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Trip Report Three weeks in Montenegro (with a sidetrip to Kosovo) with young children

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I always enjoy researching my trips on Fodors and often benefit from tips and advice I find here. When I started planning our trip to Montenegro, I immediately turned to Fodors, but was disappointed not to find very much information on the message boards. After our wonderful family holiday, I am submitting a trip report in the hopes that it might help others planning holidays to this tiny but beautiful and remarkably diverse country. A note to Fodors as well – consider a guide to this very interesting corner of the world!

My family and I (my husband is Italian, I am American living in Italy, and we have two young sons – ages 6 and 4) spent a wonderful three weeks in Montenegro in August. We brought our car over on the ferry from Italy in order to better explore the interior, which is not very well served by public transportation. We travel quite a bit as a family and our children are generally good travellers, although, as all parents know, travelling with children always presents its own set of challenges.

We planned most of our trip in advance, but left some flexibility in the last days for some new “discovery” or a return to a favorite place. There appeared to be lots of rooms (sobe) or apartments for rent in most destinations, so flexible travellers (e.g. those without two little kids in tow) would probably find it easy to organize directly in the country. Note that, although not yet part of the EU or the common currency, the official currency of Montenegro is the euro.

Our overall impression is that Montenegro has much to offer to travellers: historic cities and towns, stunning coastlines, mountains, canyons, fairly organized national parks, hospitable people and all at quite reasonable prices. It does require more patience than other European destinations – service can be slower, road signs could definitely be better and maps could be updated or we wouldn’t have found ourselves trying to cross into Kosovo on a now non-existent border crossing. But the Balkans require more of a sense of adventure that I believe is more than worth the effort. The coast is the most developed region, and subsequently the most chaotic. The interior is “wilder” and is definitely of interest, although driving can be a challenge on many of Montenegro’s narrow winding roads, many through canyons. My husband was the expert on maneuvering these challenging roads. I, unfortunately, do not possess the nerves of steel necessary to handle some of the driving. Roads in the interior are not as well marked and many of the roadsigns on the interior are in cyrillic, so it is better to learn the alphabet if you will be travelling in this part.

We travelled from Bari (Italy) to Bar (Montenegro) with an overnight ferry: Montenegrin Lines. The ship leaves at 22:00, but you must be present three hours early with the car. Montenegrin Lines itself is a bit shabby, but we knew this ahead of time. We booked a cabin and it was fine for our purposes and we all managed to get a good night’s sleep. Our four-year old was thrilled with the novelty of a floating hotel/parking garage. We woke up early to see the rugged mountains of Montenegro in the distance.

Days 1 + 2 Ulcinj
Stari Bar – Skadar Lake

We landed early in the port town of Bar. Passport control was fairly quick. There is a 10 euro “ecological tax”, valid for a year, to be purchased directly at the port and displayed on your car windshield. We immediately bypassed the city of Bar (I think it is safe to say you need spend no extra time there once you clear the port) and went on to picturesque Stari Bar (Old Bar) just 5 km from the port. This was best explored in the early morning, before the heat truly set in. Admission is 1 euro for adults (children free). These are the suggestive ruins of the old settlement of Bar, before it moved along the coast. Perched on a hill with dramatic valleys below it, much of the town was destroyed in 1878 during the fighting between the Montenegrins and Ottomans which led to the eventual annexation of Bari and Ulcinj to Montenegro. It is worth it to climb up to the Citadel for the dramatic views over the rugged valley below.

We drove south to Ulcinj along the easy coastal road. We had reservations for two nights in the town of Ulcinj (Ulquin, in Albanian – all signs in this region are in Montenegrin and Albanian). Ulcinj is the southermost coastal city in Montenegro, just a few kilometers from the Albanian border. Montenegro has a sizeable Albanian minority (about 10%), making up 90% of Ulcinj’s population and its surrounding regions. Since the area is also popular in the summer with Albanians and Albanian Kosovars on holiday, you will hear more Albanian spoken here than Montenegrin.

The city has a rich history. It was settled by the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and was famous as a base for the Algerian corsairs. Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quijote, is said to have been captured by the pirates off the coast of Barcelona and held as a captive in Ulcinj. Who knows if this is true, but I could certainly picture it walking around the pretty old town. The Citadel is stunning. It was largely destroyed in 1878 and later in the devastating earthquake of 1979, but it is slowly being rebuilt. Our hotel, the Dvori Balsića (http://www.montenegro.com/accommodation/ulcinj/Dvori_Balsica.html) was perched high up on this Citadel and had lovely views over the sea from this suugestive position. We had a small apartment, which was perfect with the children, and a lovely terrace overlooking the sea. The rooms are simple – the bathrooms could definitely be renovated – but the staff was friendly and the location was perfect; we loved exploring the winding streets of the Citadel. Luckily, we are all good sleepers – kids included. This is necessary in July and August when the loud music and bar sounds go on until the wee hours of the night. I groan still thinking of the all-night Michael Jackson hits – mercifully, I fell asleep fairly quickly. The other problem is with parking – you have to park outside the Citadel walls. Trust me when I say you must arrive before 8pm to do so. After that, the main streets are closed and you must reach the lot through winding, chaotic side streets never designed for two-way traffic. White knuckled driving at its best.

We spent the first afternoon relaxing at the Velika Plaža (Great Beach), just south of town. The sand is grey and slightly radioactive – some of the people we met there say they were sent by their doctors who claim it heals a myriad of illnesses: arthritis, weak immune system, etc. We can only hope it’s true. I think the beach must be lovely off-season, but it was too packed for us. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon swimming and the kids had a great time, but we decided to take a trip to Skadar Lake the next day rather than another trip to the beach.

We had a wonderful dinner in Ada Bojana, an island in the Bojana River, just along the Albanian border. The restaurant, Miška, was excellent and extremely charming on pontoons along the river. I highly recommend it. The food and the service were exceptional. My husband and I had the delicious fish stew – wish I had the recipe! We had mussels and a seafood platter and the boys had sea bass, which they loved. We had a bottle of Montenegrin chardonnay (Plantaže – this seems to be the most well-known Montenegrin brand and is quite good). The bill came to about 50 euro.

After breakfast out on the hotel terrace, we set off for Skadarsko jezero (Skadar Lake), the largest lake in the Balkans – part of the lake is in Montenegro and part in Albania. The drive from Ulcinj to the lake is easy highway driving, in the direction of Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica. The lake itself attracts a wide variety of birds (and birdwatchers) and is very lush (to the delight of our sons, we picked wild figs and pomegranates roadside) and is the country’s most important wine-growing region, where Montenegro’s strong red wine, Vranac, is produced. The small vineyards are very picturesque and fruit and wine are sold roadside around the region.

We went to Virpazaar – a small fishing village and had lunch there. Our six-year old was very enthusiastic about having eel for the first time. he is still talking about it. People start approaching you right away for boat trips. Take your time and check on the prices. We were able to get better offers that the initial proposals. The 2-hour boat trip was really beautiful and we were able to stop for a swim along the way. The lake is dotted with island churches and lovely fisihing villages, one of the closest to Virpazaar is apparently being leased to an English company that will renovate it and turn it into a hotel complex for birdwatchers. Unfortunately, visitors to Montenegro will notice quite a bit of uncontrolled development, particularly along the seacoast. Skadar Lake is a lovely, unspoiled region. Hopefully investment in this area will do a better job of preserving what is already there and respecting the environment.

Our biggest driving nightmare was on this daytrip. My husband wanted to take the road which curves along the lakeside back to Ulcinj. We followed the road for quite some kilometers before I insisted that we turn back. I am not actually that squeamish, but this was a terrifying drive, winding around the lake as it climbed higher up the mountains, with sheer drops and no guardrails. I thought this was a one-way road, but it was actually designed for two-way traffic. You would have to see it to believe it. Even if my husband is a very careful driver, one false move by the oncoming traffic would mean that we risked plunging over the edge. Yes, it was picturesque and lovely, but I enjoyed not one second of it and was very happy to turn back and return via the “boring” highway which allowed us to live to see another day. Perhaps other travellers have had wonderful experiences travelling on this panoramic road, but if you insist on seeing it, my advice would be to walk it for some kilometers and enjoy the views… minus the near-death experience.

