Monday, October 5, 2015

If It's Good Enough for Beyonce

Driving through Montenegro was nothing short of beautiful. Twisty turny roads along a stunning coastline with blue blue waters made for amazing views. The only downside was some abrupt stops on roads that weren’t wide enough for our big tour bus and another vehicle—people and objects flew from seats a few times!

We had a photo stop with a view of St. Stephen’s Island, home to a gorgeous hotel complex for the mega-rich. Supposedly Beyonce and Jay-Z have stayed there, and they named their baby daughter for a blue flower in Montenegro. This prompted us to crank the Beyonce tunes for the remainder of the drive.  And by the way, that’s MontenEGGro, not MontenEEgro as I was incorrectly saying.
Stunning Montenegran coastline and St. Stephen's Island
The Balkan Trek Busabout Crew!
We rolled into Budva, Montengro’s number one beach destination. I wasted no time in grabbing a Montenegran beer to try while some people opted for spiking their slushies with the little bottles of vodka that were available everywhere. We had a great wander along the famous beach and then explored the walled old town. It was charming with little streets, high walls, and interesting shops.
I wasted no time in sampling a local beer on the beach!
Walking along the beach and marina in Budva
Walled old town in Budva
We opted for lunch on the beach as a few people wanted seafood. I ordered a chicken Caesar salad which turned out to be a nightmare. The first time it came, the chicken was either uncooked or had those yucky broken blood vessels in it. I sent it back and just said not to worry about it as my appetite was gone at this point. I decided to focus on my carafe of local red wine which was lovely. Well, I give them an A for effort at this restaurant as they brought me another salad. This time they’d added some balsamic vinegar to the lettuce (like WTF?) and another batch of chicken. Still undercooked and yucky. A nice calico cat benefited though and she really seemed to enjoy the chicken! Gelato on the beach was enough sustenance to keep me going for our next stop—the magical town of Kotor, Montenegro, located on the Bay of Kotor.
 Some of the group decided to climb up the town walls for beautiful views, but I opted to explore the walled old town and update my blog. I had a wonderful couple of hours roaming around the beautiful old city, discovering interesting shops, bars, restaurants, and churches down narrow little alleys. A glass of local wine gave me time to upload one post, but the pokey internet stopped me from getting my second one done.
The old walled city of Kotor was magical!
There are cute cats everywhere and they look well-fed and happy
 Our next stop was our hostel in a nearby village. We were booked in at Montenegro’s oldest hostel, which truly made me feel like I was staying at REAL hostel. It had three levels with a rooftop and dorm-style bunk bed rooms. All of us agreed that it felt like we were at summer camp. We all gathered on the rooftop where Ivan, the hostel owner, welcomed us with shots of raki (an extremely potent local spirit that his friend makes). After supper, we decided it was time to get this party started, and the three Canadians bullied a few of our fellow travellers into playing Sociables (my favourite drinking/card game). We passed a fun few hours and learned lots about each other, sampling some Macedonian and Montenegran red wines. It was great—we could bring our own drinks into the hostel or purchase them from the bar on an honor system. Canadian J really dominated the honour system bar tab!
Common area of the hostel in Montenegro
Nicely done Canadian J!
The next morning was yoga with the Busabout girls. So for the third class of my yoga teaching career, I did the standing and chakra sequences on a rooftop in Montenegro as the sun was coming up. I have to say that I’m racking up some pretty amazing class locations very early in my career! International A says that I should start calling myself the Nomadic Yogi and it definitely has a ring to it!
We loaded up the bus and hit the road again, taking a ferry then driving about 90 minutes to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I have wanted to visit this beautiful walled city for years, and it did not disappoint. International A and I walked all the way around the walls for a couple of hours, meeting up with a few of the girls from our tour group. We climbed to the top of the tower and stopped for lots of pictures of red tile rooves, sparkling blue sea water, and charming buildings. Next we explored some of the little alleys off the main street in the walled city, stopping for lunch. I hadn’t eaten much the day before with the chicken Caesar salad debacle and a meal at the hostel that I didn’t really like, so I was excited for soup and bruschetta and my first Croatian beer.
International A filling her cup with Europe's best water
 Interesting facts about Dubrovnik:

-the walled city has some of the oldest and best maintained walls and battlements in Europe

-Game of Thrones is often filmed here and there is tons of merchandise and a variety of tours associated with the books and TV show

-during the Yugoslavian conflict in the 1990s, the Serbian dictator actually fired on the ancient walled city (like who does that?). Some of the red rooves are brighter than others, and that’s because they were replaced within the last 20-25 years.

-people from Dubrovnik strongly associate their identity with their city, rather than Croatia

-Dubrovnik has the cleanest drinking water in Europe, and there is an underground spring that feeds the fountain in the centre of town, within the walls. This allowed the city to withstand months of siege, in addition to the mandatory months of extra supplies always on hand.

After an amazing three hours in Dubrovnik, we got back on the bus and travelled through Bosnia to get to the rest of Croatia. In the settlement of the Yugoslavian war when the countries established their borders, Bosnia got 50 km of coastline out of the deal. So we got to have a quick stop in Bosnia on our way to Split. I think everyone fell asleep on the bus and didn’t wake up till we were on the outskirts of the city. I was completely disoriented when I woke up and couldn’t figure out where my backpack was. Turns out I was looking on the wrong side of the bus. Wow.
We got settled into our hostel, Fiesta Siesta….sister hostel to Snooze and Booze. I didn’t have high expectations for these accommodations, but they proved to be okay…in a two star kind of way. I shared a room with 5 other girls. I don’t mind sharing with people, but the hardest part for me is finding a spot to open my backpack and spread out my stuff so I can find everything. I had my first hostel shower (wearing flip flops) and of course when I went to do my makeup the bathroom light was burned out AGAIN! I still managed to get ready, and all of us girls got more dressed up than usual for our last night together.
Jen took us a on a walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace, the retirement home of a Roman emperor. It was built in 200-300 AD and is remarkably preserved. They have cleaned the stones but haven’t made any repairs. There are shops and restaurants throughout the complex and it’s really charming. I rubbed Gregory of Minch’s toe and made a wish. Supposedly your wish will be granted as long as it isn’t materialistic. We had a yummy meal out on the waterfront, then hit up Charlie's Backpacker Bar near our hostel. It was all about the World Cup rugby of course and was crazy busy, so everyone spilled out into the little street for an outdoor party. I spent the night visiting with my Busabout crew, saying goodbyes to everyone, and meeting my Croatia guide Naomi.

It was an excellent four days touring the Balkans with a great crew of people and a fantastic tour guide. I highly recommend Busabout for anyone wanting to see a lot of country with minimal effort on your part! Excited for the next adventure... sailing the Adriatic Sea and visiting a bunch of islands! I'll keep you posted!

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