee : 6€/student, 10€/adult
  • Bled Castle entrance fee: 7€/student, 11€/adult
  • Stentor BarFly, lunch by Lake Bled: 14,30€ (meal + drink)
  • Slaščičárna Zima: one piece of salty and sweet pastry each + hot chocolate: 9,55€
  • Rustika, pizza + drink: 14 €
  • Public Bar & Vegan Kitchen Bled, soup lunch + smoothie: 9,50 €

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

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

IMG_20180804_175751

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


IMG_20180804_150637
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

IMG_20180804_194506

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.

IMG_20180804_193339

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.

IMG_20180804_204010IMG_20180804_212959IMG_20180804_201231

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!

IMG_20180804_215655

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

IMG_20180806_124158

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

IMG_20180805_155107 IMG_20180805_155346

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?

IMG_20180806_130738

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.


IMG_20180806_124758
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.

IMG_20180806_123836 IMG_20180806_123652

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.

IMG_20180806_124500__01

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

IMG_20180628_080555

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.

IMG_20180627_164058

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!
IMG_20180628_061355

IMG_20180628_062250SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!
IMG_20180628_063636 IMG_20180628_063917Hi, I’m Sanni. I like to travel thousands of kilometres just to take pictures of cats.
IMG_20180628_064806 IMG_20180628_064050Even the cats are out to make a quick buck off the tourists

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

IMG_20180628_080711King’s Landing, bitchesss!IMG_20180628_081250IMG_20180628_083516
IMG_20180628_091750
IMG_20180628_083907IMG_20180628_081301

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.

IMG_20180628_131442 IMG_20180628_132527
IMG_20180628_131750 IMG_20180628_140010

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.

IMG_20180628_195855

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!

IMG_20180628_200403
IMG_20180628_203049

IMG_20180628_203349

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!