Getting to Leartaland in slow travel fashion is slow indeed:
Where to go:
Cycle from Lake Skadar to Kodor
17.7. - Train to Bari, overnight on Filipo's boat
18.7. - Bari, ferry to Bar at 22:00
19.7. - Ankunft in Bar 8:00, Radeln nach Ulcinj (34km)
19.7. - 24.7. Hanging in Ulcinj at Apartments Hollaj. As we rode into Ulcinj along the main drag, it reminded me a little bit of the Jersey Shore with shops selling cheap beach accessories, t-shirts, souvenirs, and junk food. I had completely warped expectations of a quiet, coastal town so was surprised about the plethora of people wandering around. We continued along the main beach, which is completely packed with chairs, umbrellas, and people. Up the hill by Fratelli restaurant, which we frequented for the Pizzabrot and friendly service, is a total car chaos. On the adjacent scenic cliff outlook, where there used to be the grand Hotel Jadran, is a parking lot. Easy to get sick of car exhaust walking around here in the heat of summer. I was also shocked by the amount of garbage seemingly strewn about without a care to the presence of an actual garbage container. I saw 1 trash truck in Montenegro and on the side it said, "Provided by the European Union."
It was extremely disappointing to see a beautiful, Adriatic landscape being degraded by lack of environmental protection and a gesamtes Konzept in terms of tourist and economic development. Learta attributes it in part to the 'Balkan mentality' and our parents' generation attribute it primarily to 'privatization gone wild' in the post-Yugoslavia era with everyone looking for a quick buck. Many of the older resorts, such as Hotels Jadran and Galeb, were damaged in a devastating earthquake in 1979. Both hotels are now parking lots or empty space as there continues to be uncertainty over future development plans.
24.7. - Mo. Radeln nach Virpazar, Skadar Lake Boat Tour, Übernachtung in Virpazar. We started the ride from Ulcinj to Virpazar at 6:00 because of the heat and so we would have time for an afternoon boat tour. The climb to the mountain pass was challenging. Near the pass by the border between Montenegro and Albania, is an abandoned military checkpoint from Yugoslav times - distinguished by the red star. We took a stroll into Albania. On the east side of the mountain ridge is a beautiful scenic road. Traffic is sparse and the views of Skadar Lake are wonderful. Some parts go through forested area and we were thankful for shade. We arrived in Virpazar just before the scheduled departure of our boat tour at 13:00.
The village is tiny and geared towards boat tour tourism. I think we ended up on the most expensive tour at 40 euros per person. Although we had a nice, wooden boat with bamboo roof and the tour was 5 hours, I would still say 40 euros is way overpriced. The lunch was an extra 10 euros and we were surrounded by wasps. Wasps like wine too and our table was right below their nest. The Austrian girl on our tour is allergic and sprayed some sort of anti-wasp spray all over herself, in my eyes, and on the food. Luckily, everyone survived the lunch unscathed. Food was good. The young 'guide' was very nice and spoke English well, but was not forthcoming with information about the lake, surrounding landscape, and what not. Of course he answered knowledgeably and friendly when Christian asked questions about the formation of the lake, but from the website description I thought we were going to stop at a few islands with old monasteries and have more swimming opportunities. Maybe I'm just spoiled from the great boat cruises we did in Trogir, Croatia and Santorini, Greece.
25.7. - Di. Radeln nach Cetinje. This was tough. It wasn't particularly steep, but constantly up. Of course it took longer than expected so we were cycling in the dead heat of midday sun. It was a very rewarding arrival in Cetinje, the former capital. At this point, we were also running low on euros since basically EVERYWHERE in Montenegro you need to pay with cash. That was really annoying. At the tourist office in Cetinje, we ordered a taxi to go to the Njegos mausoleum in Lovcen national park and reserved a nearby hotel on the mountain. There was a minor meltdown at the mausoleum when, after paying the taxi driver, we realized we didn't have enough cash for the hotel. The restaurant owner was kind enough to call for us and to our massive relief the Hotel Ivanov Konak accepts credit/maestro card! We were already considering cycling down to Kotor, but a new hotel just down the road from Ivanov Konak called the Monte Rosa also accepts cards just in case. The hotel was great. Beautiful with dark wood and tastefully appointed rooms. Including a hearty breakfast, we paid 60 euros. The dinner was also great with good food, low prices, and very friendly service.