That night we took a walk in Ulcinj. The Citadel is lovely, but the town itself has been terribly overdeveloped. It was interesting for a few days, but too noisy for along visit. Our sons, however, loved it: crowds, loud music, bright colors and hawkers selling toys. They first learned the magic Montenegrin word “sladoled” (ice cream) and used it frequently, as in “Molim, jeden sladoled” (Please, one ice cream) – it seemed to do the trick during their stay. The next day before we left we went for a swim in the town’s Mala Plaža (Small Beach). I live in Italy and am used to crowded beaches, but boy was this crowded! The kids could have cared less – they loved swimming and had a blast in the sea and building sand castles in the grey sand. They more than deserved it since we were packing up for a long drive out to Berane in the interior.

Next up : Berane and crossing into Kosovo

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    I am replying to your lovely report because it is nice to see one posted of the less visited parts of the world.
    We enjoy lovely scenery and anything near water. Thanks.

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    Thanks for sharing your trip with us! I have only been to Montenegro for a day trip from Dubrovnik and it seemed to merit a longer stay. With your report, I am now sure that it merits further exploration!

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    romana2,

    I loved your trip report. We drove through Montenegro from Dubrovnik to Berat, Albania a couple of years ago. It has such beautiful scenery; I want to return to spend some time there. Like you, I'm not a good mountain/cliff passenger and I totally identified with your account of the mountain road. I had a similar experience in Albania with people coming around hairpin curves at crazy speeds - terrifying! Can't wait for your account of Kosovo (a place we love)but which, in my opinion, is very different from the Adriatic coastal areas.

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    Loved your report! Do you have any pictures to share?

    We did Montenegro as a day trip from Dubrovnik a few years ago and enjoyed it. It's nice to read about the road less traveled by most visitors (the trip reports out there seem to focus on only a couple of destinations and rarely anything inland).

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    Thanks to all who commented! How nice to see some interest in Montenegro out there, and particularly for the wild interior which I find beautiful.

    Irishface, Trish, and Debs we also went to Boka kotorska and also love that special region. Ellen – I think, while the roads are “challenging”, the driving is less chaotic in Montenegro than in Albania, which might make it a bit easier (even on the hairpin turns). I saw your nice comments on Kosovo on another post – we saw so little and will need to get back I’ll be consulting your post to plan.

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    Days 3 + 4 Berane
    Plav – Gusinje – Peć (Pejë), Kosovo

    Our stop for the next two days was Berane, in Montenegro’s interior. We left Ulcinj and drove back to Skadar Lake and on to Podgorica. Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and my husband had already been there several times. This can safely be skipped. I think it is hard to find an unattractive European capital, but Podgorica, except for a few cute streets, might fit the bill. Don’t despair – there are so many beautiful places to see in this country, that it’s nice to be able to cut back the extensive list.

    The “highway” past Podgorica is absolutely gorgeous. It goes through the Morača canyon - breathtakingly stunning, dramatic canyons with the Morača river down below. Since it was summertime, the water level was fairly low. I can only imagine that this must be even more stunning with the higher water levels of the springtime. The tunnels carved into the canyons were fantastic and even our boys were staring in awe. As is often the case with Montenegrin “highways”, however, this road is on the narrow side for two-way traffic and there are lots of trucks travelling and a little too much reckless passing. Indeed, on a later trip on this road, we were blocked in 3 ½ hours of traffic because of an accident that occurred with a truck. I can only imagine how difficult this trip is in the wintertime, and this is the main road to Serbia, so there is lots of traffic. Nevertheless, drive carefully and enjoy the view. It’s spectacular. We would take this route two more times on our trip, but on this trip it started to rain just as we arrived at the Morača Monastery. This is a beautiful monastery in a picturesque spot. The rain set in as we were walking to the monastery from the parking lot and we were soaked. Still, it was so lovely and we spent a long time admiring the frescoes. The boys loved the terrifying Last Judgement scenes with monsters devouring the damned (I have become expert in picking them out in our visits to churches so that I can have a few minutes of calm to examine the frescoes as the kids gawk). Unfortunately, the skies were dark and we decided to come back as we were passing through on our return, since it deserves a viewing with good light -- particularly the adjacent Saint Nikola chapel, which has no electric lighting.

    The drive on was quite long and we arrived in Berane towards evening. However, past the Morača canyon (from just before Kolašin), the highway widens and driving is easier. A note for thos planning a trip to Montenegro: be careful in considering driving distances in planning your itinerary. Montenegro is a small country, but even short distances (with the exception of rather good coastal roads) can take a long time, due to road conditions, accidents, etc. Keep this in mind when planning.

    Berane is hardly a tourist destination. We stayed at one of two hotels in town, the S Hotel (a simple, but perfectly clean and adequate hotel), largely because I could book on-line through Booking.com and the price was low. When they took our passports they gave us a quizzical look and jokingly asked what the heck we were doing there. Our main reason for stopping here is that it made a convenient base for taking a trip into Kosovo. This is also a good base for those who would like to pass into Novi Pazaar, Serbia. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for both. After having been here, I can say that Rožaje might be a more picturesque base. Berane is a fairly large town for central Montenegro, although it has two less than picturesque factories. It doesn’t take much to thrill kids, however, and our boys loved Berane because enterprising individuals rent out kids’electric cars on the main pedestrian street. Our boys had never been on one before and this was easily the highlight of their stay in Berane. There is also an excellent restaurant in town, where we ate both nights. It is called Dva jelena (Two Deer), although the sign outside is written only in cyrillic. Everything we had on the menu was excellent, it is heavily meat-based, with freshwater fish as well. Lots of Ottoman/Turkish food in this part of Montenegro. The meat soups (Čorba), meats and sausages (Ćevapi) were delicious, as was the fresh kaymak (salty, soft, fresh cheese served all over central Montenegro) and all go well with the strong Montenegrin Vranac red wine or the Nikšićko Pivo (beer). We usually are not heavy eaters for dinner, but we made an exception here and spent between 30 and 40 euro for veritable feasts. Service was friendly and warm and they were extremely patient with our bad Montenegrin and very friendly with our kids (another real plus in this part of the world.)

    We started the next morning early as we planned on crossing into Kosovo. I say planned, because we were victims of bad road markings and outdated maps and instead spent a day exploring the so-called “accursed mountains”. The morning started off well: the weather was perfect and the highway we had come in with yesterday appeared to continue on clearly to Rožaje, just 30 kilometers away, where we would cross the border, The drive was lovely, with picturesque hay stacks two stories tall and the typical, sturdy mountain houses of the region made of the ubiquitous grey stone and pitched roofs. The landscape was stunning. But then we looked in confusion at the cyrillic welcoming us to the town. It didn’t look at all like the cyrillic for Rožaje, but for Andrejvicka – a town in a different direction. It doesn’t help that there are absoultely no signs on the road telling you that you are going ina certain direction. Still, I tried to laugh it off and suggested we turn back and ask for the road to Rožaje when in Berane. Our fatal mistake was to stop and look at the map, where we noticed a second border crossing into Kosovo, and from the map, it even looked like a major road.

    So we continued on this extremely picturesque, winding road with lovel pastoral views and lush landscapes. There were some picturesque monasteries along the route and minarets dotting the landscape (like Ulcinj, this area is home to Montenegro’s sizable Muslim minority), but the road started getting suspiciously narrow. Thank goodness there wasn’t much traffic, but the curves were still dangerous and we got used to honking at every curve to warn oncoming traffic. We were perplexed to see that the asphalt eventually ended and it became a dirt road -- it seemed highly unlikely to us that this would lead to the border crossing. We continued for some time until, luckily, we saw two female cowherds out grazing their cows. They stared in wonder at our Italian plates and when we got out of the car with our two little kids they just stared at these rather dim-witted foreigners, out on a family outing. We showed them the map and, in our bad Montenegrin, asked about the border crossing. They essentially laughed at us (can you blame them?) and told us that there are soldiers posted there and that they would shoot at us if we came along with the car.

