We left Niš at 10am on Monday morning to set off on the next part of our adventure. The journey to Bar on the Montenegrin coast was scheduled to take in excess of 11 hours, and so it was with some trepidation that we scanned the bus station for the bus we would be travelling in. When it arrived we were pleased to see that although it wasn't quite at the comfort levels of Lux Express (who we travelled with around the Baltic countries last year), it was at the higher end of the quality scale for buses leaving Niš.
Our expectation was that the bus would drive for a few hours, stop for a break, drive for a few hours, stop for a break etc in the pattern of other buses which we have caught in the region. This one was equipped with two drivers, however, each of whom drove for four hours at a time before swapping over. There was one 20-minute stop at 2pm, but otherwise the bus was constantly on the move, pausing only for a few minutes here and there to pick people up. The standard of the driving was, happily, quite good; although both drivers seemed to be struck by an urge to overtake as soon as a "do not overtake" sign appeared and on several occasions it looked like we were going to run old men on bicycles off the road, the journey passed off without misadventure and the worst we could complain about was that one of the drivers kept finishing his cigarettes inside the bus.
The route took us west from Niš, through the Serbian towns of Krusevac, Kraljevo and Novi Pazar. A couple of hours into the journey, the landscape started to become increasingly mountainous and by lunchtime the bus was bouncing along winding mountain roads towards the Montenegrin border. When we arrived there in mid-afternoon it seemed that the Serbia-Montenegro border was a very low key affair compared to the bustle of the Serbia-Macedonia border. There were no queues at all at either checkpoint and a policeman was able to board our bus straight away to collect the passports. Somewhat bizarrely we didn't get a stamp to say that we had left Serbia (although we had got a stamp to record that we'd entered). The border crossing is located on quite a narrow road with a steep drop on one side. From the Serbian checkpoint the bus had to drive for several minutes around the mountain until it reached the place where the Montenegrin checkpoint had been built. We did get passport stamps for entering Montenegro
From the border the bus drove through the Montenegrin towns of Rozaje and Berane before passing through the Biogradska Gora national park. At this point the scenery changed from impressive to truly spectacular. The road seemed to cling improbably to the side of a gorge which at times was so steep that I couldn't actually see the bottom. It was definitely a feat of engineering! As the road began to wind downhill towards the plain the sun started to set and it was completely dark by the time we arrived in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica at 8pm.
Our Montenegro guidebook implies that there isn't a lot to see in Podgorica, and in the dark it certainly looked very concrete. From there it was only another hour or so to our ultimate destination of Bar. It was a shame it wasn't daylight for this part of the journey, as it was actually quite exciting as we passed over a bridge on Lake Skadar (a large lake which is partly in Montenegro, partly in Albania) and got our first glimpse of the sea.
The apartment we had booked was in a suburb of Bar called Šušanj and when I had contacted the landlady to explain how late we would be arriving, she had replied to say that we could ask the bus driver to let us off the bus before the first roundabout in Šušanj rather than go all the way to the main bus station. This seemed too complicated to us so we had decided to continue to the main bus station and take a taxi to the apartment, which would be about 4km away.
We have spent the entire holiday refusing the advances of taxi drivers who have approached us outside bus stations offering their services. Imagine our dismay then when we finally arrived in Bar after 9pm only to find that the taxi rank was completely devoid of taxis! Fortunately, as we stood around wondering what to do, one did turn up but when we showed him the address of where we wanted to go on our reservation he appeared confused and disappeared. We saw that he had returned to the bus station and was talking on his mobile. After a while he reemerged and motioned for us to get into his cab. We drove for a few minutes - with an amazing taxi meter which seemed to increase by 5p every second - and then he suddenly pulled over to the side of the road and let another woman into the taxi. We were a bit confused about what was happening but it turned out that he had - quite enterprisingly - phoned the number on our reservation and the owner of the apartment had come to meet us and direct him. When we finally reached the apartment it was located right at the end of a very uphill street in a position that wasn't at all obvious, so we would definitely have struggled to find it on our own!
We were extremely relieved to have finally arrived. There was a little more drama when we couldn't get the air-conditioning to work (turned out that the batteries in the remote needed replacing) but soon we were asleep, exhausted after a day of doing nothing!
We were up early on Tuesday and keen to explore our surroundings. As we ate breakfast on the balcony at 8am it was clear that this was going to be a hot, sunny day. This was the view from our balcony of the mountains...
...and this was the view from our balcony of the sea.
With views like that, Bar was already surpassing my expectations. We had chosen it as a destination purely because of the transport links and despite of the fact that the guidebook described it as a town which was unlikely to feature highly in anyone's holiday plans. Bar is predominantly a port (with regular ferry services to Italy) and most of the town was constructed after the Second World War.
