A Spontaneous Trip to Montenegro

The most memorable moments in life are the moments unplanned.

Originally I was supposed to be going to Skopje, Macedonia and Sofia, Bulgaria this weekend, but when I went to the bus station Thursday night to get the bus to Skopje I was told no such bus exists. Most of my friends were going to Rome this weekend and I had a 4 day weekend so I figured I’d travel to some cool places alone. So on Friday morning I went to the bus station to find a bus that was leaving and I hopped on a bus to Podgorica, Montenegro. I was told Podgorica wasn’t the nicest of cities, but I figured I’d go somewhere inland to experience something a little different and different is exactly what I got.

The bus ride to Podgorica was beautiful. We rode along the coast and through the mountains and saw the sunset. But once the sun was down the sky was pitch black. The bus arrived in Podgorica around 7:30PM and of course I got lost walking to the hostel. I love staying in hostels because it gives you the chance to meet the most interesting people and boy did I meet some interesting people in Hostel Podgorica.

The typical first conversation between fellow travelers is “Where are you from?” “What city did you come before here?” “Why are you in (Insert current city)?” “Where are you going next?”

I was staying in a 5 bed mixed room and there were only 2 other beds occupied. They were 2 guys from Moscow named Nikita and Elias. They explained to me that they are from Moscow, but their families are part of a very small community that has their own language and own culture. They then explained that they came to Montenegro because it is a better place than Moscow and they hope to stay there forever. They said they want to start some kind of “society”…I didn’t ask for details because I didn’t think it was in my best interest to know. They then pointed to some animal bones that were lying next to the bed. Originally I thought they were just some decoration from the hostel, but turns out they found the bones at the Albanian border (yes, I took a selfie with the bones when they left the room). While they seemed to be hiding some details of their journey and their background they were super nice and very engaging. They asked me questions about the United States and they even asked me my opinion of the NSA. I tried to keep all my answers as neutral as possible. Before we went to sleep Elias reached in his pocket, pulled out a Russian Ruble, and tossed it to me telling me to remember my new friends. In return I gave him a Croatian Kuna. While my new “friends” were definitely hiding something, they made my visit to Podgorica worth it. It was a very quiet and boring city so in the morning a caught the first bus to Kotor.

10562302644_0c8cf090d3_oIt’s funny how a simple question to a couple strangers can turn into a friendship. There were 2 girls sitting in front of my on the bus to Kotor and I asked them where they were coming from. That question led to a conversation that was held for the entire bus ride. Lily and Stella are both studying abroad in Paris and were headed to Kotor then Dubrovnik.

Once I arrived to Old Town Hostel Kotor the guy at reception, Nikola, asked me if I was only staying for 1 night and when I confirmed that statement he laughed and said “you know you’re going to stay for more than 1 night, right?” I laughed, grabbed my keys, and dropped my bags off in my room. Kotor is almost like a smaller version of Dubrovnik. It has a small Old Town and is on the sea. I explored the city for a while and then decided to climb to the fortress at the top of the mountain before sunset. The fortress is 1350 steps up to Castle of San Giovanni (St John) that offers a fabulous birds-eye-view of the Old Town.

10562636696_82c6045766_o10562816663_ee5b619a2f_o10562585705_c7c5c67e50_o10562780383_9c66d1a642_o10562795813_d776a551a8_oThe next morning I packed my bags, returned my keys, and before my bus took off I went with Lily and Stella to try out a highly recommended local lunch joint. What we thought was going to be a restaurant turned out to be a butcher shop with a grill inside of it. The owner asked us if we were hungry and if we ate meat. Both answers of course were YES! Within minutes the man brought us 3 plates of deliciousness. The flavors were like nothing I have ever tasted before.

10563327723_ae9714e7ca_o10563138814_82b78c3e17_o During our wonderful meal Stella and Lily were discussing visiting Budva for the day. Budva is another coastal town not too far from Kotor. I decided to miss my bus and explore Budva with them. I went back to the hostel, asked for my keys back, and dropped my bags off again. Nikola was right and I ended up staying a total of 3 nights. He even tried to convince me to stay a 4th night because the hostel has a deal when you book 3 nights you get your 4th night free, but I had to leave the 4th day to make it to class. Budva was a nice town, but it was very small. We spent most of our time sitting on the beach listening to Russian tourists sing songs and play guitar.