    So our efforts to visit Kosovo were thwarted that day – but we had a lovely picnic snack at that panoramic point and the boys got to see the grazing cows and all the sheep on the street slowing our return back. We still laugh about our failed outing. Lesson learned: Don’t rely on Montenegrin maps alone – ask the locals. Luckily, we benefited from the friendliness of the Montenegrins on many occasions in helping us to find our way or to choose routes. We decided to cross into Kosovo the next day and instead explored nearby Plav (sone nice examples of Ottoman architecture, including lovely mosques), but surrounded by ugly suburban sprawl, swam in the (extremely) cold lake there and visited Gusinje and the incredibly picuresque Ali Pasha springs. You are probably starting to get the pattern here, but the springs, just 5 km from Gusinje are abysmally marked. I think we had to ask ten people for directions to find our way there. The place is lovely – cool mountain springs forming a small pond and rushing brooks. We filled all our water bottles and thermoses and the kids loved it. This is an area which merits more exploration (future trip?) - the Prokletije mountains, shared with Albania – the so-called “accursed mountains”, said to have been created by the devil himself. The landscapes are stunning and it doesn’t take much imagination to wonder what it must have been like at the time of the Ottoman Empire. Time seems to have stood still here.

    We had lunch at the lovely stone house just next to the springs – charming. The owner had spent many years living in Germany and we found it easier to communicate in German. We had fresh trout and Wienerschnitzl in this lovely setting. We had asked the owner about hikes in the area and she suggested an easy one to the neighboring town. We enjoyed the lovely walk with the kids and seeing the picturesque hamlet with those ubiquitous haystacks (Monet should have come to Montenegro) and charming houses. So, despite an inauspicious start, all in all a good day.

    The next day we did indeed make it to Kosovo! With difficulty (and asking at least five people on the way), we ensured we were on the road to Rožaje. From Rožaje we almost missed the turn-off to Kosovo, but turned back in time. Kilometer-wise the drive is not bad; in reality, they are winding mountain roads (although fine – we have become accustomed to narrow), so factor in plenty of time. Our youngest son doesn’t do well with curves (we are always raiding the courtesy airplane bags when we go on trips to keep on hand for road trips). Mercifully, he fell asleep. The drive takes concentration, but it is beautiful. As we crossed into Kosovo, I really throught I was in Switzerland, with the beautiful mountain panoramas. The border crossing is quite easy, although there is a LOOONG no-man’s land between the Montenegrin and Kosovo borders. It seems fairly efficient and we crossed easily. European cities only need their identity card to travel to Montenegro, but a passport is required for Kosovo. The only (negative) surprise is the 50 euro car insurance you must pay at the border to drive in Kosovo (yes, even for one day), since it is not covered in other policies. Other than that, it was quick and efficient and the descent down to the valley was very scenic and the road conditions are good. It’s only about 50 km from the border to Peć (Pejë in Albanian), but factor in plenty of time. It became extremely hot as we drove down to the plain and we made pretty good time reaching Peć. As we arrived in the city, the chaos set in. There is lots of construction, foot traffic, cars, mopeds (you name it). KFOR soldiers were especially helpful in pointing us in the right direction of the Dečani Monastery. It took us a long time to negotiate the city and find our way on the right road. The Serbian Orthodox Dečani Monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is under the protection of Italian soldiers. Have your passports ready. You will go through a check point and a barricaded area before being told to park. As you can imagine, this all made quite an impression on our young boys. It is a particular challenge trying to explain Balkan history to children.Your documents and bags will be inspected and you are accompanied to the door. Then you pass through the heavy gates and you are transported to another world, struck by the absolute beauty and tranquility of this monastary constructed at the beginning of the 14th century by King Stefan of Dečani. It is all stunning: the beautiful marble facade, the fantastically preserved frescoes, the picturesque monastery housing and flowers – all surrounded by walls with views outside to the Prokletije mountain range. There is little I can say except to urge you to visit this beautiful place. After considerable time there, we drove on to the Patriarchate Monastery, closer to Peć and at the entrance of the stunning Rugova gorge. The 13th century Patriarchate is home to Serbian Orthodox nuns and is also under the protection of Italian soldiers. The soldiers were very profesisonal and efficient – photographing our car and its license plate and following procedures similar to those in Dečani before allowing us entrance. The frescoes here are also stunning and span from the 13th through the 16th centuries, though they are less well-preserved than at Dečani. As in much of the Balkans, with its history of centuries of invasions and fighting, one is always in awe that these beautiful places still exist at all.

    Unfortunately, all our awe and time spent at the monastaries (although worth every second), left very little time for exploration of Peć / Pejë itself. However, after a brief stop in the center, we managed to see almost every angle of the city since some streets were closed off for construction and we could no longer retrace our route back to Rožaje. We asked for help getting back on the road and we had great fun trying to understand Albanian (people were incredibly helpful), speaking with our hands (we live in Italy, so we are experts) and finding some people who could help in German; with great difficulty we made our way out of the city. We decided to stop of at a roadside restaurant we had seen coming in: Antika. We had a nice, handsome young waiter and we asked him to recommend all his favorite Kosovar specialties. We had spiced meat and a wonderful melted cheese (practically a soup) with spices over delicious peppers, vegetables, softdrinks and coffee for the whole family, all for a grand total of 12 euro. The kids found some little Kosovar playmates at the neighboring table and they all watched the squirrels and parakeets they had in big cages there. On the way up the mountain, there were many children selling cups full of blackberries they had picked. Unfortunately, they had the dangerous practice of throwing themsleves before the cars to catch the drivers’attention – be very careful driving. We bought some of these roadside berries and it made a real impression on our 6-year old that children his age earned money for their families in this way.

    The drive back took a long time. When the border guard asked us where we were going and we said “Berane”, he looked at us strangeley and said “Why?” Actually, we had a LONG drive ahead of us, because after picking up our bags in Berane, we were going on to the mountain resort of Kolašin that night (and would arrive quite late).

    Next up: Kolašin and the Biogradsko National Park

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    Still enjoying your report. I am so glad you included your sons' reactions to the things you are doing and seeing. It is so much fun to see things through childrens' eyes. (When I was teaching, I always fantasized about winning the lottery and taking my third graders on a foreign field trip. Of course, it would have helped the fantasy come true if I had bought lottery tickets.)

    Thanks for sharing. (Hope you'll have some pictures to share!)

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    Thanks, Irishface. What a nice fantasy you had for your third-graders! I agree with you about travelling with kids. We travel a lot with ours and I love to see their impressions. I make my 6-year-old keep a travel journal when we travel and it's great to see the things that make the biggest impression on him. Unfortunately, I am not a great photographer, but the landscape did mots of the work for me. Will have to try to figure out how to post some photos of these wonderful places we saw.

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    Days 5 + 6 Kolašin
    Biogradsko Lake and National Park

    We arrived in the late afternoon in the town of Kolašin – an easy drive from Berane taking the highway back in the direction of Podgorica. We checked in to the Bianca Resort and Spa (http://www.biancaresort.com/ ), where I had reserved for two nights. I can highly recommend this hotel. We weren’t looking for luxury during this trip, but after all of our travelling, this was a nice little respite. This has been a hotel since 1948, but it has been extensively remodelled, all interiors are in stone and pine wood and it is an attractive property. It must be wonderful during the skiing season, too! There is also a nice, large indoor pool. Our kids, as you can imagine, were thrilled. My husband and I also managed to test out the sauna and steam baths after our hikes (heaven!), although we didn’t try any of the spa facilities.

    The hotel is just off of the town’s main square. The town itself is small, but cute and it has an extremely efficient and helpful visitor’s office. They provided us with a lot of helpful hiking information. The first night we took it easy and enjoyed the pool. My 6-year old is a fish, but I have been banging my head over my 4-year old’s fear of the water. Here in Montenegro, he finally learned to swim and it started right here in the Bianca hotel pool. : )

    The next morning we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel. Montenegrins are generally quite tall, but imagine our surprise when the national basketball team all filed in to the breakfast room at the same time. Apparently, they were in training there, and their presence was incredibly useful to me. My kids stared in awe as they entered the room and I pointed out these players drank all their milk every day and therefore grew so tall – it had the desired effect! Hvala (thank you), Montenegrin National Basketball team!

