BUDVA is the „jewel of Montenegrin tourism“, situated only 20min away from Kotor, along the Adriatic motorway that connects all important coastal cities. Buses to Budva are running so often from Kotor, Herceg Novi, Podgorica that is not necessary to write down schedule here, locals would not even get bothered to remember as every half an hour there is some bus or mini van stopping at/next to bus station going along riviera or towards capital Podgorica. At/next to bus station means significant difference in Montenegro. Tickets purchased from bus stations add 1EUR (or in Budva 1,5EUR) for service charge, which is big share if you are taking 3EUR worth bus ride from Kotor to Budva, or less then 10EUR anywhere on the riviera. Locals usually wait just few meters away from bus station and bus drivers (excl some intl liners) stop to pick them up. It is well organized, also a matter of pride to avoid paying 1 EUR extra so expect sometimes several „unofficial“ stops before leaving town. (sl tijeh stvarijeh)
When arriving in Budva, after taking some refreshment and other post-journey ablutions, one should decide which side of the city to go for the beeyach. There is long pebble beach in the town but it is usually avoided due to strange regulation that gives right to hotels and private proprietors to rent 80% of the beach making few free strips between over-overcrowded. (sl 1) Westwards 2km from the town there is sandy Jaz beach, few bars are open there all day with reasonable prices for beer and coffee and snacks. Cocktails are more expensive, starting from 7EUR for Mojito. On your way back, don t try to take standing taxis, rather call/text/viber them for pick up.
As you make your way down to the old town strip, you're making your way into the Budva nightlife where your music options are limitless from Old Yugoslavian rock to RhiRhi and Avicci, where promoters are eager to tempt you into their club-go with them!!!-and where you'll find yourself dancing and slut dropping all night long. A few clubs/bars that attract most crowds are Trocadero and Sparta. Trocadero bar is located on the promenade street and is open till 1am, while Trocadero Club is located by the Slovenska plaza and runs till around 5am. Trocadero is known for its frequent performances from domestic singers and DJs with 3 floors of crowds and flames. Whichever club it is you choose to go to, I suggest a cold pint of Niksicko pivo (good beer).
If the above is too heavy for your taste, then a lighter, more peacful option would be the charming rooftop restaurant in the Hotel Astoria located in the Old Town. The restaurant features international and national cuisines of fresh seafood and fine dishes and is topped off with a magnificent view and not so pricey prices.
On the other hand, Sveti Stefan experiences quite pricey prices. Sveti Stefan is a small island and fragment of the former Yugoslavia, approximately 6km southeast of Budva. Initially, the island consisted of 12 families, which developed into a resort highlighted with high profile elites of the world. Now blessed with tourists gazing at the rustic stone walls and churches. The beach is sandy and tinted pinkish framing the crystal clear sea. If you don't mind the prices and enjoy the domestic fish, then lunch at the local waterside restaurant Stari Mlini is at its most satisfying.
Podgorica is not so popular place to visit in Montenegro even though it's a capital of the country. It s modern city full of Soviet style building blocks, hardly any trace of something built before WWII. During the WWII it was completely destroyed, only literally 3 buildings survived and they are: City Hall, High school and Sahat kula (Otoman Clock Tower) .
We were told this by Ana, friend of Marina who helped us with sightseeing and city history. The city was under Turkish rule for almost 500 years, which left strong influence on its cuisine, language and physical features of their women.
Next to the Sahat kula once was the city center, what remained today is small square paved in Otoman style, couple of renovated houses, mosque and two restaurants where you can eat the best cevapi in the city. They also have some good home made rakija and wine bouteilles under 10EUR. You should also try baklava, tulumbe or urmasice. Probably you would because on the same square is the only hostel in town. It is just called The Hostel (why to be inventive when there is no competition), you should google it in the same way: the hostel podgorica, and if it shows clock tower photo, that s the one. Hosteling is pretty new thing in Podgorica so don t believe if you find other places advertised as hostels, they are usually just private rooms or shared apartments. The Hostel is conveniently only 5-10min walking from the bus station and has dorms starting from 15EUR. Hostel manager tends to speak good Croatian, though with high-pitched Montenegrin accent (sth like Swedish English). Other languages spoken: English-Yes, Russian-Da.
From Sahat kula to Moraca river is situated neighborhood called Stara Varos with the old bridge (also Otoman sic). Just behind the bridge is the place where river Ribnica enters into river Moraca. We went down to the rivers to fresh up. On opposite side is Hotel Podgorica built just above Moraca canyon, 20m downstream is the most beautiful (non-Otoman) construction made in Podgorica. It is Blazo bridge, amazing for its location and simplicity, unassuming bridge standing between non-Otoman (socialist) and non-Otoman (modern) part of city. Locals would point to Millenium bridge as the most beautiful, but this one actually looks more like grand show off, serving more to impress (or intimidate) local people and it connects nothing, just few blocks on the both sides.
