While we were in Kosovo, I decided to change up our plans for Serbia due to the pollution in the area. I hoped that the coast would be much cleaner. The pollution numbers for Dubrovnik stayed steadily in the green zone, and I made an executive decision to divert our route south through Montenegro. We’d originally planned to go through Montenegro to stay in Bijelo Polje and then travel by train up to Belgrade. With pollution numbers comfortably in the two hundreds, I took us to down to the scenic coast of Montenegro instead.
Our bus ride was absolutely spectacular. As we rode up the mountains we left the pollution below us and emerged into a snow covered wonderland. None of us had ever seen quite such deep drifts of snow covering trees and undergrowth in a beautifully soft blanket. I drew incessantly as we approached the border control, stared at the entire time by all those around us. As with the rest of the former Yugoslavia, the locals stared unabashedly at us everywhere. The two kids in the seats in front stared at me the entire ride. The four bros behind us as well, talking about us most of the time in Albanian (I knew because the words for Chinese and American kept coming up, as well as English phrases such as “Can you teach me?” when I drew). I despised the two tall Montenegrins in front for their absolute selfishness – placing their backpacks on the adjourning seats despite many needing to sit and hostilely refusing to move them until the aforementioned children arrived. This caused a tense kerfuffle with a man who wished to sit by his brother, claiming a reserved seat number (we had no reserved seats) in order to oust my brother from his seat.
I even drew at the checkpoint and no one stopped me, though the driver did stop others from taking photographs. From this high point we took a slow descent through a fantastic high-walled gorge that reminded me of 太魯閣 in Taiwan. I have almost no images of our gorgeous journey as I had the inside seat on the bus. Lei, who had the window seat, was not at all impressed by the ride, saying it was a typical West China view, nothing special. For me, untraveled in that part of the world, it ranks as one of the most beautiful bus journeys I’ve taken.
Our bus took all day to wind down to the capital of Podgorica, where we jumped out for an hour to get food at a restaurant I’d already scouted out electronically ahead of time. The owner himself took our orders and delivered absolutely fabulous service – flourishes on the additions of pepper to the tripe soup, garnishes added at the table, and a jovial friendliness that was absolutely endearing. The food was delicious, too, as we stayed away from the piles of grilled meat and ordered soups and salads instead.
Podgorica would reach 442 on AQICN that night. Luckily, we jumped back on a bus after dinner to wind around up the coast of Montenegro (at night) and around to Kotor. Exhausted after a full day of traveling (here we agreed that traveling is the worst part of traveling), we checked in to our apartment after some confusion. A note on our accommodations in the Balkans – we stayed mostly in rented apartments at around ten dollars per person per night, with hilariously picky filters on Booking.com. Above 9/10 on review scores, within a kilometer of the town proper, private bathroom, etc. We stayed two nights at an apartment with quite possibly the best view of the stunning Bay of Kotor before moving down the hill to another excellent apartment with no view but exceptional service.
We decided to do a tourism and walked down to the walled Stari Grad. Kotor’s old town felt magical at night. Mysterious, European, yellow, quiet, and absolutely romantic. We settled on a restaurant near the center for some mediocre food and excellent live music. As I told Lei and Brent later, the two piece band playing through the night on keyboard, guitar, drum machine, and computer were good in the way you can only be at 19 – fearless, amicable, casual, expert enough to know their relative skill, yet not experienced enough to have been discouraged by the relative skill of others. We stayed long just to listen to them more and I chatted with them afterwards, inviting them to find me if they came to the US, and giving them generally encouraging words.
Pollution marred our full day in Kotor. Lei left early to walk around the bay, while Brent and I enjoyed the warmth and the view more slowly. We ambled through a surprisingly pleasant (and homey) farmer’s market before I sat to draw the moat. Mostly, we sat so that I could avoid exertion in the pollutant heavy air. After a nice lunch in a local place Lei found, Brent and Lei walked up to the viewpoint high above Kotor while I stayed below to draw and write in the Cathedral plaza, worried about my asthma and drinking a essentially non-alcoholic mulled wine. We met our host back at the apartment to purchase some of their pleasant and cheap homemade wine, relaxing thoroughly (I had two glasses and was quite inebriated) before a perfect dinner at the grill down the road, Marenda, where a bright-eyed young man offered the most amazing service with a genuine, friendly smile.
Lei left the next day to meet up with his friend from Germany in Sarajevo. This friend has been bitten by the self-righteous (yet admirable) trend sweeping European youth and took a bus from Dusseldorf rather than a flight due to lower carbon costs. Also vegan. Lei therefore had to endure a long bus ride to Sarajevo himself – I recommended a stopover in Dubrovnik, too. Brent and I were much lazier and finished the leftover wine, cheese, and cold cuts while admiring the absolutely gorgeous view over Kotor. All of a sudden the air was free of pollution due to a change in weather with gusty winds. Heartbreakingly picturesque, but still too cold to admire for long outside.
We walked down the hill to move to a different apartment, then took an extremely friendly taxi (he offered us WiFi, a charging port, and crackers) to Perast. The Venetian architecture of tiny Perast begged drawing despite the frigid weather and aggressive winds, so I sat to draw outside for twenty minutes, freezing Brent quite thoroughly. Unfortunately, the food was quite bad (I thought about warning the two Italians who sat at the table next to us for lunch), and our evening return to Marenda was quite disappointing due to a rude waiter. Our host at the second apartment drove us to the airport, however, for a final good impression of the tiny country.