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Entries about montenegro

Montenegro and Albania

Kotor, Podgorica and Budva in the former; Shkoder, Durres, Berat, Sarande and Elbasan in the latter...

sunny 30 °C

Um, it's been over a month since I've updated this, and some of the memories of what I've done are no longer as fresh as previous chapters! At least I still remember where I've been though!

Anyway, my last post would have ended with me leaving Makarska, which was a lovely but crowded little town on the Croatian riviera. I spent an entire week there chilling out, which I certainly needed having barely rested since leaving the UK.

The drive from Makarska to Kotor was a breeze. Passing the border was simple, though it was the first time a border guard did ask for more than just my passport, having to show him registration and insurance details, though the process was over very quickly. The road from the border to Kotor circled the bay, and the scenery already on display was, at times, spectacular. I'll probably use that word a lot going forward.

My accommodation was a little Airbnb no more than ten minutes walk from Kotor old town. It wasn't huge, and I'll be honest, I thought it might have been a little bigger. No harm though, as I just wandered the streets on my first full day, taking plenty of photos, and definitely enjoying a beer or two as the heat was still beating down. For the afternoon, I booked a boat tour to nearby Perast and Our Lady of the Rock, the latter a man-made island in the middle of the bay. There were only a few of us on the speedboat and it's always alarming when the pilot spends more time on his phone than watching the horizon, but we got everywhere and back in one piece, and the breeze crossing the water certainly helped cool everyone down. Perast was a gorgeous little village while the church on the Rock was utterly stunning inside.

For day two, I organised a tour of Montenegro. (I've had to go check my Get Your Guide app to remember everywhere we visited!) We had a mini-bus, choc full of people, and the first event was climbing the mountain road, which I was originally planning on driving myself, though glad I didn't. Again, the views provided were breath-taking in their beauty, particularly when stopping at the 25th Serpentine, giving us views of the entire bay far below. I'll try and upload a picture later.

After that was a stop for breakfast at a traditional village, named Njegusi, where I got to know some of my fellow travellers, and I may have enjoyed a breakfast beer too. After that was the drive to Lovcen National Park, where we climbed the steps to the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, from where you can nearly see all of Montenegro from one spot. From there, we headed to Crnojevic, enjoying a spot of lunch, before enjoying a boat road up and down the river, one or two enjoying a swim in the water as well. The rest of us may have enjoyed some local wine or rakia.

A stop in Cetinje, the old capital, was next up, visiting the local monastery, which includes the remain of St. Peter and other holy relics, including what is purported to be particles of the True Cross. I've been told that more than once visiting churches and monasteries around Europe, but if it's what people want to believe, fair enough. We also did a little walking tour around the town, but it had been a long, hot day, so the guide cut it short and we headed to our last stop, Sveti Stefan, for a quick photo of the now private island, before returning to Kotor.

Nothing to report of my third day there. It bucketed down nearly all day, so apart from heading out for some drinks and snacks, I stayed indoors where it was at least dry.

My drive to Podgorica sucked for most of the trip, as I was caught in either heavy traffic along the coast, or the rain was still heaving down, and driving conditions were horrible. It was only getting close to the capital that the rain finally abated, and finding my hotel was simple.

I had organised three days for Podgorica, as my original intention was for one day there, then do some tours to the north and west. Those plans fell apart quickly. Tour groups don't operate from the capital, generally only doing so from Kotor, and perhaps Budva. And I'll admit, the stories about Podgorica are mostly true. I think there's enough there to see and do for a day, but nothing more than that. There are Roman ruins outside of town, but at the moment, it's not very interesting, and many of the artefacts have been moved away.

One thing you should check out is Ostrog Monastery. The drive from Podgorica eventually followed a road cut into the mountain, providing some... you guessed the word, spectacular views of the valley below. The monastery itself is a marvel of design, cut right into the side of the cliff, and is definitely a pilgrimage site for those of the Orthodox faith. It was well worth the drive there and back, stopping on the way back to my hotel at a waterfall that's also called Niagara. Nothing like those in the US/Canada, but the rock formations were interesting at least.

After the capital, I headed back to the coast and Budva. The town has a reputation more for nightlife, its beach and the partying, and my three days there pretty much back that up. The old town is even smaller than Kotor, and can easily be explored in a couple of hours. There's nothing else really of note there, so I treated it much like Makarska, a place to just sit and unwind in the sun. Prices were reasonable at least, even by the beach, so I spent two and a half days just relaxing.

