Miss the Croatian leg of our 16-day Balkan road trip? Click here to catch up!
“Oh, you HAVE to go to Montenegro!” isn’t exactly a phrase you hear from your friends who’ve just returned from a European vacay. If they’ve been at all, it’s usually as a quick stopover on a Mediterranean cruise; no one is going to fly to Montenegro from the States. We’ve gotten to the point in our European travels where the only countries we haven’t visited (save for Austria, Latvia, and Slovakia for me) are the more obscure ones like Montenegro. Conveniently situated between Croatia and Albania, it was the perfect ‘tweener location on our 16-day road trip.
The drive from Dubrovnik to Montenegro is a mountainous one and has some great water and monastery views along the way. The Montenegro border patrol was a little more intense than Bosnia’s, and guards were making people unpack their suitcases before being cleared to enter the country. As we were waiting in line, a bee decided it was the perfect time to dive-bomb our car. Conundrum here as we’d look mega suspicious if we suddenly jumped out of our car flailing our arms. Picture Elliot and me both screaming, trying to get the bee out of our car whilst acting totally chill with our body language. It’s not an easy task. Miraculously, the bee got out just before our turn at the kiosk, and our American passport, which still holds some clout, got us through the border pretty quickly. We were starving by the time we got to Budva, the town where we were staying, because the only food options were gas station sandwiches. “Uh, what did you expect from Eastern European gas station food?” you’re probably saying. Listen, Europe doesn’t exactly have rest stops every few miles like we do in North America so you’ve gotta take what you can get. And what we got were nasty beef sandwiches, so we decided that hunger was the better option.
We were supposed to meet our Airbnb host’s parents to get the keys to the apartment. After multiple confusing phone calls and car turnarounds, we eventually found the apartment and Dusan’s parents. His dad gave us this bro hug/handshake combo that I completely screwed up, and he and the mom pantomimed information about the apartment. Neither of them spoke any English, and Elliot and I didn’t even know what language they speak in Montenegro (shocker: it’s Montenegrin), so there were lots of hand gestures and “Ahhh okay”s until they left. We got our things settled and then headed out to explore our new surroundings.
By the beach, Budva has a huge boardwalk with a carnival-like atmosphere. On both sides, you have food vendors peddling all sorts of grub, carnival game booths, and nightclubs that advertise being open until 7 in the morning. There were also multiple sweater stalls and a bocce ball court (called pétanque in France), neither of which seemed to fit in with the Coney Island vibe of the place.
After coming from Croatia, where people speak some English, Montenegro was a bit of a shake up. It definitely has a more Slavic/Russian influence, and we encountered English a lot less as we got away from the boardwalk. We saw an advertisement for a ferry to “Hawaii”, aka Sveti Nikola the nearby island you can see from shore. It was definitely the party island, with people jumping off rocks into the water, and bar staff leading young people in drunken limbo and Hawaiian-themed drinking contests. We couldn’t understand the verbal instructions but gathered that after doing the limbo, you had to fall flat to the ground and sip out of this giant punchbowl. We have no clue what they won, and the contestants probably all contracted SARS, but it was entertaining to say the least. The beach on the island, however, wasn’t very Hawaiian-like with its sole-killing rocks and extremely salty water. Still, the water was warm and clear so we were content. Random fact, but there are apparently Crusaders buried on this island somewhere. Also not Hawaiian.
Back on shore, we stopped to peruse a souvenir shop. I didn’t watch where I was going and didn’t see the ramp next to the magnet stand. I went to show Elliot a magnet I’d found and totally wiped out, taking three magnets from the stand with me on the way down. I gathered what was left of my dignity, and we left to explore the Old Town. Much like Dubrovnik, Budva’s Old Town is enclosed within stone walls, has watchtower looking out to sea, and is now the center of the town’s restaurants and shops. We had dinner at a place called Konoba Portun, a nautical themed joint that was very cozy and had great service. They start you off with grilled bread and a cheese spread, and I can definitely recommend their fried squids (plural in this part of the world). After dinner, we checked out Casper Bar, a place with a craft beer selection. The place was pretty happening, and we ended up going back there the next afternoon (although the service then was atrocious, so I can’t recommend it)
The next morning, while making our way to Mogren Beach, I experienced one of the most glorious things about Balkan culture: börek. Depending on where you go, the spelling changes but the idea is the same: a flakey phyllo-like pastry filled with different meats or cheeses. I went with a basic cheese börek from just a regular supermarket, but I was hooked. For the rest of our trip, I was on the hunt for börek.
Mogren Beach is tucked in a cove and is Budva’s only “sand” beach. I put the word in quotation marks on account of the sand being more like tiny pebbles. Because we were tucked in a cove, there was no breeze to cool us off from the scorching sun and pebbles. Determined to get our beach time in, we still stayed there a good three hours, alternating between pouring sweat on the lounge chairs and splashing in the freezing water. The time seemed to crawl by on account of me picking the worst book for a beach read: one on the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and beginning of WWI. Not exactly 50 Shades of Grey.
Before visiting, Elliot and I both ignorantly equated Montenegro with Monaco and were surprised that things weren’t more expensive. There were, however, some pretty impressive yachts tied up by Old Town, and watching them come in from the water was a great way to spend the afternoon. We got a chicken gyro with fries stuffed into it for lunch and eschewed the grilled corn vendors (another HUGE thing in Balkan beach towns) and cotton candy peddlers who made their spun sugar in grody looking plastic tubs. I’m gonna guess that they don’t have that delicacy in Monaco. The next morning, Dusan’s dad met us to collect the apartment key, and we were on our way to Tirana, Albania. But not without stopping for a börek at a roadside pastry stall. Montenegrins get me.
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