Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big Montenegro Tour Review

Our hostel, Montenegro Hostel: Kotor, arranged a huge tour around the country for those who didn’t have many days in Montenegro. Since we fit the criteria, BH and I decided to do the tour while Katy and her friend Melissa went whitewater rafting. For just 35 euro, the hostel takes you to some of the main sites in Montenegro, fills you in on the history, and leaves plenty of opportunities for some stunning pictures.
The tour started with some more jaw-dropping views over Kotor’s fjord, a breakfast of Montenegrin style ham and goat cheese, and then a tour of Lovcen Mausoleum.  Prince Bishop Petrovic-Njegos is interned here-he was a poet king who transformed Montenegro from a theocracy to a secular state. Visit to the mausoleum is apparently a must for Montenegrins, and the view at the top is worth the 500 stairs.

Our next stop was Cetinje, which is the old capital of Montenegro. In the heat of noon in mid-July, we decided to just sip on some ice coffee and soak in the town’s atmosphere—faded glory, quaint houses, and distant mountains.
We jumped back in our car and drove through twisting mountains through the interior. Although our driver was obviously experienced, it was still hard to not be nervous as he made hairpin turns on one-lane roads with long drops to our right. We finally arrived to Rijeka Crnojevica, a tiny village with a beautiful bridge spanning its small river.  I got a picture with Val after she tried shoving me into the river. For a sixty-year old, she has got a lot of energy!
Oh Val...

To stay on schedule, we needed to get back in the car and make our way further north. The twisty roads brought us to an overlook of Tara river that looked like something you would see in China, not Europe. With lily pads crowding both banks, idling away hours on a river cruise sounded like a great idea.

Unfortunately, our Big Montenegro Tour had no time for breaks! We snapped our pictures and got back in the car. For the next hour, I was able to have a very nice conversation with our driver, who was very levelheaded, open-minded and willing to discuss the recent history in southeastern Europe. He helped clear up some of the questions I had about the Bosnian story and was willing to expose his own beliefs, prejudices and hopes.  Unfortunately, this was followed by the most disappointing part of our tour: lunch. My fish soup was watery and BH’s sea bass was not very fresh. Luckily, lunch was quickly put out of mind when we visited my favorite destination of the day: Ostrog Monastery. Built in 1665 by Saint Vasilije Jovanovic, the monastery acted as a symbol of defiance under the Ottoman rule. The monastery is built in the side of the mountain, and legend has it that Jovanovic climbed up to the site to work on the monastery every day— barefoot. His bones are still displayed as relics in the monastery, and BH was blessed by a priest as he peered at the holy remains. 
Next on the list was Lake Skadar, which is the largest lake in the Balkans. If we had more time, it could have been nice to rent a boat, but we zipped out as the sun was setting and arrived at our last destination, Sveti Stefan, with barely enough light to take pictures. Once a fishing village, a smart investor transformed it into a resort. Apparently, it was very famous in the 1980s, but it lost its appeal with the collapse of Yugoslavia. It looks like its popularity may be coming back with recent development projects and the regrowth of the tourism business in Montenegro.
I haven’t been on an organized tour in ages, but this tour was great. We only had three nights in Montenegro, and this gave us the chance to see a lot of the small country without having to schedule buses or spending money on a ton of guest houses. About half of the thirteen hours were spent in the car, but I would recommend it as an option for those in Montenegro without the luxury to explore the country slowly. Just make sure your guide speaks English! While our car was full of jokes, history, and insight, apparently, the second car’s driver never spoke and the passengers lacked the enthusiasm of our car. 

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