11.01.2016

THE MONTENEGRO TRIP

THE MONTENEGRO TRIP, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 11.01.2016

Montenegro is a very green Balkan country surrounded by mountains and forests. Its population is only around 620,000, 40% Muslim, and they have a very familiar culture and way of living to us. They haven’t entered the European Union yet but their currency is the Euro. Because everywhere here is mountainous and forested and it looks very dark in the night, the Turks gave it the name of Montenegro. Its name was previously “Serbia and Montenegro”; once Serbia split and became a separate country Montenegro became an independent country. The shores of Montenegro provide as many naturally wonderful views as the forests. The coastline is very jagged like our Aegean shores, with a green and blue colorscape. Because tourism hasn’t developed too much it is still possible to see unspoiled natural views of forests surrounded with rocky formations as you come down the Dalmatian coast. The places that I would especially advise you to visit are Kotor and Budva. Podgorica, which is the capital of Montenegro, is a city worth seeing for its simplicity, calmness, and natural beauty.

Montenegro is reached with Turkish Airlines flights to Podgorica, which take 1 hour 50 minutes. The airport is quite small. When you get out of the plane you walk to the terminal by crossing the airfield. On entering the country, a visa is not required for Turkish citizens, so you pass the passport control without any issues and quickly set foot in the country. Taking a taxi is the most practical solution if you are going to go to Podgorica or any other city. You should most definitely negotiate with the taxi drivers, as the price may go down by half. To save money I would advise you to arrange a taxi beforehand on the internet, thus you will avoid the hassle of negotiating with a driver.

We directly got on our way with a taxi to Budva, where our hotel was. The trip takes around 1.5 hours with a taxi from Podgorica Airport. During the trip as we were traveling around mountains and hills; we had an enjoyable trip looking at the Adriatic (or the Dalmatian coast, by its other name) while taking in the clean forest air.

Budva, which has a 2500-year history, is one of the most touristic cities in the country with its entertainment venues. During the Yugoslavian period it was the center of entertainment; it is still the most lively, most fun vacation city of Montenegro.

I would advise you to stay at a hotel that lies within the walls of the old city “Stari Grad” when you are booking your hotel. Stari Grad, which is surrounded by stone houses, provides a genuine and enjoyable environment with narrow streets, cute cafés, boutiques, restaurants, and local souvenir shops. In the middle of the old city lies the castle, church, and a small square around them. You can have a good time watching painters, street musicians, and performances in this square. Getting your photo taken in front of the stone that is the symbol of the number Pi is a tradition here. You pay a small fee of 2.5 Euros to enter the castle, and you will be in awe of the beauty of the surroundings once you get on top of the castle walls.

Once you get outside the old city you can take a long walk along the coast with its marina lined with luxury yachts, and then visit a beach, walk around the streets filled with crowds of tourists, shop in the local souvenir shops, try the seafood and other local cuisine in the various restaurants (our favorite restaurants were Jadran, Porto, Greco and Hemingway Cafe), take a boat tour or enjoy yourselves in the clubs that play very loud music.

The Dancing Girl Statue, which has become Budva’s symbol, will be right in front of you as you start going towards the Mogren Beach from the castle. If you continue on the narrow coastal trail you reach Mogren Beach, which is the beach preferred by the locals. Due to the fact that reaching the beach is a little difficult it isn’t very crowded and is comparably calmer and cleaner than other beaches.

Another location I would advise for swimming is St. Nikola Island, which is also called “Hawaii Island” situated right across from Budva. You can get here by boats that operate during the day in the summer months. A trip back and forth costs 3 Euros per person. The beach part of the island has less rocks, its sea is clear and not so crowded, and there is also a hotel and a restaurant on the island. The view of Budva from the island will offer you some great photo opportunities.

You can get in the sea from anywhere in Budva – you could say everywhere is a beach! There is a public beach right in front of the castle. Outside the castle there is another long public beach next to the yacht harbor and an entertainment center where you can bungee jump . If you wish to go to a beach further from the city that is surrounded by nature you can go Jaz Beach. You can reach this beach from the city with minibuses for 1 Euro or taxis for 5 Euros.

We stayed at a cute stone hotel in the castle in Budva. Every evening we took walks in the castle and the beach, and tried the restaurants in the area. We were never bored, even though it is a small place. We either took a tour each day or tried to travel to different regions of Montenegro that were close by, such as Herceg Novi, Petrovic, Bar, and Kotor. The most impressive of these trips was of course the Kotor trip.

Kotor is a harbor city that is surrounded by fjords which make it like a landlocked sea. It is north of Budva, under the protection of UNESCO, and has a history dating back to the 3rd century. Each day huge cruise ships come here and most of the tourists that you see in Montenegro flock here.

