Crna Gora

Trip Start Apr 16, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Montenegro  ,
Sunday, May 24, 2009

For a ferry plying its trade crossing the Adriatic M/F Sveti Stefan seemed to be displaying quite a few notices about passengers obeying the 1963 U.K. Betting, gaming and lotteries act. It transpires that it is in fact the 1977 Brittany Ferries 'Cornouailles ' re-branded for life in the Balkans - and the interior conditions suggest that little repair work has been done since Brittany Ferries let her go. We were prepared for a long journey and sure enough soon after leaving port we had to change (downgrade) cabin as our air con could not be turned down and our cabin was approaching freezing. We moved our things from the third deck into a cabin in the belly of the ship and passed the night with weird engine noises and drunken Montenegrin laughter from outside our door.

Our mood was lifted when we stepped out into fresh air at 7am to a beautiful morning in Bar, a port city in Montenegro.
After a pleasant breakfast on the seafront boulevard and waiting for the tourist info to open, we found ourselves a home stay above the tourist info in an old Montenegrin lady's apartment. From the obvious (hanging gardens of Bar - see picture) to the subtle (the protractor next to the sink in the bathroom - why??) to the unavoidable (live DJ pumping out trance music across the road until 3 in the morning), it was an interesting place to stay. Our host was very friendly, the room comfortable and our balcony had views across the harbour that beat all the local hotels, from which the owner's son spent some time pointing out to us which of the superyachts belonged to Roman Abramovich.

Bar's most famous tourist attraction is its old town, Stari Bar - perched on a mountain side it suffered heavy damage and was abandoned in the 1877 Turkish war. Insult was added to injury when the ruins that had become a tourist attraction were themselves ruined in an earthquake in 1979. The ruins have since been partially rebuilt. Unlike other old towns that we have been to, Stari Bar not being abandoned has a sort of ghost town quality as you pick your way through the undergrowth and peer into the remains of houses. Fading fast in the midday sun we set off back to Bar, and our cheery bus driver stopped off on the way to buy some sweets which he then proceeded to share out with the passengers.

An hour's bus journey along Monetenegro's dramatic coastal road dropped us off at Budva, a beach resort favoured by the Russians. The town has a population of 15,000 who appeared very affluent judging by the number of Budva-registered Porsches, Mercedes, and BMWs on the road. A quick google reveals that Budva at one point boasted more millionaires per capita than any other city in Europe due to its property explosion in the first half of the 2000s. It is also the smallest city in the world to have hosted a Rolling Stones concert, coincidence perhaps?

Budva itself consists of several coves of beaches supported by a strip of lively bars and restaurants with a beautiful old town at one end. The place was very lively - loads of watersports, excursions, restaurants/bars and if you ever visit coastal Montenegro we would recommend using Budva as a base for exploration (and the salted pancakes at Garden Caffe (sic) as a base for sustenance). 5km along the beach to the south lies the resort of Sveti Stefan - an old fishing island it was appropriated by the Yugoslav government in the 1960s and turned into an exclusive resort. All the buildings retain their quaint fishing-village looks but apparently the insides have been gutted and filled with top end designer chic, it's a proper A-list celebrity hang-out. Closed for renovation when we were there we could still enjoy the pink beaches and beautifully clear sea along its causeway.

We took the 30 minute bus ride to Kotor one day - another old town but this time at the head of an inlet surrounded by mountains (giving rise to it's false 'fjord' label). The town's fortifications stretched up the mountain against which the town was nestled and we had been recommended the hike to the summit. Fearing the midday heat we sat around in cafes and played cards once we had explored the old town, waiting for the heat to subside. We waited a fraction too long and as we were half-way up a thunderstorm appeared over the mountains and proceeded to drench us with rain. Undeterred by the prospect of a lightning strike we pressed on until reaching the ruined fortress at the top of the mountain, where not to tempt fate we kept our heads down, took a quick picture, and then hurried off back down the mountain.

We stayed at the Hippo hostel in Budva, a very friendly and relaxed place with a nice garden where we had a BBQ one evening and an extensive DVD collection that was good for a quiet night in.
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