Eid Al-Fitr is the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. This year it fell on July 6, a Wednesday. The D4D staff therefore did not have to work Monday afternoon or Tuesday. As such, I took a couple extra days off to visit Montenegro. Abby and Ajinur, both of whom interned in Kosovo in past summers, recommended I travel to Montenegro to see the country's beautiful scenery. Montenegro was also the top suggestion from the D4D staff who I asked for possible travel destinations. I had been hoping to take a long weekend to see the country, so this surprise national holiday was the perfect opportunity to do so.
I left Pristina at 11:30 Thursday night. Much like the other buses I have traveled in, music played throughout the night, so I did not get much sleep. The bus traveled through Albania to get to Montenegro. At around 1 AM the bus stopped at a restaurant and rest area on the side of the road somewhere in Albania. The bus conductor knew a colleague of mine at D4D, and bought me an espresso at the the restaurant. When I told him I planned to return to Kosovo on Tuesday, he told me that no busses traveled from Montenegro to Kosovo on Tuesday as it was a holiday. He offered to sell me a return ticket for Monday. I suspected I was being misled, and kindly declined the ticket. When I arrived in Ulcinj, Montenegro at 5:00 AM, I learned that I could in fact take a bus back to Pristina on Tuesday.
In Ulcinj I caught a bus to Budva, two hours north along the coast of the Adriatic. The coastline was as beautiful as I had heard. I am sure all two of my readers (parents) are tired of hearing about how gorgeous the Western Balkans are, but it is unavoidably true. In my mind, based on what I had been told, Budva was a must-see destination in Montenegro, with old ruins and beaches. In reality, it is a small, crowded tourist destination. The shoreline is lined with shops and themed bars and restaurants and an amusement park for children. The beach is overrun with pears in speedos lounging under umbrellas. Disheartened by what I found by the water, I made my way to the Stari Grad (Old City), which lies at one end of the city's shoreline. As I approached the entrance to the walled old city, a large poster of Candice Swanepoel announced that a Victoria's Secret was soon to be opened in the Stari Grad. Inside the walls, I found mainly clothing stores and restaurants. I did find the old citadel, and paid two euro to walk up to the roof and look out over the town and sea. This was the best part of my stay in Budva. Walking the outskirts of the town later in the afternoon, I found no hiking trails and resolved to leave for Kotor the next morning, despite already paying for two nights at the hostel. Another persuasive factor that drove me to leave Budva early was my roommate at the hostel, a short, portly, offensively hairy Australian. He spoke incessantly about his job as a part-time photographer in Prague. Each time I returned from a walk around the town he greeted me with "G'day, g'day, g'day!" This was too much for me; I had to leave.
Kotor was much more in line with what I had been hoping to find in Montenegro. As I walked into the town from the bus stop Saturday morning, I was greeted by the walls of the Stari Grad climbing up the side of a hill, and the truly striking view of the bay on which Kotor lies. Kotor is not quite as touristy as Budva, but I still heard Swedish being spoken rather frequently as I walked around. The hostel where I stayed for three nights lay inside the Stari Grad, which, though also inhabited by stores and souvenir shops, also housed many open air restaurants and cafes. Some alleyways in the old city actually seemed to include private residences, which was very different from the old city in Budva. There are also cats all over the old city. They walk in and out of stores and through restaurants. The locals are aware of the cat population and capitalize on it; I saw a museum dedicated to city's cats, as well as souvenir shops specializing in cat paraphernalia. I spent two days in Kotor hiking and swimming in the bay. The heat and sun and humidity were overwhelming; I was constantly sweating, and got a pretty nice sun burn.
On Saturday night, realizing that 9 PM was too early to turn the lights out in my dorm room and go to sleep, I ventured out. Many patios in the old city were filled with foreigners drinking beer and watching the Italy - Germany football match. I found an unadorned bar with only one table of revelers inside. I entered to find a group of old Montenegrin men sitting together, drinking rakia out of an unlabeled bottle, smoking cigarettes indoors, and watching the match on a boxy old grey television set. I decided this was the place to settle down in for the evening. One of the drunk old men happened to work at the bar. He spoke no English, but he did convey to me that he was cheering for Italy. The match went into overtime and ended in penalty kicks, so I got back to the hostel later than planned. The next day, moving quite slowly, I postponed my trip to Dubrovnik until Monday.
Monday morning I caught a two hour bus that arrived in Dubrovnik at 10 AM. The last bus back to Kotor left at 3:30, so I had few hours to see the city. It was just as hot in Dubrovnik as Kotor, and I got incredibly sweaty on the one kilometer walk from the bus terminal to the old city. The old city is larger than the Stari Grads in Budva and Kotor, but is similarly surrounded by high walls and has the same red-tiled roofs. The city streets were prohibitively congested with tourists. I am embarrassed to admit that one of the main reasons I visited Dubrovnik was to take a guided tour of the Game of Thrones shooting locations in the old city. On the two-hour tour, I saw most of the old city, and learned a bit about Dubrovnik at the same time. According to the guide, only 47,000 people live in Dubrovnik, but the city is visited by over a million tourists a year. As crowded as the city was that day, the guide said that it used to see many more tourists each day, before UNESCO limited the number of cruise ships that could stop in Dubrovnik.
Entering Croatia was the first time I had to exit the bus in order to pass through border patrol. The border policeman asked me how to pronounce my name and then stamped my passport. Entering Montenegro was much simpler. A border policeman entered the bus and glanced at each passenger's identification. He scrutinized my ID less than I would on a typical night when I worked as a doorman at a bar, and did not even look up at my face. He did not stamp my passport.