Independence beers in Budva

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Saturday, May 20, 2006

What a mission! Covering Sofia to the Montenegrin coast via Belgrade in Serbia was always going to be a challenge and it didn't disappoint - turning into a long and (in oh so many ways) precipitous 24 hour odyssey.

The first leg was a 10 hour train ride from Sofia to Belgrade, including a midnight border crossing with some gruff, bull-necked immigration agents, but all in all that was the easy part as I slept haphazardly until ten minutes before the train arrived. From there options were to wait almost three hours for another train to Bar (as you gain an hour crossing from Bulgaria to Serbia), or hop on the next bus direct to a little place called Budva.

What the bus lacked in comfort and safety features it made up for in character. Still, it went in 30 minutes and I'd heard there is a good hostel in Budva, saving the need to find accommodation after arriving late at night. I'd been on worse in Asia so bring it on!

Most of the trip had been traversing the alps at the borders of Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. With mountains higher and more jagged than any I'd seen so far, we barrelled along a wonderfully serpentine canyon for many hours. A wide, clear river of melted spring snows raged under heavily striated cliff-faces whilst elsewhere the mottled greens of new forest growth surrounded us like a cocoon. Literally hundreds of unlit tunnels hacked out of the rock delivered us onwards to oblivion and the mangled, rusting guard rails shielding us from the crevasse were accompanied by dozens of shrines to those lost over the edge. Despite four layers of grime on the windows the sight of the valley floor below made the heart flutter whenever we screamed around a corner.

But we made it in the end and a complimentary beer (one per day!) was waiting for me at the newly-opened Hippo Hostel.

Next day in Budva I was initially unimpressed. But the random detritus, sharp pebbles, chubby local package tourists beaching themselves on banana lounges and a neglected air along the main beach was eventually overshadowed by the sunshine, a pleasantly unmarred old tower and some nice beaches further away from the main drag.

After apparently featuring in a medieval film starring Sean Connery in the 60s (can't remember the name), the old town was completely destroyed by earthquake in 1979. Since then it has been faithfully recreated and looks surprisingly genuine - as new friend Ruth commented, the most artificial aspect is actually the smooth paving and grills underfoot. Otherwise it's a cosy jumble of shuttered buildings and small but rotund churches with little signage or advertising to spoil the effect.

The Citadel is hardly worth the $2 Euro investment, housing a small library and a collection of model ships (including The Mayflower, The Bounty and the USS Constitution amongst others) but the view over the town from the ruined battlements makes up for that.

Final stop walking northwards was the micro-pebbled beach of Mogren - a much better option for swimming, cliff diving or just lolling about in the sunshine under thickly-layered cliffs.

Further up the coast is the fjord and town of Kotor. After missing Norway this trip I wasn't expecting to see a fjord but there's one down here so whaddaya know... I turned up a bit late, gambling on a glorious sunset but getting a shady dog due the fjord's northerly alignment. However I took the bus to Dubrovnik along both shorelines a couple of days later which really allowed me to see how much of a powerful and beautiful work of nature it really is. Rest assured that the locals in older times used it to good effect, by lining it with villages and also building at the fjord's head a sizable port town as well as the most unusual defensive position (castle) I have ever seen .

This old town lays on the shore but the adjoining castle winds and stretches up the face of the fjord like a giant snake. Unfortunately (or otherwise - it would have been a harrowing climb), I couldn't find the stairs to get up it so had to settle for another wander in another pretty and largely untainted old town.

Heading south a few kilometres delivers you to a place called Sveti Stefan - a particularly well executed stone settlement that has been converted to a hotel complex and is now a monument to how the other half live. And for $5-7 Euro you can actually go in and see how they live, although I was unamused when I work out afterwards that I was actually paying to visit a hotel. Still, the charge probably keeps the tourist masses out. Seeing some of the swanky bungalows and expansive views you realise why.

There are a number of other great beaches along here, as well as a summer palace for some royal bigwig or other of days gone by. It is very, very pleasant along this strip and an easy, cheap bus ride to get to so it should be on your itinerary if you get to Budva. Just watch out that you don't get charged to use the beach, that happens on one of them (Queen's - 3E) apparently.

As a final blast, Ruth and I went out for dinner the night that the unofficial results of Montenegro's Independence Referendum were announced. Needing a vote of 55% or more for independence from Serbia, the unofficial, likely-to-be-contested result of 56% in favour was announced late in the evening to the jubilant honking of horns, explosion of fireworks and the occasional volley of machine gun fire. Cars did laps up and down the main street with horns tooting, people hanging out the windows and red flags fluttering with great nationalistic fervour. You have to be happy for them but if the population is less than 1 million (as I've heard) you really have to wonder how it will survive - whether it becomes a part of the EU or not. Anyway, thanks Ruth for a great night out and enjoy your travels around Bosnia.

To wrap this one up I'd just like to thank Dave and Nadia at Hippo Hostel in Budva. Only open since April, but this is already one of the best hostels I've stayed in and I wish you all the best for the future - I'm sure it will be a success. Check out the website at for more details.

'Til Croatia, see ya later!

Great Brands of the World - Montenegro

For a tiny place there was quite a few options on this one, but I have to settle for good old Chipsy and its Japanese-manic Happy Gold Potatoes tagline. Pow - it hits you right in the nuts wherever you go - and the chips are pretty good too.

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Where I stayed
Hippo Hostel
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