To The Border
We take off through the Shkodra roundabout and shoot west for the Albania-Montenegro border in some random dude’s Mercedes. This is kind of great actually. Cushy black leather seats. Some gypsy-sounding tunes. Good driver. Ya this’ll work for sure.
The guy’s name is Zen (or maybe Xen?) and he’s chill yet talkative. “Where else in Montenegro?” “We were thinking we’d get to Sveti Stefan and Kotor.” “Ahhh yes, good choices. Very, very beautiful. I can take you there too.” “Oh really? How much to get to Sveti Stefan.” “50 euro. You think about it.” “K, cool.”
This seems a tad expensive at first but a quick look at bus pricing for two peeps and schedules from Ulcinj to Sveti Stefan actually puts it between only 5-10 bucks more. Reminds me of our personal driver, Ha, that we had in Vietnam. That worked out to be insanely convenient and actually cheaper. We’re also slightly hungover and dgaf, so ya, leaning towards more Zen time.
“Zen, are you from here?” “Yes from Shkodër.” “Beautiful place.” “Yes. Beautiful girls and water is good, eh?” “Didn’t notice the water. Definitely noticed the girls though.” “Haha yes, so beautiful here.”
Zen is pointing things out as we drive. His English is great. Very concise and direct. “This bridge, Puna. Lake Shkodër. Very beautiful. Number one Balkan lake. 50-50 with Montenegro.”
We’re soon at the border to Montenegro. There’s a line of 8 cars or so. Seems to be taking a while. “Info Girl did say that the bus could take up to an hour at the border.” “Glad we’re doing it this way already.” Zen overhears us, “Yes, this will be much, much faster. Believe me.” He uses the wait time to wipe down the leather dash. He also calls his wife to give her the ol’ “I’m leaving the country for a minute” update.
Zen tells us that Albania is actually called… Sheboula… or something. I don’t quite make it out. “Really? Crazy.” “Yes. International it is Albania. But not here.” I do a quick search. So… I can’t pronounce this, but the country is formally called the Republika e Shqipërisë.
We’re still in the border line and it’s starting to get hot sitting in the sun on these black leather seats. Zen makes five or six phone calls. Not sure what’s up. It’s a lot of “posh posh posh.. mir mir… posh.” I don’t know a lick of the language. A guard walks down the line of cars and collects passports and papers. He shakes his head at the car in front of us and points. They pull out of line.
We pull up to take their spot. Zen hands the guard our passports. He looks through the windows at us. There’s a brief back and forth with Zen and he takes our passports to the guard booth.
Zen tells us, “Here one border together. Very easy.” “Oh nice.”
Sure enough the guard comes back and hands our passports through the window to Zen again. That’s it I guess. We drive through. The drive breeze picks up and cools things down again. Good looking scene here. Ahh this is nice.
“Dobradorsi! Welcome to Montenegro!” “Thank you. Ya, that was easy.” “See see”, Zen points at a sign by the road that says Dobradorsi. Welcome. Ahh ok.
We immediately get stopped by a flock of sheep.
The countryside is pretty so far. Lush and green. Another fabulous day in the Balkans. Some windmills on the mountain in the distance.
I don’t know much about Montenegro but the pics I’ve seen make it look like a nature wonderscape with amazing beaches cozied up to high mountain peaks. Sounds like it is often overlooked from the international travelers scene who trend towards Croatia just North (possibly thanks to Dubrovnik being the shooting location of King’s Landing in GOT). But for Euros in the know it looks to be an emerging and beautiful alternative that’s just slightly off radar.
Zen’s thoughts on that, “Dubrovnik. No jobs, no money, only tourism. Catastrof! 15 euro for 1 hour parking.” (I love that he leaves the ‘Eee’ off of catastrophe.)
Montenegro translates from Venetian to Black Mountain, referring to the appearance of Mount Lovćen, which is somewhere near here I think. Ya, up by Kotor an hour and a half North.
It also reminds me of a good psych rock band from Vancouver named Black Mountain. They just put something out too, I’ll have to give that a spin on the next bus/train/plane ride. I remember this being a jammer.
Goats rock too.
Road signs are popping up for Ulcinj already. It’s only been an hour or so. Sweet.
Zen checks in with us, “Ulcinj left, Sveti Stefan right. What do you think?” Classic RPG decision. MacKay and I exchange a knowing glance. Ya we’re on the same page. “Straight to Sweaty Steven, good sir.” “Yes good. Ulcinj is very small. Some history. This much better.”
