City: Budva, Montenegro
Other places visted: Kotor
Stayed at: Freedom Hostel, in Budva’s Old Town.
Best thing I ate: Cakes and wine. Wine and cake. Montenegrin wine is about €3.00 per bottle, and some of it even has a cork (POSH!). I don’t know much about wine so I’m going to say that it was very ‘drinkable’.
I also found two nice bakeries in Budva (PanExpert, near the bus station, and another little place on the harbour). The cakes and pastries were my highlight, given that Montenegrin cuisine is almost exclusively meat based (more on that later). Here are some cake photos for you to drool over (and yes I did have 3 in each bakery, for research purposes).
Figaro: An ice cream wafer base, on top of which is a layer of chewy caramel with nuts in, then a layer of chocolate.
Bombinette: A chocolate truffle with nuts in.
Cream slice: A thick, marshmallow-like concoction (absolutely not cream), layered between flaky pastry.
Above: 3 flaky pastries: the triangle and the swirly one contain a slightly sweet, soft cheese. The butterfly-shaped one contains nutella.
Transport: Buses x 4, taxis x 2.
The lowdown on veggie/vegan/special diets: Meat and fish free doesn’t really seem to be a thing here. There were a couple of places in the Old Town which had veggie options but neither looked very inviting, probably because they were empty due to it being off season. There’s also a place called Juice Bar which I’d heard about, but it was closed when I visited. As with the other Balkan countries I’ve visited so far bakeries, pizza slice stalls, Italian restaurants (there’s usually a veggie pasta dish) and self-catering are probably the best options. Pre-prepared food such as sandwiches and ready meals are non-existent.
The Voli supermarket (the closest to the Old Town) had an okay range of gluten-free products and dairy-free milks on the health food aisle, but I didn’t spot gluten free bread. Some snacks foods such as crisps are marked as gluten free on the front, so it’s worth scouring the aisles.
What I read: Still on ‘The Balkans’, by Misha Glenny. It’s a beast of a book but very well written.
Next stop: Shkoder, Albania
22 April 2018
My first impressions of Budva were mixed. The view of the Bay of Kotor, as the bus from Sarajevo wound down towards the town, was undeniably stunning. The town itself however is geared towards a wealthy tourist market, with yachts lining the harbour and shops selling designer clothing and accessories, of the fur, leather and snakeskin genre, diamanté a-plenty. The Old Town itself is certainly pretty, but it’s also quite small and as I arrived outside of the main tourist season not everything was open, and there was a lot of work going on to get the town ready for the summer onslaught.
Below: Budva, Montenegro
My hostel was right in the Old Town, with a pretty verandah which was perfect for seeking shade and curling up with a book. It also became a bit of a party spot at night; every evening I was there we were entertained by various guitar players who all happened to be staying in the hostel.
On my first night one of the staff was leaving for another hostel, and his colleague cooked a huge meal for everyone staying there. Most people were on the beer (the local brew is called Nikšićko, and comes in huge plastic bottles), but I opted for some Montenegrin wine. At €3 a bottle I wasn’t expecting too much, but it was excellent, and I quite easily drank most of the bottle by myself. My inebriation was hastened by a drinking game initiated by some Aussie guests (of course!), and we ended the evening in the Irish Pub.
Generally Irish pubs go for something classically Irish for a name: ‘O’Sullivan’s’ or suchlike. The Irish pub in Budva, replete with obligatory plush leprechaun and many shamrock decals, was called ‘Chest O’Shea’s’. I’m fairly confident that no Irish person, ever, has had this name, and it leads me to the conclusion that somewhere in the depths of the internet is a ‘Find out your Irish pub name’ generator. It probably started out as a 50p/minute phone service (along with those 90s ‘baby name generator’ lines, and of course ‘Dial a Priest’). I asked my sister, a Dublin dweller, if she knew anyone with such a name and the answer was negative. If you can enlighten me on this mystery please do send in a postcard to the address below (you can use the Balkan Bus network if you wish):
Ms Caroline K
(blue rucksack and sunburnt nose)
23 April 2018
I won’t try to pretend that I was feeling my best the next morning. As delicious as the cheap wine was, I did feel a little like I’d been in a fight with a gang of vicious goats.
The only cure was to head to the beach.
