Monday, 23 June 2014

Montenegro!

We made it across the border! Easy peasy! No questions asked.. Canada pulls through once again .;) 

Like I mentioned before, Ashton doesn't have an international drivers liscnce and he was slighty nervous that the border control would need to see this document before letting us drive around their country. The vehicle ahead of us took forever and had to pass over a lot of paper work. Finally the border controller got out of his booth and talked to the driver for a bit, then asked them to pull the vehicle over to the side. .. (We were pretty nervous at this point)..  But the border guy looked at our passports and didn't even ask to see a liscence. He then told us a story about Canada. Smiled and waved us through.! Phew.. (Obviously our nerves would give us away if we ever became smugglers! Lol.. We were stressing when we didn't do anything wrong..)

Montenegro!  "Monte" meaning 'mountain' and "negro" meaning 'black. (Not sure where the black comes from, as Montenegro is the greenest country I've ever seen. ) lol.. As you'll see in our photos, montenegro is full of mountains, rocks, green and lakes.
 
 We spent five days driving up, over, around ..and through mountains..(yep, the most tunnels we have ever driven through)..
 We travelled west to east and south to north putting on many many kilometres. Unfortunately the grey sky and rain set in for the majority of our time in Montenegro, but we stayed dry in the comfort of 'nelly'. (Our four wheels.)
      however, We lucked out and found comfortable apartments to stay in. We even got upgraded to a huge apartment with a loft, full kitchen and laundry machine For the same price same a small room!,!
    (The latter part of our travels we have been finding places with a kitchenette to be able to make our own meals and drink our own coffee and bevies)..6 months of eating every meal out can get old...so this way we can cook whatever we want..and drink as much as we want :)

Anyways some fun facts about Montenegro...
Montenegro became an independent country in 2006,
Up until the 20th century, it was part of the Yugoslavia union.
  Civil war between monte, croatia and Bosnia occurred in early 1990s,
There is a wealth of history dating back to 1000BC up until 2006
It is a tiny country located south west of Croatia,on the Adriatic Sea coast.
 The currency is in Euros
Population 625,000 according to the 2011 census
72% of the population practices orthodox Christianity.

Anyhoodles... Our first day we drove around the Bay of Kotor. It was a scenic drive with mountains surrounding the bay. We stopped for lunch and a swim in the middle of the bay at Perast.


    Man made islands just out from shore each had a monetary on them. One island/monastery is called Lady of the Rock.
According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by the seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea.Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the island gradually emerged from the sea. The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place.

We stayed in Kotor and spent time exploring the old city, as well as walked up to the monastery way up on the hill.
A 45 minute walk uphill was tiring, but the views were spectacular.  



 We were sad to see that Kotor had an ugly side, lots of graffiti, garbage, overgrown and dilapidated buildings. A few buildings looked in serious need of repair, from broken and jagged blinds to discoloured siding to broken cement, it was a depressing site. We came across a Huge abandoned, beat up, vandalized hotel along the coast. Who knows what was living in it, but it seemed to be in a prime location, overlooking the water.
 It was quite a sight, but after googling it, we found out some Irish guy had built it then went bankrupt and after 10 years of function, it was soon abandoned. Then another Irish guy bought it and was supposed to fix it up. However, he is really taking his sweet time, and it is now a sore topic among the locals. After learning this, we didn't let it taint our image of the village. Infact, the broken and ill looking buildings added a sort of character and wonder.

Next day we drove sea-sawed up the largest mountain (mt. Lovcen) overlooking the bay. It was a great drive. Good thing we stopped at each turn to take a photo, because time we reached the top, the clouds rolled in and it poured.

   So we continued onto the cultural town of Cetinje. Once the capital of Montengro, this town is now an overgrown colourful village with lots of history. Museums and significant buildings lined the colourful city centre.

 Since we aren't really museum types, we parked ourselves in a cozy, local restaurant for a rainy day lunch. I had heard about the delicious staple meal of the country, so gave it a go. 'Njeguski'..split pork stuffed with smoke dried ham and cheese. Yum! (Montenegrins like their meat)

We ended up back at the coast for the night. Budva was a coastal town that we had been warned about. Ritzy hotels and restaurants lined the promenade and locals were out to sell sell sell. Budva had been taken over by Russian tourists. After walking around the lit up promenade we grabbed some food at the market and retreated back to our new apartment.

