An introduction to Montenegro (3): the coast

After our five-day hike in Durmitor National Park in northwest Montenegro we felt it was time for a less active mode of existence: beach time! So we board the bus from Žabljak to Kotor again. At the bus station we are greeted by the wonderful Radu, who drives us to his coastal hometown, Bigova. Before we drive out of town, we stop at the stall where we bought our gas for our hike – we have a full canister left and we want to return it without asking our money back. We have a hard time explaining ourselves to the extremely suspicious lady who runs it though, so Radu comes to our help and in the end she accepts the offering. On the way to Bigova, he tells us stories about it: one of the first things we learn is that everyone in the village has the same surname: Lazarevic. As does Ranca, our host who awaits us at the too-good-to-be-true apartment we will be occupying for the next six days. To do nothing much, apart from sleeping late, having breakfast in bikini, strolling to the beach, going for a swim, having dinner at one of the two seafood restaurants, and strolling home again.

Doing nothing much in Bigova

It’s too hot to do anything else, and we don’t really want to do anything else. Although admittely, nearly one week of nothingness is enough to cure us of this lazy beach mode. Since we didn’t do all that much I will let the pictures do the talking – so that you can judge for yourself whether Bigova is a worthy stop for you in Montenegro. One thing we were amazed by is the variety in fruit trees: kiwis growing over our terrace, fig trees, vines of course, pomegranate, lime and lemon trees, banana trees, olive trees, plums, blackberries, wild fennel, rosemary… It made each short walk to the shore very fragrant.

There is a tiny shop on the way; it quite meets our needs though. We buy a pair of goggles for underwater explorations, beer, chocolate, cheese. Occasionally we buy ingredients for a meal but mostly we find it’s too hot to cook and the restaurants – Grispolis and Pod Volatom – do just fine. The bay is perfect for swimming across: it’s about 250 metres wide so four our six lengths make for a good workout. Swimming towards the setting sun, where the bay opens to the Adriatic, is magical – although you have to make sure incoming boats see you. And that you don’t inadvertently step on a sea urchin – you’ve got to keep swimming, basically!

A tiny trip to Budva

On day four of our lazy week we ask Radu whether he can drive us to Budva, to which he happily complies. We know it’s a very touristy place but since it’s nearby we want to give it a shot anyway. The old city centre is pretty enough and the impressive old fortifications make for a nice stroll. It’s a good place to have pizza and write picture-perfect postcards from – but no more than that.

To Bar

On day six Wilbert and me part ways: he’s going back home whereas I am continuing to Romania – by train. There is just one railway in Montenegro, which runs all the way from Bar on the coast through the capital, Podgorica, to the Serbian capital on Belgrade. I’m rather keen on this journey, especially since the train also passes through the mountains.

So Radu drives Wilbert to the airport in Tivat, then drives me to Kotor, where I board a bus to Bar. Turns out it passes by the airport again so I could as well have boarded in Tivat. Just so you know… It feels strange and slightly terrible to pass by the airport where Wilbert is waiting for his flight without him knowing that I’m so close again. A butterfly gets on the bus near Budva. In Bar I get picked up by car by Mirjana and her wonderful daughters, Vasilija and Victoria, who try their English skills on me straight away. After a two-minute ride the girls show me round my unbelievable apartment, for which I pay just €21. It’s a bit out of town but in a quiet and green area – plus it’s very close to the train station, where I’m headed first to buy a ticket for the sleeper train the next day. There is a day train too but I figure that it might be really hot, plus I quite fancy spending the next day exploring Bar.

Ticket acquired, I walk into town. Bar is bigger and has more of a Balkan feel to it than the other coastal towns I’ve seen so far: there are lots of high-rise buildings and supermarkets; cevap and burek are sold on every corner; there are mosques as well as churches. I have dinner at the unappealingly named but very appealing-looking Turist restaurant – a half-open glassy structure with lots of terrace seating around it. Despite its meat-loving reputation, Montenegrine restaurants often have several veggie dishes on the menu; sometimes even listed in a separate section. After dinner I go for a dip in the sea and swim towards a fiery sun.

