Croatia and Montenegro Oct 2008 (aka Montenegro Don't Go)
It’s hard to believe that I’m saying our trip to Montenegro was the worst trip of our lives, because we did see Dubrovnik, Croatia on the way, the best city in all of Europe. So what went wrong? How can we discover our favorite European city during the worst trip of our lives? You’ll have to hold on because I’m starting this trip report off like the trip started out - as if it would be the best trip of our lives.
So, Dubrovnik…it’s a coastal town on the Adriatic Sea about 11 hours drive due south of Vienna. Yes, I drove it. The Attaché flew, but I drove: Austria–Slovenia–Croatia–Bosnia–Croatia. You can’t get there without going through Bosnia, so I did it in style, windows rolled down screaming, “Milosevic was a wanker!” the full ten kilometers through Bosnia. Croatia is a fun driving experience. You drive on empty Autobahn for 80 percent of the way, then you switch to winding coastal roads, both offer something fun in my little 118d.
I picked up the Attache at the airport in Dubrovnik and we spent 2 great days in Dubrovnik. I think the pics speak for themselves. Then we loaded the car and began the short 10 mile drive to the Croatia/Montengro border. Our plan was to mix a few days of camping in Montenegro with some hotel time. The weather was clear as we crossed border, and the temperature just right, hovering around 70.
In Europe, there are basically three tiers of infrastructure standards: top tier countries are such places as Germany, France and Austria - just like the US. Second tier countries are places like Poland, Hungary and Croatia - good primary roads but questionable secondary roads, safe drinking water. Third tier countries are places like Romania, Bosnia and Montenegro. In these countries you might find horse carts on the road. Tap water is risky. There is unreliable power. Generally, we stay away from third tier countries. Sure, there is adventure in this lot of countries but nothing ruins a vacation like liquid bowel movements. As a practice, we don’t take chances in these places - we only eat cooked food and drink bottled water. In Montenegro, no matter how safe you try to be, you are still doomed. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Okay, quick history of Montenegro, MHF style: part of Yugoslavia from 1918 until 1991, part of war-torn Yugoslavia from 1991 until 2003, then in 2003 part of “Serbia and Montenegro” and then in 2006 an independent country. Whew. Because Montenegro is so young, there are no English language tourist guides. That wasn’t going to stop us. I printed up every page from Montenegro’s official national website, amounting to about 20 pages of maps and info, and off we headed.
We drove through a few nice coastal towns before turning inland to a National Park called Lovcen which promised to have good camping. We spent the day winding our way from the coast to higher elevations with expansive views of rugged mountain acres intermixed with roadside garbage and trash burning. Hey, I actually enjoyed the contrast. All the stink and smoke from the trash burning gave a real sense that this country had not fully escaped that “conflict in the Balkans” from the 90s. We stopped at a rather ritzy hotel for a meal - I had a pasta dish, the Attaché had scampi. I clearly made the right decision. Again, I’ll get to that more.
Camping, we learned, is not an organized affair at the National Park Lovcen. Camping was “on your own where you want to” with no facilities whatsoever. Fortunately, we had all the essential gear for this type of camping. We did not, however, have any luxury gear. Temperatures dropped crazy-fast that night. The wind blew hard. We put on every bit of clothes we had, buried ourselves beneath a few thick blankets, and froze our asses off all night. Actually, ass-freezing is not really correct. Had our asses really froze, it would have been much nicer but since they did not, the Attaché spent the night running to and from the tent with a wicked bout of Milosevic’s revenge. Really, can you imagine anything worse that such an illness, while camping in freezing temperatures?
Although Lovcen was scenic, the Attaché’s digestive issues sent our opinion of Montenegro spiraling downward. The Attaché was seriously out of commission after that night of camping so we rushed out of the National Park Lovcen early the next morning, and spent the better part of three days at deserted hotel. The holiday season had ended, and we found hotels on the beach for next to nothing. The upside was the price and the stunning Med view. The downside was unreliable power, questionable plumbing, and the fact we were terrified to eat anything and there were no grocery stores where we could buy canned food. Really, we never saw a grocery store in Montenegro, only road-side markets with at best, dusty jars of olives. I survived on wine and olives, the Attaché, well, she hardly survived.