Black Lake

Jul 13, 2008 in Balkans 2008

Black Lake

I had a choice when I got to Podgorica – head into the mountains of Montenegro, or move on to Kosovo. I had a brief look outside the bus station, and immediately decided to wait one hour here for the bus to Žabljak, rather than wait six hours for the bus to Priština.

It was a good decision. The journey into the hinterlands of Montenegro was amazing. Before very long we were in rugged and remote scenery, wild mountains with waterfalls and streams, all covered in lush green forests. Between tiny settlements where people got on and off, there was little sign of human habitation.

We arrived in Žabljak just after sunset. I wondered if it would turn out to have been a bad idea to arrive in a popular mountain town late on a weekend evening in the summer, but I found a room easily enough, in a house owned by a woman called Dragana.

In the morning I went for a walk to Crno Jezero, Black Lake. It was not far out of town and it was a nice walk through the forest. The lake was quiet, and impressive, with towering rocky peaks and dense forest around it. I walked around it.

All was silent. Then suddenly I heard a ‘plop’, and saw ripples of water spreading out. I was mystified at first. Had someone thrown a stone at me from somewhere nearby? I walked on a few metres, and there was another ‘plop’, but this time I saw the culprit – a large frog who had been relaxing in the sun before I passed by. There were frogs all along the shore, and I set off a wave of jumps into the lake as I walked. In the forest, some squirrel-like rodents ran about; in the lake, a large black fish circled and occasionally grabbed a fly from near the surface.

Once I’d walked all around, I headed back to Žabljak to get a bus back to Podgorica, and found myself there with six hours to kill before the Kosovo bus would leave.

Kotor

Jul 12, 2008 in Balkans 2008

Kotor

I got a bus to Herceg Novi. As we drove out of Mostar I watched ruined buildings passing by, and thought that this town was one of the most shocking places I’d been. The rebuilt bridge and amazing Turkish quarter bustling with tourists seemed to symbolise reconciliation and progress, but when every tenth building was a still a shelled wreck how could there be progress?

Southern Bosnia was stunning and mountainous. The bus route went into Croatia, and the coast road was spectacular. For much of the way the road was high up in the hills, and it was like we were flying, with breathtaking views over the Adriatic. We passed through Bosnia’s tiny coastal strip, and stopped at a shop where they seemed much keener to accept Croatian kuna than Bosnian marks. Then we went back into Croatia again, requiring more passport checks. The battered and frayed state of my passport hadn’t caused problems until now but the Croatian guard looked very unhappy. He looked at it, and me, with slight disgust. “Did you vosh it?”, he demanded.

But he let me through and the journey continued. We flew over Dubrovnik; the bus there from Mostar was considerably more expensive than the ones to Herceg Novi, 30 miles further on, suggesting to me that it would be nightmarishly popular and busy. So I contented myself with a brief glimpse of the red roofs of the old town.

We crossed into Montenegro, and I changed buses at Herceg Novi. It was late evening now and in the dusk we wound our way around Kotor Bay to the town of Kotor. I walked from the bus station into town, not knowing the way at all but successfully guessing. In the old town I realised my guide book was outrageously wrong about many essential things in Kotor. It said that there would be loads of people outside the old town offering accommodation; there was one old woman who sidled up to me and said “Hotel?” but her offers did not tempt me. It said the Hotel Vardar was nice and had rooms from 25 Euros; it was very, very nice and had rooms from well over 100 Euros. Everywhere else in town seemed to be full, and I was bracing myself for a pricy night. Luckily, the receptionist there took pity on me and after phoning around a few places, found me somewhere to stay for 40 Euros, in a noisy hot room above a restaurant.

Accommodation in Kotor wasn’t cheap, but the town was pretty awesome. I went for a walk around the stone streets of the old town, and every street and every square seemed to be lined with restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs. It was a lively vibe and a hot evening. I had some food, got a drink, and took in the atmosphere.

In the morning I got up early and went to climb the city walls. They looked incredible, dizzyingly steep and soaring up into the barren hills surrounding the town. Even at 7.30am it was hot going. But the views quickly got amazing, and the higher I went the more amazing they got. The trail was exhaustingly steep, and I even began to think I wouldn’t make it to the giant Montenegrin flag at the very top. My water was running low and I didn’t fancy getting dehydrated. But eventually I made it, and spent a while appreciating the wild scenery of the Gulf of Kotor.

On my way back down I bumped into a local family, looking like they were struggling. They asked me how much further it was to the top, in broken English when they realised I was not local. I replied in broken Russian which I guessed would be more or less the same as broken Serbian. I checked later and it wasn’t far wrong. I told them it was ten minutes further, and they headed on. I returned to sea level, and got a bus to Podgorica.