Croatian SIM card: a bargain and a caveat

The trans-Atlantic cruise that launched our Balkan adventure stopped in Dubrovnik before dropping us off in Venice. I’d been to Dubrovnik before and we knew we’d return, so our priority on the cruise stop was to buy a visitor SIM card so we’d be ready to roll when we came back to Croatia 2.5 weeks later. I’d done some research and knew there were no phone stores selling SIM cards in Old Town Dubrovnik, but they are sold at the post office.

Browsing our options at the old town post office, I chose the “Vipme internet,” a fantastic bargain at 20 kuna ($3), including tax. For that price, I got a data SIM card with 2G worth of data at 1G/day (ie., two days’ worth of Internet). The system is set up perfectly for travelers: your gig allotment is in 24 hour increments that begin when you actually access the internet with your card. So, if you don’t need the card for a day, you don’t get charged. I figured we’d use the card that day and then on our first day back in Croatia later in the trip. After that, we could buy charge up slips at any phone store, post office or most convenience stores at a rate of about $1.50/day. What a deal! read more

Taking a bus from Kotor, Montenegro, to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Although we planned drive ourselves in Croatia, we opted not to keep the car we’d rented in Montenegro for that trip. My reasoning was 1) we’d avoid cross border charges; and 2) we didn’t want a car for our days in Old Dubrovnik anyway since parking is nonexistent in the old town. The best option appeared to be a motor coach. I bought tickets ahead of time on GetByBus at https://getbybus.com/en/ for 483.5 Croatian kuna ($42.5o) for 2 tickets, tax included. A print-out of the ticket is required and the drive is about 2 hours. We had only one brief stop at a town along the way. read more

Perast, Montenegro

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View of the two small islands off of Perast

With some hours to spare before our motor coach to Dubrovnik, we took the opportunity to visit beautiful Perast which lies just a short distance north from Kotor. We’d driven past the town on our way to the Ostrog Monastery, admiring the lovely old town and the two achingly picturesque little islands just off shore. One island hosts a monastery which is closed to the public, but the church on the other island is open to visitors.

With directions from Maryjana, we caught the local bus just across the road from the modern Kamelia Shopping Centre, a mere block from our apartment. The bus ride is ridiculously cheap, about €1pp and takes only 30 minutes or so. We were let off near the spot where you can hire boats to take you out to the islands. Our boat ride cost about €5 apiece. We sailed around the islands and then were dropped off at the church island for 30 minutes. The boat continued to shuttle back and forth and we could have ridden back later, but we had plenty of time. read more

Road Trip to Spectacular Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

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A beautiful day in Montenegro is a great time for another road trip! This time we had our sights set on the locally-renowned Ostrog Monastery, a 2+ hour drive away. Once again our AirBnB host, Bojan, proved worth his weight in gold. When I asked about possible road closures in light of all the road work we’d seen on the way to Albania, he called the local traffic authority and got back to me with invaluable information: a major bridge and sole access to the monastery from Kotor would be closed for two 2-hour stints, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The bridge was an hour and twenty minutes into our journey. Armed with that knowledge, we timed our drive to arrive a scant 5-10 minutes before the bridge reopened after the morning closure. Thank God we didn’t get up early just to sit in a line of cars and semi-trucks for two hours wondering what the heck was going on! read more

Lovćen Park and a drive of a lifetime: a vertical mile of switchbacks

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Above other mountains: View from the roadside of Kotor and the bay

One place in Montenegro I was absolutely sure we wanted to see was Lovćen Park. Now that we had good weather, we grabbed the opportunity. Bojan had secured us a rent car, delivered to our apartment and at a small discount to anything I’d been able to find. Bojan was turning out to be an AirBnB host extraordinaire.