Of more interest than modern Bar is the historical town of Stari Bar, situated about 6km inland from the current city. In 1877, when the Montenegrins were fighting the Ottomans for their independence, the town was bombarded for seven weeks with the result that much of it was destroyed. Crucially, the Montenegrin forces detonated explosives inside the Bar Aqueduct which cut off the water supply to the town and forced the Ottomans to surrender it. The town - or, at least, the remains of it - were granted to Montenegro at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. The aqueduct was repaired but later destroyed again by an earthquake, after which point the location was completely abandoned.
It sounded like a fascinating story so we definitely wanted to see Stari Bar; the only question was how. It seemed a bit too far to walk, particularly because we understood that it would be uphill. The guidebook made mention of a bus, but didn't indicate where we might catch it from. We couldn't find a bus timetable online because no bus timetables for Montenegro are online; the only place you can view them with any shred of reliability is by turning up to the relevant bus station and looking at the piece of paper pinned to the wall. We decided that we had better walk to the bus station.
Rather than trudge along the main road, we walked downhill from our apartment to the beach. It was an extremely stony beach, but the sea was very pretty.
The views of the mountains in the background were also extremely pretty.
We saw a beautiful Orthodox church...
...and we found lots of palm trees.
As we had suspected, there wasn't a lot to photograph in modern Bar so we started walking out of town towards the station. On the way we were passed by a small white bus signposted to Stari Bar. Aaargh! By the time we got to the station we had obviously missed it. We went inside to search for the timetable but Stari Bar didn't feature in the list of destinations on offer. Confused, we tried the tourist information office around the corner and the lady explained that the bus leaves from a car park slightly down the road. As we walked back in that direction there was, admittedly, a small sign with a picture of a bus on it, but no other indication (like a timetable!) that this might be the place for the bus to Stari Bar.
The lady said there would be another bus bus in about 40 minutes. As we were strolling around looking for somewhere to wait, we suddenly thought "Why don't we just take a taxi?!", so we approached the waiting taxi drivers (of which there were vast quantities now it was daylight!) and asked how much it would cost. It turned out to be only €5 so we decided to give the bus a miss
As we got out of the taxi a few minutes later, our first impressions were that Stari Bar looks amazing.
We climbed up through the steep streets on the edge of the town towards the main gate.
We could sea the remnants of a stone lion, indicating that this had once been part of the Venetian empire.
Once inside the gate, we were able to wander around the ruins of the old town. Again, it was a bit more like visiting a ruins adventure playground than a historical monument. The slideshow below illustrates better than words how impressive the remains of the town and its surroundings are.
We were able to climb up onto part of the towns old fortress, from where we had a view of the famous aqueduct (now restored).
The Montenegrin flag was proudly flying.
The steps to climb up the fortress were a little steep, but we were rewarded with some magnificent views.
The sun was extremely hot by this point and we were getting quite tired, so we climbed back down to the lower part of the town where there are a few cafes and restaurants. We found a lovely place where we could sit in the shade and enjoyed a meal of chicken schnitzel. The only slight hiccup came with pudding, when I tried to order us two pancakes. The waiter explained that they were very big and that we would only need one, so I agreed to order just one between us. When it came it didn't honestly looked that big (though it was delicious and covered in honey!) and he had only brought one set of cutlery. He asked if we wanted another one and I said yes, assuming that he meant "another fork". It seemed that he had actually meant "another pancake" because that's what materialised a few minutes later, much to our confusion! I'm still not sure what I said wrong but if that's the worst language mistake I make all holiday it won't be too bad; ultimately we both ended up with a pancake which is what we had wanted in the first place
We didn't want to pay for a taxi back down to Bar again, but we figured it would be pretty simple to find the bus stop from this end. Wrong! Nothing is ever simple when it comes to buses in Montenegro. We successfully located a bus shelter and went to sit in it. True, there was no timetable or sign indicating what it was a bus stop for, but that seems to be fairly standard here and there was a large bay labelled "bus" in front of it so we thought we had it taped. We'd probably sat there for less than ten minutes when a man approached and asked whether we were waiting for the bus. When we said that we were, he led us away, down the hill a bit, to where the bus was waiting and about to depart from a completely different location (which definitely wasn't a bus stop!). We were confused, but grateful that he'd let us know, otherwise we would probably have sat there for an hour waiting for a bus which never came! The tickets only cost us €0.50 each so it was a real bargain.
All that remained was to return to our apartment and sit on the balcony drinking Montenegrin wine as we watched the sun set over the sea