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Montenegro Holiday Week 1

You went on a family holiday to Montenegro. Hills, canyons, rivers and spomeniks everywhere.

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Relaxing acoustic guitar music

Every holiday of the past few years has begun with the question: Where the hell did you put the automatic watering system? It would be nice just once to know where it was hiding and not have a last-minute rush to keep the plants wet while away. You bought a new one. The location of the old one remained a mystery.

Zürich airport lugging luggage

You took the tram to the airport and hopped on a Montenegro Air flight to Podgorica. They played relaxing acoustic guitar music during the flight; it was nice and May liked it.

She slept the whole flight until the the Montenegrin coast where she noticed the oohshen. The plane skimmed low over the mountains. The pilot probably knew what he was doing.

Podgorica Airport

The lines for passport control were long but moved fast. The lines for the hire car were short but moved slow (even with seven employees behind the counter).

After some delay you drove to the airport car park exit… and nothing happened. The lady in the booth spoke no English and refused to open the barrier. The argument this is a hire car did not seem to relevant.

Apparently you took too long packing and went over the generous 15 minute free-parking limit (the hire car handover took half an hour).

You tired to drive out again, throwing some loose change at the barrier lady, but she still refused to open the barrier. WTF? She came out of her little booth and pantomimed the barrier is broken.

Fifteen minutes later you saw the humor in it. Good start to the holiday.

Spomeniks on the way to Nikšić

Speed limits change frequently in Montenegro. In the first two kilometres they changed from 100 to 80 to 50 to 40 and progressively back up again to 100 about five times.

After leaving Podgorica the police were out in force with speed checks. The locals obliged each other with flash warnings so you had every opportunity to avoid being pinged.

Basic view of the land with monestary in the distance

Leaving Podgorica you passed three spomeniks (Russian for monument): massive brutalist cement structures meant to glorify post WW2 anti-fascist Yugoslavian spirit.

You saw a flower-shaped spomenik on a hill, an abstract not-quite-sure spomenik on the roadside and a stylish office building. They looked neglected and no one seemed to care.

Nikšić city

Fifty kilometres north of Podgorica was Nikšić — the second largest population centre in Montenegro. You arrived and found your apartment on the top floor of a nondescript building beside the police station.

It had no lift, but the broke was happy to offer help carry your luggage. Friendly people.

House of Revolution (and Death)

As a parent you are learning distraction tactics: ways to amuse kids while you do important things like pay bills, make breakfast and put on underpants (sometimes performed in that order).

May stuck stickers all over the place while you arranged food before leaving for a walk. Note to self: buy more stickers.

Nikšić town center

Nikšić apparently had a Sunday street market but it was nowhere to be found. Instead, you wandered about randomly and discovered the Doma Revolucije.

The building — now half ruin, half construction site — was originally an expression of 1970's Yugoslavian architectural meant to evoke awe, joy and national pride.

The Doma Revolucije ruin and construction site

It was never finished, fell to ruin, became a death trap and was eventually slated for an EU sponsored renovation.

It was an impressive structure inviting exploration. Intimidating? Awe-inspiring? Perhaps a mixture of the two was the feeling it gave as you stared up at its towering concrete walls.

Painting inside the ruin

Colourful art was splashed all over the place. Painted murals were located scarily-close to bottomless shafts or in precariously high places — many so dangerous that it was, in itself, an artistic expression.

Outside, someone had bolted climbing holds all the way to the top of the building under the overhang. Despite the entire site being off limits, it sure had a lot of visitors.

FYI: Link 1Link 2Link 3

Romantic Ramparts of Onogošt

Nikšić — maybe also Montenegro in general — had an atmosphere similar to the Hungarian countryside or Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.

The vegetation was green but it wasn't especially humid; town infrastructure was old and decayed but kept patched-up and running; and people lived there, rather than only passing through.

It was a feeling hard to describe. You liked it. It was social(ist).

The path up Ramparts of Onogošt

Venturing forth by foot has always been you favourite way to see a place. You walked west to Bedem hill to the Ramparts of Onogošt where you found a hill with some ruins and lots of snails.

Exploring the Ramparts of Onogošt

It was open to the public to use and peruse freely — a great place to laze in the sun or play hide and seek. It was also quite romantic (based on the used condoms strewn about).

Good vantage point to see Nikšić. 4 stars.

Mural somewhere in Nikšić

Back in the city you played in a local park and had frozen pizza.

