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May 2013

Part 1: Greece - Bari - Montenegro

What have you done to counterweight the worst year of your life? I hope you never had one that felt like this and wish you never will but in my case I searched for answers (as usual) on the map. Not that if you "leave it all behind" they actually "leave you" as well but yes, the road does quite a job as a laundry of negativeness. So, here I am, end of an autumnal May, ready to take me and my troubled mind for some new adventures out there.

West Balkans, here I come!

On my way to Patra I experience the shortest funniest chat with an immigrant working at a gas station. He sees my bike fully loaded so asks:

"Where are you going?"

Moody as I am I can't bother listing all the countries of my itinerary so I respond "Europe" instead. Then he goes:

"Where's that?"

That gave me much needed laughs on the way to Patra's port where I load my bike on the ferry for a (almost) day long trip to Bari Italy:

An indifferent ferry trip gives me a first sight of Bari's port from the deck in the morning:

By the time I finally put my tires on Italy I have 10 hours to kill till the next ferry to Bar Montenegro so I try to keep myself busy in all stupid ways possible like for example thinking how many tourists or agents have confused the names of these two ports. I start picturing Bari and my iron horse:

Weather is kinda too hot, cloudy but also unstable so I find a place outside with some shade in an attempt to make my stomach happier - it's Italy so I let my picky self to sleep. Wrong! I have the first crappy food in Italy. I try to distract myself from that by using the local crappy wifi. After what felt like an age I go to the port to get my tickets and there I meet two bikers. The cigar they gave me and the last bits of my Vodka helped time to pass till I finally find myself in the ferry.

I can't wait to see what my cabin would look like since I have booked one of the very few single ones on which (being single) happened to be at the high end of their price list. And...that's their high end:

Fine plumbing on the ferry from Bari to Bar

After an overnight trip the arrival at Bar Montenegro reminds me how unstable the weather is:

Moody me watching the moody port of Bar

Weather is about to rain anytime and it's time for another funny chat, this time at the customs of Montenegro. Let me remind you that I am travelling without a passport taking advantage of the fact that Greeks can travel through Balkans (and the rest of Europe of course) without one. So the guy asks for my documents, I give him my national ID and he goes:

"When does this expire?"

I say "It doesn't - it's an ID card".

So he goes: "Oh, are you gonna stay young like this forever?"

The queue at the customs is very long and slow and I am trying not to think that I might have to wait forever under rain that could start anytime soon but luckily, being a biker, I wait much less cause they are busy checking out cars. A friendly lady officer helps a lot - she asks me what I am doing at Montenegro and I tell her "I am a journalist doing a travelogue about your country" so she sped up the process with a smile:

Customs @ Montenegro. Car drivers have to empty their trunks, fortunately I am not asked to empty my luggage. That blond officer makes things faster for me.

Happy to leave customs behind, I drive North and yes, it finally rains. Some times a lot. I manage to make it up to Tivat around noon where I am kindly hosted by 3 girls at their house. As weather is much better now I decide to Carpe Diem and ride up to Kotor. I wouldn't miss this town. My hosts proposed it and my dear old friend Sanda from Beograd did too. And they are all right - it's a must. I love it:

Huge cruise ships at Kotor's bay are not rare at all

The local fortress - a panoramic taken left of the previous image.

See the smaller vessels to get an idea about that big one

A cross between stunning and superb: Kotor's bay view from P22

Now I know why friends of mine insisted to join them last year when they where around - Montenegro already is such a pleasant surprise to me but last year was beyond terrible for me to be able to go there. Back at Tivat, me and my hosts decide to have a walk around the town in the evening. We couldn't skip laughing at the fact that summer clubs planned their season openings for that night but had to cancel as the attendants would have to arrive in winter jackets. Same as we did. Not the beginning of June I was hoping for.

Fortunately next day's weather is much better. My hosts make a really nice breakfast so I go to my bike with a "can it get any better?" feeling. Well, it could definitely get worse and... so it did: For the first time (and last so far) in my travelling career I got things stolen from my bike. I had it parked under a tree only a few steps away from the door and someone at night cut with a knife a few small bags I had on it with some useful things of no value (tire repair kit etc). I found them torn and spread around with a few things missing. "What a fucked up thug" I thought but didn't allow it to spoil my day any further. A nice cafe by the sea that we visited with my hosts Helena and her friend really helped:

I later decide to ride around the mountains up to Cetinje, convinced by Helena that it would be impossible to regret it. Montenegro is such a compact beauty both for its sea and mountains all in a super value for money package. And the ride just confirmed it. I'll let the pictures do the talking:

The route is full of switchbacks

View from Kotor’s serpentine ride going up on P1

Amazing ride. Except a minor accident. Up on the mountain at some narrow part, two car drivers were struggling to make their way without scratching one another nor falling in the steep ditch so I stepped out of my bike in order to help them. As soon as I finish I rush to my bike to make way for the cars queuing behind me, it was a steep uphill a tiny bit of gravel under my right foot acted as a bearing with the tarmac and...I slip and drop the bike which resulted in a broken brake lever. I rode the bike like this and...how could I know that it would fit me better and would keep this shorter lever for the rest of my km up to now! I make my way back to Tivat via Budva which looked so gorgeous from the top but was too crowded for me to stop and explore it. In the evening I invite my hosts for a night out so we make it to Porto Montenegro:

We finished our walk at the local wine restaurant and my hosts told me they were sorry for the place being so pricey while...it felt to me like a medium priced place in Athens. I hate to repeat myself but...yes, Montenegro is great VFM. Since repeat is the mother of learning I won't stop praising my hosts. Next day they took me for a hike up to Kotor's castle and around. They even blended me in their group to skip the entrance fee (locals get it free). Here's images of the whole hike starting from low all the way up to the top:

North entrance to the old city of Kotor

Lovely rooftops of the old city

After this long but gorgeous hike up we make it to the top where the view says it all:

Kotor is such a gem and Montenegro in general really is. Small and reasonably priced everywhere, ready to satisfy your eyes from scenic rides and hiking in the mountains up to nice places by the sea. Happy to be around but it is time to leave this place and my lovely hosts for Croatia. Dubrovnik is waiting.

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