Heading to visit a country that i hardly even knew existed had this certain appeal to me. I mean the country itself had only been independant since 2006. I had only heard of it from a James Bond film to be honest. I arrived at the bus station in Dubrovnik 15 minutes too late to catch the bus to Kotor, and the next one was 5 hours later
. The joys of never planning anything. No point in crying over spilt milk, so I found a cozy little cafe and decided to do some blogging while enjoying a nice beer on a hot May afternoon. 5 hours came and went before I knew it, and I boarded my bus and got cozy for the ride ahead. During our ride, the bus stopped in many small locations, that you would never even guess were bus stops unless you were a local. Who knows.....maybe they weren't even bus stops. Maybe they were cousins af the driver?? At one stop, the bus came to a stop just outside of a monestary where a nun boarded the bus. Since just about every seat was taken, she sat next to me. An old frail looking lady, she was trying to get her seat belt on. I tried to help her after watching her struggle for the first min, but to no avail. She politely told me in Croatian, I can only guess...don't worry about it. I wasnt sure if I had made her feel uncomfortable from reaching over her, but I figured she wouldn't hold a grudge for it.....I mean come on....she is a nun! As soon as we crossed the border into Montenegro, it was almost instantaniously that the mountain ranges began. The road would curve around the edges of mountains, down to the water, and back into the mountains again. Our bus ride ended in a small transfer city of Herceg Novi (pronounced Ha-seeg No-vi). I got out of the bus not exactly sure what my step was to be because Ian's explanation had got a little confusing at this point. Walk down a big hill...down a path...for 15 minutes to a ferry? There was a plethora of paths heading in several direcitons, so I forced to problem solve on my own
. I was greeting again when I exited the bus by old ladies looking to rent apartments. Again I turned them down. This one lady spoke me to me in broken english as was my first true taste of the people in Montenegro. She asked me where I was heading to. "Kotor?" she asked. When I told her that was my target destination, she kindly walked me to the corresponding bus that I needed to take. I thought this was such a sweet gesture. This lady purely knew that I wasn't going to be giving her any money or busniess, but she was still thoughtful enough to help me on my way. It was a small but thoughtful gesture, one of those little moments that lightens up your day. I boarded my new bus with a smile on my face, and eager to see what other surprises this country had in store. The bus ride took a little over an hour and a half. It weaved its way along the edge of a massive lake that looked almost as if it were fiords. It would easily been confused with Norway, not that I have ever been, but I can imagine from the pictures I have seen. Small monestary here, collection of houses there........not much but natural beauty to see. The whole country of Montenegro has a little more that 600 000 residents. I was told that during its peak tourist time of June-August, the countries population nearly doubles. This was a bus ride that I didn't mind if it took hours as I was simply amazed by the scenery I was seeing. But as all things, everything must come to an end. The town itself was rather small, which was a bonus for trying to find my hostel
. Only so many places it could be hiding. Just like Dubrovnik, I knew it was in the old city walls, which I had seen when we entered town. I also knew that there was only 1 hostel in the entire city. I saw some other backpackers getting off the bus and asked them if they were heading in the same direction as I thought it might be a good idea to team up to find our destination together. It was two Americans, male and female traveling together. I was prepared to walk the distance to the hostel, but the girl said she wanted to take a taxi. We flagged a taxi and got a 2 km ride to the old city entrance for a grand total of.....wait for it......1 euro. It ended up being 33.33333 cents each to save 20 mins. This was turning out to be my kind of city. Within the old city walls....it was beautiful. It had a similar feel to it as Dubrovnik, but smaller side streets, with less than half the tourist traffic. The city itself was at the base of a mountain, with cliffs going almost straight up directly behind the buildings. At the top of the mountain was an old crumbling fortress that was once upon a time, a military strong point. I was explained later that it was where the Vatican sent a lot of money and troops several hundreds of years ealier to fend off the Ottoman empire from envading europe. And what a strong point it was. It would have been near impossible to attack this fortress without heavy losses. Its fascinating that such a small country had such an important role in history. With my American counter parts, we located our hostel rather easily, and began the check in process
. The people at the front desk were extremely friendly and talkative. But the funny thing was that almost none of the people that worked at the hostel were from Montenegro....they were all from neighbouring Serbia. They told me that there was better paying jobs in Montenegro then Serbia. When they asked me at the front desk where I was from, I told them Canada. "Canada!?.....who the hell wants to go to Canada?!" said the American girl. I wasn't really impressed with her naive immature comment, but I took it with a grain of salt. I then proceeded to ask her where in the US she was from. "Idaho!! Yeaaaah Idaho!" Really???? Come on. I mean, if she had said something like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles....even Florida I would have been fine. But Idaho?!?!? It's potatoe country for pete's sake. Its one thing to have a friendly rivalry between countries....but she was just plain ignorant. I wanted to go into a long rant with her.....but it wasnt even worth a second of my breath. I know myself how Americans are regarded 80% of the world over...... When I got to my room, I had a huge 8 bedroom flat all to myself. Well almost. There was one other bunk that had a few things on it, but in the first few hours I never once saw the owner of the belongings. I went out for a nice dinner that night, by myself and with my laptop to do some research and catch up with friends that I hadn't spoke with in a while. I had a four course meal for 4 euro. its hard to beat prices like that. I ate like a king and drank like a fish.....all for under 10 euro
