Montenegro: August 2018

I arranged a driver with Natalia, the owner of the AirBnb in Petrovac, and he showed up in a white Audi A3 wagon with my name on a placard. The drive to the coast from the airport reminded me of Southern California, with the arid countryside and rugged mountains. We dropped down through the coastal range to the beach town of Petrovac. Once at the apartment, Natalia and her husband met me and I found out that the driver was their nephew. They were quite gracious and the apartment was large and modern, with a full deck and a sweeping view of the Adriatic. I walked along the beach promenade to a grocery store to grab some staples and realized that it was unlikely that I’d be spending much time at the beach, given the throngs of tourists.

After Slovenia, Montenegro was the first country that used the Euro. Croatia still uses the duna, Bosnia-Hercegovina the mark, and Serbia the dinar. Fortunately, I still had a supply of Euros from Ljubljana.

The next morning I found a great beachside hotel with an excellent buffet for €7. Since it was early, I grabbed a table near the beach and the young server brought me a cappuccino. He introduced himself as Božidar in his excellent English. Božidar and I have kept in touch and I’m happy to announce that he’s now engaged! The food was so good and inexpensive that I ended up eating there the next few mornings.

The weather was hot and a bit humid, so I decided to take a hike along the coastal trail, which featured a long tunnel just to the west of the main beach. The Adriatic was beautiful and spotless, with an aquamarine color. The path led past a derelict resort that had been abandoned after the fall of Yugoslavia. I supposed they didn’t have the funds to either complete it or to tear it.

From there, the path led up to high hill crowned by the monastery of Rezevici, dating from the early thirteenth century. I entered the main church, which was 15 degrees cooler than the outside and filled with a spectacular iconostasis. While I was admiring the artistry, a young man entered and repeatedly knelt and crossed himself in the Orthodox style, kissing the icons. I walked out to the portico and took some pictures of the coast framed by old trees and an arch. I then sat down under some shade trees and bougainvillea and drank a bottle of mineral water. When the pious young man left the church and sat down by me, we struck up a conversation and I found out that he lived in Shanghai part of the year where he worked as a model, telling me that the Chinese prefer Europeans in their ads. A few minutes later he left to speak with one of the priests and I left for the return trip to town and my apartment.

Most of the tourists, judging by their appearances and car plates, were from Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. There were a few Russians, but apparently there were far fewer than in the past. They own a fair amount of the condos in town I was told. Since the evening took on the appearance of a tourist party, I decided to head back to the apartment for a little wine and cheese and reading.

After a great night’s sleep and breakfast at the buffet spot, I arranged a drive to the Bay of Kotor with Natalia. Her cousin drove me up the coast, which was packed with August tourists. I told him that I’d give him a call when I was ready to head back and then proceeded to explore the old town of Tivat before heading up the old mountain trail to Krstac Pass, way above the fjords of the Bay of Kotor. I passed the ruins of the old Kotor Fortress, which is now a UNESCO protected site. I met a French couple on the trail, but they wisely turned back, leaving me the sole hiker on an increasingly hot and humid climb. I had hoped to get to the summit, but after two hours of steady uphill switchbacks with few trees, I too decided to head back, especially as I was running low on water. I did get some spectacular shots from 1,200 feet above the bay, but I was drenched with sweat. I must have looked as if I’d been in the bay itself when I got back to town and sat down for a late lunch. As pleasant as the lunch was, I was soon engulfed in cigarette smoke. Older people in the Balkans are heavy smokers, which can be quite irritating to non-smokers.

I had to wait a while for the driver, but eventually he showed up and we drove back to Petrovac. During the drive, I arranged for him to take me to Lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans, the next morning.

Lake Skadar is divided between Montenegro and Albania, although the two have frosty relations. It’s the largest lake in the Balkans and is protected as a nature reserve by both Montenegro and Albania.

While I was investigating touring options, I met a fortyish English couple from Bath and their two kids. We decided to book a tour together and we approached the dock. The pilot asked for €100. My English friends were about to acquiesce, but I knew the pilot would settle for half. I offered €40, and we agreed on €50.

Our pilot gave us a grand tour, including a stop on an island with an old monastery. I enjoyed the English couple. Their daughter was quite precocious and the younger son was hard of hearing. My youngest sister is largely deaf and I got on great with him. They had lived in Vancouver before getting married and I told them they could always visit me on Whidbey Island and they said the same about Bath.

The next morning the driver drove me to Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital. I planned to spend the night there before leaving for Sofia in the morning. I stayed at the Hilton, which was cheaper and more luxurious than any Hilton in the US. Podgorica itself doesn’t offer much in the way of major sights, although the old Ottoman quarter was interesting. During the Communist era it was named Titograd, typical of the Communist cult of personality tendency. In the evening, I enjoyed a thunderstorm from the hotel’s club lounge, where the drinks and hors d’oeuvres made for a nice dinner.

On Sunday morning I checked out of the Hilton and grabbed an Uber to the airport. The canyons of Montenegro from the plane were astounding.

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