Good bye Montenegro. It’s been a pleasure. Especially your mountains.
We boarded a train early in the morning in Bar, a coastal town in Montenegro. Equipped with enough food for an army, we settled down in our compartment for our twelve hour journey. (It ended up being a lot longer!)
An entire day of drinking in the most beautiful scenery. What a joy! All through the mountains of Montenegro we snaked. And we took far too many photographs. Mostly me. I just could not help myself. Such beauty!!
This was our day for school work and writing blog posts. Not that the scenery around us was helping me get stuck in. The rest were doing a better job.
Dramatic mountains, lush green meadows and emerald rivers for miles and miles. Quant little villages on the slopes of green hills. Vegetable gardens and corn fields – every village has these.
We crossed the border into Bosnia and later Serbia. I feel so rich to see and experience all these amazing places. And to think I am sharing it with my husband and four children. Incredible blessing!!
We arrived in Belgrade hours after the scheduled time. We carried our backpacks for three and a half kilometres to our apartment where our friendly host was waiting for us. Apparently this is normal for Serbian trains, so he wasn’t taken by surprise.
It has been a long day, but very memorable. Train rides are the best!
We hired a tiny white Renault Cleo for a few days of exploring the Montenegro mountains. What a wonderful adventure! How we squeezed all our backpacks and six people into that tiny vehicle is still beyond me. We had heaps of fun, though, despite the tummy bug and lack of space.
The mountains are spectacular! Dramatic limestone cliffs contrasted with lush green trees of different kinds. Deep canyons with clear, bright green rivers at the bottom. Breathtakingly beautiful! No picture can do it any justice. It has to be experienced, breathed in. We did try to capture some of this magnificence, although the measures we took are better left unpublished.
We stayed in a different village each night. Our accommodation ranged from old stone cottages to wooden mountain cabins, each time in a stunning, unique setting. Sometimes on the bank of a river and other times in a cherry and apple orchard.
Hiking in those mountains is an experience I will never forget. The landscape changes are vast and dramatic. There are too many incredible photo opportunities. Many hours are not enough to drink in the gloriousness.
One of my most precious memories is the six of us lying in a meadow high up in the mountains, talking and laughing and having dry bread and wine. Time stood still as we exchanged heart secrets, lying on our backs, sunshine on our faces.
Swimming in the famous Black Lake was another highlight. Surrounded by mountains, the cool water was the perfect ending to a long, exhausting walk.
We know this, but we realise once again, we love nature and we love remote places.
In the Lake Skada region, on the banks of a river, sits the forgotten town of Rijeka Crnojevića. In the middle of nowhere. A beautiful, sad and charming place. It must have been quite something in its hay day. The dilapidated stone buildings and -streets attest to this. There is still a wide promenade on the river bank with stone benches and walls and a fountain. But it hasn’t been maintained for a long time. Weeds are everywhere and wild grass stand tall between the concrete blocks. It’s a sad picture.
I love places like this. Forgotten places. Places with a story. People affected by life and war and all sorts of tragedies. People who have lost hope. I feel for these people. I feel intense sadness as I drink in the devastation.
I wonder what can be done to restore this place. I long to see laughter in the dull eyes and on the unfriendly faces. I know that it is possible. How I would love to witness a total transformation here.
We rent a little stone house, right on the promenade and in the middle of all the village activities. There are not too many of these. Mostly people sitting around, talking, smoking, looking defeated. We have the perfect view. From our little balcony we can hear every conversation (not that we can understand it), see what’s happening in all three restaurants, have the small river boats right in front of us and have the very best view of the iconic old stone bridge.
We hire kayaks and make our way down the river towards Lake Skada. We have already gulped down several glasses of water from the tap. We now realise that was a mistake. There is fat / oil on the water. And it is rather dirty. All our swim plans disappear instantly. As we make our way further and further away from our village, the water gets better, even beautiful. But we have seen too much and now we can see too little. We’re not going overboard.
In the early evening we take a stroll down the old promenade. It stirs all sorts of emotions in my heart. We have dinner at the cheapest of the three restaurants. We sit under the grapevines on the river bank. The local kebabs (not on a skewer and not like anything you would imagine, more like elongated meatballs) is served with homemade fries. We order a large salad, which turned out to be incredibly good. We ask for tap water. Then the confirmation. The tap water is not fit for human consumption. Oh boy!! As we stand on the bridge a little later we see that all the fatty restaurant kitchen water goes straight into the river.
