Our first destination in Montenegro was the charming but expensive Kotor which was flooded by Russian tourists whose presence inevitably raised all the accommodation prices by at least 300%. To Kotor we were driven by a very friendly Italian couple so until that point we hadn’t checked what it’s like to hitch-hike in Montenegro. Therefore our first real attempt to hitch Montenegrin roads was supposed to be the journey between Kotor and Podgorica, the capital of the country.
From our campsite we were driven around 5 km to the next village by a smiley young guy who sounded a bit Greek and reminded us of our former flatmate, Labros. From where he left us we got a local bus to the centre of Kotor and after a relatively short wait we were picked up by a hostel worker. He spoke good English but even that didn’t help him drop us off in the place we’d suggested and we soon found ourselves on the way to the touristy Budva, which we’d wanted to avoid. It’s always rather difficult to hitch-hike around those beach resorts where people haven’t heard of any other activity different to lying on the beach from dawn to dusk, getting drunk, frequenting posh clubs in their fancy clothes and driving around in expensive cars. But there we were on the way to Budva and there was no way we could have avoided it.
The next lift only confirmed our fears as we got picked up by a Bosnian bartender who was driving directly into Budva city centre. We took it as who are we to be picky while hitch-hiking but it took us a lot of effort to walk from the centre to the outskirts of this resort. Once there, we assumed our positions and started hailing cars. The spot wasn’t ideal but it was possible to pull over.
Half an hour passed, then another half an hour and nobody stopped, nobody smiled and we only encountered rude gestures and heads shaking in denial. Obviously hitch-hiking wasn’t your regular activity on holidays in Budva. Perhaps if we had some designer clothes it would have been easier but being shabby hitch-hikers, we had no luck. We decided to change the spot as this one was not working for us, so we walked another kilometre and found the turn to Podgorica. It was on a slight incline and there was some space to pull over next to the bus stop, where we decided to direct ourselves. As soon as we arrived we saw a scene we had never seen before. There were people waiting at that bus stop: they were all locals, mostly women and there were maybe 20 of them, without any luggage whatsoever, but they were all hitch-hiking. We stood there in awe for about a minute, trying to decide what to do, but there was no other option but to join them. We couldn’t have gone on further, as the road after the bus stop was a hill-side road with nowhere to stand, let alone a place to pull over. So we joined the line and hoped that this time our foreign faces and clothes would be in advantage and somebody would take pity on us.
Some cars drove past and some even decided to stop, picking carefully the hitch-hikers they wanted to help, while others continued to hail and wait patiently for the right car to stop for them. Eventually a car pulled over in front of us and we were greeted by a friendly couple of young Czechs. They were doing their Balkan trip, just like us, but with their own car, driving to places that interested them, sleeping on beaches and on the outskirts of towns. They drove us high into the Montenegrin mountains from where we had a fabulous view over the foggy coast. We said goodbye to them at the crossroads, somewhere in the middle of the mountains, hoping that soon another car would scoop us up as it was starting to rain.
The downpour started unexpectedly fast and we had to seek refuge under a nearby petrol station. We were in the middle of nowhere, only surrounded by the mountains and the heavy wall of rain which impeded us from getting even near the road as we didn’t want splashed from head to toe. As the rain threatened to continue for a while and it started to get dark, we decided to ask every single car which arrived to take some petrol if they would give us a lift to Podgorica. Many of them refused but in the end we found a good man who was driving to the capital who agreed to take us.
On the way there he asked us why we were going to Podgorica, a question we’d heard many times before, asked in the same tone of incredulity. All Montenegrins and tourists we’d spoken to seemed to hate Podgorica and tried to dissuade us from going there, reasoning that it’s ugly and it has no monuments. But it being the capital of the country was a good enough reason for us. Plus, after Dubrovnik and Kotor we were fed up with all the popular tourist destinations and wanted to poke our heads in a real-life town, in a place where normal people live, with normal prices and bars aimed at locals rather than tourists.
