Thirty six hours through Montenegro

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Signs are there to be climbed!

After climbing all morning through the beautiful mountains of Bosnia, the first thing I thought as we free wheeled down the road on the Montenegrin side was; it’s not as beautiful as I expected. Kind of harsh I admit! The landscape was rocky, dry, and quite bare. Not the Montenegro I remember of 2015. Of course, first impressions are often wrong.

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Happy to be back in Montenegro

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Overlooking a dam on our way into Niksic

After snacking on left overs, we rolled into Niksic in search of potato burek (second lunch) and an ATM. We found both, with the potato burek possibly being the best we’ve ever had (big statement I know!). While in the bakery, unashamedly scoffing our second helping, a guy came over to talk to us. Petar was a local Warmshowers host, and after chatting for a bit, he offered to show us a scenic route to Podgarica. We happily accepted.

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Petar showing us the way

What followed was up there with some of the best and most scenic cycling we’ve done. We followed Pieter up a small, smooth road (Montenegro has ridiculously good roads) as it wound itself gently up the mountains. The views were magnificent and I felt dwarfed by the sheer beauty of nature all around us. By the time we reached the Ostrog monastery it was late in the day, making Podgarica as we had planned was looking unlikely. It was one of those moments where you choose just to embrace the moment and go with the flow of what is being offered up. Petar showed us the church and explained a little bit about his religion. Although neither of us are the slightest bit religious, I do appreciate the sacredness of churches, temples, mosques, and the beauty of the architecture and art work. The icons in orthodox churches are impressive. And it has an air of mysticism I did not expect.

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The amazing road

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So fun and so beautiful

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After Petar had a quick chat with a priest, we all ended up being invited in to eat in the monastery dining room. I can only imagine this is where the monks eat? There was some praying and then we were served up delicious food, including quite a lot of wine. Some people joined us, and it turns out the woman was an Abbott from Russia. So that’s how we ended up sharing wine and food with a Russian Abbott and some monks in an orthodox monastery in Montenegro. You never quite know how your day will turn out on the road…

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A church at the monastary

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At the Monastary

Later on we explored the high monastery, which is impressively cut into the stone. It is a really beautiful and spiritual place and a site of Pilgrimage for Christians, as Saint Basil of Ostrog’s body is there (rather creepily in an open coffin). He is apparently the saint of Miracles.  Petar, being the generous and humble guy he was, organised for us to stay in the monastery dormitory that night. He also stayed as he is currently in between jobs and had no plans. I love how he could just spontaneously join us. We spent the evening drinking tea and talking; about religion, the difference in our lives, relationships, travel, anxiety, love…Petar is not one to waste time on trivial matters and it was refreshing to talk to someone obviously so smart and interested in everything.

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The high monastary, built into the rock

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Impressive!

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Exploring by night

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Outside the monastery where we slept

In the morning singing from the church reverberated over valley in a wonderful and other worldly manner. The sun shone, promising another perfect autumn day. It felt like we were outrunning the bad weather again. The three of us left early and headed down the mountain and valley into Podgarica, the Montenegrin capital. Here we ate lunch in a park by the university that Petar had once attended.

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The road down

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more beautiful road..

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On the road to Podgarica

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Podgarica

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Outside the church Petar showed us in Podgarica

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Church and bike posing..

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Inside the church

It was now time to head to the Albanian border, just over 20km away. Petar decided he may as well join us right to the border. Unfortunately he hadn’t brought his passport, otherwise I think we would have continued cycling with us! The road out of Podgarica was awful at first, fast and busy, but luckily improved as we began climbing out of the valley and back into nature in the late afternoon sunshine.

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Looking towards Albania..

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Towards the border

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Lovely in the late afternoon!

At the border we said our goodbyes. Meeting Petar was certainly the best thing that happened to us in Montenegro. It made our brief 36 or so hours here so much richer, and showed us places we would otherwise not have seen. We may lead very different lives, and come from very different backgrounds, but this ride was a reminder of how human’s are kind and open, given half a chance.

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Thanks for everything!

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A glimpse at Montenegro

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Just over the border

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Loving Montenegro

Montenegro is a relatively new (2007) independent nation nestled between Albania, Croatia and Serbia. It is a country rich in natural beauty and seems steps ahead of it neighbours in terms of infrastructure, cleanliness and environmental attitude. We could have cycled through in a day and a half, but it begs for more time.

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on our way

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Beautiful coastline and mountains 

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Some ruins to explore

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Exploring some ruins

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Like it’s European neighbours, Montenegrin immigration is a piece of cake. In fact the Albanian and Montenegrin border post is combined, one of the first of it’s kind in the Balkans. We were quickly stamped in and let loose to enjoy the stunning beauty that is Montenegro.

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Old town, Kotor

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Stunning views

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And some more

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Ruins at the top, above Kotor Bay

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Exploring

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Part way down the road we bade Sara farewell. She was off to look for a burial site of a Rabbi further down the coast. We continued on through farmland, olive groves and small roads that gave us glimpses of the coastline below. It was a perfect sunny day and it felt amazing to be alive and cycling through this delightful landscape.

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Enjoying the beach

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Indeed

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The island is privately owned. Something like 3000 AUD a night!

In the afternoon we descended to the coast. Here we lunched and dipped in the ocean, discovered a ruined castle and accidentally stumbled upon a beat. We were wondering what all the half naked men were doing, sunning themselves and moseying about, and refreshingly paying us no attention. You never know what a day of cycling will bring!

Night time bought us to Budva, where we found a very cute hostel nestled right in the heart of the old town. The hostel was much better value than the campground we had looked at further up the road and soon we were sharing beers and conversation with the owner and other travellers. A note for anyone travelling through the Balkans, the hostels here are super nice (the ones associated with the Balkan Backpacker thingy) and affordable compared to other parts of Europe. Usually we wouldn’t stay at hostels, but ever since the great experience we had in Tirana, they tempted us. They are not part of a big chain and appear to be owned and operated by locals.

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View from our hostel, Budva

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Old town exploring

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Heading to the beach

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View from the beach, Budva

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Walls of Kotor old town

One day in Budva is not enough if the weather is good. After a look around the quaint old town in the morning we headed to the beach to swim and relax. The evening was spent chatting to other travellers once more.

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Kotor

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Old town, Kotor

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Astrid and I explored and got lost in many of the small alley ways in Kotor Old Town

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A visit to Montenegro is not complete without visiting the stunning Kotor Bay. It was a short pedal up the coast to Kotor the next day and we spent the afternoon exploring the old town and climbing up to the ruins high above the city. From here to you have stunning view of the surrounds.

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Kotor from above

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Kotor Bay

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Wall around Kotor old town

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Churches, Kotor

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View to the old town

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Enjoying the view on the way up

 

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At the top

Our last day in Montenegro saw us deciding to add 20km to our day by cycling around Kotor Bay. Well worth it! We also decided to treat ourselves by going to Catovica Mlina, a restaurant half way between Kotor and Herceg Novi. It is rated as one of the best restaurants in Montenegro and just happened to fall right on our path! They even had bicycle parking. We quickly changed into some half decent clothes in the car park and went and enjoyed a really delicious meal. It felt rather indulgent, considering what we usually eat but I certainly don’t regret it. The food was delicious and the atmosphere really lovely.

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Kotor Bay

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The fairy and I enjoying the view

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Can’t belie I am eating this

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Tasted amazing

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On the road to Croatia

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Croatian border

From here it was a picturesque afternoon cycle to the Croatian border.

Much love

Jude