That evening Eulain comes down with a tummy bug of note. The next day of road tripping includes lots of vomiting in plastic bags. Kali, Ruzow and I are next in line, followed by Jarik. Esto is the last man standing. We shall be more careful in future.
Rijeka Crnojevića is a lovely little place and it will forever be in my heart.
Along a 5km walk from the beachside town of Rafailovice, where we stayed, to Sveti Stefan, we came across a beautiful beach guarded by security guards at each entrance. It is a “public beach”, but it is mandatory to hire a beach chair set for €120!
You could also rent a set for €12 at a beach close by, but that is markedly less exclusive (the yellow umbrellas below).
We spent most of our time on the free access beaches (the multi-coloured umbrellas).
We were walking on the beach promenade in Budva when I entered a little kiosk to have a look at the souvenirs. I took extra care to not touch much and I walked slowly to the key chains and fridge magnets. Behind the little counter was a plump, middle aged lady with a miserable expression on her face.
Slowly, I started turning the rack where the magnets were displayed. Suddenly, one of the magnets fell and broke in two. I picked it up and inspected the damage. It was in the shape of a snail and the head had broken clean off its body. I was starting to walk across to the counter, when the lady ran over to me, snatched the thing from my hand, and started waving it in my face, yelling in Croatian.
I was very apologetic from the time the magnet broke, but also totally and utterly astounded and taken by surprise at the woman’s furious rage. I tried to say sorry numerous times and tried to ask how much I should pay for the magnet, but she just kept on yelling in Croatian (of which I could not understand a single word) and flashing the thing in my face. I tried to say and gesture that I could not understand her, yet she did not cease screaming, as a matter of fact, she just started yelling out louder.
I could take no more, so I asked another local to translate for me, asking the angry lady how much I should pay for the magnet, and what she has been yelling at me all this time. Finally I found out that the cost of the broken magnet would be €1.50 and I headed over to Dad to come settle the debt. At this stage I was feeling very bad about the whole thing.
As Dad handed her the money, she rudely snatched it out of his hand, not even saying thank you or changing the furious expression on her face. She was down right rude!
The magnet would never have been my choice, and at first I left it on the wall in front of the kiosk as I did not like it at all. But after a swim and dinner, it was still sitting on the wall, exactly where I had left it. I decided to keep it, as a reminder not only of Budva, Montenegro, but also of my experience at the kiosk.
We have found that children, especially tourist children, are not trusted in stores in Montenegro. We have had a few scenarios where we were either chased out of a shop or followed around suspiciously for doing absolutely nothing while helping Mum and Dad with the shopping, or just looking around.
Mum always says rude and miserable people are often hurting. You can only feel sorry for them and be kind. ❤️
Birthday celebrations in the van Rensburg family start early in the morning. The birthday boy or girl has to be awakened by the harmonious voices of the rest of the family, then be whisked away to a breakfast of cake in a wonderland full of balloons and streamers before reading the selection of handmade birthday cards. Keeping to the tradition whilst on the road has been challenging, but we have managed thus far. We however changed country the day before Eulain’s birthday, which means everything we carry with us is reduced to the absolute minimum. This makes bus travel and border crossings much less of a hasstle. Unbeknownst to us, the little town we were heading to on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, was nothing more than three homes, a teeny-tiny shop and a ferry terminal – Lepetane. We chose it because you could apparently get connections from there to basically anywhere.
Because Eulain is a very early riser, we all got up before the crack of dawn to be able to catch her still asleep. Suitably surprised and after pouring over the cards (we all wrote her little poems), we very quickly moved on from the only cake we could find to a day full of adventure. (The cake was a somewhat stale wafer and chocolate-spread covered square that was high up on a shelf in the shop next door.) The adventure was to start with a hunt for decent cake in the waterside village of Perast on the other side of the bay.
We crossed the bay with one of the ferries and walked to the local bus stop to wait for the next Blue-Line bus. After two hours in the sun and four buses going in the wrong direction, we gave up on the bus and decided to get something from the small supermarket and head back with the ferry to have lunch at our apartment. Our second attempt was to go to Kotor for cake in the afternoon. This time the Blue-Line bus stop was just 20 meters from our front door.
