Day 1 - Into the mountainsAugust 3 in Montenegro
We left our hotel at decent time but didn't make decent time, at least not at first. The main route out of town was under construction and was entirely closed. After an hour of roads not being where they should be (according to the map) we found a way out. We passed through the same Srpska territory we'd seen on the Siege tour. We were pretty happy once we were out of there and onto the open road. Pretty early into the drive we came to a spot where a landslide had covered the road, but a temporary gravel workaround had been constructed.
There are a lot of tunnels on the road to Montenegro, and none of them are lit. There are lights, but most of the bulbs were burned out. It took a little getting used to.
After a while the landscape changed, and we worked our way into the Tara Canyon aka the Grand Canyon of Europe. I recently read an article that included this in the top 10 most scenic drives in the world. It was a long, winding climb over rivers and reservoirs, with plentry of tunnels and not very many guard rails. The views were amazing. It looked a lot like Colorado or Montana. There were little river rafting operations all over the place and we tried to get out on the river, but it was too late in the day - no trips started after 11 am.
After hours of climbing we passed the tree line and the scenery changed dramatically. It went from beautiful mountain forest to something that looked like a beautifully kept front lawn draped over massive mountains. It looked like we teleported to an entirely different planet.
We saw flocks of goats and sheep, some of which were polite enough to stay off the road. These creatures were responsible for giving the mountains that freshly mowed lawn look. The afternoon was a series of tight blind turns, again with no guard rails, and long sweeping straightaways that hug the sides of the mountains It was beautiful.
We had skipped lunch in order to make good time, but by late afternoon we were starving. We came upon a little solitary cabin that had signs indicating it was a restaurant. It was pretty much a single room, with a little counter, a wood burning stove and a tiny kitchen. The proprietor greeted us and before we ordered anything shots of local liquor appeared. I had finished my bit of driving for the day so I partook. Colton had a taste and then I drank the rest of his, too.
Colton asked the proprietor if there was a bathroom. No one there spoke much English - there was a small group chain smoking at the other table that might have been his family. The owner gestured towards the mountainscape visible through the window, then he gestured to the grassy plain, then to a nearby outcrop, saying something along the lines of "it is all around you". Heh. The other group got a good laugh out of that one, too.
We asked about food options and he said "bread, cheese, meat". Colton ordered bread cheese, I ordered bread cheese meat. A few minutes later sandwiches came out. The cheese was amazing - very fresh and local, most likely from some of the cows we had heckled earlier (let he who hasn't rolled down the window and mooed at a cow cast the first stone). The ham was a really nice smoked prosciutto - given the location it had to be from nearby.
About an hour later we made it to our stop for the night, Zabljk, Montenegro - the highest altitude city in the Balkans. I've never been to the Swiss Alps but it sure looked like I imagined it would. It reminded me a lot of a little mountain towns in Canada, in both look and feel. We skipped dinner with the group since we had such a late lunch but wound up eating late night - we actually found a place that was open for dinner after 11pm. We had roasted mushrooms, German sausage with a side of beer. On the half mile walk down the un-lit road to dinner we spotted a hedgehog and on the walk back we heard what sounded like coyotes or wolves screeching and whooping in the distance.
Normally it can be hard to sleep well at altitudes like that, but we all slept like rocks - the drive, while beautiful, took a lot of mental energy. There was talk of an amazing zipline that was a little off our route the next day so everyone was excited to get up and hit the road early so we could get a good start on day 2.Read more