    We set off to the nearby Biogradsko Lake, which was very picturesque. We took the easy 4 km walk around the lake, a nice path with information about the animals and wildlife geared towards children. We took a break to have a little swim in the lake and my 6-year-old was very proud he swam “all the way across the lake” (it’s not all that wide, but still an accomplishment at that age). The woods are very pretty. We were headed up on another walk to get to an observation tower where you could get a tree top view of the virgin forest, when it started raining – hard. We decided to take a break and drove back to town for lunch. We drove towards the ski slope to the adorable Savardak – a former goatherd’s cottage, complete with thatch roof. Our 4-year old was convinced it was the straw house in the “Three Little Pigs”. It is charming inside, but the weather had improved, so we took an outdoor table near a babbling brook. We decided to try to kačamak. Keep in mind – portions are BIG in Montenegro. The very nice waitress told us this was a portion for 2. We actually debated getting two – thank goodness we didn’t. When it arrived at the table, we learned it was easily for 6 (maybe 8). It was delicious, but so heavy. It is a combination of melted cheese, a type of cornflour and potatoes – very hearty mountain fare. Delicious, but boy did it sit like a block in our stomachs afterwards.

    Luckily, the weather improved and we decided to hike it off. We continued on to the ski slopes. This I really didn’t understand. The town is cute and quite organized, but the road going out to the ski slopes was filled with crater-sized potholes – and this is the only road leading to the slopes. We played slolom the whole way there. What in the world do they do in the winter time? Hopefully there are shuttles with drivers proficient in braving potholes.

    We asked the guard at the slope’s parking lot about the trail and he gave us directions on how to bypass the first part of the trail. Unfortunately, we got a little lost in the beginning. To make up for it, though, my sons discovered the biggest snails we had ever seen. I have never seen snails so big – what a hit that was. We eventually found our way back and the trail was incredibly popular with the younger members of the family because it was filled with raspberries and wild strawberries. We hike a lot with our kids, so even our 4-year old can climb quite well, but raspberries and wild strawberries provide even better incentive. It was quite a hike to get to the top, but it was beautiful! I am a pretty good hiker, but I was exhausted for that last stretch (maybe thanks to the kačamak sitting in a block in my stomach?), my 4-year old amazed my husband and me. At the top, he saw horses grazing and he sprinted full speed uphill to reach them. My husband and I looked on in awe – guess we’re getting old. My 6-year old wandered into a flock of sheep and had loads of fun. There was an eco-village at the top – little cabins you can rent (we had been told about it in the Kolašin visitor’s office – they can arrange booking). I must admit, it is an idyllic, scenic spot with the beautiful mountains all around. Next trip! To make the day even better, we found blueberry bushes. We never find these hiking in Italy and the kids were thrilled. So now our bellies were filled with kačamak and fresh berries and we were having a great time. Unfortunately, it was getting late and we had to make our way down before it got dark, so it was down the mountain, picking berries all the way. What a wonderful outing. We topped off the evening with a swim in the pool before bed.

    The next day we had been planning another hike, but we decided to give the kids a little rest and enjoy swimming in the morning before our long drive to the Boka kotorska (Kotor fjord). We would be staying for a week in the lovely town of Perast, right on the water, close to Kotor. Good think we relaxed this morning, because the drive turned out much longer than we expected. We packed up and started our drive.

    Next up: Perast and the Boka kotorska

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    Loving your trip reports! We spent quite a while at the Decani Monastery which like you, we were in awe of. I was actually a bit intimidated by the Italian KFOR guards (although they were very nice to us). They thoroughly searched the car, including the trunk. Did you notice the bullet holes in their little hut at the entrance? You do enter another world when you pass through the entrance. The day we were there an American KFOR unit was there with a Serbian group. Since the war, pockets of Serbian nationals live in enclaves in Kosovo guarded by KFOR. This group was visiting from another part of Kosovo. The guard we talked to was pleasantly surprised to meet some fellow Americans. We had some Serbian teenage boys with us who loved talking to the monks, so the monks invited us up to their meeting area across from the monastery itself for some grappa which was quite a treat!

    You're so right about the roads and judging distances. I pitifully underestimated driving times the first time we were there. What looks direct on a map may be anything but!

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    Romana....thank you for such a detailed report..excellent...my apologies...I answered your other thread on Durmitor, incorrectly assuming that you were planning for next August (2010)...so I brashly included my thoughts and some past history of Old Yuoslavian travel, "Tito Time"...could be of some interest to you now that you've already been...what a fascinating part of part of Europe!...so I'll copy my post herein.

    Romana:

    I'll be reading all of your report with deep nostalgia engulfing me. Turn your clock back to "Tito Time", when we roved every part of the Old Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, and I can still recall the potholed roads (holes as big as a small pond, no dividing markers, petrol stations few and far between, lodgings grim and food choices grimmer)...but yet, a beautiful country with every conceivable type of terrain....and fewer tourists than outer Mongolia.

    If I dug into my journals to recommend any lodgings or restaurants like the smoke-filled "hotel" on Pec's square, The Metohiya (rated "B")...no "A"'s in town, but one "C"...I'm afraid I could be of no help. In those days a town like Pec' had very few vehicles, everyone was walking to and fro all day and part of the night...the same scenes we found in Prizren and all the towns near and along along the Albanian border and deeper into Kosovo. We were in constant fear of running on empty, and our German-plated Ford Escort rental car drew ogling stares everywhere we went..we just smiled back and the ogles truned to smiles also...but leaving the car out in the open wherever we could park it, not a thing (like windshield wipers, hubcaps, tires) was ever taken).

    As you go deeper in and eventually to Sarajevo, these days, you'll find well-maintained rodes in comparison, and certainly plenty of fuel, roadside inns and better choice in lodgings. We had driven directly south from Sarajevo on the usual poor road which by now must be greatly improved, and there was no evidence of a national park at the time in the Zabjak area, but the highway would have been treacherous in a snowstorm (it was October!, and it had snowed earlier that week so we saw the remnants all the way to Podgoric(ts)a, and then on to the aforementioned Pec')..I remember marvelling at the surprisingly beautiful snow-covered soccer stadium in the small town of Andrejvica (sp. ..from my notes)where it began to snow again.

    Anyway, I doubt if this is much help to you....the beauties of the entire region are all yours now. Enjoy!!

    We have been back to the former Yugoslavia a few times since then....and couldn't get over the massive changes....driving down the newly built and finely engineered super highway from Zagreb to Zadar (via Plitvice)....we couldn't help but smile and shake our heads, remembering the Old Yugoslavia. But we sure had adventuorus fun on that first trip...and memories that can be shared, in disbelief by most of today's visitors.

    Stu Tower

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    Stu,

    My husband went on a trip to the area when he was in high school, in 1959. He vividly remembers staying one night in Andrijevica where they heard gunshots throughout the night. We've been back recently, but haven't been able to visit the Peja/Andrijevica area yet; it's on our list. I too enjoy hearing him talk about the former Yugoslavia. Despite the improvements (which are many), the area is still so underdeveloped compared to the rest of Western Europe, which I think is part of the draw for us, in addition to the scenic beauty as Romana described, and the warmth of the people.

    Ellen

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    Ellen...impressed to see that in his high school days your husband gave up Hawaii and Cancun for Andrijevica (thanks for the spelling...I'll correct my journal)...and I strongly agree with your assessment of being drawn to the unusual, off the typical tourist map. Such intriguing fun.

    I've been scanning some of my selected pre-digital pics of every country in the old Soviet Bloc, as far east as Uzbekistan, no less).... My late wife was an ardent folk dancer (in L.A.) and Balkan dancing was her favorite...so obviously we hunted out any and all dancing events (most of them impromptu) throughout every country we travelled in those heady days. The Kosovan town of Prizren had a festival going on, and there was Judy actually leading some of the dances! At a wedding in Bulgaria which we were "invited" to by the bride's uncle who was standing outside the banquet hall as we drove up in our German rental car. We talked in "pidgin German" (he was some sort of an an engineer and that was the only remotely understandable "language" between us) as I asked him to suggest a "hotel"...next thing I knew, we were in the hall being Slivovitz toasted (dressed in jeans and sweat shirts) as "Our great American friends", and once again Judy took the floor and led the dancing (all of which she was so familiar with). Priceless.

    Thanks for your post, Ellen...and Romana, please forgive the hi-jacking, but it all seems to fit into your theme of offbeat travel...

    Here are some pics of folk dancing in Uzbekistan (Uzbek SSR) in the 80's....they're scanned and can be enlarged by clicking on the magnifying glass icon..and moving the mouse as desired.(By the way,Ellen, what business do you have in Kosovo...if it's not confidential, I'm just curious)

    Note: In the old days, Podgoric(ts)a was known as "Titograd" of course.

