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Published: August 30th 2010
““Remember what Bilbo used to say:
It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to...””
We completely lost track of time this week. The other day we fruitlessly tried to calculate which day of the week it was. At the end we looked at our calendar and saw we were off by one day. It is such a liberating feeling not knowing or caring when
you are. I’m not sure we fully knew where
we where as well every time we when to bed. We surly didn’t know where we will be the next day.
After finishing our last week (a week being 10 days in our case…) in northern Croatia we wanted to head south. Most go via the Adriatic coast but we wanted to avoid the coast until August and its tourist hordes are gone. So we took a direct south direction through the highlands.
By the end of the week we were literally off the map! Apart from the days we spent in Montenegro, we had no guide book to
follow. By the end of the week we didn’t even a physical map we could hold to show us the way in Serbia and Kosovo. All we had was the pull of the road and the curiosity of what lays further beyond our present location. So it happened that we passed through Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo all in the same week.
This was the first leg of our trip that we felt we did some “hard-core” travel. Driving long distances and managing many sites in a single day. The kids were very patient with us, enduring many hours in the car or in the child carriers. But we adults were like a 5 year-old children in a candy store. So many forests, parks, lakes, viewpoints, old churches, active mosques and markets to see. We could not choose what location to give up. So we took it all!
Like 5 year old children we were also surrounded by many bewildering things. Many signs were in incomprehensible Cyrillic alphabet. In most of the remote sites no one spoke English. Even driving has its own set of rules. So, like a 5 year-old we studied. We are getting better
in reading Cyrillic letters, but unless the sign is indicating a location-name the word’s meaning is still out of our reach. We used all the 5 German words we knew to find a bank and then withdraw money from it. We used all the 5 French words we knew to order breakfast in a hotel . When all else fails, and no common language is found, we speak Hebrew. At least this way half of the people in the dialog
understand what we say 😊
Most of the time we spent in Montenegro
. A country 2/3 the size of Israel but with only 1/10 of the population. Which makes it a very sparsely populated land with much open space so it is very well preserved. The only room for improvement in this delightful country are the roads. The roads have endless number of tunnels none of which are lighted and in every one of them Ariel opens 2 wide eyes and starts crying. My favorites were the 700m tunnel - so spooky driving so long in pitch dark - and the tunnel which had a hairpin 320 degree turn at an inclination in the middle. Again, in pitch
optimistic town - center of town
dark. Basically you just waive your hands in front of you while driving and find your way around. How one manages to do that when there is traffic coming from the other side is, luckily, something I did not need to find out. And one more thing, it seems every time the road is straight for more than 10 meters there are 2 traffic policemen with a radar gun just waiting for you to accelerate . Montenegro appears to have the highest traffic police per capita ratio in the world. We never managed to average more than 50km/hr on any drive. In many we didn’t even average 30km/hr. Add to that our pee breaks, feeding breaks, photo breaks, breaks to put Ariel to sleep, dipper breaks, playground breaks and a lunch break, needed because of all the other breaks, and a 150km drive which can be done in just over an hour back home might (and did) take 7 hours!
We spent only a couple of days in Serbia
.. it was bleak and touristicly underdeveloped. It seems Serbia got little tourist sites compared to its former Yugoslav neighbors and it took us a while to
find a few places worth visiting, at least in theory. In practice at Novi Pazar we had the most disgusting Kababs ever. The Studenica Monastery was nice but not worth the hours of driving. Most amusing was the hotel we slept in at Kopaonik - a ski resort in winter and a national park in summer. It was built in the 80s (at latest) and had room for hundreds of guests with many rooms, a large lobby and dinner hall. But only 1 more couple stayed there with us! There was more staff then guests. “Welcome to the hotel California”. And to top it all no ski lift was operating so when it comes down to it there was no way to do anything in the park. Kosovo
, on the other hand, was very optimistic. With what seems to be nothing in terms of resources is has an energetic market economy. The whole country is flooded with NATO forces making the capital, Prishtina a surprisingly international city in the middle of the Balkans. From all the variety of things to eat we had Indian food for lunch. The restaurant staff was from Nepal which explains why the Malai
Kofta was the best we had since we visited the sub-continent .We slept in Prizren near the Albanian border and found it to be a cheerful city. A pleasant old city with good coffee. At the evening all the city was walking in the pedestrian cobble streets as is customary in all the area. But somehow it was much more lively in Kosovo even though (or maybe because?) there was no alcohol to be found due to Ramadan. When we retired at 11:30 it seemed as if the party was just beginning.
We will tell you about Bosnia in a couple of weeks when we (hopefully) return there for a blissful 2nd round.
Rarely does a trip go by where we don’t have a camera problem. On our honeymoon our camera fell on the first day and we had to spend the 2nd day of our trip in Hong-Kong waiting for Canon to repair it. In Turkey our camera’s battery charger did not arrive and our only resort was to buy a new camera in Trabzon.
This time our camera just stopped working in North-Eastern Montenegro. If there
is a worse location in Europe to have your camera fail I cannot think if it.
On one hand you are surrounded by the most beautiful views just requesting to be photographed. On the other you are in what is arguably the poorest country in the region with no camera store in sight, no one who speaks English to ask or even a decent internet connection to find such a store. Calling the tourist information phone number did not help as well:
Me: can you help me find a camera store in Montenegro?
Phone Lady: there is one on Bed Zagarda Churatoga street
Me: Great! Can you spell that so I can put is on my GPS?
Phone Lady: they don’t have a street number there
Me: OK…can you say the name of the street slowly ?
Phone Lady: De Za Gra dachuratoga
Me: hmm…what is the first letter again?
Phone Lady: G like the Roman numeral for 5
Me: Ahh…V! second letter?...
Needless to say, this exchange got us nowhere!
So we had to
Mountain road , Montenegro
On the way to Dormitor National Park
leave the stunning mountains and hull ourselves 5 hrs in the wrong direction to Podgorica, the capital city, whose name is so forgetful it should be in every crossword puzzle (together with Tegucigalpa the capital of Honduras). There, we entered the ONLY shopping mall in Montenegro where we resorted to buy an overpriced camera in a little photo-printing booth.
The panoramic photo at the top of the blog was the last photo taken from our old camera.
NB: unless otherwise noted all photos are from Montanegro.
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