Kotor is surrounded by walls just like Budva. The inner part of the castle is larger; it is filled with stone houses, narrow streets, squares, and small shops and they are all very well preserved because it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Life keeps going on in this historic city, but any structure or excess is not allowed to blemish the environment. The city is very lively during the day because of the tourists; however at night it becomes a very silent environment because making noise isn’t allowed. When walking around inside the walls you should buy a coffee in the cute mini cafés that are under the stone houses, buy some symbolic souvenirs for your loved ones, and definitely challenge yourself to climb up to the castle if you are fit enough. You climb to the top via a lot of steps, but it is worth it for the view you will get to see. There are beaches in Kotor but I would advise Budva to you due to the large ships that arrive each day. The sea-facing beaches of Budva are very clear. By the way, the Dalmatian sea is stony and has some rocks, so I would advise you to definitely use a sea shoes.

Sveti Stefan Island, which is only a few km away from Budva, is like something from a fairy tale. The island was a fishing village in the 15th century, but now it has become a special island with a very luxurious hotel and houses belonging to celebrities such as Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, and Claudia Schiffer. In the past, there was no connection to the mainland, but a long and narrow road was made for the wealthy to reach their houses easily. Entrance to the island isn’t freely allowed, so you can only enter if you are staying at the hotel in the island – and we were informed that the hotel’s nightly price is around 1,000 EUR. There are special beaches on both sides of the island. Entrance to these beaches are with a fee. If you wish to go to these beaches there are vehicles like minibuses that go there every day from Budva. I think that the best way to get to know the island is by passing close to it on a boat tour. The boats pass so close that you can see the houses on the island, see the details, and take photos. We arranged a boat tour from Budva. We had the chance to see the surroundings of Sveti Stefan Island and to see the Adriatic shores from afar while getting in the sea in its amazing bays. The boat tour also stops at a neighboring small historic town called Petkovic. The boat stays here for 1–2 hours, so you can have lunch in the restaurants here and then see a bit of the area, then shop for souvenirs if you wish, before the boat goes back to Budva. I would particularly recommend these tours to you.

Towards the end of our vacation we had a day trip to the capital, Podgorica. You can find bus rides to Podgorica from the Budva bus terminal starting from the early hours of the day to the late hours of the evening. During this trip you can see the Skadar Lake region.

Podgorica is a very simple, very calm, very green city that doesn’t have many tall buildings or crowded streets. The population is only around 150,000. There is a calmness in Podgorica that we are really not used to seeing; this was unusual at first but we really liked this tranquil environment as we got used to it. You don’t see many people in the streets during the day, but they appear towards the evening when they start to leave their workplaces! You can see the whole city on foot in 1 day. Because tourism hasn’t developed much, we didn’t see a tourist information center in the area that could give any maps or information. The best thing to do is to gather the information at home before traveling here.

This place was under Ottoman rule between the years 1474–1878, which is close to 400 years. There is an old Turkish neighborhood called Stara Varos in the city. You can see a clock tower, mosque, and houses left from the Ottoman Empire in this neighborhood that used to be an Ottoman town in the past. Unfortunately the city was quite ruined in World War II, so there isn’t very much left. The city was rebuilt during the period of Yugoslavia’s symbolic leader Tito.

Places I would advise you to see in Podgorica are:

Millennium Bridge: It draws people with its interesting architectural style, and gives the city a modern look.

The Skalina region: This region, which has historical remains and a bridge left from the Ottoman period, lies alongside the river.  Some parts of the river that go through the city have been made into beaches, and you can get to see people getting into the water here.

Moscow Bridge: You can take beautiful photos of the Millennium Bridge from this bridge that is parallel to it. The bridge is closed to vehicle traffic; only pedestrians are allowed to pass. There are decorative benches on the bridge that you can rest on. 

Hercegovacka, Slobode, and Nyegoseva Avenues:  These are the maiden avenues of the city center that host classy boutiques, cafés, and consulates. Classy people walk around Hercegovacka Avenue, which is closed to traffic. There are colorful, cute, typical old Podgorica houses on Nyegoseva Avenue, which are restored. All of these avenues in the center lead to the Main Square.

Cathedral: The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral isn’t considered a historic one as it was built during the 1990’s, but the craftsmanship and the artistic paintings inside are worth seeing.

About food... You will see many pizza, patty, meatball, and döner vendors around but you shouldn’t expect the same food as you had in Bosnia. Here, the döner is the Greek “Gyros” type, which I wouldn’t recommend. Besides these, we couldn’t find much that could be called local tastes in the restaurants. You can find pizza places everywhere. I would advise you to choose pizza or seafood for your meals. You can also visit the Hard Rock Café. I can say that it was the cheapest of the ones that I have seen so far!

In conclusion, Montenegro is a place where you can spend a tranquil and beautiful vacation on a reasonable budget to see its green nature, crystal clear blue seas, and friendly people.

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