As we’d had problems finding Couchsurfing, we’d written addresses of the four hostels there were in town and our driver was so kind as to take us to one of them, since it was still raining heavily and it was almost dark.
There were no house numbers anywhere, so it was rather difficult to find but after a while we saw “good night” written in pink graffiti spray on one of the walls, which was the name of one of the hostels we were looking for. It was a regular apartment building and apart from that one graffiti there was no other sign of it being a hostel or any other establishment. I climbed up the stairs of this 4-storey block but found nothing but flats.
Outside we met a French guy who told us he’d had the same problem last night and couldn’t find the hostel but in the end managed to get a private room for 15 Euro. None of us had a map and it seemed quite far to get to without one, so we said ‘thank you’ and decided to hit the other hostels in town.
Another hostel, called ‘Nice Place’ was located behind a stadium in a dingy alley and was a one-storey old house, which didn’t look that nice at all. We knocked on the door which opened abruptly and a tall young guy came out, closing the door right behind him, so as to make it clear that he didn’t want us to get, or even look, inside.
Hi. We are looking for accommodation… – started I.
Do you have a reservation? – asked the man in a dry tone of voice
We have no space. – said he again and turned around to go back inside.
We looked at each other quite perplexed, said ‘thank you’ and started to head in the direction we had come from. He must have looked deep into his heart at that moment, seeing us there hopeless, without a map, completely wet and with no place to go, and decided to call us back. He told us that the Good Night Hostel did exist in one of the flats but it wasn’t advertised and advised us to go there again to check if they had spaces. He also called one other hostel for us, but they had no beds either. He gave us a photocopy of an old map which wasn’t much help to us but at least he was trying to be nice in the end.
Given that Podgorica is not a tourist destination as there is literally nothing to see, there is no tourist information either. The only option we had was to try and find the last hostel and maybe look for the apartments the French guy mentioned, but we didn’t know the name of it nor the street, so it seemed a long shot. It was almost dark now so we decided to split and look for accommodation in different parts of town.
I walked all the way to the bus station where I found a small hotel with a single room, where we could theoretically squeeze on a single bed for 40 Euros. Jon found another hotel, which offered rooms for 60 Euros but the receptionist was kind enough to call his friend who offers apartments for 15 Euros per person. It seemed like the best option so we waited for the guy to arrive and take us there. He turned out to be an old man who run a small bed & breakfast place, which had no signs outside, was located in the middle of a concrete communist estate of tall blocks of flats and on the whole would be pretty impossible to find on your own.
Later it turned out that it was exactly the same place the French guy was talking about and so we had the chance to get to know him a bit better. He was a child psychotherapist and lived in Argentina for a bit (so the conversation switched from English to Spanish, which he was both pretty fluent in). He also told us a crazy story about how he bought a Russian visa in a Latvian market and had got away with it.
We also met a German girl who spoke like a real Aussie and travelled round the Balkans on her bike. She was a battle-axe and said she liked to avoid flat land and instead headed always for high mountains like the ones in Montenegro or Bosnia. It was nice to be away from a tourist resort full of moany and demanding people with suitcases or first-time backpackers who didn’t differ that much from the former, but instead be in a place that doesn’t attract the regular crowd.
It has to be said that Podgorica is a pretty ugly place but even so we managed to find some real gems. One of them was the Ministry of Finance which shared a wall with the Presidential palace and neighboured the Central Bank and the parliament. All lined up, in perfect harmony, which made it easier for their workers to stay in good cooperation with each other, like in any mature democracy. You know, what I’m saying.
Another gem we found was the Albanian Embassy located on the second floor of a pizza house. I know Albania is not the world’s leading political nor economical power, but come on!
In the end we spent an interesting evening in the capital of Montenegro and were ready to head to Albania the following day, a bit apprehensive before a new country but happy we managed to escape the hoards of tourists at last!
written by: Ania
Follow our 2 month hitch-hiking trip across the north of Italy and the Balkan Peninsula:‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013′. It’s happening now!
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