10562525154_27692fc06f_o 10562718893_1e44ceea93_oThat night the hostel cooked dinner for all the guests and it was a very tasty free meal. During dinner I met Alan Isaacs. I know I have said that I already met the most interesting people, but everyone I meet is worth describing as the most interesting. Picture a bigger version of Bob Marley, with mannerisms that remind you of friendly people from the Caribbean. Alan was actually born and raised in India and currently lives in Thailand. He is one of the best story tellers and most insightful people I’ve met. One thing that mostly stuck out to me was his passion. Over dinner we asked him what he does back in Thailand and he put his fork down, looked up at the table with a huge smile on his face, and said “I am a writer.” His face lit up with excitement like I’ve never seen before. Most people I’ve met while traveling either hate their job or just quit and are traveling on their time off. His emotion was contagious and you could see the entire table had a smile on their face. When I commented on how nice it was to see the joy in his face he told us “Happiness is not doing what you like, but it’s liking what you do.” When I left the hostel I gave Alan my smiley bean, which is a bean that is supposed to remind us to not forget to smile in our everyday life. Alan is someone who spreads happiness wherever he goes and even though I love my smiley bean I knew I could get another one.10563561406_efc564a62e_oMy last day in Kotor was spent on a north tour operated by the hostel. It was 8 of us from the hostel with a tour guide in a little van driving up north to the Durmitor National Park. On the drive through the mountains one of the main roads was closed so we had to take a detour. This detour consisted of us driving over small cliffs and driving past cars coming the opposite direction of us. Keep in mind the roads are very narrow so when we had to pass other cars we were centimeters apart. Living in Florida we don’t get to experience the excitement of seasons and leaves changing color, so I was loving every second of the beautiful colorful trees along the way. After about 3 hours we started arriving at different points throughout the tour. My favorite stop was at Devil’s Lake where the shore of the lake was a light green color and towards the center got dark blue.10564027894_09fc688fe3_oWhile we were driving we noticed an interesting house that our guide said he never noticed before. It was built with rocks and tree trunks. He said that for the past couple of years the house was covered and he thinks its because the owner didn’t want people to see it until it was finished. We all happened to get out the van to take pictures of the house at the same moment the owner drove into his driveway. He invited us all in to explore his newly built home. While he didn’t speak any English our guide was able to translate for us and you could see in his face how proud of his home he was, especially because it took him 3 years to build by himself. When we walked into the house his little puppy ran up to us and we all fell in love. His children and wife were very confused as to why 9 strangers were entering their home, but we all warmed up to each other. When we left the house the family invited us to stop by for coffee on our way home. Everyone in Montenegro were so friendly and hospitable. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop by the house again.10562424886_8d57f8827c_o 10562396195_8ac2f8cf48_o 10562639803_3a6955e717_oOur last stop of the tour was at the top of a mountain that overlooked the entire area. We were able to see the Tara River Canyon, which is the deepest river canyon in Europe. It’s bright turquoise water next to the colorful fall tree was a stunning sight.  Sometimes we must do risky things to get great pictures, even if that means standing on the edge of a cliff and making sure we keep our body weight forward so we don’t fall.

10562329036_790c3e9afc_o10562373826_14c01e58c6_o 10562609673_4430d55d8d_o10562316106_b93ce85644_oAfter 4 very interesting nights in Montenegro it was time to catch an 8:30AM bus to make it back to Dubrovnik in time for my 12:30PM class. During the ride back to Dubrovnik we drove along the coast through the clouds. It was unreal.10564482073_bc67abe9a1_oIt’s funny how things work out. A trip to Skopje and Sofia turned into an adventure around Montenegro. Beautiful scenery, delicious food, and interesting people seems to be the trend around Europe. And people wonder why I never want to come home….
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