It hit me on my way to the airport: in just a few hours I would be landing in Montenegro and I knew nothing about the country. I had no idea where to go after my flight would land in Podgorica, the country’s capital. With no guide book at my disposal and flaky internet on my phone, I was left feeling quite careless and well… incredibly stupid. I nervously texted my friends updating them on the situation. Judging from my agitation, some thought I was headed to outer space. There you have it: seasoned travellers get nervous about travel too!
I landed in Podgorica and decided to skip the capital.
Despite the flaky internet I mentioned earlier, I had managed to read a few articles about Podgorica. The reviews were not good. As much as I would have wanted to find out for myself if Podgorica really is a hole, I only had 4 days to spend in the country and I wanted to use them wisely. From the airport, I hopped into a taxi to the bus station where I immediately boarded a bus to Kotor. People spoke some English, they were helpful, the sun was out and the ride was smooth. Easy! “What was I even stressing about?” I smiled the entire ride. Have I been traveling in “difficult” countries so often that I was so amazed at the ease of all this? I wonder.
As we approached Kotor, I was stunned by the incredible views of the bay. I pulled out my glasses (aka my binoculars) and scotched myself to the window. If you ever take this ride, sit on the left side! (drivers side).
I arrived in Kotor after sunset and found my way to a charming hostel where I was warmly greeted with a shot of rakia. Once settled down, I put together a little ‘game plan’ to help me maximise my short time in Montenegro.
LEARN- Visit the old town of Kotor
The fortified city of Kotor is small enough to visit in an hour or two. There is a plentitude of well preserved churches, squares and museums explaining the history and culture. I took my time to wander around the narrow streets of the old town squeezing in lots of coffee breaks to read up on the city’s history. Seeing it was low season, the huge groups of day-trippers were scarce. The old town is so clean and charming, it doesn’t seem real. It has a very high Disneyland factor.
Aside from a quick history lesson, I also learned why there is such a large cat population in Kotor. They are everywhere, inside and out. They are accepted by the inhabitants, sometimes even treated as royalty. After bumping into a cat museum and a souvenir shop that sells cat-shaped everything, I just had to know; what’s the deal with these cats?
Apparently the city had a serious rat problem during the Middle Ages. Because the rats were bearer of disease such as the plague, they brought in a bunch of cats to deal with the problem. Till this day, the people of the old town appreciate the help of the cats and treat them well in return. At least so goes the legend…
MOVE- Wake up early to get crisp morning view from the fortress
Overlooking the bay of Kotor lies an abandoned fortress which in itself is not specifically beautiful but the view… It took me about 30-45 minutes to reach the top taking lots of photo breaks on the way. I was humming the ‘Game of Thrones’ theme the entire way up. I could have sworn I was on set! But my favourite part was simply sitting on a ridge just below the fortress, catching my breath and enjoying the silence accompanied by a spectacular view.
TASTE- Visit a market and buy some local produce
Though I wasn’t overwhelmed by Kotor’s produce market located right outside it’s walls, it was an opportunity to taste some of the region’s specialities such as smoked dried ham, home made olives, cheese made from boiled milk… I left the market with a full stomach.
EXPLORE- Take a trip to somewhere amazing
Armed with some of the produce I had bought at the market, I took a bus to Sveti Stefan, a small islet reputed as one of the most stunning sights in Montenegro. I tend not to give too much importance to statements like these, so I was expecting it to be overrated. I was dropped off the bus by the side of the road somewhere near Sveti Stefan. I found my way down to the pebbled beach. Gasp… Gorgeous! The fact that I had the beach all to myself made the place even more impressive! Gotta love low season! The island itself is an expensive hotel (cheapest room starts at €950 a night), so you can’t enter the island unless you’re a guest. The beach was good enough for me though! I swam, pick nicked and let the sun caress my skin. Pure bliss.
LAUGH- Make some friends
Staying at the most popular hostel in town made this task quite easy. There were travellers from all over the world, most of whom were on a long jaunt through Europe or the Balkans. Because I was traveling solo, I didn’t mind joining the group on a pub crawl, even though I was the “grandmother” of the gang. Another night was spent chatting the night away with travellers while drinking beer under the starlit sky with views over the city.
DARE- Say yes to something unexpected
After my day in Sveti Stefan, I waited on the side of the road for a bus to take me back to Kotor. There was no schedule, I just waited around, flagging down every passing bus asking if they were headed towards Kotor. After 15 minutes of waiting and the third rejection, I started wondering if I was indeed on the right track. An elderly man must have seen my slightly worried face and gestured me to enter his car. He spoke no English but used his hands to communicate that he wanted to give me a ride to Kotor. I doubted for a few seconds but then… YOLO, I stepped into the car. We didn’t speak each other’s language, but somehow we managed to talk, laugh and listen to music together. He stopped the car at one of the panorama points so I could take pictures. Had I not followed my intuition and accepted the invitation, I would have never experienced this fun Montenegrin encounter. These are the unexpected meetings that make travel so beautiful.
If you can manage to incorporate the 6 magic words during your stay anywhere (learn, move, laugh, taste, explore, dare), I believe your trip is already successful, no matter the length of stay.