Podgorica, Cetinje & Budva, Montenegro
To reach the Kosovo border we drove up a huge mountain, passed through the checkpoint, and continued on another 10 km before officially entering Montenegro. Within that 10 km section between immigration points were several houses – did people live in them, and if so, in which country did they live? We couldn't work it out. At the Montenegro border we had to not only buy car insurance (for the fourth time) but also pay a road tax. Sometimes I wonder if they make up these fees just for gullible tourists.
As we drove through Montenegro we noticed immediately how different the scenery was to Kosovo. Looming mountains covered in pine trees, with enormous boulders jutting up sporadically. It was stunning. Reaching Podgorica, the capital, required a large mountain ascent, and we managed to glimpse a little bit of a sunset through the trees on the climb. The mountain was so tall it took us three hours to go over it, averaging about 30 kph the whole way. Narrow roads made passing oncoming traffic difficult, and it involved some off-road work by both parties to be able to manoeuvre past each other. Luckily for us this didn't happen too often. There was longer route going around the base of the mountain; I wished we had taken that option.
We stopped halfway down the mountain for dinner, in a tiny car park by the side of the road. By this time it was pitch black, and Danny was too scared to go outside in case a bear attacked us. I have never had to worry about bears before, and I wasn't sure whether Danny was serious or not. The air in the mountains was much cooler than at ground level, and we almost (almost) became cold for the first time in months. We made it to the bottom safely, where the air was stifling again. The night was spent in a car park right in the centre of Podgorica, where we attempted to sleep through the hottest, most humid night so far.
There are absolutely no sights to see in Podgorica, so our trek around the city was a brief one. There was no traffic, no people, no cafes, no statues - it felt more like a deserted town than a capital. Even the centre square was devoid of the crowds we usually see. A half empty river running through the city was surrounded by parkland, and this was the most interesting thing we came across. There was nothing touristy about the place at all. We left quickly.
From Podgorica we drove to Cetinje, requiring another mountain climb. Disappointingly the scenery has changed back to rocky mountains, the pine trees giving way to a barren landscape. Cetinje was the old capital of Montenegro and it was even smaller than Podgorica, but at least there were a few tourist attractions here. We wandered past a couple of tiny churches, a monastery that looked better from the outside than the inside, an ugly, pale green palace, and a handful of other grand buildings. The main street contained numerous brightly painted houses, cafes and shops, including a souvenir store with an entertaining blacksmith out the front. He was banging his tools in time to American classic hits that were blaring through the shop's speakers. It was quite amusing.
On the way out of town we stopped at an auto repair store with tyres on display, and asked about fitting our van with new front tyres (you don't want to know how bald ours were - even the mechanics were in disbelief). They asked if we wanted summer or winter tyres. Um, what? I didn't know such things existed. We said summer tyres partly because it was currently summer, but most because they sounded cheaper. Within an hour and a half the tyres had been delivered and installed and we were back on the road again (in a much more roadworthy manner).
Budva is a rich, touristy, beachside town that was extremely crowded. It felt like everyone in the country was in this one spot, and possibly explained the lack of people in Podgorica. We avoided the extravagant resorts and instead stopped at a caravan park right in the middle of town. I was not too happy to find squat toilets again, plus cold water showers with a cord that you had to pull and hold while showering so the chilly water would come out. The park owners lived in a mansion inside the caravan park grounds, but they apparently couldn't afford a clean, modern amenities building. I'm looking forward to returning to Central Europe.
We left the uninviting caravan park as soon as we arrived and walked down to the pebbly beach. Every inch seemed to be overrun by people enjoying the sunshine, so we dumped our bags behind someone else's deck chair and entered the cool sea. It quickly became deep and within 10 metres we were fully submerged. Our primary aim was to cool down for a few minutes, and once that was achieved we scrambled out, picked up our belongings and continued our walk along the beach.
From the shore we could see parachutes gliding through the air, and I spotted a sign offering parasailing tours. Having never attempted it before I knew I couldn't pass up this opportunity. Danny was too scared to give it a go, so he stayed on the pier while I eagerly jumped into the motorboat. Two other couples went up before me, which allowed me to observe how it all worked and helped to keep my nerves at bay. When it was finally my turn I was strapped into the parachute, led through the countdown and released off the back of the boat. I was expecting an adrenaline rush (and that was the reason I wanted to do it), but it was as peaceful as hot air ballooning. It hardly felt like I was moving at all, just floating gently way above the water's surface. The only sound I could hear was the boat's engine down below, but otherwise the world around me was perfectly calm and serene. The water was so clear I could see straight down to the bottom, and even make out individual rocks and plants. I had a view over the entire beach plus the old town, which looked spectacular from the air. Along the coast were smaller coves containing more beaches, each one also full of people, but they looked more sandy and idyllic than the beach we were on. My flight only lasted 10 minutes but it was absolutely fantastic.
After my adventure we strolled through the souvenir stands on the beach promenade before heading back to the van. Danny whipped up pasta for dinner, which we ate while sipping on local red and white wines. Both were average, and neither of us were in any hurry to go back for more. We sat outside most of the night, hoping our van would cool down enough to be able to sleep comfortably (it didn't). One more week of summer to go.