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Clare
Clare

Day 12: Kotor to Žabljak

It was a beautifully sunny morning in Kotor today when we got up and had a final breakfast of burek on the terrace. Our friendly landlady arrived at 9am for a final chat and some advice on English grammar, and then we were off on our way to the bus station. There are only two buses a day between Kotor and Žabljak, a town high up in the Durmitor National Park. We had tickets for the 09.40 bus, which I had bought online before we came. There was a large sign in English in Kotor's bus station though, announcing that anyone who had bought a ticket online had to pay a surcharge of €1 for the bus station to check the ticket, otherwise it wasn't valid for travel. This seemed a bit unfair, but I assumed was because the bus station doesn't want to lose out on loads of revenue if people start buying tickets online. We got to the station on plenty of time to go to the counter and sort this out, but when I asked the lady about it she said no, we didn't need to pay. Whether this was because I'd asked her in Croatian and this is only a tax on English-speaking people I'm not sure :D

In what must be a first for this holiday, the bus arrived on time. We had been allocated seats 17 and 18 and it was a 30-seater bus which was a good start, although the beginning of the route was in Budva so there were already two people sitting in our seats when we got on. It didn't seem worth having a dispute about though, as the bus wasn't completely full. We sat in seats 15 and 16 in the end and no one raised any objections.

It's a four-hour journey from Kotor to Žabljak, so I was relieved to see that although the bus looked quite battered from the outside, it was reasonably comfortable on the inside. None of the seats were broken at least (an improvement on the bus to Herceg Novi!) and there was air-conditiong of a sort. The first part of the journey took us along the Bay of Kotor following the same coastal road as yesterday. Before we got as far as Herceg Novi, the bus took a sharp turn upwards into the mountains and we had some truly spectacular views back out across the sea as we climbed higher and higher. We were able to see all the way back to Perast and make out the two islands in the middle of the bay, before we finally entered a tunnel and passed through to the other side of the mountains.

The views were so impressive that I was too busy admiring them to remember to take any photos! But as you can probably imagine from the photos we've taken of the scenery around Kotor over the past few days, the mountains were incredibly steep and rocky. At times it seemed touch and go as to whether the rather antiquated bus was going to make it to the top of the pass; we passed some road signs announcing that the speed limit was 80km/h, but we certainly weren't in any danger of reaching that! We got there in the end though, and from then on the road became a little more level, though the countryside we were passing through was still dramatic.

About two hours into the journey, the bus descended towards the town of Nikšič, Montenegro's second city. Calling it Montenegro's second city makes it sound quite impressive, but actually with only around 50,000 inhabitants it is smaller than Nuneaton. There was a 10-minute pause there anyway before we were off on our way again, climbing back into the mountains towards Žabljak. We were due to arrive in Žabljak at 13.30 and the bus actually surpassed itself, arriving nearly 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We were lucky that this was the terminus of the bus and that everyone was getting off here, because there was actually nothing to indicate that this was Žabljak. Normally when I arrive in a place I expect to see some sort of sign confirming the name of a town. Or when I get off a bus I expect to see some sort of structure approximating a bus station. In Žabljak there appeared to be nothing; the driver just pulled up in what appeared to be a car park and indicated that everyone should get off.

At least we had a map of Žabljak with the bus station and our apartment marked on. Check-in was possible from noon, so we were planning to head straight there. The map we had printed made it all look quite straightforward, and in particular all the key roads were nicely marked with names. Road names are normally a very useful feature in navigating, but unfortunately in this instance they were rendered completely useless by the fact that there are absolutely no signs with street names on in the whole of Žabljak at all. Oh dear.

The other tool which is normally quite useful in locating a specific house property is its number. Unfortunately we were out of luck here too, because the place we were looking for was labelled as "bb" which stands for "bez broja" (without a number). How the post office ever manages to deliver anything to anybody I'm not sure! In the absence of other options, we started walking down what we hoped was the main street in the overall general direction of the apartment. Within a few minutes we thought we'd struck lucky, catching sight of a sign indicating the apartment name and pointing up a side street. When we went up the side street, however, we couldn't see anything that looked remotely like the place we were looking for, and there were no more signs of any description. We decided to adopt the tactic of walking up all the surrounding streets, on the lookout for a building that resembled the photo on booking.com, but the turns we tried either appeared to become dead ends or quickly degenerate into gravel tracks.

In the end we were saved by a man standing outside the town's backpacker hostel, who could see us confusedly consulting a map and offered assistance. It turned out the apartment was indeed just around the corner, up a bumpy gravel track which was clearly not designed for pulling suitcases. The building didn't look terribly auspicious from the outside, but I kept reminding myself that this was graded 9.2 on booking.com so it must be okay inside! Tim soon managed to track down the owner, who showed us into a cosy little apartment which seemed almost Swiss with all its wood-panelling. Phew.

I wasn't entirely sure whether it was safe to drink the water in Žabljak, so once we had unpacked a little our first aim was to track down a supermarket. The issue of whether you can drink the water in Montenegro is a bit of a confusing one, with the answer tending to be that it's safe to drink, except when it isn't. The Bradt guidebook had said that the water was mainly drinkable, except in the coastal towns during the summer, but then went on to mention something about an unreliable supply of drinking water in Žabljak. We had been erring on the side of caution in Kotor, stocking up with water from the supermarket every time we walked past it. Fortunately bottled water in Montenegro is very cheap, and when we did eventually find the supermarket in Žabljak we were able to buy bottles of 1.5 litres for 45 cents each :)

Finding the supermarket was a slight challenge though. This is the main street in Žabljak and it isn't entirely clear where the centre of town might be.

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We walked in that direction first, establishing that there was nothing but a petrol station and the bus station/car park. The town centre was the opposite way.

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As we walked towards the centre, we got temporarily distracted by the fact that what looked like an alien spaceship appeared to have landed in a field behind the town.

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Upon closer inspection, this turned out to be a Yugoslav memorial to Partisan fighters during the Second World War.

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The monument was raised up on a bit of a mound, so we got a good view of the mountains behind the town.

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It looked like a storm would be upon us soon though! Žabljak is at 1,460 metres, so it already felt a lot cooler here than it did in Kotor.

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We eventually did find the supermarket and bought our water, then started looking for a restaurant for a belated lunch. We found one not far from where we were staying, where the menu seemed to consist entirely of variations on the theme of grilled meat. Tim ordered some promising-sounding sausages, which unfortunately turned out to be Frankfurters, while I had a "punjena pljeskavica", which is like a large flat burger, folded in half and stuffed with cheese and ham. We just about managed to finish our meal and get back to the apartment before the heavens opened and it began to pour torrentially for the rest of the afternoon. Hopefully the weather will improve tomorrow, because it looks like it will be a really pretty place in the sunshine :)

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