The drive is gorgeous. We’re weaving through small countryside towns. Quaint places dotting the mountainside. Zen is pointing out majestic mosques and churches as we go.
“Guys look, look. Orthodox Church. Very beautiful.”
The road swoops down, around and out west now straight into the Adriatic Sea. Oh yeah. Beautiful.
“Hooooooly sheeeeeet, dude!” “Stunning.” “Oh yes. Montenegro. Beautiful, beautiful place.”
I’m really digging Zen’s playlist. No idea what it is. Sounds like traditional instruments producing an upbeat psychedelic jazzy rock? Offline and can’t Shazam anything. If I were to translate the lyrics that I don’t understand directly to English, my best guess would be that this current song is called Tilt-a-whirl Buzzcuts.
Passing by a place called Bar now. More pomegranate trees lining the roads here. This really is a phenomenal drive. The coastline is an angel’s daydream.
The road swings down and through a town named Bar. “There has to be a pub here called Bar Bar.” “Oh yes, I think so. Look at this one.” Zen points to a pub as we pass. Novembar. Haha yup. He leans out the window and holds his thumb up as we pass a girl in a white dress beside the road, “Good, ah? Tall girl. Very good.”
We pull through a tunnel and come out the other side into another absolute stunner of a bay. Wow. Montenegro. I’m on the opposite side of the car and my pics are trash. I’ll have to wait until Sveti Stefan to capture the splendor. I know we’re just in the car and haven’t actually done anything here yet, but I think I can already say that this is easily the most beautiful place we’ve been on this entire trip.
We’re cruising passed the next most gorgeous place ever now, called Bujarica. There’s a billboard with David Guetta on it. The Sea Dance festival. Ya, I can see an electro house beach bash being a fucking amazing time down on that perfect coast. Might have to ditch the next Coachella and do something like that instead.
Suddenly Zen is pulling over, “One minute, one minute.” “Sure man.” He pulls off onto the shoulder. Does he want oranges or somethin? “Water here very good. There’s a fountain.”
Looks like water comes down from the black mountains. He fills up an empty bottle, chugs it and fills it again. This is his second or third mention of water. He’s a connoisseur.
Hmmm I want in on this, “Can you pop the trunk? I’ll fill mine too.” “Yes, yes. It’s great. Cool and clean.”
We’re back on the road and getting close to Sveti Stefan. Zen is pointing out the next yet more gorgeous place, “Guy, guys look. Very pretty. Petrovac. Summer time here. Very slow. Traffic, traffic, catastrof!” (Traffic, traffic, catastrof! = Great name for an album). Ok so this is actually a well known tourist destination after all.
MacKay tries to snap a pic. No justice done to how picturesque it is here.
Around the corner from this is “Whooooaaaa!” “That’s Sveti Stefan?” “Yes. I know. It is show stealer.” “This is bonkers.”
Here’s the worst pic of the most beautiful place.
Zen pulls left into a small smattering of buildings on a steep slope leading down to a beach and some sort of crazy island or peninsula thing with more town out in the middle of the Adriatic. This place is nuts. The street narrows and starts to snake left and right, switchbacks down through the town. It’s all hotels and apartments up here. Every switchback gets a crazy view of that postcard island with buildings on it out in the bay.
“Hey Zen, you can just drop us off anywhere man. We’ll figure it out.” “Ok ok. You will pay cash?” “Ya, next ATM you see would be fine man.” “Yes. Here is good.”
We hop out and grab some euros. We top up the fee to an even 60. This may seem like a lot but damn well worth it for the guided tour and convenience. “Zen, thank you so much, man. That was really, really great.” “Ahh it is nothing friend. I hope you like Montenegro. Come back to Albania sometime.” “Yep. Back in a few days. Wanna get a pic?” “Yes! A picture, for sure.”
Our man Zen. Top notch.
We grab our bags from the back and Zen spins around with a beep beep thumbs up wave and takes off back up the steep road.
“Alright. Let’s walk up to get that view and some beers?” “Yup. We’re just gonna be making bad decisions without the brain suds.” “It’s true. Hmmm this way? Looks fun.”
Nothing like steep steps and large backpacks. “Guess we should have just gotten dropped off at the top, eh?” “Suck it up you maggot!” “Ha fuck. No that shit again.”
We find a mid-swanky place called Hotel Adrovic at the top of the town that looks like it may have the best view from a killer back patio. We dip in to investigate.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……… Ya, this will do.
Montenegro for the win. Wow.