    Stu Tower

    http://picasaweb.google.com/stuarttower/SceneOfBukharaSamarkand85#

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    Stu,

    Although not confidential, it's a long story. Short story is that I became aware that the Rochester Institute of Technology (NY) partners with the American University in Kosovo in Prishtina and the American College of Management and Technology in Dubrovnik. I've brought students from both universities to the US on 18-month or less training visas. We have grown very close to them and several have become our surrogate children. My husband, an attorney, is going to teach a law course at AUK this winter. Kosovo, as you know, was badly damaged during the war and they don't have electricity and water 24 hours a day yet, so there is still a lot of infrastructure building to do there. These two universities give their young people outstanding educations.

    We intend to do a lot more traveling in the Balkans which is one of the reasons I find romana's trip report so fascinating and educational - and well-written!

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    Romana,

    Your comments about Podgorica made me laugh - they're right on! We drove through it to get to the Albanian border. As we progressed, the road became more and more "rural", shall we say, and we seriously questioned that a country lane would lead to an international border. My husband had the foresight to bring a compass so we knew at least that we were going in the right general direction, We soldiered on and eventually, voilà, arrived at the Albanian border (where we were greeted by the hind quarters of a very large goat, but that's a tale for a different thread:)!

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    Ellen...are you two from Rochester? Hope you were able to download the Uzbek snaps.

    We too, drove the narrow backcountry road to Gusinje and had lunch at Piave at a place that was less than a Michelin! I have a great pic of an Albanian who pked his head into our car, wanting a ride....he had jusy come across the border, or so he said, wanted to see his wife in Pec.

    Stu

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    Stu,

    These are the experiences that we remember! We're from Elmira, about 1.5 hours south of Rochester. Yes, your Uzbek pictures were wonderful. There are so many wonderful places to visit, experiences to be had and so little time...(and money)!

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    Dear Stu and Ellen,

    Thanks for all your comments and wonderful memories! We live in Italy, and there is a great expression in Italian “L’appetito viene mangiando”, roughly “one’s appetite increases while eating”. It’s the same travelling, isn’t it? We always get so many great ideas for future trips while on our present one… and from storytelling by other avid travellers about their past trips.

    I obviously agree with you that this a fascinating corner of the world and I also grew up going on visits to “the old Yugolsavia” and have nice memories of having visited it as a kid (although it is my first time to Montenegro).

    Stu – your Uzbekistan photos are fantastic – another country way up on our wish list. Ellen – too funny that you are in Elmira. I had a very nice four years out in Ithaca and did my share of trips around central NY, including passing through Elmira. Small world!

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    Days 7 – 14 Perast
    Morača Monastery – Kotor- Lovćen – Cetinje – Risan – Morinj- Dobrota- Ljuta - Tivat- Budva – Sveti Stefan

    On the drive back on this famous Morača canyon road (to Podgorica), we enjoyed beautiful sunny weather, so a return to the Morača Monastery was called for. What a different experience with light and sunshine. We could really admire the beautiful frescoes in the main monastery and in the tiny Sveti Nikola, which had been plunged into darkness on our last visit. What charming gardens around the parish house. Truly perfect. And to add to the perfection (from my sons’ perspective) was the monastery fish pond. The little stream was filled with trout and you could use fishing poles to catch your lunch, which was cooked up and served to you on picnic-tables stream-side. This was clearly paradise to the 6 and 4-year olds we had in tow. Neither my husband nor I fish, but for some reason, both of my sons are fixated with fishing. They were SO excited to catch their trout and we had a pretty delicious lunch. Good that we did because soon after we got in the car, we discovered what happens when there is an accident on these narrow canyon roads. We were stuck there for 3 ½ hours as an accident with a truck had to be cleared. Unfortunately, with roads like these and people in a hurry, I imagine this happens often.

    The drive was fairly long, but the view coming down from Cetinje and the sighting of Budva (if you can block out all the hideous overconstruction occurring around it) from above was beautiful. Traffic wasn’t too bad in the Boka kotorska (Boka is from the Italian “bocca” – mouth. It is a type of fjord) and you drive just along the city of Kotor and see the impressive castle walls. We arrived in Perast at dusk and it was love at first sight. What a charming little town! We were staying at the Juliette apartment (http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/photodisplay.aspx?home_id=74972), which I had rented for a week. It was convenient for a family (double bed, two single beds, small equipped kitchen) and the view was really nice. We loved waking up to the sea every morning and the town was so pleasantly quiet at night (in comparison to the partying-all-night scene in nearby Kotor).

    Perast had been an important coastal down in the 17th and 18th centuries, when its brave seafarers fought with the Venetians against the Ottomans (for a time, the Ottoman Empire began just beyond Perast, in neighboring Risan and Morinj). The shipbuilding industry was also concentrated here. The beautiful stone buildings are laregely from this period and you really have the impression that time stands still in this little corner of the Boka. The rugged mountains around the town are dramatic and change significantly with the changing light of day – they seem to glow pink in the evening hours just before sunset and we never grew tired of gazing at this. The town museum is a bit disappointing, but is still worth it to see the samll collection and to go through the palace of one of Perast’s famous sea captain during the Venetian era. The church tower can be climbed and offers stunning panoramas from a perch high above Perast. There are frequent boats from Perast to one of the two islands just in front of the town (the second island, Sveti Ðorđe, is privately owned by an order of the Serbian Orthodox church): Our Lady of the Rock. This is lovely – both for the chance to see Perast from the water as well as the interesting history of this artificial island and the church itself. Guides work in the church and narrate its colorful history. A sailor was said to have been shipwrecked at this point and to have clung to a rock all night, vowing that, should he survive, he would build a church at this point. He did survive and work began on building an island (old ships were sunk at this point and rocks carried here and thrown down – this is still done every year in July at a local festival called Fašinada). The island is in the form of a ship and a church was built on it. The church was naturally the chosen place of worship for mothers and wives of sailors out at sea and the church is filled with silver votive plaques from those praying for the return of their loved ones at sea. My 6-year-old was really surprised to learn that young boys might go to sea at the age of 10 or 11, sometimes going off for as much as three years to sail to Asia. The church museum is small, but excellent and deserves a visit (1 euro admission, children free).

    We swam at least a part of each day at the tiny but cute Pirate Beach at the edge of town – just in front of the lovely islands. The tiny beach is of pebbles and you can rent umbrellas and seats for a small charge or just set up your towels on the small beach. Our 4-year-old really learned to swim here, after years of being terrifed in the sea, so this was a nice surprise for us. There were lots of Serbian and Russian children there on holidays with their families and our kids played with some of them. We had Montenegrin friends in the area, in Kotor, and we spent a lot of time with them over the week and also went swimming with them in Dobrota, Ljuta and on the Lustica peninsula – all beautiful. Always have your bathing suit and a towel handy when you are exploring, because there are always jetties and tempting points where you can stop and have a refreshing swim.

    We visited the nearby town of Risan to see the Roman mosaics. This was much touted in the guides we read, but we are quite spoiled living in Italy. It was interesting, particularly the tiny mosaic of Hypnos, the ancient Roman God of Sleep, but we could have easily skipped it. Not to be skipped is the restaurant in nearby Morinj: Catovica Mlini, an old mill converted into a restauarant. The setting was wonderful and peaceful and the extensive menu was excellent. I had toadfish in saffron sauce, which was superb and my husband and children had excellent seafood platters. It was a little more pricey than other restauarants, but we still found it reasonable. We loved Kotor and benefitted from our friends, who showed us all around and seem to have introduced us to everyone in town. Italian is not the most commonly spoken foreign language abroad, but my kids were thrilled to have so many people who spoke such good Italian in this region. They have learned to never bother with Italian outside of national borders, so this was a nice surprise. We would climb up the spectacular castle walls on our return here at the end of our trip – and this is something that must be done. It is a LONG way up, but well worth the effort. Although, speaking from experience, time it so that you are not coming down in the dark as we did. Far too dangerous!

    We took a day trip up to the National Park of Lovćen, situated in the rocky mountaintop of “Black Mountain”, from which the country got its name. The former King, poet and philosopher Petar II Petrovic-Njegos is buried here. The drive up is impressive and another one of those white-knuckle driving experiences. (Thanks again to my husband for braving a road I never could have tackled!) We went with one of our Montenegrin friends, who made sure we honked at all the curves. It is definitely a challenging drive, but so absolutely beautiful with its views over the Boka kotorska. It took us forever to drive to the top – both because it is not a road to take quickly and also because we were stopping at every point we could to get out of the car and look down at the spectacular view.

