We took an afternoon bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor and the bus actually took a ferry across the bay! On the sea, we crossed paths with another one traveling in the opposite direction.
The history of Montenegro is a convoluted one as it has been ruled by Bulgarians, French, Austrians, Venetians and Turks; as well as the Nazis. It takes a true history scholar to keep it all straight. After Yugoslavia split up, Montenegro joined with Serbia to make the Former Republic of Yugoslavia at first and later simply “Serbia and Montenegro” voting to become independent just recently in 2006. While Serbia and Montenegro were united, they attacked Dubrovnik and several other Croatian cities; no wonder Croats turn their noses at the mention of Montenegro.
We arrived too late in Kotor to walk the walls, which didn’t really bother us as they were set on an even steepper incline than those at Dubrovnik and we were pretty tired already from that morning.
See what nice colors this picture has? That’s the Galaxy S4 for you. Alejandro keeps telling me I’ve got to give my Iphone up and this trip has convinced me since my night pics aren’t even recognizable.
Kotor also comes alive at night and I found it more to my liking than Dubrovnik. It is not as well lit and some of the stones used for flooring are pink (whereas everything in Dubrovnik was beige) so it seems a bit less imposing and friendlier.
We had some really good pizza by the slice and enjoyed the music played by this trio of young people. They had the crowd jamming with Donna Summer’s “I will survive” and Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”.
Crossing into Albania from Montenegro is a hassle which involves taking a bus to the border, hiring a private taxi to take you across and then flagging down another bus going to Tirana, the capital. We were feeling a bit overwhelmed so when we found a hostel which advertised direct transfer from Kotor to Tirana under the condition we stayed the night with them, we agreed. There was a Rock Music festival going on on the city walls which meant the entire place throbbed with the noise but we were so tired, we slept right thru it
While we enjoyed Kotor more than Dubrovnik, if you only have time for one, visit Dubrovnik: it’s larger and more impressive. Day trips to Kotor from Dubrovnik are heavily advertised but seeing as how they arrive during the day and leave before the sun sets, you’d have to tour Kotor at the peak of the sun’s heat and that has got to be uncomfortable to say the least. As I said before, there is no greenery in these old towns and temperatures get very high. You’re better off arriving in the late afternoon and spending the night in Kotor.
We began our transfer to Tirana on a very nice air-conditioned minibus along with other 4 people but when we got to Budva we were met by a lady who announced that our family of four had to get off to make room for 7 more passengers. She assured us that a private car would pick us up in half an hour and take us across. It took us by surprise but there wasn’t much we could do. “Is it air-conditioned?”, I asked. “Of course!” was the reply.
We waited for an hour on the hot street until a tiny bubble of a car resembling the junior cousin of a Ford Fiesta showed up. “Not even our backpacks fit in there!”, was my first exclamation. The driver made them fit, completely blocking his line of vision in the process. I got in in the back. It was so tiny, I scraped my left knee. I was trying to figure out how I was going to ride in the back with two kids, one of who is taller than me and seems to be all legs, when Fernando poked his head in the window and announced it didn’t have air. I jumped out: “You said it would be air-conditioned!”. “It’s only 4 hours”, she replied. Four hours! My jaw dropped. “He’s a very good driver”, she tried to convince us. Although we felt guilty at being so uncooperative, we wouldn’t budge. She made some calls and announced that a different car would be picking us up in a hour and we should go over to the small café across the street to wait for it. When she said she was going for a smoke, Fernando followed her. To her credit, she did try to make it right but at the time we couldn’t help wondering if she was trying to ditch us. Turns out her family owns a string of hostels and cafes all over Montenegro. She offered us to stay the night in Budva and we could get the bus the following morning but we had already booked our hotel in Tirana for that night and had to go. I still can’t understand why she didn’t just refund our ticket money and left us to fend for ourselves but we’re very glad she didn’t. After a couple of hours a roomy Audi came for us. “Here’s your limousine.” Although it was much better than our previous choice, the bus still would have been more comfortable but we weren’t about to complain. Our driver had the face of a criminal but he was terribly nice to us even if he did drive like a maniac. If I could have said “You’re not carrying cattle back here” in Montenegrin I would have, all we could do was hang on. He stopped on the way once and bought the boys some candy made up of pieces of banana covered in chocolate. They would have been better if they had been frozen but nothing is frozen around here. The boys didn’t like them and I ended up having to eat them because I really didn’t want to offend him. Closer to the border, traffic got terribly congested.
There are only two lanes, one in and one out, but at the time we had three lanes of cars going in and half a lane coming out with the ensuing jams, cursing and honking. People would get out of their cars and walk until their cars caught up with them. Those with no A/C were drenched in sweat and we were then very glad we had held out for A/C. We saw a disproportionate number of Danish cars and four with NY license plates. Our driver said they ship the cars over in containers, plates and all. At least we think that’s what he said since he only spoke Montenegrin.
Crossing the border took several hours and when we made it across, the scene was reversed with three lanes of cars fighting to get in to Montenegro and only one to Albania. The same honking and cursing except that on the Albanian side, the cars waiting in traffic had dozens of dirty, raggedy children holding on to their windows begging for money. It was heartbreaking and my mind screamed: “What have we done? Turn around, take us back! Now, before it is too late.” I didn’t say anything out loud.