Ostrog Monestary

There were probably better ways to get to Ostrog Monestary than the Unnamed Road you took. If the House of Revolution (and Death) was a road, it would be this: holes everywhere, trees overgrown, missing barriers and blind 180° corners. Generally: lots of fun.

The exciting Unnamed Road joined the less-exciting Ostrog Road, for which the travel guide gave traffic jam warnings. A sticky stream of Sunday drivers slowly descended the slender street. Somehow you squeezed your way up.

Walking up to the monastery

The final few hundred meters was a pleasant hike up stone steps littered with religious trinkets. Visitors provided their patronage by dumping their pseudo-spiritual trash all the way up the hill. At least the mess had a consistent theme.

Ostrog Monastery courtyard

The Ostrog Monestary is built into the Ostroška Greda (a big vertical rock face) and is dedicated to a dead bloke named Basil. It was bounded by a sunny courtyard of mostly white stone, where visitors were napping on colourful blankets.

Piles of colourful blankets in the lower monastery

The lower monastery was open to the public. There were more colourful blankets stacked to the ceiling in the entry and people sleeping in beds upstairs.

Apparently, it served as a dormitory for monks and pilgrims. You felt like you had just barged into someone's bedroom uninvited.

Mosaic of people in funny hats

The upper monastery was more churchy. It had mosaic and fresco depictions of people in funny hats, a miraculous vine clinging to the wall and a tiny cave with a line people people waiting outside.

Upon entering you were surprised to discover the cave contained Basil's dead body. A priest keeping watch shook his head as you manoeuvred in there with the big backpack. Moving right along...

You stopped for ice cream on the way back down near a shop selling alcohol in crucifix shaped bottles. Behold — the holy spirit!

Palim Borcima U Drugom Svjetskom Ratu Spominik

Before leaving Nikšić you made a detour past the local spomink: "Monument to Fallen Fighters of WWII". It was on the edge of town in a park where a small herd of domesticated sheep were eating grass. You give it 3 stars

The Palim Borcima U Drugom Svjetskom Ratu Spomenik

Šanvic

You departed Nikšić and headed north into the mountains. Driving along small windey roads through intermittent farmland and forest was pleasantly distracting. It was all smooth sailing until a coal truck busted its back-end and blanketed a 1 km stretch of road with chunky black mess.

Accidental coal dump

Passing the minor traffic disturbance brought you into Šanvic. The tiny town was comprised of about thirty buildings and a beautiful aqua blue river lined with parks and playgrounds. It warranted a short stop / splash / drink break.

Bakovica River running through Šanvic

The river was clear to the point its water was almost invisible. You inferred the water's existence from splashing sounds, the subtle blue tint on the bedrocks and the floating fish. You jumped into the water with May. It was about 2°C. You got out again.

Yet unfazed by cold water

Everyone hung their swimmers in the car windows and warmed up in the sun while having a drink at a roadside café.

Žabljak

Montenegro infrastructure was in pretty good nick (etymology FYI). All the main roads were new (many sponsored by EU development initiatives) so you enjoyed the ride to Žabljak — Montenegro's mountainous Winter sports hub.

Žabljak town centre, raining

You arrived in town a few hours before the others — SS&M (Sandra, Steffen and Marla) were planing to join you there later that afternoon. The weather was sunny so you played in a park for a while, then walked up a hill to see the strange pyramid-shaped spomenik.

Spomenik palim borcima NOB-a

Getting bored, you went looking for your holiday house. According to the map, it appeared to be a chicken coop in the middle of a modest Montenegrin family farm on the edge of town. What a fowl cock-up!

You eventually found the real apartment several kilometres away. Took a while to find it.

Dusk near the holiday apartment

That evening you got basic supplies at the supermarket. Several other families had the same idea, bringing their (shitty) kids for the ride.

The supermarket's narrow isles were made almost impassable by aforementioned (shitty) kids flossing all over the place. Trends come and go; that one should hopefully die soon.

Crno Jezero

Tuesday you went for a walk up the road and into the forest towards Crno Jezero (Black Lake). The path was a bit slippery but easy enough, and there were colourful mushrooms scattered about. May enjoyed being a passenger.

Discovery of Crno Jezero

You went for a swim with the local duck population and nippy fish. Standing still for more than a few seconds caused small schools of fish to congregate about your feet. Standing still for a few more seconds enticed them nibble your toes. It tickled.

Kids walking voluntarily

The way back was along designated hiking trails featuring a veritable rainbow of wild-looking fungus species. The climate caused by the surrounding mountains kept everything nice an moist, which kept the fauna green and the frogs hoppy.

