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

20160410_120643
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

20160409_151022
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

20160408_112536
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”

AirBnB
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

20160405_172237
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

Belgrade Highlights

20160406_105946
The Sava River viewed from Kalmegdan Fortress with modern western Belgrade in the background

Our first day in Belgrade was a little hit-and-miss, but we soon found our groove and had fun exploring this city of contrasts. There’s so much history in Belgrade and it’s been layered on, partially destroyed, rebuilt according to the tastes of the rulers of the day. I found the remnants of the Ottoman Empire particularly fascinating and an early stop was at the 19th century residence of Princess Ljubica. Not what we might think of now as a palace or chateau, the residence is relatively modest. It hasn’t been restored to an exact replica of when the ruling Serbian Obrenović family lived there (1831-1842), but rather has rooms furnished with objects belonging to the Obrenovićs and other wealthy Serbian families which reflect the changing/Westernizing of tastes of the period. The blending of east and west and the effects of moderization and trade is fascinating to see. I particularly enjoyed the portraits and displays of clothing reflecting a clear, but waning, Ottoman influence. For less than $2 apiece (200 dinar), the princess’ residence is more than worth it. The bargain prices in Belgrade are a treat! read more

Arriving in Belgrade, Serbia

David and I were both curious about Belgrade and I had my nose pressed to the window as we landed at Nikola Tesla Airport. We flew in over a sprawling metroplex constrained by the Danube River to the north and bisected by its tributary, the Sava River. More familiar looking structures gave way to massive, uniform blocks of high-rise housing as we neared touchdown.

20160404_110916
Belgrade, Serbia, with the Danube in the distance and the Sava forking in the foreground
20160404_111021
Huge housing blocks as we approach Nikola Tesla Airport

Nikola Tesla Airport felt enormous after little Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport. It was modern and bustling…with working free wi-fi! While we waited for our luggage, I texted with our AirBnB hostess, Vesna, via WhatsApp (invaluable for travel, expecially since nearly every AirBnB host I’ve dealt with has an account) and she promised her husband would be waiting when our cab dropped us off. read more

Air Serbia from Ljubljana to Belgrade

20160404_094141

Serbia hadn’t originally been part of our plans, but it caught my attention when I stumbled across a really intriguing-looking train ride from Belgrade/Beograd to the Montenegran coast (which was, along with Slovenia, on my must-go-there list for this trip). Although further research convinced me we would not like the train ride after all. Reviews described spectacular views, but also an 11-hour trip with the potential for hours more in the event of flooding, uncomfortable seats, filthy bathrooms. Nope, we’re too old and too addicted to at least a moderate level of comfort for that. But, in the meantime, Belgrade had caught my imagination. read more

Slovenia’s lesser-known wine country

DSCF1208
Just before the Prus winery. The church in the distance is probably in Croatia.

Ever since a Venetian restaurateur had told us about Slovenian “orange wine,” David and I had been dying to try it. To our frustration, few people seemed to know what we were talking about and the ones who did had none on offer. We decided to venture into Slovenian wine country to find this elusive wine.

Slovenia has 3 wine districts. The most prestigious–and by all accounts very beautiful–is on the Italian border. Another lies to the north with the city of Maribor at its heart. Finally, there is the eastern wine region, Posavje, that borders Croatia. It’s less well-known, but boasts the award-winning Prus winery (“Vinska Klet Prus”) near the village of Metlika. Not only has the proprietor be repeatedly named best overall winemaker in Croatia, but the winery has begun making an orange wine that has been named best in class. We were intrigued. I called ahead, and with some language difficulties, determined that an English-speaking tasting would be available. http://www.vinaprus.si/en/ read more