Balkans / Europe / Montenegro

Montenegro. Witchcraft made in Balkans.

Balkans are full of diverse stories and tales and I had the honor to experience on of the most famous urban legend firsthand last summer in Montenegro. Until today, I’m not quite sure what exactly has happened on that hot, muggy day, but one thing seems certain to me – if the Grimm brothers were still alive, they would either freak out or get inspired to write another excellent story.

I always try to write about my adventures chronologically but not this time. It’s gonna be a little chaotic but this is how I remember Montenegro – some memories already faded away but the core story, the freaking crazy story, is as colourful as it was a year ago.  I have no other option that letting it speak for itself. Otherwise it may eat me alive!

Kotor Witch Project.

It was a hot, sunny summer morning, somewhere in Montenegro and you can’t imagine a better scenery for all the crazy crap that happened to us on that day. It’s just a joke of faith I guess. Kotor is simply marvellous. It’s a cliché but… it really is so beautiful, it hurts my eyes.

Romantic, cobbled streets, red rooftops and a hill offering breath-taking views of the bay. A town of kings and queens, traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell. A fairy tale place. Every story has its villain, mine couldn’t be different.  Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to be introduced to one of the most famous supernatural beings from Slavic folklore – Baba Yaga. A Yugoslavian witch itself.

Our amazing journey around Balkans continuous, with time we gain confidence the world is our oyster so we decide to go with the flow and find a place to sleep the same way all the hipsters travelling in Eastern Europe usually do – by asking old ladies occupying benches around bus station in Kotor. As soon as we hop out of our bus we are attacked by two of them. The bigger one seems to be more determined and quite aggressively (why I haven’t noticed it before?) pushes forward with her offer. I’ve no idea where did she get those sales skills from but she somehow convinces us to go with her – the price we negotiated seems to be a real bargain.

Like two innocent sheep we follow that Yugoslavian old lady to her place. With every step we take we are moving away from the town center towards post communist blocks of flats in the outskirts of Kotor. I regret being so stingy. Moreover the lady looks a bit scary to me now. After closing the deal, she doesn’t seem to be interested in any kind of cultural exchange, not to mention deep conversations about life and all that jazz.

Our room is clean and it has 4 beds – if there were any other people there it would probably feel like a refugee camp (not funny, I know) but it doesn’t matter. We won’t stay long. We get the keys and our hostess disappears. Later on we find out that there is one more tenant in the flat – cheap price is definitely a decoy. Before heading to the Old Town we want to eat something so we take our food and sit in the living room with sandwiches and beer when suddenly the door opens and here she is again! No longer an old, sweet lady (was she ever?) now it’s damn Cruella de Vil itself (minus expensive coat ;)). A native montenegrin WITCH – Baba Yaga. Small pause, dear reader, as of now everything will be happening in slow motion.

Baba Yaga is a star of this show, she strides to the middle of the room shouting and waving her hands. Polish is a Slavic language so I can understand a bit, mainly the part when she is screaming – NO GOD! THEY KNOW NO GOD! No, it’s not about her being fanatically religious. She evidently cannot understand why we were so cheeky to leave our room and sit in HER living room.

The situation becomes really hilarious when we pause once again and focus on Mario. Baba Yaga is circling around the room like mad, screaming, swearing, God knows what else and poor Spanish guy doesn’t understand a word but he sits there so calm, yet frightened! I can’t help giggling when I think about it. It’s just brilliant – the clash of cheerful Spanish culture with madness made in Balkans. It turns out that if we want to use the living room or the kitchen we have to pay 5 EUR (each!). What an absurd, but dura lex sed lex (the law is harsh but it is the law) so we have to move our “party” to our room. Even though we didn’t have more problems with our illegal landlady from Balkan folk tale – beware of all “real deals” when travelling! All that glitters is no gold!

The following day we run away from the enchanted apartment of Baba Yaga and with no Internet access (what a tragedy!), wandering around from one hostel to another, we look for a place to stay. It’s challenging as Montenegro seems to be more and more popular destination each year. We manage to get a room in one of the hostels located within the Walls of the Old Town. Tired as hell but this time there’s no excuse – we are in the heart of Kotor – we have to take the best of it. Enjoying busy town in summer is not as simple as you would think.

