As you know by now Mike and I did get our camper out of the tiny village of Virpazar at 8 PM (20:00) one evening. A few more campers had arrived at our campground that afternoon and they all came out to watch Mike try and exit the campground. On one side of Mike was a tall wooden fence around the campsite. On the other side was a small brick wall. I couldn’t believe how Mike could get within an inch or two of the bricks and then keep successfully maneuvering the RV. The other campers couldn’t believe it either. There was applause from everyone when we got onto the road. Two of the campers went in front of us on their bicycles so that they could have the entertainment of watching us trying to navigate through the actual village. As we drove into and through the village you could see many people with their phones out taking videos of us. Sometimes I don’t think that we look all that big, at other times we look just massive.
Mike and I were in an electronics store on May 20 when the clerk mentioned that the stores would be closed for the next two days for May 21, Montenegro’s Independence Day. Montenegro held an independence referendum on May 21, 2006 which was only 13 years ago. 55% was needed for the referendum to succeed. There was a huge 85% turnout and the results were 55.5% for independence from Serbia. What a tiny margin. We asked the clerk what he was doing to celebrate Independence Day. He informed us that he was Serbian ethnicity, so he wasn’t really into celebrating Independence Day. Then he noted that, the good thing was that he would get two days off work. I really wished we hadn’t asked. When I checked the internet, I couldn’t find very many activities or public celebrations occurring. There was a small music concert in the capital and that was all I could find. It was interesting that Montenegro didn’t split from Serbia until 2006 when Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia all became independent in the 1990s. We did watch a nice music and dance presentation in the main square in Cetinje (the historic capital city) on Independence day but it was put on by the Czech embassy.
From a historical perspective in 1667 there was a huge earthquake that completely leveled much of the coastal areas in Croatia and Montenegro including doing major damage to Dubrovnik. This earthquake was one of the two most devasting earthquakes to ever occur in this region. In addition, in 1979 a 6.9 level earthquake was the most devasting to Montenegro in modern day history. Many places are still being restored. The cost of the damage in Montenegro alone, was in the tens of billions of dollars, which is tricky for a country with a population of 600,000. We often see buildings in historic areas being restored. I wonder if that is just a normal requirement over time or if they are buildings that are still waiting to be restored from 1979.
Budva is the main tourist attraction on the Adriatic coast in Montenegro. It is known as a mini-Dubrovnik. It was originally founded more than 2,500 years ago making it one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic. The 1979 earthquake was catastrophic to Budva, but the city has restored nearly all its buildings to their original, medieval time period. It is a lovely town to wander around in. For me, it had a much more lived in feel and less of the tourist only feel of Dubrovnik. The Budva coast is known as the Budva Riviera. It is 21 km long with 17 beaches and is considered to be one of the most beautiful coasts in the world. Have a look at the photo at the top of this article. If that is May and lots of things aren’t even open yet, imagine what it will be like in July. Along the Budva Riviera is a small island called Sveti Stefan. I read that it was the most photographed place in Montenegro. I was really surprised to find out that this tourist attraction was actually unavailable to most tourists. The island has been taken over as a luxury hotel with rooms starting at $1,200 Cdn per night. There is a causeway to the hotel/island where security stops you to prevent you from casually crossing to the island . The main beach is actually on the mainland side of the causeway. You can walk past it but if you want to access the beach it will cost you $120 Cdn to get on the beach and have the use of one lounger for the day. There were security guards all over the place.
We spent quite a bit of time driving around the Adriatic coast area of Montenegro. We actually skipped seeing a few areas that we had intended to visit due to parking problems. Parking in unbelievable in Montenegro. Even parking in the major shopping mall in the capital city was atrocious. We were there 3 or 4 times and it was absolutely full every time. This was in May. What will happen in July/August along the coast or Christmas time at the mall?
We did get a few bike rides in. We also took a boat ride on Lake Skadar, which is a very popular tourist attraction. Lake Skadar is the largest lake in southern Europe. Two thirds of the lake is in Montenegro and one third is in Albania. The boat trip only went a very short distance and didn’t do justice to the beauty of the lake.
The Dinaric Alps cover a large portion of Montenegro with over 80% of the country being mountainous. We are getting used to these one lane narrow roads in the mountains for two-way traffic. Actually, you see these roads as side roads in towns as well. People are quite used to backing up to a slightly wider area when they encounter someone coming the other way. This is fine when it is the low tourist season. I can’t imagine what exploring would be like with more traffic and more tourists that are not used to roads that two cars don’t fit on. If all goes well, we will never know because we will be far from the fray.
Mike goes nuts over the way everyone parks in this country. Cars are often parked with their back end sticking out into the middle of the road and the roads are all very narrow. On some streets in town the car mirrors sometimes have to be pulled in just to drive down the street. For us it is a problem in that you can’t tell from Google maps which roads in town are impassable for the RV and which are fine. Basically, we try and stick to the highways with the RV and explore with the car, but you don’t always have a choice.
As a little side note, Montenegrins are the second tallest people in the world after The Netherlands. I knew that Mike got his 6 feet height from somewhere. On another side note, people in Montenegro seem to take considerable pride in telling visitors that Montenegrins are lazy people.
Cafés and restaurants do not have smoking specific areas. For almost the first two years of our trip we never really thought about cigarette smoke when we were out eating or drinking. Now we often leave restaurants and cafés because it is too smoky to stay. Smoking is even a problem in the outdoor cafés. When you order something in a restaurant or café you typically get the bill placed on your table instantly. If you then order another coffee, you will get a second bill placed on the table. If Mike then decides that he wants to add a soft drink another bill will be added to the pile. Heaven help you if you add desert. Mike and I often have to try and add the totals on 3 or 4 separate bills to figure out what we actually owe for our meal. The main local dishes are all meat. In tourist areas pasta and pizza are very common. These are not seen as much in rural Montenegro.
Montenegro seems to have some problems with their power supply. It isn’t unusual to lose power, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for ½ hour or more.
While we didn’t find the locals unfriendly, they don’t go out of their way to initiate contact and talk. It isn’t like the friendliness that we saw in Transylvania or that you would find in Newfoundland. Of course, it didn’t help that our first two campsite owners got together and colluded to charge us much more than their going rates and to break their word about what they were going to charge us. Our third campground owner was the one we called to see if we would fit and he said yes. He was correct in that we fit in his campground, he just didn’t tell us that we didn’t really fit through the village, over the one lane bridge and down the only road to the campground. The campsite we are in now is behind a tavern. The owner speaks some English and says hi to us but has never started any friendly conversation. He has never been unfriendly, just not someone we have talked to very much. When the campground owner’s and also the waiters and waitresses are overtly friendly it makes our visiting much more enjoyable and we learn so much more about the local areas.
After three years I still cannot believe how much our very “different” looking camper helps with meeting different people. Last night we entertained four men from Germany for quite a few hours. Their English wasn’t fluent but with the occasional aid of Google Translate we did just fine. It actually embarrasses me to say that someone isn’t fluent in English. This statement alone means that they are considerably better in English than I am in their native language. Speaking only one language makes one feel uneducated at times.
If I had to summarize Montenegro it would be all about the scenery. The Durmitor Ring up north introduces one to the fantastic scenery and hikes in the taller mountains. The Bay of Kotor was just lovely. It reminded Mike and me of Norwegian fjords without the Norwegian prices. For most people, it would be the Adriatic coastline that is the real draw in the summertime.
Next on to Bosnia and Herzegovina.