We arrived in Croatia in the morning and couldn’t check into our air bnb until noon. Croatia is Scott’s favorite place in Europe, I’ve heard him rave about it for years, so I was really excited to finally get to check it out. My first impression was that their airport was a million times better than Santorini, they actually were using their economic growth to put money back into the infrastructure! What a concept! We walked out of the airport and right to the bus stop to head into the center of Split. Luckily, we were picked up by a guy who offered to take us and another couple for 100 Kuna (we were no longer using the euro) total. The guy was very informative, gave us some ideas for the next week in Split and even gave us his email if we had any questions.
Near the port of Split there is a beautiful open area with benches, flower gardens, palm trees all looking out at the sea. So, we thought, 10am isn’t too early for a gelato and proceeded to munch on gelato and look out at the boats coming in and out of the port. Our air bnb was luckily ready at noon so we headed there for a much-needed nap and recovery from our all-night travels from Greece.
We headed out briefly to check out the town and grab something to eat. Scott’s favorite food from Croatia is called Cevapi (Che-va-pee) basically a bunch of sausage links, sometimes accompanied by fries, or red sauce, or all wrapped up in a pita with sauce and ALWAYS onions. I was introduced to it as my first meal in Croatia, and I was very pleased. Not only is it delicious, but cheap and a lot of it. After that we indulged in some of the best gelato I’ve ever had! Then it was off to the beach.
Most of the beaches in Croatia are rocky, but probably the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Lots of space to lay out and sunbathe, but also have quick access to hop in. We walked along the rocky beach and found a spot to relax for a bit. I was a bit grouchy as I still hadn’t recovered from the night of travel, so it was best to just chill out and do nothing that evening. On the way home, we got Cevapi again and that really great gelato. I have a feeling we will become regulars there as well…
Our initial time in Split was short. Scott had planned for the next day to take a ferry and bus to Montenegro for some heritage searching. I was a little bummed initially because we were set to spend all this time in Croatia and now we took 5 days smack out of the middle of it, but I was incredibly pleased with our time in Montenegro. I know we will be back!
So the next morning we headed to the port to take a ferry to Dubrovnik. If you didn’t know Dubrovnik is famous and attracts tourists for a few reasons, one because of its old town encapsulated within castle walls, and the other being the popular HBO show Game of Thrones. A lot of the filming was done there and we saw so much Game of Thrones memorabilia. Minus the crowds Dubrovnik was beautiful. The city is very clean, and the castle holds all these small shops and alleys. If you can get to the top of the castle walls (we didn’t do this exactly because it cost 26 euro each, but we did go a few streets up for the same effect) the whole town looks out into the turquoise ocean and small adjoining islands. Scott said it was the most beautiful view of the trip this far!
After our short time in Dubrovnik we took the bus ride from hell. Getting on the bus was chaos, driving on the bus was windy and crazy, going through customs twice took incredibly long, and our 2.5-hour trip ended up being 5.5 hours to go 30 miles… I didn’t even know that was possible. But we met some very nice Canadians who advised us of some amazing places to visit in Canada next summer, so there’s always a bright side!
When we finally arrived in Tivat, Montenegro, we had to get to the airport to pick up our rental car. The airport was closed by that time and few people could understand us, but luckily with the help of a handful of people we located our rental car agency and met a super nice guy who not only gave us our rental car, but advised us on THE place to eat in town for dinner. We were starving so we headed to Sidro and ordered exactly what our friend had told us to. The 10 piece cevapi with lots of onions (he underlined this several times to make a point that we can’t eat it without), and shopska, a salad of tomato, onion, cucumber and a whole lot of cheese on top (yes, Scott eats all the vegetables now, raw!! I’m impressed too) was delicious. After a full day of travel, we were finally on our way to our air bnb.
Everything in Tivat is super close so it only took us a few minutes to get to our air bnb. We had to follow exact GPS coordinates because everything in Montenegro is named, there are no house numbers, just names of places. Luckily, our host was very descriptive, and we found the place without any problems. The host was an elderly woman born and raised in Montenegro named Zlatana and her daughter Marina ran her air bnb for her. Zlatana and her husband built the house that they live in now many years ago and the whole family, multiple generations live within. We felt welcomed immediately. Their kindness and hospitality was never-ending. Right when we arrived, even though it was late, they greeted us and chatted over ice cold water and homemade apple pie pastries (don’t worry, we got the recipe). Marina told us about the town and then gave us a breakdown of all the things we should see in our short time there. Scott told her about his family and she even recognized some of the family names he told her and said that people with that name still live around here. It was very cool to see Scott feeling a connection to this place already.
Our time in Montenegro was a whirlwind, there was so much to see and do in such a short time, we were very thankful to have a rental car (I was even more thankful that Scott knows how to drive manual, because I most definitely cannot). The first full day we were there we decided to see some of the places that Scott’s family was originally from. We took the only two-way highway to the town of Risan and explored a bit there. This town we agreed was our favorite in Montenegro, not yet touched by tourism, small, and right on the beach. We walked up and down the old cobblestone streets, took lots of pictures, checked out the church, got a delicious meal of grilled veggies and cevapi, and laid on the beach with some locals. The scenery is hard to describe with words, but it reminded me a lot of New Zealand. Huge mountains, with large bays, lots of greenery, and small towns tucked at the bottom of the mountains. Not yet overtaken by tourism.
