The next planned destination during our round trip through south-east Europe was Croatia. We were not really keen on joining crowds of our fellow Czechs who have a soft spot for this country, but we made a promise to the kids that we were gonna attend their favorite Junior Krav Maga Summer Camp. Last year, they (and us as well) found a lot of new friends whom they really wanted to meet again.
The journey from Lefkada to our Croatian destination is about 1,000km long. To make it bearable, we decided to make a two-day stop in Montenegro. Originally, we wanted to spice up our traveling a bit and spend this time in Albania (we were looking at Durrës). Unfortunately, we couldn’t find an acceptable accommodation (price vs. location vs. reviews) through our beloved Airbnb so we chickened out and just drove through Albania quickly to Podgorica, Montenegro.
The Albanian leg of our journey started with a little drama at the Greek borders. The first customs office almost had a heart attack after we started driving towards the Albanian side of the border (without having our papers checked) after misinterpreting his vague hand gesture. The good thing was that we did not drive very fast so he was able to catch up with us without using his service weapon. The other customs officer gave us some hard time because we don’t have our personal names in our car’s papers but rather the company’s name. Fortunately, one of our credit cards carries both personal and company name so we were able to get through :-). The rest of the Albanian trip was rather uneventful, the only entertainment being: 1) a police check shortly after crossing the borders (Mr. Policeman needed to check that the black car with touristy-looking family are in fact tourists); 2) occasional unpaved parts of the main road from Greece to Montenegro; 3) watching the lively bustle in Albanian towns we drove through; 4) constant wondering about the fact that Albania probably has the most dense network of makeshift car washes in the whole world.
From behind the steering wheel, Albania looks interesting. We definitely want to come back some day and see more. One thing made us pretty uneasy, though: the chaotic road signs with tons of speed limits (totally ignored by the locals), combined with incredible amount of policemen stopping cars (we spotted dozens of uniformed guys during our six-hour drive). Fortunately, everyone ignored us (perhaps because of our exotic tag), but we still felt weird about it, since the policemen made an impression that they prefer serving and protecting their own pocket over the road safety.
We absolutely did not know what to expect from this tiny country north of Albania. Maybe that’s why it caught us by surprise with its beauty. After Albanian wastelands, Montenegro was like a different planet: Yay, we’re back in civilized world!
We set up a camp in the nation’s capital. Podgorica is a small city (pop. 180k) with really bad communist-era architecture (the city was almost razed to the ground during WW2). Still, we loved the easygoing and calm atmosphere and friendly people. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment directly in the city center. (Definitely worth recommending. Also our host, Nikola, was awesome and helpful. Two nights set us back approx. 75€.)
Day one (or the rest of it) started off with a walk through the city: Kids took a dip by the Old Bridge near the confluence of the rivers Ribnica and Morača. Then we stopped for dinner and coffee (make sure not to make the same mistake as me and steer clear of the local beer, Nikšičko; it was almost as bad as the cheesecake-flavored ice cream in Greece). On day two, we hit the nature. We picked a road along the Morača canyon at Dangerousroads.org (the scenery indeed was breathtaking!) which led us to the Morača Monastery (unfortunately, we couldn’t go in as Alex and Maya fell asleep shortly before we got there) and then to Bukumirsko lake. The road to the lake was pretty crazy: it took us at least an hour and a half to drive, at walking pace, through forests and beat-up, unpaved roads. A Land Rover Defender would do it in a heartbeat, but our Citroën minivan was reaching its limits (fortunately, no permanent damage has been done). The good thing was that we did not give up (there was nowhere to make a U-turn, anyway :-)) and were rewarded with a stunning view of the Bukumirsko lake amid magnificent hills and mountains – and also with a trip through beautiful countryside. We did not need any more reasons to fall in love with this country.
As we have already mentioned, the main reason for visiting Croatia was the Junior Krav Maga Summer Camp. Rigid schedule (kids training in the morning, adults in the evening, followed by a party in the front yard of our apartment) did not leave much space for any sightseeing worth mentioning. On the other hand, the scorching heat in Croatia felt somehow worse than in Greece so sticking to shade and water was not such a bad idea after all.
The week-long Summer Camp took place in Tisno, near the beautiful historic city of Šibenik. Even though our town was cute and picturesque, we still struggle to find Croatia really attractive. (It’s our third time here.) Right, the Adriatic sea is stunningly clean, but the beaches are really rocky, people are not as friendly as in other countries we have been to, accommodation and restaurants are pretty expensive (even though they don’t offer anything extraordinary) and don’t get us started about the loooong lines at Croatian borders (I guess even after 15 years of massive tourism in the summer, the Croatians still did not notice any pattern and just won’t open more than two lanes). On the other hand, we don’t want to give up on this country as we feel that we are part of the problem – I guess we got out of the habit of “normal” week-long vacations. It may as well happen that as soon as we do Croatia our way, we’ll be able to discover its beauty. But not to sound too pessimistic: it was great to see our old Krav Maga friends after more than six months and get to meet new people. I guess that unless something comes up, we will come again next year.
Our week in Tisno went by fast and it’s time for us to move to a completely different part of Europe – the Netherlands. We just need to make a short stop in the Czech Republic as Alex’s “wife”, Anička, is celebrating her birthday – a party we just cannot miss! In any case, our Balkanian road trip was a great experience that helped us appreciate how great it is to live in a part of Europe that got rid of borders and the delays and hassle that comes with it. Let’s just hope it will stay this way.