. And on top of these amazing prices, the view I had was spectacular. Nestled at the foot of mountains with water less than 150 meters away......I was in awe of this country I had known nothing about. A descision I had not regreted in the slightest, and was already in my head planning on staying longer than first expected. The first night was a Saturday night, with loud clubs thumping bass just outside my window. I was told at the front desk of the hostel that the biggest night club in the whole of the Balkans was located here in Kotor. I just wasn't feeling like going out and forcing to make some friends for the evening. It sometimes can just a chore. Always repeating yourself, always the same conversations. I called it a night early. Most people would think that it would be too difficult to fall asleep with all the music and noises coming outside, but when you have slept in enough hostels with drunks, literally through earthquake after shocks.....it was just another night for me. However there was one thing that got me out of bed super early in the morning. There was an old church just outside my window. 8 am on the dot, the church bells began to sound. And they were not in the slightest nice bells either. They sounded more like someone just hammering on steel to no appearent beat. It was horrible. To make matters worse, they rang for 13 minutes.....EVERY 15 MINS!!! I swear that frist hour...there was only 8 minutes of silence. I have a video of me waking up completely confused.....thinking that someone is coming to attack by the sounds of the bells
. Thankfully I found out later, that this was only a sunday morning happening. Kotor the city itself was quite small. Most people only came for a day or two. Me.....I always like to defy the odds. I ended up staying in town for 5 days. What did I end up doing over those days.....well sometimes....not a whole hell of a lot. I was always doing something small, whether it be climbing the main mountain in the city to the castle at the top to get an amazing panoramic view of the city, to going out with some Finnish, Aussie, and Serbians. One very good friend I made that was sharing my room with me for the first few days was Nikola. I wasn't too sure about him at first when I met him, but quickly found out how great of a guy was. He too had left Belgrad in search of work in Montenegro, and was working at a Italian restaurant as a waiter. He invited me to come and visit him while at work one day, so I made sure to pay him a visit. My heart went out to this guy. He spoke rather good english and understood all that I was saying. He explained to me that he was 30 years old, although being the same age, he looked as though he was older. My second night in town, he left the hostel room as he was the one staying on the other bunk. He had to find himself a cheaper place to stay. He had left his wife and family back in Belrad to make money. A few nights we even went out for beers when he was finished his shifts. On my last day in town, he wife would be coming to visit him, and he wanted me to meet her
. You see...one of the nights we were out having some beers, his wife called. Now I don't speak any Serbian, but I could definitley tell that he was getting yelled at for something. He explained after that his wife was accusing him of cheating and she thought he was out with some other women. I heard "Kanadenski", which I guessed was me several times. He got off the phone......."Vemen!!! Dey rr Krazy!!" We had a quick laugh about it all. So when his wife came to town, it was Nikola's actual birthday also being my last afternoon in town. I met him at a bar just below the hostel and bought the man and his wife a drink, and I sat with them for an hour. His wife was seemed to be very shy. She could understand most of what I was saying if I didn't speak to fast. I bid him farewell and gave him a big hug goodbye wishing him the best in life. It's nice people like this in life that you want to see again.....but you know the likelyhood of it happening are very slim. Possibly my most memorable day while in Montenegro was a day I decided to do a tour of the whole country for a grand total of 35 euro. It started very early in the morning, around 8 am, and wouldn't have us returning until 8 pm, covering a grand total of 600 kms. Sitting in the lobby of the hostel, I met a girl Satrina from Toronto, who I teamed up with for the day. It was a small taste of home, and someone to share the crazy day with. I say it was crazy because we had the ballsiest bus driver I have ever seen in my 16 months of traveling
. We were told to simply call him.....the General. Our day started on was it literally some extremely winding roads that Danny our hostel guide explained to us were actually used for rally car circuits. It was easy to see why. We left Kotor, but it seemed to take over an hour to even get the city out of our sights. It just kept getting smaller and smaller, but was always in sight. Our tour was basically taking us to the main areas of interest within the country, such as monestaries and churches, stopping at some scenic areas along the way. Many of the roads were rather narrow, but were still classified as two lane roads. "Ahhh, this is nothing. Wait until you really see the one lane roads," Danny told us. Sure enough after a stop at our first monestary, we were flying down the side of a mountain one lane road. As we came flying around a corner, our mini bus encountered a full size bus taking up the entire lane. I could see people bracing for impact, and letting out a huge gasp as I was sitting at the back of the bus. Without even so much as taking his foot of the gas peddle, the General said "No problem!". 2 hours into our town, we dodged death by impact and rolling off of sheer drop offs atleast 3 times. I was almost never raised a hair at any of this. I mean I am used to close calls now. This man has probably driven these roads thousands of times, and knew them like the back of his hand. My favorite moment of the afternoon....was when he came roaring up behind an ambulance.....and passed it
. Although we did have one moment I thought it would all end in a fiery crash. General was following far too close to the truck in front of us and had to lock up the brakes, putting our entire bus into a 45 degree angle scretching slide. Pulling out and passing a truck, a bus and a car when you can already see the oncoming car never seemed to phase him........Balls of steel on that General. I had to take my picture with him at he end of the day to say thank you, and to show all of you this crazy but funny character. Now talking with my friend Nikola, he advised me on what would be a good path of travel to head next. If I headed farther south to Albania, I may encounter issues entering Serbia via Kosovo, and as bad as I wanted to see Sarajevo, it would have me missing all of Serbia. So I decided to pass on Bosnia and head just a little farther south in Montenegro to Budva, where I would catch a 14 hour train ride to Novi Sad, which was a little over 100 kms north of the capital Belgrad. Special thanks to Boyana, Danny, and Nikola for all your help and making me feel right at home in the hostel and during my whole time in Kotor. A big hug to you all. Keep well......I hope to see you again someday......this life or the next.
Ok everyone, I am really sorry for the long lapse in time between my last blog entry. I was mental busy the past month and a half, as you will find out in due time. I had to play catch up. I was also extremely mad at myself. I lost the majority of my pictures from Montenegro, the beautiful country it is....makes it that much harder on myself. I managed to salvage ones from my cell phone and from facebook to put together a small collage for you all. Here is how it all went down.........