There are two routes to Lovćen Park from Kotor: the longer route via Budva and new roads and the shorter route via an older narrow, switch-back filled road up the face of the mountain at the end of Kotor bay. The road leads to the community of Cetinje. We’d heard rumors that the older Cetinje road was closed, but Goran had assured us that was not the case and we were dying to try it. Actually, David was definitely eager to try it and I thought I was, too, but with some reservations. While the views were said to be breathtaking, I had some concerns about the condition and safety of the road. read more

Daytrip to Albania

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Wildflowers and goats in Rosafa Castle grounds in Shkodër, Albania

I think nearly every traveler feels the urge of The Place Just Beyond. I try not to succumb to the temptation to waste my time in Place A running over to Place B, just because it’s further or–my personal peeve–just to “say” you’ve been there. I always wonder who exactly I’m supposed to “say” that to, and who the heck would care. Still, I can be as weak as the next person and ever since we’d planned this trip to Montenegro and I’d realized how close Albania was, I’d been tempted to make a dreaded “toe touch” run. I know, I know: Shame on me! read more

Picturesque Kotor: narrow streets and a mountain fortress

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Old Kotor: on the way to the path up to the fortress

Kotor turned out to be everything I’d hoped: beautiful, friendly, and a great base to explore. We spent the morning of our first full day in Kotor hiking to the top of Kotor’s St. John Fortress. Two access points from the old town to the path up are manned buy locals who exact a fee of around €3pp. Steep stairs and rough, cobblestone paths make the ascent easier than mountaineering, but it’s still 87 stories-worth of climbing! The fortress is entirely in ruins, with occasional small shrines and a little church along the climb and a surprising wealth of wild purple irises and bright yellow wildflowers covering the rocky terrain. We thoroughly enjoyed the climb, but were told it could be hot and crowded in the summer. Thankfully, we had neither of those problems. read more

Montenegro, at long last!

I’d wanted to visit Montenegro when my boys and I had been in Dubrovnik back in 2003. It was so close!…but I’d decided against making what, in essence, would have been little more than a toe-touch in the country. Now, finally, I was going back and we had 5 nights in Kotor to explore this mountainous country. I was thrilled.

The getting there from Belgrade was both easy and fun. Pre-boarding, we enjoyed the amenities of the airport Business Club courtesy of our Priority Pass membership (an AmEx Platinum perk). Once aloft, we flew over the rugged mountains I’d originally thought of crossing by train, enjoying the views…and convinced we’d made the right decision to skip the train. The Air Serbia flight between Belgrade and Tivat, Montenegro, was barely more than an hour and as pleasant and efficient as our Ljubljana to Belgrade flight had been (with yet another “$0” free meal). Eventually, the mountains gave way, but only somewhat, to a spectacular Adriatic coastline. read more

AirBnB: Belgrade, Serbia; “Danube & Kalemegdan 1BD Apartment”

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Living room of our Belgrade AirBnB looking toward the kitchen

Our apartment in Belgrade was an amazing $43/night, net of all fees. Wow. I confess to being not only tempted by the price, but really curious to see just what we would get at that rate. The reviews were good; David, who’s become more and more willing to give the fruits of my bargain-hunting a try was game. I felt pretty optimistic about this booking…which isn’t to say I didn’t have a few niggling doubts on the taxi ride from the airport. But, our hostess, Vesna, had provided lots of comforting information, been super-responsive to my emails, correct about free wi-fi at the airport, and quick to respond to my WhatsApp text when we landed in Belgrade. So far, so good. read more

Beer Post: Belgrade

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Miners Pub

Beer Post #3 is Miners Pub in Belgrade…where I’m sad to say we sipped the worst beer either of us have ever tasted! Imagine green olive juice poured into your beer and you’ll get an idea of the absolute wretchedness that was Tron. When we refuse to finish a beer, you know it’s bad!

Happily, Miners Pub itself was a neat place with lots of other good craft beers both on tap and in bottles. Miners is decorated–y0u guessed it–with a mining theme and is located in a cellar below street level. It’s bigger than it initially appears, too, with several rooms set up for darts and foosball as well as beer drinking. Miners Pub is located at: Rige od Fere 16, Beograd 11158, Serbia. Their phone is:+381 11 4068290. read more