Montenegrin Moonshine with Vyukosava

Kotor & Mountains

The one thing about an around the world trip (well, I’m sure it’s not THE one thing, but….) is that you kind of have to watch your budget (unless you’re filthy rich, which we’re not) or else you’ll wind up out of $$ in Namibia when you should have run out when you touch down in Los Angeles a month later.

It’s easy to go hog wild when you first start traveling and spend with wild abandon and then you have to pull back on the reins and start to monitor the cash outflows.  Another thing about traveling the world (see, I knew that wasn’t THE one thing, here’s already ANOTHER thing) is that it’s good to have certain things planned in advance, but it’s also part of the adventure to wing it once in a while.  This is easier to do when you are not traveling in high season, a benefit we’ve been enjoying – plenty of rooms available, no reservations needed at popular restaurants, etc.

We embraced the adventure when we arrived in Kotor, Montenegro yesterday by bus from Dubrovnik with absolutely no idea where to stay or what to do in this city.  It was apparent right from the start that Kotor was a poorer city than Dubrovnik as we were literally accosted by a mob of local Kotorians offering up their houses and apartments for as cheap as 10 Euros for the night.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard one of them offer up their daughter for around the same price, but I could have been wrong, what with the language barrier and all.  We brushed past them all embracing the maxim “never take the first offer you get” and made our way with all our luggage (thanks to Francesca for making me pack light!) to the old city where we asked the “infotouristika punkt” if it was kosher to rent apartments from locals.  They told us it was totally illegal, but totally safe.  Uh….okay.

As we were over budget already we decided to take a chance and walked back over to an old Montenegrin lady who had shyly approached  Francesca a few moments earlier with an apartment rental offer.  She shrieked with glee when I told her we were interested in potentially renting her room and she waddled off muttering to herself and we followed.

Kotor Apartment

The room was definitely small and, well, let’s say this was NOT as clean as your average Motel 6, but the price was right at 30 Euro (we definitely could have bargained her down, but she was so adorable that we didn’t have the heart) and the location was primo, right in the Old City by the center square.

Vyukosava Apartment

Another cool aspect of international travel is the interesting encounters you have with people and the very basic communication that occurs between parties that don’t speak a lick of the other’s language.  It’s a “Me Tarzan, you who?” kind of thing to find out their name, etc.   After much hand signaling we found out her name was “Vyukosava” (although I have no idea how that is actually spelled) and that she has a brother who lives in Miami and whom she misses very much, which we deduced by her wailing and signing the cross on her chest, enough that we thought he might have actually been dead, which he apparently was not.

Then she boiled water for tea and insisted in teaching us the Montenegrin words for the specific types of tea we wanted (I only remember Francesca’s – “Bruslica” which actually is pronounced with like 4 extra syllables like “Brushlishitka” or something).  Then she broke out some fresh bread and delicious cheese.  Of course the cynical New Yorker in us was thinking “okay, here comes the scam, it’s going to be 30 Euro for the room and 60 Euro for the meals.”   Then she busts out a plastic water bottle filled with what she made us understand is some sort of moonshine and forces me to drink it.  She didn’t offer any to Francesca so I guess only the men drink this stuff here.  I was not up for it, but she would not take no for an answer.   Now I thought “okay, here’s the part where I pass out and she steals all our crap or worse yet goes all “Hostel” on our asses and I wake up upside down in a body cage or something.”

Yvukosava plying Dan with moonshine

Yvukosava plying Dan with moonshine

But that didn’t happen.  She turned out to be a lovely (if not lonely) woman who was trying to make ends meet by renting her apartment out to foreign tourists.  We felt badly that she had to sleep on her couch, but we knew the money meant a lot for her.

We spent a wonderful, if not exhausting, afternoon climbing to the top of the mountain flanking the town and exploring the ruins of old battlements and churches, etc.

Kotor square & alleys

As in many European towns there are several large squares and a lot of tiny, narrow alleyways throughout the Old City.

kotor church night

There are also a ton of cool churches.

Kotor Laundry shot

I told you I love my laundry shots!

wide shot of kotor from ruins

The major attraction of Kotor is the climb to the ruins of the fortress.  It was a significant hike up, but we were rewarded with amazing views from on top.

Fran through ruin wall

We discovered this hole in the wall that was off the beaten path that led to…..

wide of church ruins

…..ruins of an old one room church.

church ruins

church ruins inscription

I thought this looked really cool so I snapped a photo of it.  Anyone know what this says?  Francesca was joking that it’s probably some juvenile hooligans who etched graffiti art on the church wall.

Fran chilling at ruins

Francesca chillaxing at the ruins.

Kotor Old City from above.

Kotor Old City from above.

fran with ruin behind

It’s easier going down.

Kotor restaurant

An average meal at a very cool interiored restaurant called Scala Santa.

Fran and Vyukosava

Saying good bye to Vyukosava was heartbreaking……and humorous.   She was absolutely adorable.  We tried to help her out by finding some new tenants for her, but it was pouring down rain when we left and the tourists were staying undercover and we didn’t come across any of them.

Sveti Stafan

We learn lessons when we travel and one of them is to make sure that even MAJOR tourist sites are OPEN when you take a bus detour specifically to see it.  That happened to us when we decided to go to Budva to see the famous Sveti Stefan (photo above) instead of going straight to Bar to get our boat to Italy.  It was pouring down rain, we spent 8 Euro on a taxi to take us from the bus stop to Sveti Stefan only to find out (after the taxi left) that it was completely closed for renovations.  Dammit!  Since it was closed there were no taxis around so we convinced one of the construction workers doing the renovation to take us back to the bus stop for 10 Euro!  He was nice enough though (why wouldn’t he be he probably just made a full day’s wage taking us) and offered us some smokes (which, of course, we declined).

Budba taxi driver

Next blog posting will be from the Amalfi Coast of Italy!

Country Stats

Official Name: Montenegro

Native Language:  Montenegrin

Country Name in Native Language: Crna Gora (means “Black Mountain”)

Population: 678,177

Capital City: Podgorica

Government: Parliamentary Republic

Current Leader: President Filip Vujanovic, Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic

For more information on Montenegro click here.

In Retrospect (August 22, 2010):

Our day in Kotor is one of the most memorable from our trip which goes to illustrate that, at least for us, it’s all about the unexpected adventures you have and the interesting people you meet rather than the tourist monuments you cross off your list.  Vyukosava was one of the most colorful characters we met on our journey and we would have been deprived of that experience had we arranged for a proper hotel in advance.

We only scratched the surface of Montenegro, but what we saw definitely warranted a longer trip sometime in the future.

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