Tiny Montenegro

I admit that before getting to Montenegro, I had been thinking of it only as a stop on the way to Croatia. I didn’t know enough about it to have any must-sees, even.

No special stamp for bicycle entry? Lame!

No special stamp for bicycle entry? Lame!

Despite my blasé attitude, Montenegro immediately impressed me. It had nicer roads, less garbage, and better facilities than Albania. I felt like we’d come back to civilization.

Within a half an hour of arriving, we found another young couple bicycle touring in the other direction. Sometimes we nod to other bikers, sometimes we have a brief conversation, but this time we chatted for a bit longer, swapping information. They even gave us a plan for Montenegro: bike the entire way around the Bay of Kotor (instead of taking a ferry and skipping most of it). They said it was worth it.

That was for the next day, though. Our goal for the night was a town called Budva. It’s a beautiful town of about 10,000 that expands exponentially during high tourist season. We were there before the major crowds hit, though.

We stayed at a lovely AirBnB that just happened to be perched atop a gazillion stairs. Our host’s enthusiastic help and amusing banter more than made up for the extra effort, though. He was baffled by our bicycle tour and commented that “We are not so interested in sports here.” Who needs sports when merely bringing groceries to your kitchen is more exercise than most Americans get in a month, though?

Our view in Budva

Our view in Budva

The next day we headed for the Bay of Kotor. It is a large bay shaped kind of like a snow angel. The edges of the bay are flanked with steep mountains. It is extremely beautiful. Many describe the bay as fjord-like, though it obviously doesn’t qualify geographically.

To get there, we had to go through a 1.6km tunnel, which was a little terrifying. Mike was traumatized. To avoid biking in crazy traffic, we biked instead along a sidewalk on the edge that was about 2 feet, though Mike says, “You’re being generous, it’s only about 6 inches.” (I’m not sure if he knew what I was asking about.) The traffic in the tunnel created a deafening roar like a 747. Since it was a long tunnel, it also had enormous exhaust fans, which added to the cacophony and threatened to blow me into a semi. Of course, the fans did little to reduce the noxious fumes which coated my throat and the inside of my lungs. Every so often, the sidewalk was broken, leaving jagged bumps and drop offs to traverse. A few uncovered hatches led into an abyss below from which the smell of rotting garbage emanated. There were also caverns off to the side occasionally, and Mike imagined some sort of catacombs full of dead bodies (or maybe undead ones). I’m pretty sure I heard the squeaks and fluttering wings of bats. At one point, he fell off the sidewalk, which had a good 8-inch curb, and into the road. The blaring honk of an SUV echoed through the cavernous space. Thankfully, I didn’t witness this since it was my biggest fear in the tunnel. I was far behind precisely because I was trying not to fall off the curb. Of course, this meant instead that I scraped my arm along the inner wall, and it came away tar black because of all the exhaust and dirt coating the concrete. The narrow, crumbling sidewalks meant that our progress was far slower than the 1.6 km warranted, so when we emerged into a beautiful sunny paradise on the other side an hour later (j/k!) we were a bit dazed. Kotor sat before us.

Kotor is a town with fortified city walls on the angel’s left wing (if you are lying face-up in the snow, that is). It was fun to walk around its narrow stone-paved streets and marvel at the cliffs high above. The tourist-town prices were a bit shocking after our off-the-beaten track route through Albania, but we survived.

Luckily, the ride around the bay after Kotor involved only minor climbs, as it followed the contours of the shore. Like the fjords in Iceland, however, we could see our ultimate destination ages before we reached it.

On the angel’s right wing we stopped in a town for a snack. Instead of the usual gelato, we opted for something new. The server at our cafe offered us the town special: Perast cake, made with almonds. Mike misheard and was all like, “Paris cake? Why is it called Paris cake? Why would I want Paris cake in Montenegro?” I had to explain that we were in a town called Perast. The server said it was okay, “nobody knows where they are when they come here.”

The cake was very good, by the way.

That night we camped on the angel’s right leg. Our neighbors at the campsite were a hitchhiking German couple. We decided to race them to Dubrovnik, Croatia the next day. Seeing as how there were some fairly serious steep climbs, I think they probably won even though we started biking while they were still swimming in the bay.

Yeah, I don't know either...

Yeah, I don’t know either…

Montenegro was a surprising delight. We didn’t really venture inland, but its coast on the Adriatic is stunning. Just don’t go biking through tunnels.

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