Reunited with Kotor!

Walking the city wall in Kotor 5
Ever since I visited Kotor briefly many years ago, I have wanted to go back to experience more of this ancient fortified city.

With the city walls crawling up the hillside behind the houses, I decided I had to climb it. And watch the view, of course.

But first things first; parking and finding a place to stay for the night. We parked the car on a big monitored parking lot just outside the city walls. Leaving the luggage in the car, we could easily search for a nice place to sleep. We ended up with a two-bedroom apartment with double beds at D&Sons Apartments, right inside the wall.

Time for some speed sightseeing before heading off to climb the wall. The city was as beautiful as I remembered, and since we were there a bit late in the afternoon, and outside the main tourist season, we also escaped the tourist crowds.

The entrance to the city wall was close by the apartment. The fee is 3 Euro and include a leaflet with some information. Climbing upwards, gave me the urge to stop many times along the way, as the photo opportunities were constant!

While looking for a place to have dinner, we stumbled upon a concert in the church of St. Nicolas. The atmosphere was magic, and the music just marvelous!

Having a nightcap at the vine bar just across the street from D&Sons Apartments was a perfect end of the evening!
Kotor 1
Kotor 2
Kotor 3
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Kotor 5
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Kotor 15
Kotor 14
Mmm, lamb!
The way to the city wall walk
Walking the city wall in Kotor
Walking the city wall in Kotor 2
Walking the city wall in Kotor 3
Walking the city wall in Kotor 4
Walking the city wall in Kotor 6
Kotor panorama
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Walking the city wall in Kotor 9
Walking the city wall in Kotor 10
Walking the city wall in Kotor 13
Walking the city wall in Kotor 11
Walking the city wall in Kotor 12

Kotor by night 3
Kotor by night 2
Church concert

View other posts from Montenegro or the road trip through Balkan!

Sveti Stefan – the «forbidden» island

View of Sveti Stefan

View of Sveti Stefan

I have seen many pictures and driven passed earlier myself, and always wanted to get closer and experience the beautiful scenic island of Sveti Stefan. I bet you have done the same! But I will kill your hopes right away; you are not allowed to enter unless you are staying at the hotel that has taken over the entire village.

So this is basically what you have to settle for…

Sveti Stefan up close, but not close enough...

Sveti Stefan up close, but not close enough…

Stari Bar, the pleasant surprise

Bar was never a part of our planned route. But again, that is the beauty of being on a road trip; having the freedom to do whatever you feel like just then an there. This was one of those moments. Seeing the signs directing to the old town of Bar, we looked at each other. Without a word, we both said “why not”, and I drove off in that direction.
Stari Bar
The first thing that met us was a small market, selling groceries and some other things. Walking through the main street, the locals were sitting outside, enjoying a coffee or a beer. Continuing up towards the entrance to the fortified city, we passed a few small restaurant. If we would have had the time, we would definitely sit down, after having difficulties deciding which one to choose.

Unfortunately, our time was running out, and we had to prioritize.

To get within the city walls, we had to pay two Euro each. An earthquake heavily destroyed much of the city in 1979 and even the thick city wall was split. Walking around gave an impression of the nice community that once was there, and we were definitely glad we did the detour! Yet another reason to visit Montenegro!

I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Street life in Stari Bar.

Street life in Stari Bar.

Many nice cafes and restaurants.

Many nice cafes and restaurants.

Old church in Stari Bar. If you wish to look around inside the supervisor will open for you.

Old church in Stari Bar. If you wish to look around inside the supervisor will open for you.

Old paintings on the ruined wall .

Old paintings on the ruined wall .

Stari Bar 2
Stari Bar 3
Stari Bar 4
Stari Bar 5
Stari Bar 6
Stari Bar 7

Wall in Stari Bar ruined by the earthquake in 1979.

Wall in Stari Bar ruined by the earthquake in 1979.

Stari Bar 8
Stari Bar 9
Stari Bar 10
Stari Bar 11

Ulcinj

Sitting on the terrace with perfect view of the old town, listening to the waves breaking at the beach, makes me forget about the sleepy town below.

Ulcinj by night

Ulcinj by night

I have been to Ulcinj for a very short stop two years ago on my way from Croatia to Albania. Even though it was in August, and both the beach and town was packed with people, something in me wanted to come back to explore.

Ulcinj city beach and the old town up on the hill.

Ulcinj city beach and the old town up on the hill.

This time I came outside the tourist season. And it shows. Most of the restaurants are either closed or empty, and there are almost no people around. Sitting on the terrace of one of the restaurants in the old town, overlooking the bay, all alone, gave the first hint. During high season, you would have to struggle to get that spot.

