Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Balkan Maze

Heading for a break on a boat similar to these ... if we can get there!
Last month when we were in Prague, Michael was travel planning for Montenegro and came across a week-long boat excursion along the coast of Montenegro and Croatia. After two years on the road, a week on the water sounded like a perfect break from our land-locked travels. We booked a seven day cruise and looked forward to going wherever the wind blew us.

From Kosovo we had to work our way down to the coast of Montenegro to the city of Kotor to board our Turkish-style boat called a "gulet" a 65 foot boat that lookes a bit like a whaling schooner.
In an idle moment, have you ever fiddled with one of those little plastic maze toys? You know, the tilt-the-thing-back-and-forth until the little silver ball rolls from the start to the finish without hitting any dead-ends thing?  Not as easy as it looks, right? That was our experience in trying to find transportation from Pristina, the capitol of Kosovo to Podgorica, the capitol of neighboring Montenegro. It was just one country away as the marble rolls but still not easy. Fly? Twenty-three hours with a 20 hour lay-over in Istanbul. Train? No service. Bus? Kind of...once-a-day leaving at 7:00 pm and arriving at 3:00 am (not a favorite check-in time for even the most accommodating Airbnb host). Rent a car? Not available for one-way, besides we were warned driving through Albanian mountains is harrowing. All this to go less than 200 miles. So, for the first time, The Senior Nomads were at a dead end.

It took an international village from the Sirius Hotel to help organize our travel.
Here's the map to our destination that Michael created to keep our family updated on our travels!
The only option left to us was to make the trip in a taxi! Our apartment in Pristina was just around the corner from a boutique hotel where Michael, at his most charming self, made friends with the young manager. Before you knew it, we had a driver who spoke some English and a shiny black Mercedes lined-up for the next morning. And it cost less than we'd anticipated - $220. door to door! We saw some beautiful parts of Kosovo heading south through Albania - also beautiful, and finally through the black mountains that give Montenegro it's name. And we felt like rock stars!

From left to right Michael, our driver, the hotel manager and yours truly!
On the road in style. I hope we get stuck somewhere else and can do this again!
Just one of the vistas on the road. This is in Albania.
We descended into the capital city of Podgorica in pouring rain and our driver became hopelessly lost. His cell phone didn't work in Montenegro, and neither did ours but eventually with help from strangers with Montenegrin cellphones we connected with our hosts. They drove to meet us at a petrol station so we could follow them to the apartment. Our dutiful driver waved good bye and began his long, four-hour drive back home.

Our little attic Airbnb in Podgorica.
Our little Airbnb apartment was on the 4th floor with no elevator. Not the first time we've hauled our heavy bags up 5 flights of stairs - but it is one of the reasons we are ready for a break! https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/188858 Our host drove us around the city for a quick tour and a stop at the grocery store. We were only be there for two nights, so we hardly unpacked. There wasn't much to do in Podgorica, but we wanted to see the capital of this recently minted country.

Trying on various "Harem" Pants  in a make-shift dressing room in the bazaar.
We did some shopping in a crazy maze of a indoor market. The first floor was all local produce - and you know how much I love a good fresh market, but this one had sort of an overall sadness about it. Maybe it was the dim, fluorescent lighting inside this former communist gymnasium coupled with  the oppressive heat, but everything just looked wilted, including the vendors. Once you got past that, the food and produce was incredibly cheap. A pint of rich red local strawberries for 50 cents, A glorious watermelon for $1.00 and a whole, plump roasted chicken for $2.00! Upstairs, the Bazaar was a rabbit warren of hundreds of tightly packed stalls selling anything and everything you can imagine.  I bought a pair of "Harem Pants", Michael splurged on a pair of $5.00 swim trunks and a $4 pair of guaranteed fake "Ray Ban" sunglasses.

The final touch! A wide brimmed hat for many hot, sunny days ahead at an outdoor market in Budva.
Our next destination was Budva, a resort town on the Montenegrin coast about an hour away from our final destination of Kotor. We had a comfortable bus trip through the mountains and then took what seemed like a straight shot down to the sea. Our apartment for this two night stay was also small, but close to the beach https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1308391. We were happy to be in the sun, on the water, and in a beautiful city. The only spoiler was the constant exposure to over tanned, middle-aged men with large tummies draped in gold jewelry and wearing speedos.

Just one of the Russian Sun Gods on view in Budva.
It was pedicure time! It had been long time since I'd been good to my toes, and in keeping with the low cost of living here, $10 got me an hour of tender loving care. However, the salon was about a half a mile from our apartment. I couldn't put my shoes on for fear of the dreaded pedi-smudge, so I tried to walk in those flimsy free flip-flops. That lasted for about five minutes - but being the clever girl I am, I made toe carriers out of my daily walking shoes and flapped my way home.

Wearing my shoes in a new way to avoid Pedi-smudge!
 Michael got a haircut for about the same price. The last thing we needed to do before we disconnected for a week was to fill-out and sign the paperwork to put our house in Seattle on the market! (more on that as the tale unfolds).

The two cheesy plaid bags held what we needed for the boat.The rest was stored on-shore. 
Our next stop was Kotor, a designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site lauded for it's well preserved Medieval walled city. There we would climb aboard our Gulet - and set sail.

We'll see you there!

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads


  1. I'm learning so much about this part of the world from you. I so appreciate the effort you are making with your blog, so I can join you vicariously. Nice hat! :-)

  2. We spent a few weeks in Montenegro last year- loved Budva! And Kotor is as cute as is possible. We also found traveling the region by taxi is the best way. Too often we found you can't get there from here! But it made it so fun! I had to laugh at your photo of the Russian sun god! We had endless hours of fun discussing this exact topic! Love your posts!

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