As much as I curse the bad weather, it usually is a good thing, because it keeps us moving and seeing new places. Had the sun and hot temperature been out, we would have soaked up the rays on the beach and not gone for a scenic drive.

 Lake Skadar is the largest lake in the country. It was a windy road along the edge of the mountain that had my adrenaline pumping.
 But otherwise, a nice drive through the country side.
En route we stopped to admire the beautiful Sveti Stefan. A picturesque settlement that juts out from the coast. It is a tiny island, connected by a narrow road. The public does not have access to the Island, and it's rumoured that celebrities rent out the whole Island for a relaxing stay.
  Sidebar: in the evening after a full day of sightseeing and driving, we have a guilty pleasure of indulging into episodes of orange is the new black and modern family. Ashton has been able to download seasons onto his phone!...hey everybody needs some down time :)

The next day we drove up yet another mountain to the most important site in. Montenegro for orthodox Christians. In the side of a cliff 900m above sea level is the gleaming Ostrog Monastery.
The monastery was constructed in 1665 and remains a miracle because no one understands how it was built.  We admired the shrine, or more so admired the fact that it was built into the side of a mountain so high up. It really does look like it grew out of the rock.
  We filled up our water bottle with the holy water, and ever since have felt very blessed ;)

From there we drove to Durmitor National park where we stayed two nights on a farm near the ski hill. In the winter, this area is bustling with ski bunnies, as the nearby mountain has nice runs and chairlifts. In the summer, it is busy with hikers, bikers, and rafters.

We arrived in the afternoon with no reserved room. When we showed up, some big toothy man welcomed us and invited us in the on site restaurant (room) for tea. A lady, his son and a few other guests were eating and socializing in the restaurant where we did our paperwork. (Exchange of money and passport information for our stay). His English was very limited and we basically just looked around and wondered where we were. This place was so hillbilly-ish compared to everywhere else. .a hilly area with scattered homes. He poured us a homemade liqueur and we sipped it while listening to everyone around us talk different languages. The four others who were devouring their plate of fish smiled at us and gave up thumbs up for being Canadian. Then one of them got up and put on a cd of his music. They chomped at their food while listening to this blaring music. Meanwhile the big toothy guy was on his phone, talking to others, and sipping his shot with one of his workers and showing us a map of the area.

I know that story makes no sense, I have no better way to describe the scenario. It was just all so foreign to us, but we were pleased for the warm welcome and friendly smiles, we just laughed along, having no idea what anyone was saying.
 The national park is famed for its world class canyons. The Tara Canyon is the second deepest in the world, following close behind the grande canyon, at 1300m!! We enjoyed the view from the Tara Bridge,



  as well as drove to the middle of nowhere to peak over the edge.
When I say middle of nowhere, I mean we drove through the empty roads, dirt road and fields to where our gps said to park. The lack of signs was frustrating and there was no one around to ask. We were supposed to park and randomly hike for 20 minutes to a view area of the canyon. Seeing how it was raining and we were now driving through mud, we decided to abort mission.

 Finally we nixed gps and figured out the paper map we were given. We found a nice paved road to the easily marked out view point. A 5minute hike and we were at the top, overlooking the canyon. Since the rain continued, the view kinda sucked and we promised ourselves to wake up early the next day and come check it out.

Instead we walked around the Black Lake which was stunning and very quiet.



  The clouds cleared and we were able to walk around the lake in the sunlight. Very relaxing and each view was nicer than the next.

The next morning, was sunny! Finally!.. We excitedly drove to the same view point and after climbing up the trail, we came across a new view of the canyon. A big blanket of clouds covered the river and villages below. Not ideal, but very beautiful in its own way. The clouds were so fluffy!


  In 5 days we saw the jagged coast line and unique bay, as well as drove many steep, I mean, scenic roads.. And found ourselves loving the national park. It reminded us of Northern Saskatchewan, mixed with Lake Louise and the Rockies, mixed with a bit of Australia. .. In all very beautiful.. Very green, rocky, mountainous, hilly, lakey, and unique.




 Thanks for being so patient with our blogs. Now that we are on the homestretch of our travels we are trying to cram as much in as we can.

Make sure to check back for our adventures in Croatia!

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