At first sight the old town seemed mainly to be restaurants, but walking passed them, you will get to the residential area. Most of the houses were either destroyed or damaged during the earthquake in 1971, but are nicely restored with stonewalls and cobbled streets.

Ulcinj old town

Ulcinj old town

Ulcinj old town3
Ulcinj old town2

By all means, I am really not a fan of overcrowded places, but at least some other people would be nice. But again; sitting on the terrace with perfect view of the old town, listening to the waves breaking at the beach, makes me forget about the sleepy town below.

Where to stay: Up on the hillside behind the city beach. There are several options for small private accommodations near the monument. Make sure you get one with view to the beach and the old town.

Terrace view

Terrace view

Ulcinj monument

Ulcinj monument

View other posts from Montenegro or the road trip through Balkan!

Where did the winter come from!?

Waking up to winter wonderland was not really what I expected when arriving yesterday with 9 degrees Celsius and sun! But, that was the reality. And we had to deal with it.

Nice and sunny yesterday

Nice and sunny yesterday

This morning it was winter wonderland!

A few hours later it was winter wonderland!

With about 30 cm snow in just a few hours, and the snow still not willing to stop, we figured we should get going as soon as possible. Driving our self with summer tires was definitely not an option, so we had to make a plan B. That was to get a tow truck to drive us (and of course the car) down from the high altitude to where the snow turned to rain.

Tow truck getting us safe down from Žabljak in the mountains

Tow truck getting us safe down from Žabljak in the mountains

Our host helped us arrange this and about an hour later we were on the road again. We soon discovered that not everybody had taken precautions, and we ran into a car that had shifted sideways and smashed into the front of a bus. Luckily, nobody got hurt.

Bridge over Tara Canyon

Bridge over Tara Canyon

But, again the road lead upwards towards snowy altitude, and as we were not willing to take any chances, we stopped and some really nice locals called for a tow truck again. While we waited, we acted as “road help”, assisting others that were stuck in the snow by pushing them onward. I lost count of how many, but at least we got some exercise.

Tom and me aka Road assistance

Tom and me aka Road assistance

Tow truck two. Better safe than sorry!

Tow truck two. Better safe than sorry!

Bottom line; be prepared for the unexpected!

Moving on from the riverside to mountain landscape

From Rijeka Crnojevića via Podgorica and Ostrog Monastery to Žabljak.

Since we arrived after dark yesterday, we had a quick walk around in the village before moving on. As I mentioned most of the houses are quite worn down and everything seems closed, but looking through an open door, proved that wrong. Even though the windows were covered, there were many people in the small café.
Old Bridge
Old bridge and old houses
Riverbank
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Rijeka Crnojevića
The river leading to lake Shkodra winds through the green landscape, creating a stunning scenery. The locals offer trips by boat on the lake, but make sure to see it from above as well. About 3 km on the road towards Podgorica there is a great viewpoint.

River to Shkodra Lake

River to Shkodra Lake

As we were passing Podgorica anyway, we figured we might as well stop there for lunch. Being used to driving on small roads in the countryside, the city seemed very chaotic. We found a place to park and went for lunch in one of the squares, enjoying the sun and the view of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in the distance.

Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ

Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ

Taking off from the main road between Podgorica and Nikšić just passed Danilovgrad, will get you on the road leading to Ostrog Monastery. Arriving at the lower part, turn right and continue the steep winding road upwards. There are a few parking lots along the way, but we were able to drive all the way to the upper monastery.

The monastery is magnificently built into a cave in the mountains about 900 meters above the Zeta Valley. The white building is a big contrast to the reddish-brown mountain, and can be seen from far away.
Ostrog Monastery
Ostrog Monastery2
There was a major restoration going on, and a lot of the complex sadly appeared as quite new, despite the fact that it was originally built in the 17th century. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely still a stunning place, and well worth the visit! One of the rooms was still kept more original, with beautiful religiously painted frescoes that made a great impression.

Some cows hanging around

Some cows hanging around

Driving through beautiful green landscape with deep canyons on one side, and steep mountains on the other, we reached Žabljak. The small mountain town about 1450 meters above sea level is a popular skiing destination during winter. Now it was nice and green, with the snow covered mountains of Durmitor in the background.

Šepić Accommodation is a nice apartment in a private house, and the family offer to cook traditional food. We had booked the dinner in advance, so it was already prepared when we arrived. The portions were huge, and even though it tasted great, we had no chance to finish it all! Sitting in the sofa afterwards having tea and talking to the hosts, the cake was also brought out. Good thing there is always room for desert…

Ljiljanas fantastic home made dinner in Žabljak

Ljiljanas fantastic home made dinner in Žabljak

Driving from Dubrovnik to Rijeka Crnojevića

One of the advantages by having a car is that you can make as many detours as you want along the way. On the drive towards the border to Montenegro we saw several signs leading to Sokol Grad, so we decided to have a look. Most of the small fortress that still stands today dates back to year 1420, but there is evidence of settlement in the area all the way back to the Copper age. A nice place to stop by if you are not in a rush. It also allows you to drive the smaller roads instead of the main road, driving passed small local communities. Do not drive back the same way you arrived, but continue onward and you will get to the main road just next to the border.

