To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.
– Oscar Wilde
An interesting 26 hours, what a day. Left Mostar in Bosnia in the morning, crossed the Bosnian border around 10 or so. Drove down the Dalmatian Coast, stopped in Dubrovnik (details in my Croatia post). Drove through the beautiful Montenegro mountains, stunning scenery. Stopped at the Bay of Kotor, then carried on to Podgorica. Stayed overnight, picked up the famous Bar to Belgrade train line. More magnificent mountain scenery. Crossed the Montenegro / Serbia border around 11-ish. All in a days travelling!
Crossing the border
The driver got treats for the border police between Bosnia and Montenegro. Not a bribe, ‘treats’. Just to ensure everything went smoothly..
Its a mountainous region so there were some steep and twisty turns in the bus. You are rewarded with some beautiful scenery though, its so lush and green in parts, its gorgeous to take in.
Montenegro gained independence in 2006, and is one of the least developed of all of the former Yugoslavian countries. It still has that unspoilt feeling about it, and has not yet been ruined by being too commercial. Income is mainly from agriculture and tourism. Tourism actually started in the 1920’s, owing to the gorgeous coastline on the Adriatic Sea. It has a striking mountainous coastline.
The language is Montenegrin; very similar to Bosnian and Serbian, more like a different dialect. They are very respectful of the eldest family member, and often live with many generations under one roof. Some 30% of the population claim themselves as Serbians. Religion is pre-dominantly Orthodox and Catholics. Both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabet are recognised.
Kotor Bay was part of the Venetian Republic and is listed as a UNESCO heritage site due to the well preserved medieval part of the city. An earthquake in 1979 caused significant damage, though was rebuilt shortly after owing to the UNESCO status. Whilst some of the mainland was occupied by the Ottoman Empire, they never ventured to the coast so Kotor remained under Venetian rule.
Kotor has a city wall from the late 14th / early 15th century. It was an impressive feat as the wall goes around the edge of the mountain and down to the bay. Defence of the bay was required to protect the shipping industry they had at the time and defend the area from the Ottoman’s who were inland. It costs 8 Euro’s to walk the wall and is apparently around 25 minutes to walk up – though it looks like it would take much longer, given how steep and high it is!
Above the gate is marked with the date the city was liberated from the Nazi’s. There is a communist star and a quote from Tito – the former Yugoslavian president. In my experience the people of the Balkan countries thought he was a good leader and still hold him in high regard. I’m told the quote is along the lines of this: ‘We don’t want what belongs to others, but we won’t give our belongings.’
Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro. We stayed in Terminus hotel, a few minutes from the train station. Could be the thing of nightmares if you ever watched The Walking Dead! But the hotel was fine, and very convenient for getting the train the next morning from Podgorica – The second stop on the famous Bar to Belgrade line. Terminus is approximately 25 Euro’s a night.
We went to a little restaurant around the corner which was full of locals. It was really cheap, food was basic but pretty good. I ordered chicken fillet and I got three of them! With chips and a side of bread that looked like a loaf! I ordered a house white wine and it took a few sips before I decided it was tolerable! You definitely had to persevere! But then at 1 Euro for a large glass you can’t complain too much!
There was also a supermarket conveniently around the corner from the hotel, a couple of doors down from the restaurant. So we could pick up supplies ahead of the long train journey. You can pick up a bottle of local Montenegrin wine in the supermarket for 1.85 Euros. I splashed out on the 3.85 bottle!
I recommend the ‘Builders Sandwich’. It’s basically half a loaf of fresh white bread, with whatever filling you want from the fresh meat and cheese counter. They’ll cut it in half for you – to keep you going on the 11 hour train journey! It was also ridiculously cheap – and enormous! The sandwich plus several snacks came to less than 5 Euros.
Bar to Belgrade train line
It was great to have the opportunity to travel the famous Bar to Belgrade line. Spectacular scenery for most of the journey. Amazing way to travel and take it all in. The route is just over 450 miles yet takes 11 hours! It would take around 3 hours to do that distance by Japanese bullet train!