    The memorial at Lovćen is worth it – it is such a strange and rocky landscape and a panoramic point. The country itself is quite small – from that height you can see much of Montenegro. It also illustrates a story Montenegrins tell about their country, and which my children loved. They say that after God finished creating the earth and the sea, the plants and animals and Adam and Eve, he looked in his big bag and saw that he had lots of leftover rocks. Since he didn’t know what to do with them, he threw them down, thereby creating Montenegro. The imagery stayed with us the whole journey as we were travelling through all the “rocks” and it made us chuckle.

    We drove on to Cetinje, the former capital of Montenegro. It is a lovely city to wander around and to see the old embassies from Italy, Russia, France – all lovely buildings. There are several museums. We visited the “Billiard room”. Apparently, King Nikola wanted a pool table and had the first one in the Balkans at his palace in Cetinje. Not surprisingly, the horses and servants had quite an adventure getting it through the dangerous mountain passes ( having been terrified by those passes in modern cars, I can only imagine). There are also wonderful photographs of “old” Montenegro, military uniforms, weapons, providing a glimpse into the country’s bellicose past. A visitor 100 years ago was really entering into an exotic world. Other Montenegrin friends told us a popular – yet undocumented- story from Cetinje, a court painter was said to be painting a member of the royal family when he saw someone passing by the window. He apologized to his subject, but said he had to leave for a minute. He returned 10 minutes later and apologized profusely, saying “Sorry, I just had to go kill someone”. Undocumented, but definitely colorful. Our boys loved the Presidential guards outside of the President’s palace (he lives in Cetinje, not Podgorica) and were thrilled to be able to take their photo with them. All in all a lovely day trip.

    We took another daytrip to Budva – lovely old town, but ruined by all of the horrible overdevelopment around it - still the Old Town is worth it. The Citadel gives nice views over the town – and the island of Sveti Stefan and the beaches just in front of it (all stone – bring footwear) and the adjacent beach of Miločer (sand/pebbles).

    Our week in Perast flew by quickly. It is an idyllic spot – so much so that we decided to spend our last few free days at the end of our holiday there. It seems the perfect place to end our holidays and recharge before returning home for work and school. We said goodbye to our friends and packed up to travel to the Durmitor mountains, a national park in northern Montenegro, very close to the border of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

    Next up: Žabljak – Durmitor National Park – rafting on the Tara river

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    romana, I am loving your report! We were in Montenegro for a (much too short) daytrip from Dubrovnik in November 06. We really enjoyed it, and have always wanted to return for an extended visit. We arrived in Montenegro from high up in the mountains above Herceg Novi (we were coming into Montenegro from Bosnia) and the views of the coast were stunning as we made our way down. I particularly enjoyed reading about your visit to the interior, as it rarely gets a mention on this forum.

    Stu, thanks for sharing your photos of Bukhara! I would absolutely love to visit Uzbekistan one of these days.

    Romana, looking forward to reading more!

    Tracy

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    romana,

    Yes, it never ceases to amaze me what a small world we live in. Were your four years spent at Cornell or IC by any chance? The Finger Lakes are indeed a beautiful area.

    I also remember looking down on Budva and remarking about the construction. I've often referred to Montenegro as "Little Croatia". With its beautiful coast and (as you've so articulately described) its equally beautiful interior, it will one day be discovered by the masses.

    By the way, your boys sound adorable; what good travelers they are!

    Ellen

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    romana, I am thoroughly enjoying your trip report! Thank you so much for posting. I hope you can find a way to post your photos. (might try Shutterfly)

    It's kind of funny, but I found Fodors five years ago when I was researching a possible trip to Croatia! :) (My mother's grandparents were both born about 30 miles SW of Zagreb.)

    Anyway, loving your report. AND wishing I could figure out how this American can find and marry a good Italian man! :)hahah (I am returning in April to beloved Italy, only my second trip- but I hope one of many. [Actually wishing I could move there!] ). :-)

    Looking forward to your finale!

    Paula

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    Thanks (hvala!) to all for your comments – when you write about smaller countries, you always wonder if you are writing into a vacuum. It’s such a nice surprise to see such interest in this little country. Tracy – I do hope you will go back and explore the interior. There are such lovely national parks and (as Ellen points out), they have not yet been discovered by the masses – go now! Ellen – yes, Cornell, and I still miss the Finger Lakes in the autumn! Thanks for the nice compliment on our boys – luckily, they are quite good travellers and are still young enough not to grumble when we drag them all over (I am sure that will change in the teenage years, so we better enjoy it while it lasts). Paula – hope you managed to get to your great-grandparents’ Croatian birthplace. Hope your April trip leads to the Italian husband and the move to Italy - I highly recommend it. : ) Advice taken – will try to post photos as soon as I finish this report.

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    I do a lot of research before we travel (I was a travel agent in my previous life :) and one of the things I remember very clearly about planning our first trip to the Balkans was that I gradually discovered that you can't get from point A to point B, or can't get there easily. I'm used to good roads, accurate maps, train schedules, etc. It took a while, but I realized that this area doesn't have the infrastructure that the rest of Western Europe has. I think that's one of the many things that make it interesting also and somewhat of an adventure. We didn't drive at night because of the condition of the roads (Albania, especially in the north, being the worst). Maps are hit and miss. I learned to add hours to travel times. As romana points out, it's also a mountainous area. The mountains contribute to the beauty of the region, but not to getting from one place to another. That will gradually change, but in the meantime, much of it is a little-known paradise.

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    Days 15 – 20 Žabljak
    Ostrog Monastery- Durmitor National Park – rafting on the Tara river

    We (sadly) left Perast and the gorgeous Boka kotorska, first enjoying a coffee on Kotor’s main square with our friends before we piled into the car for another long drive. The odd thing about travelling in Montenegro’s interior is that, no matter where you are going, you will have to pass through Podgorica. So to travel northeast to Žabljak, we had to first head southeast to Podgorica and then head due north. This should eventually change with the current construction of the road from Boka kotorska to Nikšić (although things take a long time in the Balkans), but for the meantime, all roads lead to Podgorica.

    We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant recommended by a friend who works in Cetinje. It is on the road from Budva to Cetinje, on the left before your reach Cetinje. Sorry – forgot the name, but every time we have driven by there have been lots of cars parked out front, so you can’t miss it. They showed us how the meat is cooked in pots under the ashes. Never heard of this method – but it was certainly tasty! We had lamb, klobasa, steak, sweet peppers, šopska salad – all of it fantastic and at really reasonable prices. My sons ordred their first-ever banana split (conveniently in the original language) and thought it was the best thing ever.

    Driving north from Podgorica we had the (not so) brilliant idea to visit the dramatic Ostrog Monastery. My husband was interested in this trip more for historical than for spiritual reasons: the Ottomans gave up on it, not even bothering trying to conquer this outpost perched impossibly high up. The Partisans and Četniks had a fierce battle here, which actually turned into a bloody gunfight in the church itself. When I saw the monastery so impossibly small and high up in the distance, I understood exactly why it was so impossible to have laid siege upon. Unfortunately, I lost the argument that day and we were in for yet another Montenegrin driving adventure. Lesson learned: NEVER EVER attempt to drive to the Ostrog Monastery on Saturdays or Sundays during the summer months. You get the drill: impossibly narrow road miraculously supporting two-way traffic, no guardrails, lots of blind hairpin turns and precipitous drops far, far down – now picture all of this with a constant flow of tour buses (not vans – full size buses) coming down in the opposite direction. NOT fun, I can assure you. When a bus comes, you have to reverse downhill until you find a slightly wider ledge which allows the impossibly large bus to squeeze by you. Apparently, the tour buses come from far and wide during summer weekends – saw lots from Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia. After this terrifying experience all the way up and a pretty steep walk up from the parking lot, we arrived to see hundreds of pilgrims camped out in front of the monastery (blankets, sleeping bags, provisions) – you couldn’t even walk, let along reach the unbelievably long line waiting to enter the monastery. So we looked, snapped a photo on the way down to the car and tried to make the best of it. I was starting to wish we had been as smart as the Ottomans and decided to just give up on Ostrog. I am sure it is lovely – if you go Monday-Thursday, or out of season (although not in winter!) Pray to Saint Ostrog (technically Saint Basil of Ostrog) all the way up – I’d never even heard of him before, but he quickly became my patron saint. He must have been looking out for us, because we followed a tour bus down the mountain! We drove down securely on the tail of the huge bus as the other poor drivers had to reverse finding their perch to let the bus (and us) pass.