Driving a bit off the beaten track

Driving a bit off the beaten track

The border crossing was very quick, but I have earlier experienced several hours waiting time. That was in the high season though, but you never know.

Driving around Kotor Bay is well worth the detour, instead of taking the shortcut across by ferry. The scenery is beautiful, with the blue water and the high rising mountains with small villages along the seaside. In the bay there are also two small islands, one of them being artificial. Legend has it that the island called Our Lady of the Rocks and the church with the same name was made after finding an icon of Madonna and the child at this spot.

Kotor Bay with Our Lady of the Rocks

Kotor Bay with Our Lady of the Rocks

We just passed Kotor this time, as we will be coming back later on our trip. Continuing towards the old capital Cetinje, we drove the serpentine mountain road, going continuously upward offering a beautiful view of the bay and Kotor. The road is not very well marked, and our GPS wanted us to drive the highway, so we were glad we had road maps as well.

View of Kotor and the bay

View of Kotor and the bay

In Cetinje we only stopped for a quick stroll around the city, with some nice colorful houses. If you are passing by it is worth stopping, but not a must see.

Cetinje walking street

Cetinje walking street

Our last destination for the day was Rijeka Crnojevića. Again, the GPS could not find it, but we drove towards Podgorica and found a road sign leading to a narrow road down towards the small village by the river. Most houses are relatively worn down and it is quite clear that former days of glory are passed, but it still has a very charming appearance. However, some of the houses along the riverbank has recently been restored. The lovely old bridge across the river is the symbol of the village, and one of the most important historical monuments in the area.

Old bridge in Rijeka Crnojevića

Old bridge in Rijeka Crnojevića

As we had not booked any place to stay, we just asked in the bar right next to the bridge. They knew someone that rented out a double room. There are also a few other alternatives, such as Vila Oktoih. This is also the only place in the village that offer wireless internet.

There are a few restaurants along the river, and Stari Most is supposed to be one of the better restaurants in Montenegro. As we were there a bit out of season, the kitchen was about to close when we arrived just before 20.00. We ordered a tasty fish soup for starter, and the restaurant’s specialty, smoked carp, as main dish. This was served with boiled potatoes and a few pieces of vegetables. The fish was rather salty, and honestly, we expected a bit more.

Stari Most restaurant

Stari Most restaurant

After dinner we went to the bar/restaurant that organized our accommodation and had a few beers. They were also about to close soon, but allowed us to stay while they prepared for the next day. Sitting in the window with glorious view of the magnificent illuminated bridge and locals hanging out making conversation by the other table, really made a great ending of a nice day!

Enjoying a beer with nice view of the old bridge

Enjoying a beer with nice view of the old bridge

 

Get your bearings – rental car in the Balkans

It was certainly not an easy task to find a rental company that would allow us to cross the borders of all the Balkan countries we planned to visit. Most of the big car rental companies like Avis and Hertz would exclude one or more of the countries. After trying several of the smaller companies as well, I finally found Milenium Car Rental.

As our plan was to go to Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, we needed to find a company that would allow us to enter those countries without charging expensive extras. Milenium Car Rental had green card to all the countries we planned to visit. The only extra we had to pay was an additional insurance at the border to enter Kosovo, as they are not a part of the Green Card System.

We picked up the car at the Milenium Car Rental office in downtown Dubrovnik, and agreed to deliver it at the airport when we returned.

Since we are off to explore, and plan to try different small roads, we figured it would be wise to rent a GPS as well. We also bought some more detailed “old fashioned” road maps, just to be on the safe side…

Off we go!

Getting to Albania

The only international airport in Albania is found in Tirana, but as the Greek island of Corfu is only about 40 min boat ride away, it is quite easy to get to the south of the country from there. The departures from Corfu to Saranda by Ionian Cruises varies depending on season, so make sure you check the time table when you plan your trip.

It is also possible to get there from the other neighbour countries. Read more about how I got from Dubrovnik in Croatia via Montenegro to Albania.

Finding our way to Albania

Time had come to get from Dubrovnik to Albania. We had tried to search online for how to get there before we went on the trip, but we could not really conclude how to go.  We then decided to find out when we got to Dubrovnik. That turned out to be harder than expected. We tried to ask at the tourist information, but our request was answered by a question; “why do you want to go to Albania?”.