Traveller that comes for the first time would probably be confused cause there're no recognizable things that would make a city center of one country's capital. When we came it actually looked like: blocks, blocks, blocks, Sahat kula, blocks, blocks. And tons of bars everywhere. One should recognize the center only by increasing density of bars. The most vivid and charming is Bokeska Street, next to the National Theater. If you are lucky (and you probably won t be in the evening), to find a seat in some of the bars, you should probably still have your sunglasses on the head and either meet some local people or listen their clamors about you. However it may seem to you, for at least 5 min you ll be main point of attraction so better make out this situation as best as possible.
On the other side of Moracha river there are also a lot of caffes and bars, clubs, in the place known as Montenegrin finacial center. Not far away is Palace of king Nikola, aka HI Palace with huge garden. Now it is turned into gallery and used as wedding venue for Podgorica s nouvelle riche. If you happen to be around when a wedding ceremony is taking place (usually on Sat and Sun afternoon) go to congratulate newly weds, it is considered a good luck if stranger do so be sure it will be appreciated.
If you are staying more than 2 days in Podgorica you shouldn't miss Montenegrin Niagarawaterfalls, 10m long falls that Cijevna river makes in kars stone, few kms east from the town. There's a restaurant that offers great Turkish coffee as well as fresh dishes. During the summer it's a perfect place to refresh, cause Podgorica is extremely hot and humid in July and August.
Around 20-30min driving from Podgorica, you'll find breathtaking Skadar lake, green and blue, with unique flora and fauna that adventurous travellers must experience. There are a lot of beaches around the lake accessible only by boat which can be rented from locals for as little as 10EUR. People from Podgorica usually go there for camping. Be prepared against little insects, especially mosquitos, and bring some warm clothes for the evening, food and a lot of alchohol (also good against mosquitoes).
The village once had around 500 people, including local post office, tobacco station and kafana with adjacent Village Hall which from Njegos period housed all village chieftains and village skupstinas. It was pre-socialist version of Diet with two groups of seniors based on clan affiliations. The legend has it in the year 1905, the big quarrel happened between Vasojevici clan whose members supported participation in Russo-Japanese war on tsar s side and smaller Vujadino clan members who firstly took neutral side, but when Grrrr killed Hrrrr reactivating thus the old blood feud between two clans, Vujadino seniors decided to go against Vasojevici, killing their two skupstina members
. In anticipation of Vasojevici retailiation they pillaged two surrounding hamlets and scourched the wrath of Montengrin king who decided to send them to fight for Russians as the only way to exculpate their blood debt. However, Vujadino disobeyed and decided to go directy against King s order. They took control over the village and forced remaining Vasojevici members to flee in nearby Andrijevica. New skupstina headed only by senior Vujadinos decided to send 20 of its best men to fight on Japanese side, thus completely rebelling against King s will but also acting to save the honor of the clan. 20 men have been sent to Japan, through Serbia and Romania, but their faith remained unknown thereafter. There were few stories about two young and brave villagers Drmal and Krcun who found the way to Russia and Japan, with varying degree of displayed bravery, some inconsistent place names and highly disputed authenticity. According to one that still circulates among the villagers (and few Japanese tourists who visited the villinge), they found the way to „white“ Vladivostok, switched the sides in Kuril front, killed miriyad of Russians, eventually marrying
Japanese and living in Japan the rest of their lives. We also heard some of the ornamental digressions from kafana waiter/owner, stating lavish awards they ve received from Japanese emperor himself, „sour“ remorse after killing fellow Montenegrin who fought on Russian side which came as gnorismata for renouncing the arms, Drmal s return to Montenegro, etc. However, from all the stories, only the one about village s namesake seemed more credible, prior to 1905 it was known simply by clan or hamlet designation, after Vujadino rebellion name „Japan“ was given as derogatory term for all Vujadino lands, eventually after first great Vujadino skupstina held in the village and later Vujadinos expulsion from Montenegro the name Japan remained in usage only for the village.
WWI and later incorporation of Montenegro in Kingdom of Yugoslavia brought big changes in Japan. Many of Vujadino nobility died fighting either for Montenegrin or Serbian side, young villagers joined the wave of Vujadino mass-migrations to USA and Canada, by the end of the war Japan had only 23 inhabitants. During the first years in Yugoslavia, Vasojevici returned to Japan, and by support of some influential Vasojevici from Belgrade, managed to reclaim its possesions and take control of Vujadino historical lands that left abandoned. Due to frequent migrations and diminishing importance of clan affiliations over the time village blended into unassuming village in Montenegrin Vasojevici Plains, only its namesake left as a reminder of its glorious past. Period of socialist Yugoslavia brought the first (and maybe the last) traces of modernization, paved the road to Village Hall and opened tobacco station which at its peak employed 48 people. During the 70s Japan was place of vivid interaction of tobacco traders, lumberjacks and shepards from neighboring villages and local truck drivers and tobacco exporters, reviving the tradition of skupstina gatherings on St Pantelijas Day, the last week of October. However, the constant outflux of people from small northern villages into cities gain momentum in 80s, reducing the village population on just little over 100. This trend continued during 90s relieving Japan half of its population. Today there are no more than 50 people, all over 30 with big majority over 60.