Every day Kotor is literally flooded by masses of tourist, noisy invaders coming from the sea. Huge cruise ships aren’t my thing. Overwhelmed, instead of trying to squeeze through the crowd, we walk out on every tourist responsibility to see all the churches and palaces and we head to the beach. We rent a canoe and paddle around Kotor Bay. It’s a lovely day so we picnic on the shore and when it gets too hot we just jump into the blue water of the beautiful fjord. Afternoon brings no rest as we climb the hill to capture the last rays of the Sun. I’m done. Bewitched by the view.

Speechless, so no more talking – you have to see it:

Beach in Kotor – it’s the place to be when the Old Town gets to busy!
Montenegro – the best way to enjoy the beautiful bay is to rent a canoe – it costs peanuts!
Kotor is the prettiest and best-preserved town in Montenegro. Despite of wars and earthquakes you can still admire original city bulwarks from Venetian period, surrounding the town. They are about 5 km long and there are 3 gates to enter the Old Town.
If you plan to visit Kotor in summer make sure you book in advance and you can even spend a night in a former XVIII – century palace once owned by a local noble family Bisanti – how amazing is that? Look for Old Town Hostel!
From 1979 Kotor is a part of World Heritage Site – it stands out by the great number of palaces, churches and stylishly made gates – one of which you can admire above.  
You can literally breath years of amazing history walking around the Old Town – Kotor is definitely one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever visited and fully deserves the nickname of “Pearl of the Adriatic”. 
The biggest church in the town – Cathedral of Saint Tryphon from 13-th century, dedicated to the protector of the town – Sveti Tripun, is nowadays a symbol of Kotor (along with ubiquitous homeless cats).
Enchanting evenings in Kotor.
Sturdy walls are barely discernible from the mountain’s grey hide, but at night they’re spectacularly lit, reflecting in the water to give the town a golden halo.
Strolling up the hill can be tiring but great views compensate every drop of sweat on your back!
Climbing st John mountain to Saint Ivan fortress (which forms a part of historical fortification system of the town) you will have to face the challenge of more than a thousand stairs.
Kotor is one of these dramatically beautiful places – wedged between brooding mountains and a moody corner of the bay… the view from the top of the hill is just spectacular!

Herceg Novi.

Speaking about timeline – Herceg Novi was in fact our first stop in Montenegro. Days ago, in Macedonia, I booked a room for us in a nice and cozy bed&breakfast minutes from the bus stop and the seaside. Our room has a beautiful sea view and it’s very romantic. The day was hot so the only reasonable option was to spend it on the beach.

It always takes me ages to get into the water and my other half laughs at me all the time. When he already managed to bath couple of times I’m still soaking my feet. He who laughs last, laughs best. So on the next bodacious jump Mario lands on a sea urchin and now I have a limping boyfriend. Auch! Please, do remember about plastic sandals when swimming in Adriatic sea.

Mario doesn’t give up and in the afternoon when the Sun is about to set, we go for a walk around small yet very picturesque Old Town in Herceg Novi. Below some pictures from our formidable stroll:

Old Town in Herceg Novi.
Herceg Novi – although it isn’t the most exciting city in Montenegro it’s  a good alternative to very touristy Kotor…
…and you can find here so many enchanting nooks!
Church of Sveti Arhandjel Mihajlo – the biggest temple in Herceg Novi.
Jaka Kula fortress inside the bulwarks of the Old town.
What I really loved about Herceg Novi was numerous kinds of tropical flowers and plants. // Behind my back –  the belfry of st. Jeronimo’s monastery.
Dining al freco one the balcony overlooking the sea – this is the real life!

Podgorica – Europe’s ugliest capital.

Instead of heading to Budva – probably one the most iconic places in Montenegro (although I do think that once you’ve seen Kotor, nothing else matters) we decide to leave the country and head to Serbia by plane. Our itinerary requires travelling to Podgorica – the capital of Montenegro. Great, we can spend there some time and then, go to the airport. The problem is that, no matter how hard you try, believe me, you can’t say that Podgorica is a nice place… Sadly, if I had to vote for the Europe’s ugliest capital – it would be my number one. Exasperated, we vegetate for good couple of hours at the airport waiting for our plane. So just a small advice from one traveler to another – planning your backpacking trip around Balkans make sure you don’t make the same mistake – been there, done that, now I would go for a train trip from Montenegro to Serbia. It’s long, it’s probably tiring but apparently it’s also one of the coolest train journeys you can make in Europe. Who needs more encouragement? It doesn’t matter how you get there, if you finally get there – so see you all in Belgrade – next stop Serbia!