After Risan, we headed to the town of Kotor, just a short drive away. Scott has family that migrated from both Risan and Kotor. On the way to Kotor we saw two islands in the middle of Boca Bay. One, which is manmade, and another with just a church. Our host told us that every year in August people come to put a rock on the man-made island to help it grow. Something unique for sure! Kotor was another town we really enjoyed, it was the same idea as Dubrovnik, a city within castle walls, but much less crowded. It was nice to walk through the maze of alley ways, shops, and restaurants to find small gifts for our families. We also visited a beautiful church where Scott lit a candle for his Baba, a very sweet moment.
The drive home from Kotor was very quick, we didn’t realize it was just over the mountain from Tivat. We made a small loop from Tivat, to Risan, to Kotor, and back to Tivat. When we arrived back to the house Marina and her mother greeted us with fresh mint tea from their garden and homemade Tiramisu. I’m telling you, they were SO generous and kind, we had the best stay with their family! Exhausted from our day out, we headed to the same dinner place as the night before and ordered the same thing (we do this a lot). Whenever we find something good and cheap, we usually stick to it, because who knows when we’ll have it again!
Our next day was probably our favorite of all in Montenegro. We made a three-hour drive to Dumitor National Park. 6 hours of total driving and it was so worth it. The whole drive was beautiful, untouched wilderness. Massive mountains, cliffs, greenery, it reminded me a lot of home. (I miss Oregon a bit). Scott only noted missing Oregon today when we went to a Brewery *big eye roll from me. * Anyways, once we got into the national park we were in love. The towns at the foothills of the park are small mountain towns with cabins of all shapes, colors, and sizes sprinkled in no logical order. A lot of character, with not a lot of tourists, definitely our kind of place. We headed straight to the crown jewel of the park, the Black Lakes. With an entry fee that dwarfs that of the States national parks (only 3 euro per person) we were really loving this place.
Black lakes are located at the bottom of a few massive mountains. We were lucky enough to take in the view early enough where not a lot of people were there and with a big cup of hot tea. Basically, my description of a perfect morning. Tea and mountains. After taking in that view for a bit we headed off on a few back roads to one of the biggest canyons in Europe called Curevac. It was a short hike to the edge of this massive cliff and so worth it. It was interesting because in the US it would’ve been railed off and had people patrolling the area, but here it was left alone and basically untouched. The views from the canyon stretched out across mountain ranges, rivers, and small villages. We also met a guy from the Midwest who has been traveling for the last four years. He recommended a chair lift to the top of the second highest peak in the National Park and since we were crunched for time it seemed like the perfect option!
On our way to the peak we stopped at a bridge that was supposed to be amazing. It had a zipline running through and the views of the river and mountains were spectacular. The bridge… was big and that was about it. Maybe we’ve seen too many giant bridges in the States that it is more difficult to impress us. After that detour we were finally on our way to the peak. It only cost us a few euros each to take two lifts up to the top of the mountain. The lifts were old and I realized I’m scared of heights as I death gripped the bars the whole way up and yelled at Scott as he said, “well if we drop, we drop,” not the most reassuring thing to be told as you’re scaling up a mountain. We both were able to enjoy the views though. The best part were the wildflowers at the top. I have never seen so many different and densely packed wildflowers in my life, and I LOVE wildflowers. So even though the view at the top was breathtaking, I was focused on the tiny flowers on the ground.
We stopped in Kotor on our way home and tried a different spot for Cevapi. Big mistake. It had great reviews, but we should’ve known better in such a touristy place. It was packed, the food was meh, and we were really wishing we went to our original spot in Tivat. Luckily, when we got home, our host was waiting with fresh from her garden soup and a big loaf a bread. She saved the day, and it was oh so delicious!
Our last full day in Montenegro was spent visiting the last of the towns Scott’s relatives were from. We headed toward Stari Bar and stopped at a few places on the way. Our host recommended Budva, a town where she works teaching elementary school children, but we just drove through as it was a big city and not much interest to us. Then we headed toward a National Park on the Albanian and Montenegrin border. We drove around and walked a bit and were not so lucky to find the entrance into the park, we think that maybe it could only be accessed by boat. Luckily it was on the way to Stari Bar and the drive/surrounding areas were beautiful.
Our last stop was Stari Bar. Just on the outskirts of the town is supposed to be the oldest olive tree in Montenegro, 2500 years old. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was exactly what you would imagine. One old tree in a courtyard, surrounded by a fence. At least we saw it! Then we headed to the old town of Stari Bar. We walked the old ruins, much of it was blown up in the 1800’s, but they are working to restore the town. There were a lot of stray dogs around so naturally Scott and I made some furry friends. I wanted to bring them all home, and honestly if we were headed home now, I probably would’ve tried to.
We had a nice beer at the top of the town, went through some of the olive oil shops and then made our way back to the car. On our way back to Tivat we stopped at the beach, but it was pretty crowded, and we wanted to beat the traffic home. We relaxed the rest of the evening, had tea and apple pie bites with our host and headed to our favorite dinner spot one last time.
This morning we slept in a bit, had our last homemade mint tea and headed to the bus station in central Tivat. Our hosts hugged us and made us really feel like family when we left, it was a really special experience. Though our bus was late, it didn’t take 5.5 hours to get to Dubrovnik this time, and we had some time to spare in the city before our ferry to Split. We got some yogurt, fruit, and pastries for lunch near the port in Dubrovnik. Then we checked out a little rooftop bar called Love Bar near the bus station and a brewery for good measure on the way to our boat. Our time in Montenegro was fantastic. I’m so glad Scott got to see where his family migrated from and we got to experience a place that hasn’t yet been completely over-taken by tourism. We will definitely be back.
Now we are on the ferry back to Split, I’m all caught up on the blog, and hopefully I’ll be more timely with the rest of my posts!