What to see here? Kafana. It changed names and owners in last 20years but remained one and only in the village. It is Japan s top mark, place where buses stop, main meeting point, the only place in mind when people referring „downtown“, which btw is not down as it sits on small hill and less of a town as it is a place with kafana, Village Hall, oak tree, bus stop pole and one other tree. You will arrive in Japan by bus that runs from Andrijevica every second day or private car, either way you should announce your arrival to kafana owner at least 30min in advance so he could come down to open. As being told, if arriving after 5pm or on weekends the prenotation is not neccesary, but arriving at 10am as we did, our driver had to check weather the owner is already up to prepare him 2x cevapi-to-go to avoid waiting on arrival. As much as it has beautiful terrace during the summer, with the oak tree and its shade, the interior with piercing selection of photos, flags, backacper patches, random notes etc, all hanging on the corner wall, deserves all the atttention. There are two portraits of Tito, one is imitation of famous Djajic s Marshall Tito with Pipe from WWII period, hangs just across the toilette almost in natural size. Try to take the picture with him and beat his evergreen mojo. You ll realize it s not an easy thing to do after couple of shots. Locals have a great reverence for Tito so they always display the gist of submissivness when standing in front of one of two Great leaders (Milo is the other one). If you have no authority issues or you re genuine anarchist try to imitate his sublime gaze from the abyss with Stalinesque frown, and if you get kick out of the kafana for being disrespectful, you ll know you suceeded. Next to Tito picture (3m away due to unwritten and still respected lese majeste rule concerning Tito) is the photo of kafana owner with his wife in front Njegos Mausoleum in Lovcen, would definitely be Madeleine cake reminiscence for our next destination if it wasn t owner s Mercedes which ve stolen half of the photo. (But anyway, it is still worth to go there!). There is also photo of Yukio Mishima with bunch of notes left around in Japanese. You are probably asking yourself what is he doing there, (most probably also who is he); after checking on Wikipedia (link) we found out that only link with him and Japan is him being Japanese. From all the notes (in Serbian, English, German, Russian and Japanese) there is one written in Japanese and framed together with two oak leaves. Apparently it was left from famous Japanese traveller Yokiko Kokiyo who first came down here in 1977, stayed over the month to research Vujadino migrations and again bame back in 1988 when locals organized big feast in his honor and from when this note dates. Owner said it wishes a good luck, hapiness, friendship between peoples of Japan and Japan etc, we couldn t help but to notice only five characters written, so I guess it still waits someone for proper deciphering.
What to do here? Let us jump straight to kafana related activities. 1. Besides ubiquitous cevapi, pljeskavica and burek, one can order Japanese style bean stew, called Pasulj tetovac made in japan. Despite long name it is very simple dish out of bean, meat, spices and water, it is very stuffy usually made for local shepards as breakfast to endure harsh mountainous conditions and yet be able to skip a lunch. Only with 4 people should you dare to order one portion! 2. Playing local cards (with local people), try Ljiljana game, Joker chasing type of game for 4 people, we didn t get the rules thoroughly cause the owner and Matija changed them quite arbitrarily during the game. It was still fun because it can be played as drinking game. 3. Getting Japanese stamp in passport. If you spend more then 30EUR in kafana it is free of charge, otherwise 5 EUR for whole page stamp and 3 EUR for small size. It looks very cool, „Welcome to Japan“ in Montenegrin/ English/ Japanese with the date and small coat of arms. 4. Hiking. The new trail between Japan and first winter house in Prokletije is in good condition and passable for trackers in good condition in summer and winter. The old trail heads east 20km across mountain to Lid and thence another 25km to Kokos. Recent reports suggest it is passable by foot as far as Lid, but questionable thereafter. In particular, trails are washed out, there are unavoidable large rocks laying down, some sections have washouts that may require hiring experienced alpinist to get past. Attention, this route is not kept clear of snow in winter and it s recommended only to most dedicated who don t mind spending couple of months stucked in the mountain. 5. Taking/ stealing cherries from local cherry fields. If you pick handful of cherries while passing by, it won t be considered as theft, but if you leave the place with bags full of cherries, of course it will. People won t get bother chasing you but there are dogs who might go 1km after you! Be prepared to have vehicled support and do this only while leaving Japan, otherwise your stay in Japan won t be welcoming any more. Yokiko Kokiyo has never done this activity.
Our next stop is Aljbania.
There is no regular train or bus connections from Montenegro to Albania!? Podgorica is aprox 20km away from Albanian border and 45km from Albanian 3rd biggest city Shkodra- yet no connections!