Definitely take toilet roll and / or tissues! You’ll also need hand sanitizer. And I recommend food, snacks, water, and most definitely alcohol! Be prepared for some unpleasant toilet visits!
I’d also fully recommend you reserve a seat where possible. Not that local people adhere to it or that they will be marked as reserved – but it should make life a little easier on a long journey once you’re in your seat. The line gets busy and for people getting on later they were sitting in the aisles. Some near the very unpleasant smelling toilets!
At the border our passports got checked by both the Montenegrin and the Serbian border police. Expect to give your passport away and not see it for a while.
This was the first point a local guy with a holdall full of chilled beer and soft drinks got on. They’re relatively cheap around 1.50 Euro’s – but obviously limited choice. He stocked Holsten, Coke or Fanta. At a couple of the later stops, different guys got on with beer holdall’s if you need a top up, or want a chilled drink! Though to be fair the air con in the carriages on our train worked well – you could balance some of your alcohol near the fans to keep it chilled. Priorities!
Sometimes there’s a buffet car – but don’t rely on it! In theory there is a buffet car every other day, on ‘odd’ days but we travelled on the 15th – and no such luck!
Some of the train stations were run down and tiny. Very little by way of health and safety, compared to what we’re used to anyway, people just wander across the tracks.
Also for most of the train journey’s I’ve taken in The Balkans there’s rarely a lift, so be prepared to carry your bag up and down stairs – pack light! And you often have to heave your bag up and down a few steep steps getting on and off trains.
The journey wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been. Around hour 9 we discovered that there was works on the track for the last part of the rail journey and we’d be disembarking and getting coaches the rest of the way to Belgrade! Apparently the conductor had counted how many passengers were on board and there would be enough coaches. Fortunately we were ok but it was a complete free for all! All part of the adventure I guess!
Cycling and Hiking
I didn’t get to spend long in Montenegro as part of my tour of The Former Yugoslavia, I got to admire the gorgeous scenery but didn’t have time for any activities.
The amazing mountains and welcoming blue sea make Montenegro a great destination for cycling. Somewhere to enjoy testing and exciting routes, it’s a thrilling destination – though personally I don’t fancy some of those hill climbs; though I do enjoy a speedy descent!
If you prefer walking there are a number of hiking destinations. Prokletije National Park looks superb!
The Budva Riviera is the centre of Montenegrin tourism. It’s also known for its well preserved medieval city walls; though is smaller than Kotor. As well as the sandy beaches and diverse nightlife.
Budva is some 2500 years old, making one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic coast. There is evidence of both Greek and Roman influence.
It was noticeably busier than Kotor Bay, Yas beach is the most famous and popular, with gorgeous white sand and beautiful clear blue water. There is a range of accommodation to suit every pocket.
Part of the Casino Royale story apparently happened in Budva, though was actually filmed in The Czech Republic.
The practical stuff
Montenegro is not part of the EU so you’ll get charged data roaming for using your phone. However, it does use the Euro. From 1996 the Deutsche Mark was the de facto currency and was formally adopted in 1999. The Mark was replaced by the Euro in 2002 without any objections from the ECB (European Central Bank).
As usual I recommend a Starling bank card to maximise the exchange rate you get on withdrawing local currency. Remember not to accept the local banks exchange rate as you’ll get less for your money!
Other good cards I’ve found for using abroad are also Monzo and Revolut. The benefit of Starling is they don’t limit how much you can withdraw from an ATM abroad before they start charging you. With this trip and changing currencies so frequently it was really helpful to be able to keep withdrawing small amounts so you’re not left with too much – especially in some of the countries with a closed currency.
Local tap water is safe to drink. Thank you is ‘Hvala’ as the other Balkan countries.
Next post Serbia – look out for the poodle on a moped!