Stari Bar

Since my train to Belgrade doesn’t depart until 7pm I have ample time to explore Stari Bar. I hop on the bus near the station which drops me off at the top of the steep street leading up to the main gate. Just a few kilometres inland from new Bar, the old city of Bar was abandoned after an earthquake in 1979 destroyed the aquaduct that supplied the city with water. The remaining ruins, with the city walls still largely intact, are a stunning reminder of times longe gone – and the lost city is a delightful labyrinth in which you can wander for hours. It has very pretty backdrop too. On the way back I accidentally get off the bus early; it looks like it’s headed into town, but later on it passes me by again: apparently it only makes a short detour to the centre after which it returns to the train station again. Too bad. But now you know. On my return to Bar I go for one last swim (the lifeguards kindly look after my possessions), have dinner at Turist again and ask for a doggy bag so that I have something to eat on the train.

From Bar to Belgrade

And then it’s time for my much-anticipated train ride! After pacing up and down the platform a few times and topping up my bottles at the fountain, I install myself on my berth – the top one, as requested. I always request the one at window level, so that I can stare at the scenery without needing to get up. I’m excited and sad at the same time: I managed to lose my sunglasses case at the beach that afternoon and I keep thinking about it. The train even slowly drives past said beach and that makes me only feel sadder: it’s out there, somewhere. I’m also sad about my extremely short stay in Belgrade: I’m travelling on to Timișoara on the same day so I won’t get to see much of Serbia’s capital: I only have a four-hour gap or so. But I soothe myself by telling me I can easily buy a nice new case for my sunglasses and I can always return to Belgrade later (not always, as it turns out now). I don’t feel much like sightseeing anyway. I need rest. And more mountains.

I alternate between the corridor window and my cabin window so I don’t miss any good views. Mostly I’m waiting for Skadar lake to appear, which does not disappoint. After that I feel I can lie down again, in waiting for the mountain scenery. All goes well until 20:22pm, when the train comes to a screeching halt in a tunnel. Turns out the locomotive is broken and needs to be replaced. It’s hot and I wonder about oxygen. There is a glimmer of hope when the train moves a metre or so. It takes another two hours before the train starts moving again though – and it’s sliding downhill, in the wrong direction. ‘If they’re going all the way back to Podgorica I’m getting off,’ the Hungarian-Serbian lady below me says. She moved from Hungary to Serbia, then Montenegro for her husband, who died twelve years ago. There’s no work to be found in Montenegro, but she’s staying for her daughter’s sake.

Ten minutes later we stop and a new loc drives past, hooting. The Spanish and Montenegrine teens next doors are cheering. They’re pretty loud, but in a cheerful way, so I don’t feel like killing them. What I really do regret about this train incident is that while we waited, the sun set and now it’s dark – so I won’t get to see the most spectacular scenery on the journey. Too bad – I’ll have to come back another time. We now have a three hour delay and I realize I might not even catch my bus to Timișoara in Belgrade – but that can be solved. A lot of problems can be solved when you think about it. I’m quite calm by now. I even managed to fall asleep briefly before the train jolts into motion again. Meanwhile, lightning is decorating the sky – no thunder can be heard. Two locs drive past in the opposite direction – presumably our broken one being hauled away. Then another one passes in the right direction – our new one hopefully. Thunder starts rumbling, the rain begins to fall. I listen to my neighbour as I reach through the window to feel the drops splash on my hand. And then, sleep, finally. Good sleep, supported by the cadence of the train. When we arrive in Topcider station, my neighbour and me share an overpriced cab to the centre; I wait for my mini van to Timișoara for an hour in a smoky cafe. No regrets; Beograd will have to wait. It’s time for Romania.

Practical info

Bigova: in case you agree with me this Radu guy is really helpful (he’s also extremely kind), here’s his phone number: +382 69 555 785. He also runs a taxi boat service in Bigova Bay.

Bar: I stayed at MirMar Apartment which is really close to the train station. There is a hostel/campsite called Namaste nearby. Both the bus into town and to Stari Bar leave from the bus stop just down the road from the station, right next to the kiosk. The bus station is a bit further down the same road. The bus to Stari Bar costs €1 and leaves every half hour; an entrance ticket to the old city costs €2. There is a tap with drinking water behind the ticket desk.

Bar-Belgrade train: trains from Bar to Belgrade depart at 9am and 7pm. You can find all the info you could possibly need on Seat61. The journey takes about 11 hours (if there are no delays). Tickets cost around €25 and need to be bought at the station; basically you will get two tickets: one that lets you on the train and one for the berth/cabin of your choice. This will influence the price a bit but you won’t be spending more than €35 (that’s the most luxurious option). A seat on the day train costs just €3 (on top of your base ticket). You can find the timetable here; please note that the final station is Topcider not Beograd.

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