The kids were enthusiastic to walk for about half — you couldn't expect must more than that.

Unidentified tree fungus

That afternoon the weather gave way to thunder storms. You watched from the comfort of your holiday apartment while cooking lunch, enjoying some semblance of holiday relaxation.

After the rain stopped, the kids went to play in the wet garden.

View from your apartment after rain

Mala Crna Gora

The Durmitor National Park proved to be a great place for semi-adventurous family holidays. There was a reasonable balance between protected forests and access roads to give it wild but accessible feeling.

You hit up the local farmers market and bakery for supplies and drove out to Mala Crna Gora — a teeny tiny village on the edge of a gorge.

Carry backpack: comfortable for some

To get there you traversed Veliki Štuoc — a 2104 metre high mountain (beside Rape). The rocky road flowed like a rollercoaster, inducing some motion sickness along the way.

You were amused it appeared on dangerousroads.org. Stopping to admire the views did everyone a favour.

Mala Crna Goro

You couldn't really call Mala Crna Gora a village. There were a few old shacks spread over the grassy slopes which provided questionable living standards for remaining hundred or so inhabitants (some of which were horses).

It was a settlement on the edge, literally on the edge of a 500 metre drop, and far from civilisation. You parked and walked. The trail was unclear. You got a bit lost.

The trail was clearly marked

After bush bashing for a good kilometre or two you arrived at a vantage point of sorts. You could see down into the canyon and along it extent into the distance. It wasn't the safest of places.

You went back and met up with SS&M who were having coffee with some friendly locals. They offered you a fantastic rate for the night, which you politely declined.

Friendly locals

That evening you went out for dinner at the base of a ski resort. The kids played on the equipment for ages, then watched some sheep being herded past while you enjoyed you soupy smokey lamb dish.

Sheep!

Tepca Village, Tara Canyon

Many travel guides mention the Tara Canyon. Some even suggest you view it from a convenient lookout. Few sources recommend venturing into it, but OSM indicated there were roads leading down to Tepca Village near the base of the canyon. With several hiking trails marked, why not give it a go?

Tara Canyon

The dirt road was narrow, steep and rocky. It was wide enough for one car to slowly descend and was safe as long as you kept a minimum distance from the cliff. Barriers? Of course not! Where is the fun in that?

Descending deeper into the canyon and into its thick forest was a relief — shady and less cliffs — but also worrying: you had neglected to check the petrol tank and it wasn't especially full. She'll be right... probably.

Exciting path

Around 400 metres above the canyon river you parked the car and found the hiking trail. The path was overgrown but passible and the scenery was as pretty as posted: luscious green forest, warm pastures and rocky outcrops changing intermittently. Also, it was god-damn steep.

Dilapidated farm house

The hike was about a T2 difficulty and a five-star quality: not in terms of upkeep — it was wild as they come — rather in raw adventure. Trees grew together, closing over the path into a tunnel. The rocks were slippery due to moss and lichen, making them a canvas of natural colour. There where dilapidated farm houses, weathered down to their last wooden fibres. You even lost you way a few times, not that it mattered as long as you kept heading down hill.

Chilly river

After some more scrambling, one twisted ankle and short picnic you made it to the bottom of the canyon. The water was frigid-cold so you kept it short and started hiking back up.

The dirt road was significantly easier than the hiking trail. It meandered through Tepca Village taking the longest possible path past every farm and plumb tree. You ate quite a few plums on the way up the hill.

Eating plums

The car made it back out the canyon, driving the whole way in first gear. You arrived back home and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. That night: a spaghetti bolognese feast for all. Good adventure.

Daily Rainy Thunderstorms

Today’s adventure started with sunshine on top of a hill, and ended with a thunderstorm under a picnic blanket hung from a tree. The time difference between the start and end of the hike was depressingly short. It would be better called an attempted hike to Jablan Jezero.

Sheltering under a picnic blanket hung from a tree

Looking on the bright side, at least you didn't get as wet as the washing you hung outside to dry. Returning home to the sodden mess, half of it laying on the grass, was a bummer. You fixed things up and hoped it wouldn’t rain again. It did.

Walking back from town

That evening you strolled down the hill (May ran) for dinner in town. Along the way you met some kittens and chickens which were either entertaining or frightening — kids' reactions are hard to pick.

The restaurant served oily meat, tasty trout and played bad cover music in the background. The surprise came when May ran back up that hill! You were not expecting that.

Week one complete. So far so good.