Kotor, Ostrog Monastery & Durmitor N.P., Montenegro
From Budva we drove along the coast to Kotor, another busy tourist destination. But instead of hitting the beach, we spent our time checking out the fascinating, labyrinthine old town. Set inside city walls at the base of a towering hill, it was full of narrow laneways, stone houses, churches, souvenir stores and far too many tour groups. The area was entirely pedestrianised (which I love) and didn't look like it had been updated since the 19th century. It was a great place to explore without a map. At the top of the mountain was a castle, and in 36ºC weather we decided to climb the 1350 uneven steps up to the entrance. It took 40 minutes and by the end you wouldn't have seen two sweatier people. We were exhausted, but we felt an immense joy when saw a woman sitting at the top selling cold drinks (even if they were marked up 400%). The castle was fairly lame, but the views from the top were worth the effort, gazing out over the town and into the blue bay of Kotor. Once we reached the bottom again we headed straight to the water to cool off.
To exit Kotor we drove up a huge mountain (not surprising, as the whole country appeared to be one continuous mountain), passing a lot of smoke along the way. We couldn't see any flames, but we were worried that we would be asked to turn around up ahead. The trip was painfully slow, mostly because of the twisting nature of the road - in one two kilometre section there were 16 hairpin turns. There is even a postcard showing this section of road from above. On the upside we were able to appreciate the autumn colours that were starting to show themselves, with red and yellow tinged leaves breaking up the green monotony.
It was during this drive that we learnt our campervan is the best campervan in the entire world. In all these mountains there were hardly any towns, and even fewer service stations. I guess we didn't plan our petrol needs too well, as during the journey our petrol light came on. We had no idea how far we could travel before we were completely empty, so we desperately searched for any indication of a service station. There was no sign of civilisation, let alone a store selling petrol. After 50 km of this light glaring at us, we pulled over at a random shack in the middle of nowhere and asked where the nearest station was. Another 25 km was the reply. We had no choice but to try to make it, thinking we would drive as close as possible then walk the rest of the way and buy a jerrycan. Well, there was no need for that – our car can go 75 km with the petrol light on. It was an extremely tense drive, and the relief we felt when we pulled into that service station was palpable. Danny even bought a beer to celebrate.
So with our tank filled to the brim, we drove on to Ostrog Monastery, a Serbian Orthodox Church. It was built into the side of cliff face, and all we could see of it was the front facade – the rest was hidden inside the mountain. There were numerous pilgrims camping out the front and plenty more in line to see the chapel. We joined this line, where it slowly dawned on us that we were the only non-Orthodox people here. Everyone else was kissing every threshold they walked through and crossing themselves every five minutes. Once inside the tiny chapel we discovered that each person had to go through some ritual with a minister holding a cross, and donate money or food. This was when we freaked out a bit, positive that we would be chastised for not being of the proper religion or for being stingy with our lack of offerings. Our response was to casually cut into the exit line and hope that no one noticed, especially the minister. There was no reprimands, no questions - everyone politely ignored our ignorance and we escaped without totally embarrassing ourselves.
Outside there was a decent view of the countryside, although the smoke left a haze over the mountainous scenery. On the path out of Ostrog a few stalls were set up, where we bought “monastery” red wine, local pine honey and some sort of nut liqueur that tasted phenomenal. Maybe we subconsciously purchased all of this to make up for not leaving a donation inside the chapel.
The drive to our next destination, Durmitor National Park, involved guess what? Another mountain. Going over this one we noticed the temperature dropped considerably and the wind was biting – I actually had goosebumps on my arms. As much as I complain about the heat, I realised that maybe I wasn't quite ready for summer to be over. We found a car park in the main town, Žabljak, where for the first night in a long time we had the blanket over us falling asleep.
The reason we travelled to Durmitor National Park was to visit Tara River Canyon, and the next morning we followed the road signs leading us there. We had hoped there would be a walk or some sort of attraction nearby that would showcase the park's natural beauty. The gorge is famous for being Europe's deepest (over one kilometre in parts), and the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon. When we finally arrived we found a road bridge leading over the canyon, and that was about it. A thin trickle of blue water carved its way through the valley well below us, while rugged green peaks stretched out all around. There were a couple of rafting companies nearby, but as the river seemed half empty I couldn't imagine it would be particularly exciting. We didn't see any other signs offering other treks or tours in the area. On the whole, it was disappointing.
Roadside stalls were set up by the bridge, forcing us to go shopping again. This time we splurged on a blueberry wine and a blackberry and honey wine (they contained only 4% alcohol and tasted like cordial), plus honey with fruit and nuts in it. At this rate we will be eating honey every day for the next year.