I've been traveling around the Balkans since mid-July. I've seen plenty of Croatia, which is the most popular tourist country here in the Balkans. Or at least I observed that from my personal perspective. However, the surrounding countries around Croatia are absolutely stunning.
I came to Croatia thinking I'd spend most of my time here. I thought it was a dream come true. However, I have discovered that of all the Balkan countries I've visited
which is not all and I will return to complete this mission is that Croatia is actually my least favorite.
How could this be so?
I still love Croatia but hear me out.
Let me tell you about Montenegro.
For starters, Montenegro is right below Croatia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has beaches and lakes, mountains, rivers, and the longest zip line in Europe!
I could sell you on tourist attractions and sites but I'd be wasting my time because those things, in the end, don't really mean much when it comes to traveling. I apologize if you disagree! For me, it's about the personal experience in a place whether I visited the most important museum or historic building or not. The two things that impacted me the most were the people and the nature.
"The romance is competing with Italian men, ladies. Take note."
My first experience in Montenegro consisted of me lugging my suitcase on a sidewalk towards my hostel. A crevice in the sidewalk was a few feet away from me and I began to brace myself to situate my luggage. A local, around my age, ran across the street to pick up my suitcase and place it on the other side. He didn't even know English. This is one of a billion examples of my experiences in Montenegro. Like the taxi driver who didn't even care for the full change I needed to give him because the drive was so simple. He waved me off and said "no worry. Have nice day, lady!"
Or the one time I visited this restaurant that had great and cheap food and the waiter always gave me treats like free coffee and juice, a game (he thought I was lonely, maybe?), and always decorated my table with flowers and candles.
One time I left and he said, "Next time I will have a gift for you." And to paint the picture accurately, he was probably somewhere in his young 20's. Sadly, he did not know I had a boyfriend so I wonder if he felt insecure about me not reciprocating affection but it was sweet nonetheless.
Well the next time I visited I had left before he came back from break. It was my last night there, too, so I wasn't returning. I walked one block into a new courtyard and I heard, "Excuse me! I told you I'd give you your gift!" I turned around and there he was smiling at me with this beautiful, white seashell.
I mean, if the people couldn't get nicer and romantic. The romance is competing with Italian men, ladies. Take note.
While Kotor is a quiet little town that is asleep by midnight and its beaches resemble more of a lake, surrounded by beautiful mountains mind you, it still has so much to offer compared to a large and hip city.
The cobblestone, architecture, roaming cats, bakeries and wine shops, seafood, and mountains paint this quintessential picture that makes you feel like you just hopped into another world.
One of my favorite travel days occurred right in Kotor, too.
"We had our own concert above the city and below the shooting stars."
Kotor has this fortress wall of 1,350 steps and 1,200 meters. It's fairly intense, especially in the dead of summer. I met two of my hostel roomies who were really cool and we trekked it together at sunset. We reached the top at the perfect time, with backpacks full of wine, chips, and chocolate.
From sunset until 1:00 am, we stayed at the very top of the fortress wall. As the sun set, dusk passed, and shooting stars streaked the sky, we sat an enjoyed the nature around us. There was one other group of travelers at the top with us til 1:00 am. Every single one of us were all from different countries. The live music from the Old Town below echoed up so clearly to the top that we could hear each word of every song. We had our own concert above the city and below the shooting stars.
For the rest of my stay in Kotor, I toured the countryside and Durmitor (part 2. of this blog), hung out at the beach, ate seafood, drank beer and rakija, listened to live music, attended a pub crawl, and relaxed at the restaurant that treated me like a princess. I also hung out with incredible people which always makes every travel trip go from great to spectacular.
On my last day in Kotor, which meant leaving at 8:00 am, I woke up at 4 in the morning to hike the fortress wall again and capture the sunrise.
I'm not going to lie...I was a bit anxious on my way to and up the wall. It was pitch black and I was walking around a town full of alleyways. I also hiked up a hill in the dark, outside the city, and who knows who could be up there. So, I almost turned around and went back to sleep. I was determined, though, and that won me over.
The progression of the sunrise was beautiful. At first, everything was dark. Then a few boats on the water began to move, church bells rang, the color of the clouds changed, a few sounds of gates opening from below echoed up, and soon enough the locals were hustling and bustling about before tourists woke up.
Seriously, don't skip out on this beautiful country. It tends to get overshadowed by Croatia. But in all honestly, the nature in Montenegro is mind blowing while it is also less expensive than Croatia. I don't want to blast Croatia, here, but I simply want to point out that there are more to the Balkans than the most popular beach country. Hop on over to Montenegro when you're nearby and you won't be disappointed.
For photographs of Durmitor and the countryside of Montenegro, then check out part. 2 of this blog post!