Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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My introduction to Budva, Montenegro was anything but auspicious. I chatted with the owner of my guest house as she checked me in, explaining that I’d been touring the ex-Yugoslavian countries all summer, perhaps with an eye to finding a place where I might establish a base in the future. “In that case, you’d have been better to visit the town of Bar in the south,” she commented wryly.

I’d originally planned to stay in Kotor Bay to the north, but so many travelers I’d met on the road had raved about Budva that I decided to make a brief stop in the city dubbed the Montenegrin Riviera. Later that evening I walked down to Stari Grad, the Old Town of Budva that is enclosed by thick stone walls. Following an inedible dinner at the Hong Kong Restaurant, I picked my way through the crazy maze of streets. Harsh light spilled from storefronts offering gaudy souvenirs and resort wear. The rubber hose of a sewage truck snaked through the reeking streets, emptying septic tanks. Except for the walls and turrets of the old fortification, the Old Town felt bereft of any historical significance.

One shop after another lined the streets inside the walls of Stari Grad (Old Town) in Budva, Montenegro

One shop after another lined the streets inside the walls of Stari Grad (Old Town) in Budva, Montenegro

Disappointed, I returned to my guest house to enjoy the lovely view of Budva Bay from my private balcony, but even that was soon spoiled. As darkness fell, the bah-boom, bah-boom of club music drifted up from the open-air nightclubs that line the shore. Luckily, my guest house had insulated windows and doors, or I wouldn’t have been able to sleep for the racket. Read More

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Sun worshipers flock to Pizana Beach on the shores of the Adriatic Sea in Budva, Montenegro. Though small, it is one of the more popular beaches, as it is wedged into a protected cove between the walls of the old city and Dukley Beach Club.

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Sun worshipers flock to Pizana Beach in Budva, Montenegro. This popular beach on the shores of the Adriatic Sea is wedged into a protected cove between the walls of the old city and Dukley Beach Club, which has Read More

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Medieval walled city of Budva, Montenegro, as seen from the Citadel, with the Church of the Holy Trinity in the foreground, and the bell tower of the 7th century Church of St. John, the highest structure in the town

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Medieval walled city of Budva, Montenegro, as seen from the Citadel, the ancient fortification that protected the city for centuries. The Church of the Holy Trinity is seen in the foreground, beyond which rises Read More

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Figuring out how to get from Tirana to Montenegro should have been easy, but it was unbelievably difficult. I had spent a few days in Albania’s capital on my way to the coastal cities of Montenegro. Tirana was only 98 miles away from Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, yet I discovered that there was not a single scheduled bus that ran between the two cities. I spent hours searching the Internet with no success, and after visiting several travel agencies, I found only one that offered bus service between Tirana and Montenegro; it ran only during peak months and I was visiting off-season.

The only method seemed to be to take a 2.5 hour bus or minibus to Shkodër (Shkodra), a city in the north of Albania that shares a border with Montenegro, and transfer to another minibus for another two-hour ride to the coastal city of Ulcinj (the only available scheduled transport from Shkodër to Montenegro). I knew what that meant – rattletrap buses and drivers that would likely try to hold me up for an additional fare for my suitcase. Plus, I would still be hours away from my preferred destinations of Budva or Kotor Bay.

Screenshot of the Drita Travel website, only available in Albanian

Screenshot of the Drita Travel website, only available in Albanian

Fortunately, I had arranged a day tour to the towns of Kruja and Durres through the Albania Tourism Center in the Opera building on Skanderberg Square (not the country’s official tourism agency), and my fantastic guide pointed me to Drita Travel. Read More

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This Roman Amphitheater in Durres, Albania, the largest ever found in the Balkans, was discovered by a farmer who was plowing his fields

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: This Roman Amphitheater in Durres, Albania, is the largest ever found in the Balkans. It was discovered near the city center by a farmer who was plowing his fields. The port of Durres was part of The Egnatian Way, a vital trade route that connected Read More

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My plan for the summer had been to tour all seven of the countries that once composed Yugoslavia. I was close to meeting that goal, having visited five of the seven, but my last minute decision to visit Lake Ohrid, Macedonia put me so close to Albania that I could have walked there. While never part of Yugoslavia, Albania has always held an important location on the Balkan peninsula, thus I assumed it shared much in common with its Slavic neighbors and was worth a visit.

Though Tirana offers little to see outside pretty Skandeberg Square, travel to Albania should include a day or two in the capital city, if only to haunt the coffee houses and sample the local dishes

Though Tirana offers little to see outside pretty Skandeberg Square, travel to Albania should include a day or two in the capital city, if only to haunt the coffee houses and sample the local dishes

I was quickly disavowed of that notion upon arrival in the capital, Tirana. The languages of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia are similar enough that I had picked up enough vocabulary to communicate, but Albanian was unlike anything I’d ever heard. During my entire stay, the only word I was able to twist my tongue around was “FA-le-min-DER-it” (thank you). Even the slightest suggestion on my part that Albanians are similar to their Balkan neighbors was met with dogged resistance. “We are not Slavs,” they insisted. “We descended from Illurians, an Indo-European tribe.” Read More