To Lopud? Yes! To Montenegro? Most definitely!
05.07.2010 - 06.07.2010 35 °C
With first-hand knowledge that traveling in the Balkans is like walking through a mixture of tar and quicksand, I opted to drop one of my classes so that I could actually visit parts of the Adriatic coast while stationed here in Dubrovnik. For whatever reason, connections are horribly planned out (as a for-instance: buses from Dubrovnik to Montenegro leave at 7am, 1030am and 7pm - but the latest return is at 1pm, making day-trips fully impossible). Additionally, we were only budgeted 1 free day per week. Even more inconveniently, that day happened to be Sunday -- a day when the already woefully inadequate transportation network grinds to a near-halt.
With the additional three days of free-time, my fellow classmate (and Seattleite) Lindsay and I opted to try to getting to the Elaphiti Islands and Montenegro.
On Monday, we went to Lopud - an Island in the Elaphiti chain, just to the north of Dubrovnik. Lopud is something of a unique animal here on the Dalmatian coast. Whereas most beaches out here are rocky affairs resulting in boundless discomfort for the discerning beach-goer, Lopud features two long and sandy beaches.
The island is shaped like an H, with the town of Lopud sitting on the northern bay and the Sunj beach nestled on the southern bay. The island is billed as "traffic-free", but all that really means is that there are no cars in the traditional sense. A veritable fleet of electric golf-carts, gas-powered car-like constructs and the occasional WTF? contraptions ply the road from Lopud to Sunj, shuttling lazy tourists from one side of the little hill to the other. We chose to walk the fairly short distance like reasonable people. The beach was really nice. A ton of boats were bobbing in the bay - likely on break from the bustle of Dubrovnik (which isn't really all that bustle-y). The water was warm and a sand-bar stretched out for a significant distance.
Tuesday started out as catastrophe. We originally planned to go to Kotor, Montenegro on a day-trip. Unfortunately (as mentioned above), the bus-schedule was anything but conducive to people wanting to get from point-A to point-B at a comfortable time of day. Add that to the fact that the bus-station is 15km north from out hotel, the city buses are quite irregular and the bus would have to drive directly in front of our hotel on the way to Montenegro but wouldn't be able to stop to pick us up. Needless to say - frustration abounded.
Thankfully, Lindsay suggested the inspired idea to rent a car. We ended up getting out little Fiat Punto at 9:30am for 60-Euro (just barely more expensive than the cost of two round-trip bus tickets!).
Over the border, we searched in desperation to find an ATM. Montenegro, for whatever reason, has opted to use the Euro as its official currency despite Montenegro's status outside of the EU and with not influence on European monetary policy. Finally, just as we reached the ferry terminal to take us across to the other side of the mouth of the Bay of Kotor, we found some cash and boarded the ferry no problem.
Our first stop was Budva - a town that I visited with Emily and Justin back in 2005. Budva looks unchanged, despite the appearance of non-stop construction and beautification. The only difference that I noted was the reading room in the Citadela Museum. The reading room features an abundance of rare books concerning the Balkans. Among them was John Reed's account of the Eastern Front of World War 1, which I would love to get my hands on.
The thing that I had forgotten, however, was the intense humidity in Montenegro. While we were only about 70km south of Dubrovnik, the hills were much more verdant and the air was sticky with moisture. Sweat ran in abundance just from standing outside. Thankfully, our car was equipped with powerful air-conditioning, which we employed nearly non-stop.
Next we visited Sveti Stefan. Sveti Stefan is an old fishing village perched atop an island separated from the mainland by a very narrow channel. Over that channel is a foot-bridge. Sveti Stefan is currently undergoing a massive renovation project. I believe (but don't quote me on this) that Madonna is a major investor. It appears that the goal is to challenge Dubrovnik to the top-spot in Adriatic tourism. Unfortunately, as a result of the renovations, it wasn't possible to go into the town. I can only imagine how spectacular it will be when the renovations are done. In five-years' time, Montenegro is going to be crushed with tourists.
Up the road, we headed to Kotor. Kotor has been a top-destination for me for years. I was exceedingly happy to finally make it there - and it did not disappoint. Kotor features yet another beautiful old-town (UNESCO!), but the setting on one end of the bay of Kotor and the dramatic mountain backdrop is what sets it apart. Above the old town is a castle-complex scaling the face of the mountain. Switch-backs along the walls provide the way up and down. By the time we reached the height of the walls, both Lindsay and I looked like we had been swimming. Additionally, we were covered in dust, despite the humidity. The view was spectacular (which accounts for why I might have gone a little crazy in my photo-uploading). Kotor is solidly lodged on my list of "Most Impressive Places EVAR!!!"
On a nuts-and-bolts front - Travellerspoint's photo-management software doesn't recognize Montenegro/Crna Gora as an independent state. It doesn't even recognize Serbia & Montenegro. Rather, it insists that Budva and Kotor are in Serbia - a fact which some Serbian nationalist would agree with but which is patently incorrect in terms of the actual status of national boundaries. So, here's the disclaimer: Budva, Sveti Stefan and Kotor are all in Montenegro. You may ignore the tag stating otherwise.