26.7. - Mi. Radeln nach Kroatien. Since Hotel Ivanov Konak is already up in the mountains in the Lovcen national park, we only had a small climb to the pass. Then it was ALL DOWNHILL!!! It was spectacular scenery. As it got later in the morning and we cycled down the Kotor Serpetine, traffic picked up a bit, but was no problem. We even saw a few fellow cyclists from Italy and Switzerland! Kotor looks nice from a far, but in the high season was swarming with tourists and totally congested with car and bus traffic. The ride from there towards the Lepetane-Kamenari ferry around the peninsula was along the water. Between this narrow strait, the ferry only takes 5-10 minutes. Foot passengers are free and our tandem cost 1 euro.
As we cycled towards Herceg Novi, it reminded us of Ulcinj because it was packed with tourists. We rode along a beach-front promenade that is more for pedestrians so it was slow-going, but of course worth it to avoid the busy highway of E65. At the Montenegrin border control, we thankfully didn't have any problems, ahem Christian ;)
At the Croatian border control, the power was out so we had to wait. We were the only bicycle and some people had been waiting in their cars for over an hour. After a day full of downhill, we had to do some more uphill to reach our Warmshowers accommodation in the tiny village of Mikulici. It was an enjoyable, rustic evening with some fellow travelers from Switzerland and a lone wanderer from Colombia, Jaime (pronounced Hi-may, which Christian couldn't remember for the life of him, haha).
27.7. - Do. Bus und Fähre nach Hvar via Dubrovnik. In the morning we cycled down to Molunat, which is paradise. The beautiful, Croatian paradise that I had been looking forward to since our arrival in Ulcinj, haha. We had a nice breakfast at Villa Marin where we could pay in euros and get some change in kuna to pay for the bus to Dubrovnik. The night before, a Spanish cyclist named Juan had stopped by our Warmshowers host Marko's place, but decided it was too minimalistic for him. He warned us that cycling along the highway outside of Dubrovnik is unavoidable so fortunately we rode the bus from Molunat to Dubrovnik, which took about an hour or so. Unfortunately, the bus driver was a jerk and instead of showing us the storage compartment and telling us to take the bike apart, he waited until all the other passengers had boarded and then decided he needed to leave immediately. So we took the bike apart in record timing. Then the driver was mad that Christian was boarding the bus with dirty hands?!
Arrival in Dubrovnik was the usual tourist chaos. Tour buses and crowds everywhere. We made a spontaneous decision to go straight to Hvar and got tickets for the ferry at 16:30. It took about 3 hours to get there and we went straight to the tourist office to get a room. Last room in town was an 85 euro/night, centrally-located apartment. It even had a little cellar room for our bike :) Apartment was nothing special, but we were simply happy to have found something. Spontaneous travel isn't easy in the high season!
The town of Hvar is awesome. Classy tourism compared to Ulcinj. It's totally bustling in the high season with tons of fun little restaurants, cafes, and bars. I can't wait to go back with Marlie - hopefully next summer!
28.7. - 29.7. Radeln nach Stari Grad. Unfortunately, Hvar was completely booked up and we had to move along. We were able to squeeze in a water taxi to Mlini beach (paradise!) on Otok Marinkovak island, part of the Pakleni island chain, and swim before rushing back to clear out of our apartment. We cycled to Stari Grad with a nice swim stop along the way in Zarace.
Stari Grad is a cute, quiet village and we were happy to stay in the Hostel Sunce - good relief for the wallet. We took a water taxi (~14 euros roundtrip per person) to Bol on the island of Brac, swam at the famous Zlatni Rat, and hung out at the nudist beach because it was the least crowded. We made our own booze cruise this day and brought along 2l of Croatian wine that we shared with a Czech couple. Bol is also a cute town, but my favorite of these couple towns is Hvar because you could easily spend a week there and take water taxis to different beaches every day.
30.7. - Fähre nach Ancona at midnight. Our last day, we hung out around Stari Grad, prepared food for the upcoming ferry and train rides, bought some lavender and lavender oil, got a liter of homemade olive oil from an old guy on the side of the road, and ate for the second time at Ermitez restaurant - wondeful food, prices, and services - go as soon as it opens at 18:00 when it's nice and peaceful.
The ferry port is just a few minutes bike ride away and our cabin had bunk beds. Breakfast is included in the cabin price.
31.7. - 9:45 arrival in Ancona, train to Munich. Waiting 3 hours for our train was kinda annoying, but I entertained us by reading The White Massai aloud and Christian had plenty of time to take the bike apart. Train was uneventful until Brenner pass when 2 jerk conductors entered the train, demanded we pay 20 euros for bike tickets even though the bike was completely disassembled and stowed away, and then called the police to our car because their stupid credit card device couldn't read my card and they assumed my card was stolen. Darueber hinaus, our train was more than 2 hours late getting into Munich. Talk about glad to be home after an adventurous travel!