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Phespirit goes to Serbia and Montenegro
Budva     September 2005

Phespirit had been trying to arrange a visit to Croatia for more than three years, but for one reason or another his plans had consistently fallen through. The saving grace of this frustration was that it allowed the possibility of also visiting neighbouring Montenegro to drift onto his radar. Thus, when Phespirit finally succeeded in reaching the Balkan lands south of Slovenia, it was a double header to both Croatia and Montenegro. He even managed to incorporate side trips to Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although the booking had been confirmed as long ago as August 2004, his arrangements still almost collapsed at the eleventh hour due to Despicable Practice at the Grand Hotel Avala in Budva. Happily, Phespirit managed to secure a satisfactory late switch of hotels, so everything turned out fine in the end. Nonetheless, he could have well done without the hassle.

So, first stop Montenegro. This part of the world has a long and colourful history; landscapes range from beaches to fjords, from flatland plains to limestone crags, from mighty lakes to vast canyons. Before leaving England, Phespirit prepared a full and diverse list of things to do: he would explore the old town of Budva, enter Kotor via the historic Ladder of Cattaro, sample the cultural delights of Cetinje, visit the modern capital of Podgorica, walk the mountain wildernesses, rest his bones on a sunbaked beach .....

Budva proved to be the perfect base from which to do all of the above. It is Montenegro's primary centre of tourism on the Adriatic coast: lively, modern and youthful, but not yet diminished by rowdy excesses or money-grabbing intrusiveness. Phespirit was attracted to the atmosphere and architecture of the old city - time-worn flagstones, cafés, pubs, boutiques, chapels, and the all-encompassing city wall with a walkway around the top (albeit the full circuit is broken by old earthquake damage). Budva also benefits from cheap and frequent bus services that operate to all the main towns and cities.

A nine o'clock morning bus took Phespirit from Budva to Kotor, at the tip of the southernmost fjord in Europe - a mere thirty-five minutes along the coast. Beneath overcast skies, the Bay of Kotorska is a deep smoky blue-grey; its backdrop of pale karst mountains is made paler by the remains of a morning mist; very attractive. Like Budva, Kotor is a modern town that sprawls outward from an old walled city. The Fortress of St. Ivan stands watch from the mountainside directly above the historic heart. Tucked behind it is the Ladder of Cattaro (Cattaro being the old Italian name for Kotor), a tightly snaking stone trail that was once the only route into Montenegro but is now used exclusively by herdsmen leading their livestock to pasture. The scenery is superbly atmospheric and untainted by commercialism.

The cultural centre of Montenegro is its old capital city, Cetinje. This where the important museums, galleries, monasteries and palaces are to be found. Visitor numbers vary wildly between venues. For example, Phespirit visited the Art Museum of Montenegro at noon on a Saturday and was shocked that the staff actually had to unlock the doors and open the window shutters to let in light especially for him. The neighbouring History Museum of Montenegro - mostly exhibiting dull photos and texts, all bathed in a soft apricot light diffused from tinted perspex over the windows - was equally deserted. By contrast, King Nikola's Museum heaved with visitors, all gathered into huge groups and lead around by official guides. Phespirit was told he could only enter as part of a guided group, so he tagged onto the back of the first group through the door - French speaking - and then sloped off on his own after a couple of rooms. He had no information but, judging by what he could glean from the French guide, this was no great defect.

The longer Phespirit was in Montenegro, the more he loved its quirks, character and unpolished beauty. Follow that, Croatia.

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