Montenegro of discoveries

21. Juni 2013 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

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Montenegro doesn’t cease to amaze me. I’d already thought that the trip around the bay of Kotor would be an early high point of my entire trip, and expected that what would follow could be a bit bland. Well, no.
On Wednesday I started out at 6:30 to beat the heat and benefit from the shade thrown by the mountains looming at the back of Kotor. The plan worked out, or at least three quarters of it. There is a narrow road that winds its way up in about 35 switchbacks to the bowl of Neguj, where apparently the best smoked ham this side of the universe is made.
I tasted it later, and it really is good. But here I want to compliment the Yugoslav civil engineers who managed to plan a road up a sheer mountainside without anything more than a modest gradient at each point. There was very little traffic, and it was agreeably cool, what with a projected high temperature of 37 Celsius down below. The funnel-shaped old Kotor receded slowly and steadily as an oversized German cruise ship glided into the bay. When I was on the top of the wall, the first passengers, who must have partaken of their buffet breakfast, clambered into the dingis that pulled up one by one. The rows of mountains slowly emerged from their shrouds of morning mist. I heard bird calls and the first cicadas of this journey, just in time to take up their roles as cheer leaders (or chirp leaders) spurning me on in my quest for the 1100 metre pass.
I had a refreshing home-made lemonade at what passed as an ethnic village, but was nothing more than a quaint restaurant, with a row of tiny cottages all in the same, kind of communist-looking style. The ethnic turn came as a farmer marched two cows by the house to their pasture. Or perhaps the point was the variegated display of national flags hanging from the beamed roof? Croatian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, they were all there to make the visitors feel at home.
I don’t think they stopped there this morning, because as I was huffing and puffing up the remainder of the road to top, no fewer than 7 coaches full of cruise revellers passed me by and pipped me at the post.
They were gone though as I enjoyed the fantastic view over the carst mountains with peak upon peak, some still snow-capped. The gently paced ride down to Cetinje was equally fantastic, with lots of lovely curves. Rather than dipping down another 700 metres only to be destroyed by the heat of the plain, I called it a day after only 49 km (but spicy ones) and had a lunch of fish soups and the famous smoked ham of the area. It was so good (and there are so few restaurants in this otherwise attractive town) that I came back for more in the evening, this time with an added mini-bottle of Vranac. I also had a nearly wordless chat with the son of the house, who was interested in my bicycle computer and who showed off proudly his mountain bike and what little English he had.
After an impromptu nap, which stretched to five o’clock, I ventured out to discover the secrets of the old capital of independent Montenegro. There are still buildings identified as embassies or government palaces, but newly autonomous Crna Gora is now ruled from ugly Podgorica. Up here, the inhabitants have kept the better end of the stick: it’s cooler, there are agreeable tree-shaded pedestrian areas, and above all, everybody seems to know everyone else, as demonstrated by continuous kissing and tousling baby hair. I watch and am happy.
I learn in this country that detours always have a hidden sense which you mostly don’t know about when you take the turn. I wanted to avoid the busy main road to Podgorica early on Thursday morning, knowing full well that it would mean climbing back to the former at some point. I dove down to an arm of a sluggish river that ends in Lake Skadar (or Shkoder, as the Albanians call it), so I was practically at sea level again, yet totally enthused by the quiet meandering waters, the bright green carpets of water lilies and the willows that seemed to grow right out of the dark blue liquid. There was one lone man launching his fishing rod, probably to catch the dinner for his famed restaurant on the old bridge. The climb offered more comprehensive views of the river bend and the cone-shaped mountains in the hazy distance.
Then I sped down to the capital, overwhelmed by the heat. I was trying to catch a train that would whisk me away to the mountains, but I missed the famous Bar – Belgrade Express by 4 minutes because I had become somewhat delirious by the circumstances. A train I did catch later, and yes, this has broken the promise of cycling all the way from home to the Black Sea. But the sin was well worth it: it’s a world-famous railway line over which the enthusiasts rave. I hardly ever sat down during the 1 1/2 hour ride high above the river Moraca and the road not taken.
I compensated for it today by riding 125 km deep into the Tara gorge and back to Kolasin, where I’m staying at a very friendly family pension.
The Tara gorge? Another high point (even if I didn’t raft it) it’s too overwhelming for tired words.

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