When the local lady that waited with us at the bus stop eventually waived down a taxi (after a good 90 minutes of waiting), we gave up all hope of catching a Blue-Line and basically hi-jacked the next taxi that we saw. Once in the beautiful old city of Kotor, Eulain and the other kids were rewarded with ice cream and the parents with a cold beer. We spent hours exploring the city in the magnificent golden glow of late afternoon light and ended the day with dinner in a square filled with the sound of street musicians. We took a taxi back home.
The next day was my birthday. Again we started with singing and cards when the night had just turned from dark to pale, but thankfully my surprise did not include cake from the little store next door. We started with a hike up into the mountains of the Vrmac peninsula. I was served breakfast in the shadow of an ancient little church on a peak overlooking the Gulf of Tivat. Coffee, ‘wellness biscuits’, baklava and a fantastic view. Perfect.
View to Lepetane
On our way down from the peak into the Gulf of Kotor (the other side of the peninsula), we hiked through the remains of a mountainside settlement that was abandoned centuries ago, a sleepy little hamlet and magnificent gorges catching glimpses of the shining ocean. After 15km or so, we ended the hike with lunch in a local konoba (“tavern”) situated right on the water (the boy at the table next to us leapt from his chair into the bay). After waiting and eventually walking down the road along the bay, we managed to catch a Blue-Line bus to Perast (two actually, with a connection in Kotor).
Perast is a village lost in a different world. Artists set up their easels there. We accepted the beckoning invitation to cool off in the clear water of the bay. We also succumbed to the invitation to have dinner at a white tablecloth restaurant that included a magnificent chardonnay and sunset.
Seeing a Blue-Line bus in the distance coming closer to the town, we snapped out of paradise and waived to the waiter that we wanted to pay the bill. Too late. We relaxed again. The next one will be there in 30 minutes.
After 2 hours of waiting there was still no sign of the Blue-Line bus. And this time also no taxis to bail us out. Eventually the bus came around the corner, we got on, even though the driver said that he did not go where we needed to be. From some of the co-passengers we learnt that the last bus stop is about 5km from where we need to catch the ferry to the other side of the bay and our apartment. We end up walking along the windy road hugging the shoreline in darkness, except for Kali’s headlight that flashes red to warn oncoming cars of our presence. Exhausted we get back home 18 hours after we closed the door behind us.
We have coined a few new phrases during our travels thus far:
– As interesting as Chan-Chan (very uninteresting)
– As nauseating as the bus from Lima to Cuzco (very, very nauseating)
– So hungry I can eat guineapig (very, very, desperately hungry)
In Montenegro, we have added two more expressions to the list:
– As dependable as a Blue-line bus; and
– As friendly as a Montenegrin shop assistant (but that is another story).
Our time in Croatia and Montenegro included a few days in three medieval cities. These were fortified as key ports during the rule of the Venetian Maritime Empire that came into power in the Adriatic nearly a thousand years ago. Dubrovnik was impressive in its scale and, with its beautiful white limestone buildings and shiny paved streets that rise up from the blue-green ocean, one can understand why it is a popular tourist destination. Too popular for my liking. Way too many of our photos captured other people taking photos! The whole city revolved around the tourists and every square inch was either a museum, restaurant, souvenir shop or accommodation of some sorts. Korčula city was a very tiny version of Dubrovnik.
But hidden away, deep in the furthest corner of the Bay of Kotor and under the shadow of towering mountains, we found the real thing! Kotor city is authentic. The clothes of whole families adorn the washing lines strung between the balconies in the narrow alleys. Doors open up to kitchen tables and there are hardware stores between the bakeries and street cafes.
Although we were there in “high season” there were refreshingly few tourists and the few that were there were either domestic vacationers or Russian. We wandered the streets, walked on the city walls (from where some local boys were fishing), had a beautiful dinner on one of the city squares and enjoyed the festive sounds of street musicians. I took a few moments to reflect on the lives of thousands of people that stood where I was now standing, in a tiny church frequented by residents and travellers for over a thousand years. I was struck how the walls that were built around these people defined who they were, where they went and how they lived. It provided protection but also separated and isolated. Some things never change.