    Driving become woefully uneventful again (decent highway!) until we hit Šavnik, when the roads started twisting and turning once again – all of it ridiculously panoramic. Of course, after Ostrog, we were a bit cocky and thought we could handle anything. We got in late to Žabljak (my advice is to use this road only in daylight hours). We were lucky to be staying with Montenegrin friends in their beautiful home at a panoramic point above the Crno jezero (Black Lake). Otherwise, the lodging situation in hotels is rather dismal (unlike Kolašin, where there were lots of good options). However, there is a new small hotel in town which looks quite nice – the Ski Hotel. Were we to return, I would stay here. They seem to be building some new hotels, so there may be more options in the future. That night we had a feast of lamb, kaymak, Vranac wine and the ubiquitous rakija. Our wonderful hosts were also excellent cooks and we were quite spoiled over the next few days.

    The next morning we woke up early – to beautiful, sunny weather – and we were stunned to see the gorgeous views from the house. The picturesque mountains were rugged, the grass and trees a lush green. Spectacular. Our hosts took us on a short walk to the pretty Crno jezero and we followed the pleasant trail around the lake (actually, two lakes: the Veliko jezero and the Malo jezero) on a well-marked trail. You can swim here. Later in the afternoon, we walked into town. Žabljak is quite small, but there are many points for information and we gathered lots of information about the trails and also shopped around for rafting excursions. Prices are close, but we wound up looking around and finding a better price for the kids. We went with Dane rafting – on the main square/parking lot, but decided to go on our last day and devote the first few days to hiking. In the early evening, our kids loved sitting out and watching the cows come back from grazing and catching grasshoppers in a jar and then setting them free (the young entomologist in the family noticed that there are black grasshoppers in Durmitor; I never saw them in Italy, but the again, this interest in bugs has been forced upon me only recently).

    The next day we woke up early and took a short walk in the woods near the house. In the afternoon, we walked to “Snake Lake” – a pretty walk on well-marked trails through beautiful forests. A note to hikers – the trails are very well marked in the Durmitor Park. Our friends here told us this is through the efforts of a legend in town – a hiker who is now in his 80s and took it upon himself to mark all the paths in the area. There are trails for all levels. Our kids are pretty good hikers, but we steer away from the most difficult slopes. There were lots of options for easy/intermediate trails, as well as challenging mountain climbs. The park seems to be popular with tourists from Poland, Czech Republic and the Baltic states. There are also lots of Serbs and Russians. We came back in the later afternoon to stop at the home of neighbors. Our children had met and they invited us to their home that afternoon. We had a lovely afternoon and evening perched over the valley with a wonderful view of the mountains and speaking with the summer residents of Žabljak. Some were Serbs, others Montenegrins who work in Serbia. Many of their children spoke excellent English. We had a great time learning about the region and they were very curious to hear what we had seen in Montenegro and to hear our impressions. We also spoke a lot about the “new” language of Montenegrin, as separate from Serbian. Apparently, two new letters have been officially added to the alphabet to differentiate the new language (a third was rejected). Our experience with the Montenegrins is that they are incredibly hospitable. They joked with us that in Montenegro they stop to eat every two hours – don’t even think about turning down offers of food and drink. They teased that in our countries, women are used to being served first, but that “here in Montenegro, it’s always the man”. Even in restaurants, I always found it odd that my husband was consistently served first. “When in Rome”. My husband was more than pleased with this arrangement. It was a lovely evening – lots of kolać, a rustic fruit cake, Vranac wine and the ever-present rakija. We agreed upon plans for a hike all together tomorrow morning and to participate in the “Žabljak Open” badminton tournament the same evening.

    The next morning we set out to perfect weather. With adults and children, we were a group of about 20. My boys were happy to be spending time with their new friends. The children were very sweet to speak in English with my boys and to teach them some Montenegrin words, especially for the berries they picked along the way. I got such a kick of my boys yelling out “jagoda!” (strawberry) to alert the other kids when they discovered patches of them en route. We took a lovely trail leading to the Savin kuk, the ski slopes. It was 10 km return-trip trail and it was a really pleasant walk starting at Crno jezero and continuing through fields and forests. All the kids were thrilled with all the strawberries and raspberries along the way and we hiked and periodically stopped for berry picking and eating. It was beautiful and we arrived at the ski slopes sitting in the warm sun on the terrace of a restaurant slope-side. The kids had a type of pancake (thicker than the thin palačinky-crêpes) with chocolate and blueberries over it and the adults had priganice – a type of small fried dough, like fritters, served with either kaymak, fermented milk or honey. Absolutely delicious, especially when coupled with cold Nikšićko pivo (beer). This must be wonderful in the winter time, but it was also a lovely break on a sunny summer day. We heard lots of great stories about Žabljak in the winter time and how it was necessary to come with provisions, since you could be trapped in snowdrifts for days. They joked about how the roads are infrequently plowed and what an adventure it can be to even get to the ski slopes. It became quite late and we made our way back to work off all the calories we consumed with the delcious priganice. On the way back, we all stopped off at the home of one of the hikers, where we were offered coffee, rakija and more of the delicious kolać (we were starting to get a little too used to this 2-hour interval between eating and drinking rule) and chatted away the rest of the afternoon. That evening we all participated in the Žabljak Open. Our 6-year-old played badminton for the first time and he had such a great time.

    The next morning we drove into town for our appointment at 10 am to leave for our whitewater rafting excursion. We joined a French family in a van and they drove us to the point in the Tara River where we would set off. The drive was beautiful. When we arrived they gave us waterproof pants and shoes, lifejackets and helmets for the kids. They sat our boys in the middle of the raft and the adults on the edge with paddles. Dane, our guide, instructed us. It was my first time rafting, but since I used to do lots of canoeing, it didn’t seem unfamiliar and all those long-underused muscles remembered what to do. Just a note – the summer months are easiest with children because the water is lower and the rapids much slower. The spring/early summer must be much more exciting with the high water levels and fast rapids. We would love to come back in the spring sometime when the kids are older and do a two-day (overnight) trip to the Bosnian border. We did a two-hour trip and rafted for 15 km. It was beautiful – blue skies, sunshine, clear water. Absolutely stunning and we all loved it. Our 4-year old, who had been protesting that morning saying he was scared, was having the time of his life and laughing all the way. He can’t wait to go again. I highly recommend a rafting excursion – it’s so much fun. They drove us back to Žabljak, we had lunch in town and then drove through an area beyond the Savin kuk, where the eroded mountains are incredibly dramatic. It would have been beautiful to have hiked through here, but you can also get a pretty good view driving. Since our youngest had fallen asleep in his carseat after our rafting adventure, this option made sense for us. We came back in the evening and were immediately waved over by the neighbors to ask about our rafting and to offer homemade fruit juice (best I have ever had) and rakija. Later, we had a fantastic dinner with our hosts and then joined them and the neighbors for another round of badminton. We’ll be sorry to leave tomorrow morning – our stay in Žabljak has been so lovely and we met so many nice people who made our stay so much more special (always one of the nicest aspects of travelling). A truly beautiful area. I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful corner of Montenegro.

    Next up: Last installment – last days in the Boka kotorska.