The beach of choice in Budva is called Mogren Bay, and on the walk to it you pass the famous ‘Ballerina Statue’, apparently one of the most photographed landmarks in Montenegro. The view from the bay was pretty fabulous, but the beach itself was in a strange limbo period before the summer season started. There were quite a few workmen about, merrily wielding power tools and running extension cables through a damp cave to reach the other side of the bay – the combination of water and electricity clearly wasn’t of huge concern. To get to the other side of the beach you have to climb up and into a cave, wade through some water and climb out the other side, which was slightly more difficult than anticipated. Once I got to the quieter end of the beach I chilled out for a bit and paddled around, before getting slightly bored – this is why I don’t go on beach holidays.
Below: Mogren Bay
After taking about a hundred photos of the view from the beach, I headed back to the Old Town to check out the rest of Budva’s tourist attractions. First stop was the town museum, which had a nice collection of ancient greek and roman archeological finds, but it was all displayed more like a souvenir shop than a museum and the English language interpretation was very much a google translate job. I’m still glad I visited, some of the objects were fascinating if poorly presented, and I always think it’s good to support small museums.
One interesting fact that I took away was that when some of the excavation the area was still part of Yugoslavia, and as a result some of the more important finds went to bigger museums in Belgrade and Spilt. They haven’t been returned to Budva, and it made me wonder if much research has been done on the repatriation of museum objects within the former Yugoslavia. I’ll have to look into it.
My next stop was the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has a number of icons donated by the Romanovs (of Tsarist Russian Empire fame). Unfortunately I was inappropriately dressed (shorts) so I wasn’t allowed in, and had to make do with peering in from the doorway. The church is adjacent to the Old Fortress from where you can take some excellent photos of the bay – it’s worth the entrance fee for the views alone.
Below: Views from the fortress.
I’d walked a lot that day and even though I was over budget (Budva is fairly pricey by Balkan standards) I really needed a good meal for dinner. I picked a busy place overlooking the harbour and ordered what I thought was a veggie meal. Here’s what the description read:
‘Fried cheese balls with salad and chips’
I saw no mention of meat, so I was feeling pretty confident and felt no need to check with the waitress. The meal arrived. On top of the chips was an enormous burger patty, dripping in meaty grease. In typically British fashion I felt far too awkward to say anything, and debated my options:
Option 1: Say something to the waitress. Too British. Must pretend all is fine.
Option 2: Put the offending burger in a food bag and hide it in my rucksack. Feed it to stray cats later that day. Concern: meat grease might escape into my bag.
Option 3: Walk to waterfront and chuck it into the sea. Risk being labelled as extremely odd and possibly banished from Montenegro permanently.
Option 4: Cut it up into small pieces and hide it under the lettuce to make it look as though I’d eaten some. Then pay and leave very quickly and spend the next day walking as far away from the restaurant as possible out of crushingly British embarrassment and awkwardness.
I’m pretty sure you can guess which option I picked.
24 April 2018
The next day I took a bus to the neighbouring town of Kotor. It’s another fortified town, and popular with the cruise crowd. I lost count of the number of white-haired Germans and Italians who literally walked into me or pretended I wasn’t there when I tried to walk through a doorway, in their desperation to not miss a single minute of their guided tour.
The city itself is gorgeous: cobbled streets, pretty churches and sunny squares lined with cafes. My first stop was the Cathedral of St Tryphon, which has a small museum of sacred art. There are some fabulous reliquaries and if you love a depiction of the baby Jesus as a mini-man on his mother’s lap then you’re in for a treat.
Below: View of the old town from St Tryphon’s Cathedral, and Kotor’s city walls.
High above the town is the fortress; I hadn’t realised quite how high above until I started climbing. I hadn’t had lunch, and about half way up I started to shake. I think it was a combination of lack of food, the strong midday heat and the altitude. And possibly a lack of fitness. Luckily for me there were some enterprising chaps selling drinks, snacks and even religious paraphernalia on the steps, so I managed to top up my sugar levels and made it about 3/4 of the way to the top before deciding to accept my limits and head back down. The view is incredible, but go early or later in the day when it’s cooler, and take plenty of snacks and drinks.
Below: The views from the fortress at Kotor.
I headed back to Budva in the afternoon, and had another entertaining evening of music on the hostel terrace, an impromptu jam between a Turkish guy and an American. There was more drinking, and the night is now quite blurred in my memory. Damn that Montenegrin wine.