My crossing of the border into Albania proved interesting. Before leaving the UK, I managed to insure my car for everywhere except Albania, though I knew I could buy car insurance just after crossing the border. €50 for two weeks. However, once I arrived, I was told I couldn't pay by card, only cash. That meant I had to cross the border back to Montenegro and drive back to Ulcinj, the nearest town, to get money. When crossing the border again, that raised plenty of questions, though the border guards were nice, letting me explain the issue. They performed a quick search of my car then let me go. Car insurance bought, I drove the rest of the way to Shkoder.

Lovely town on first appearances, more European than expected, and my hostel was great. First hostel stay of the trip. The owner even let me park my car at his house, which was a bonus. For my first day, I participated in a walking tour, the first one I'd done in quite a while, being shown all the sites offered, before doing a cycling tour that evening, where we rode through the rather horrendous traffic towards the nearby fortress, where the sunset provided a magnificent backdrop to the views of the city.

My second day in Shkoder was rather peaceful, as the heat and humidity prevented me from doing too much more than just more wandering, taking in the few sites I hadn't visited the previous day. The nightlife was good, though, the main pedestrian street full of cafes and restaurants where I could sit, eat, drink and people watch.

Next stop was Durres. I had organised another Airbnb, which was only a short walk from the main promenade, but I'll admit I thought it would have been a little busier than what it was. The walk to the actual centre of Durres was long, so for my first full day, I left my Airbnb early to avoid the worst of the heat. Durres has plenty of Roman ruins on offer, and enough other sites available to fill a day. I was tempted to travel to Tirana on either of my other days, but to be honest, I wasn't particularly interested in visiting the capital. Instead, I spent the other two days by the promenade, either sitting on or near the beach, enjoying the cheap food and drink available. My Airbnb hosts were fantastic, offering to help with laundry that I hadn't been able to do since Slovenia!

Berat is a beautiful inland city but was sweltering as it was away from the coast. My little hotel was fantastic and only a short walk away from the city. Again, I had a couple of days to wander, and did nearly everything the first day as usual. The best site is the fortress on the hill, again leaving early so I climbed that before the heat really started to beat down. Once again, though, it was the nightlife on the promenade that gave the city character, in addition to the architecture of all the buildings. Once the sun started to disappear, everyone seemed to head out and walk around, either sitting in the park or one of the cafes. And the prices of drinks were even cheaper than Durres, finding a place where I could get a Jack Daniels and coke for only a couple of quid. Let's just say I spent my three nights at the same place, enough the waiter recognised me by the third night and didn't even have to ask what I wanted!

The drive from Berat to Sarande was rather long, and involved crossing the mountain from near Gjirokaster to the coast. Probably the worst bit of road I'd driven along in quite a while, not helped by the usual Albanian lunatics, who drive like they're the only car on the road. By I got there in one piece, at least, my Airbnb a fifth floor apartment where, if it wasn't for other apartment blocks blocking the view, I'd have seen the nearby beaches and coast for miles.

There were two reasons for visiting Sarande. One, it's reputation as a tourist destination. But, two, the nearly Butrint National Park, which contains some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the region, if not Europe. I definitely spent a few hours there, glad that trees provided plenty of shade as I took numerous photos. The only shame was that some of the floor mosaics were covered up by sand, done so to protect them from the elements. It was definitely worth the visit, though.

Sarande itself isn't for browsing museums or full of monuments. It's for relaxation during the day and partying at night. As usual, once the sun started to set, everyone headed for the beachside promenade. Some of the restaurants were full to bursting, others were completely empty. The bars generally filled up quickly, and if you wanted to eat somewhere popular, get in quick otherwise you won't be eating.

My last stop in Albania was a town called Elbasan, chosen simply as it was close to the Albanian/North Macedonian border, and I'd heard stories about how long it might take to cross. Elbasan itself was worth a few hours visit. For the drive from Sarande, I followed the coast road. The weather was glorious, some of the views outstanding, though the road at times was awful, the traffic rather busy as I had to make my way through numerous coastal towns and villages. Elbasan itself was rather quiet, my hotel on a hill overlooking the town, and I think I was the only guest that night! Once again, there was a main street full of pubs and cafes, again finding one where I could drink for cheap, though after a long day behind the wheel, I had to pull up stumps earlier than normal.

The next morning, it was time to pack up my car again and head to the border, as I would be visiting North Macedonia, three cities within, before driving south to Greece and the ancient city of Athens...

Posted by benjamin2981 00:04 Archived in Albania Tagged mountains road_trip history sunsets bay monasteries montenegro albania kotor budva mausoleum roman_ruins heat durres butrint day_trip humidity shkoder sarande Comments (0)

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