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    Days 20 – 24 Perast (Boka kotorska) – Last days
    Rijeka Crnojevića- Kotor – Perčanj – Luštica – Mirišta- Rose –Šušanj

    Our hosts spoiled us even further with a send-off of palačinky (crêpes) for breakfast, with either Nutella or fresh blueberry jam filling. Delicious. The drive back to Perast took us first east to Mojkovac – quite good roads through a beautiful canyon and then south through the Morača canyon (a road we know quite well by now) to Podgorica. At our kids’request, we stopped yet again at the fish pond at the Morača Monastery to have lunch.
    As we neared Podgorica, we decided to take a short detour to see the small town of Rijeka Crnojevića. We hadn’t had time to visit it when we spent a day at Skadar Lake, but it is a cute little place definitely worth the trip. The road from the highway to the town was really stunning, with lovely views over the river and the Skadar Lake. We stopped whenever we could on the small road to see the views down below (great wild figs grew along the road, too). It is a very lush landscape. The Balkan music we had playing on our radio definitely added to the atmosphere. We had already eaten, but this is a popular place to go for lunch and dinner, especially when the weather is as beautiful as we enjoyed that day. The old bridge for the town is very picturesque and it made a nice stop on our long drive.
    The roads are all familiar to us now, but it was a long trip from Žabljak back to Perast. Nevertheless, we were happy to be back again. This time we were staying in the Hotel Conte (http://www.hotel-conte.com/EN/index.html ). This is a nice hotel on the first line of houses along the sea and just off of the town’s main square. We opted for the small apartments, which are quite convenient for families (separate bedroom, living room with a pull-out bed, kitchenette). The apartments were all newly refurbished. They are located behind the hotel, up flights of stairs of the old town. This was fine for us, but it might not be for everyone. We had a lovely view of the sea and the town from our little balcony just behind the church tower.
    The next day we had a big breakfast at the hotel (excellent and included in the), then we took it easy and spent the morning swimming at the Pirate Beach. What a difference a week makes. There were far fewer people at the end of August then when we had first been here mid-month. September must be fantastic. We saw the numbers dwindling daily during our last days in Perast. There was an afternoon shower, so we set out a bit later than intended to Kotor to climb the castle walls. This is a very impressive walk, with beautiful views down to the city of Kotor and the fjord. Definitely bring good walking shoes. I saw some women going up in flip-flops and don’t know how they did it. The steps are in various stages of repair, so it is better to have sturdy shoes. The mistake we made was to leave to late (the advantage is it’s cooler, the disadvantage is that you are heading down in the dark – definitely not a good idea with a 4-year old in tow). It is a bit dangerous for descending at night, with difficult stairs and crumbling walls. Our little boy did a great job, but he was so tired and I promised him his beloved “sladoled” (ice cream) if he went down the whole way (no way we could have carried him). All the way down, he kept repeating “sladoled – sladoled”.. a little like the Little Engine that Could. We met our friends from Kotor on the way down and the kids definitely got their sladoled reward after that demanding walk. The castle walls are really beautiful and dramatic illuminated at night.
    The next day was spent swimming in Perast and then we went in the afternoon to visit other friends in the town of Perčanj, just beyond Kotor. It is another lovely little town. This had more jetties and beautiful places to swim and it is so much fun to swim and admire the fjord and the mountains from different angles of the fjord. The kids had such a great time – our youngest is getting quite bold with his swimming – and they also enjoyed seeing the young men practicing water polo. This is a popular sport with the Montenegrins and you will see them practicing everywhere. My children had never seen the sport before and it is fun to watch. We were also served delicious palačinky seaside and our friend pointed out a hotel in town which looked nice and which they say is very reasonably priced. This would probably also be a nice lodging option – close to the Tivat airport and Kotor, yet very quiet and peaceful. We stayed in town later that evening to have dinner in one of the many konoba (taverns) in town. It’s so beautiful to watch the dramatic sunsets in the Boka.
    The next day was our last full day in Montenegro. Our friends from Kotor wanted to show us the Luštica peninsula – jutting out between the Boka and the open Adriatic Sea. As one often notices in Montenegro, in just a few kilometers the landscape and vegetation change dramatically in this tiny country. Driving through the small roads in Luštica, I really thought that we were in Puglia, Sicily or Malta. Lots of olive trees, rocky lanscapes, yet still quite lush. Lots of stone walls. Really very beautiful and quite different from other areas of Montenegro we had seen. We went to a fantastic pebble beach, Mirišta, with lush green mountains surrounding it. It is just opposite of the Mamula fortress (later a prison) and is a dramatic spot. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to think so as there is heavy development going on in this area (see it now, before it is a huge slab of concrete and villas). Our friends pointed out to us villas of the Mayor of Moscow and Boris Yeltsin’s daughter, among the many crowding the hill. We had a great time swimming and chatting and had lunch beach-side. We tried the local specialty – a soup of beans and pršut (prosciutto), which was filling but very good. The black risotto was also excellent, and it can be found all over the Boka kotorska. After a nice day swimming, we drove on to Rose, a pretty little fishing village (again threatened by encroaching construction) on the edge of the Boka, just across from Herceg Novi (already destroyed by over-construction). The town is small but very cute and we stopped here for a walk around and a coffee before heading back to Perast.
    Our last morning was the last day of August and we were the only people for breakfast in the hotel dining room. We were almost alone on the Perast beach and we spent a wonderful morning swimming, before heading in to pack up. We were sad to leave beautiful Perast and the Boka and to drive on to Bar for our return ferry. On the way, we stopped just opposite the turn-off for Cetinje at a little konoba our friends had recommended. Sorry I don’t remember the name. We had a very good, but heavy lunch of Njegoš Ćevapi – sausages deep-fried (okay, heart healthy fare, it was not, but it was very good) and fresh kaymak. We made good time to Bar and stopped off at the beach Šušanj, just outside the city to sit on the beach and enjoy the sea breeze before we left. We loaded our car into the ferry that evening and took the ferry back to Bari, Italy. Once again, we had a cabin and we all fell asleep, exhausted, to arrive early in the morning in Italy.
    All in all, it was a fantastic trip. This tiny country offers so much for visitors. The coast is clearly the most developed region and provides a better level of service (restaurants, hotels, road signs) and infrastructure. Still, the interior is fascinating and I think merits exploration, although it is crucial that you plan travel times realistically and that you are willing to be flexible. We saw all four national parks and I think they all merit a visit. Thanks to all who commented and added their Balkan experiences to this (long) trip report. I really appreciate it. I am hoping this might be useful for future Fodorites planning their Montenegrin adventure and would love to read their experiences. As you see all over the Montenegrin highways and as everyone greeted us when were were travelling Srećan put (“Bon voyage” - I believe literally “Heartfelt route/road” - a nice sentiment for all Fodorites).

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    romana,

    You've done a great service to the Balkans, and Montenegro in particular with your beautifully-written and detailed reports. I hope this encourages Fodorites to visit Montenegro and other Balkan countries - and to write about their experiences.

    We just found out that one of our Kosovar "children" is getting married in his hometown of Gjakova, Kosovo next summer and we plan to be there for his wedding. It's an honor to be invited and we're looking forward to it, and looking forward to being in the Balkans again. I will post a report about wherever we go when I return.

    Ellen

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    Romana,

    Your trip report is fantastic! I'm thinking of 7 to 8 days in Montenegro next June. If you could pick 2 to 3 of your favorite places, what would they be? We like to hike/walk and like smaller places. One beach area would be nice (:

    Also, I've read on some of the other threads that Montenegro has lots of trash. I was in Macedonia two years ago and found the same problem. I tried to not see it, but some times it was difficult. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks very much,
    LDonnay

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    Thanks, LDonnay.

    Did you post a trip report - Macedonia is high up on my list! I'll look out for it.

    For hiking and walking, I would choose Durmitor National Park first and Biogradsko Park second. Both are beautiful, but Durmitor is truly stunning and we would love to go back for more rafting on the Tara River (June should have pretty fast rapids).

    For seaside, I fell in love with Perast and the Kotor Bay. June should be lovely there with fewer tourists. It's just 12 km from Kotor and the castle walls in Kotor are something not to be missed.

    Yes, along the roadside you can find some garbage - alas, far too common in the Balkans - but I don't think it would lessen your enjoyment. It truly is a beautiful country and I would love to get back.

    Best of luck planning your trip!
    Romana

    Posted some photos at the following links:
    http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/blog/2010/05/27/montenegro-coast-montenegro-seaside-towns-perast/

    http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/blog/2010/01/21/the-monasteries-of-peje-pec-in-kosovo/

    http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/blog/2010/01/14/montehegro-wild-interior/

    http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/blog/2009/12/24/best-montehegro-coastline/

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    It's a pretty easy drive. The coastal roads are all pretty good as is the road leading from Podgorica to the coastal road. No, absolutely no border crossings. Podgorica to either Tivat or Kotor are all within the country. You may have already looked, but there are mant more flights going to Tivat in the summertime. Perhaps you could get a direct flight there.

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