It ended with the conclusion that we just had to get to Montenegro and find our way as we went along. We headed for the bus station in Dubrovnik to take the bus at 10.00 to Budva via Kotor. When we got to the ticket office, the tickets for the bus we wanted were sold out. We did not even think of that. Needless to say, it was not exactly the message we wanted. So lesson number one: If possible, buy tickets in advance… But, there was a bus number two at 10.00, or at least it should leave at 10 as well, but the problem was that it arrived from Bosnia, and were usually delayed. The only thing we were told was that it usually arrived sometime between 10 and 12…. This day we were extra lucky, and while we were waiting it was announced it would arrive around 12.30. But, luck happily changed for us, and some of the passengers with tickets for the first bus did not show up, so we got on that one.

When we got to the border between Croatia and Montenegro there was a huge line, that made us wait there for 1,5 hours. The air-condition in the bus did not work very well, so it was extremely hot. When we finally got passed the border, we drove through beautiful scenery along the bay of Kotor. I spent a short time in Kotor some years ago, but if we had more time, I would definitely wanted to stay there one night to see more of the small charming town.

But, our bus continued after a very short stop, heading for Budva. On our way we had read in our guide book that Ulcinj or Schodra were places with connections to Tirana. So, when we arrived in Budva, we decided to go to the one of those two places the next bus went to. It seemed the luck was with us that day, and the next bus to Ulcinj was in 20 minutes. The ticket was 6 Euro + 1 euro for each piece of luggage. DSC_8209
After about two hours in the small bus we arrived in the little town of Ulcinj. When we got there, we found out there were two daily busses from Ulcinj to Schodra, leaving at 06.00 and 12.30. In other words, we had to spend the night. On the bus we had met two Swedish boys that also were heading for Albania. A local man that claimed he worked for the local tourist office came over and asked if we needed a place to stay. Off course we realized that he did not work for them, but we needed a place to stay and it was an easy solution to go with him. Before we knew it, we were sitting in his car, heading over to his house to share a room with four beds.

Ulcinj was a nice little town with a main street leading down to the beach. On the top of the hill in one of the ends of the beach, the old town was situated. As we had decided to go further with the bus at 06.00 the next morning, we just had dinner and a drink by the beach, and never got to see the old town except from a distance.

DSC_8220 Ulcinj old town by night
Sunday morning we walked down to the bus station to take the bus to Schodra. It took about 1,5 hours, and when we stopped along the road, a mini bus to Tirana was waiting and left as soon as we got on it. 1 hour and 20 minutes later, we arrived in Tirana. It was no bus station where we were left of, but we later learned that the buses heading in the different directions went from different places just along the streets.

We had decided to go to Berat and spend the night there, but wanted to see some of Tirana before we continued. We walked around in the heat for quite some time looking for a place to store the luggage for a few hours. It was more difficult than we imagined, but just when we were about to give up, we asked at a hotel if they could be so kind to look after our luggage for a while – and they were.

As we had not eaten yet, we first looked for a place for lunch. We sat down in the shadow by the Opera, but found out that they did not serve food. Either way, we needed the rest and something to drink, so we stayed there for a while. We asked the cute girl that sold ice cream if she had any recommendations where we could eat lunch. She was very helpful and pointed out a small square behind the big casino that had several restaurants. We also asked her what she recommended that we should see the short time we spent in Tirana. She looked out on Skanderbeg Square, and said; “this”. Obviously there are so many other things to see, but right then and there we were so hot and tired that we took her word for it. On our way to the “lunch square” we passed a church side by side with a mosque. It is nice to see that religions can live peaceful together. Further we also passed by a nice park with a nun sitting on the lawn resting. She looked very peaceful, it was almost as seeing Mother Theresa relaxing in the shadow. Now and then several wedding parties were driving by celebrating, taking us back to the busy reality.

On Scanderbeg Square

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On our way back to get our luggage, we passed the Orthodox Cathedral.
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So, to sum up the conclusion on how to get from Dubrovnik to Albania (Tirana):

Bus at 10.00 from the bus station in Dubrovnik to Budva, via Kotor. REMEMBER TO BOOK THE TICKET BEFORE TO BE SURE TO GET ON IT! Ticket price: Appr. 130KN per person + a fee for the luggage.

Bus from Budva to Ulcinj at 15.00 (appr. 2 hours drive). Ticket price 6 Euro + 1 Euro for luggage.

If you are in a hurry and really need to get to Albania in one day, we heard it was possible to get a driver to drive to the border, where it usually were several others on the Albanian side to take you further. We on the other hand, decided to stay one night in Ulcinj and take the bus at 06.00 to Schodra (1,5 hours, 6 Euros). Just let them know that you will continue to Tirana, and they know where to let you off. From there we took a mini bus to Tirana (1h 20m, 5 Euro).