I woke up fairly early because I had a very full day planned. First up, I had to go rent a noble steed for my trip over the border into Montenegro. The previous day I had scouted out a few different car rental places and chose one that was relatively close to me. The woman behind the counter took one look at me and gave me a free upgrade to a mid-tier versus the economy I had initially booked. Score!
It had been years since I last drove a stick but as soon as I got in, I felt comfortable with it. Less comfortable was trying to find my way out of town but thankfully it’s basically one road. About 30 minutes later, after winding my way through the mountain pass, I came to the Dubrovnik Airport, which made me realize I would need more time than I thought to get there on Sunday. A little while later I saw one of the greatest road crossing signs ever. Sadly, both coming and going, I did not need to heed that sign.
After about an hour, I was finally along the Croatian coastline, which shimmered due to the sunny day. Unfortunately, there were no real turnoffs and after a couple of failed attempts, pictures just weren’t going to be possible while also trying to drive. This was the best I could do.
After another quick slant inland, I finally arrived at the Croatian border. I handed over my passport and the green card that came with the rental car, which is required for crossing into Montenegro. It was a quick and easy process. I thought wow, that was painless, given what a pain border crossings can be.
This victory was short lived however as I had forgotten about the fact now I had to cross into Montenegro’s border. And this time there was a massive line of cars that didn’t seem to be moving very quickly. At least it wasn’t too shabby of a background so I rolled down my windows and took in the fresh mountain air.
30 slow minutes later, I finally got to the booth where a grumpy agent slowly looked through my passport and then eventually handed it back. Then for some reason, I had to repeat the process with another agent about a mile down the road. At this time, however, it was just a quick look and I continued my drive into Montenegro.
The drive along the switchback road was pretty breathtaking, particularly once it hit right along the seaside. There was still only just the one road to final destination, Kotor, so the initial stress of driving started to melt away. Plus, I mean c’mon look at those pics!
As I pulled into Kotor, there was a massive traffic jam as tourists were flooding into the medieval town. I was eventually able to navigate around it and started the equally fun task of finding parking. After being shooed away from what I thought was an open spot, I decided to head over to the other side of the town, where I had read there was a cheap lot. As luck would have it, this was also the side for the consensus best restaurant in town, Galelion. Although I had read it was pricey, when I walked up and a) saw the amazing view and b) the blissful lack of tourists, it was a done deal to eat there.
By this point, I was starved and quickly ordered the grilled octopus with vegetables and for the heck of it, a small bottle of Montenegro white wine. Even though Montenegro isn’t part of the EU, they use the Euro as their currency. It was strange seeing a menu where I didn’t have to do any major calculations.
I was kind of puzzled by the lack of suckers on the octopus but the pieces were very tender, if a bit bland. The wine however was…not good. Montenegro has a ways to go to catch up to their neighbor. I enjoyed a bit more of the peaceful setting and then made the quick walk across the bridge into the Old Town, which was kept under the watchful eye to a fortress that snaked up the mountainside.
As I approached the main gate, the silence that I had enjoyed earlier was soon shattered by the throngs of tourists cramming their way into the Old Town. The town itself was very charming – dating back to the 12th century but more recently built around the 19th century. I wandered around for awhile taking it all in.
I also popped in to a bar that my new wine friends from the other evening had insisted I check out called Astoria.
After about an hour, I had seen enough and walked back to my parking lot, which turned out to be only 1 Euro. I drove out of town, now completely relaxed since I knew where I was going, which made me enjoy taking the twisty roads and quickly shifting gears. Fun fun.
This time the border crossing took no time at all so as I was heading back to Dubrovnik, I made a quick detour to Cavtat, which was a lovely small seaside town on the other end of the coastline. I drove into Dubrovnik and my stress level returned as I had to find somewhere to get gas, not an easy thing as it turned out. I eventually found one and filled up the half tank needed for a mere $25 USD – ouch!
I nervously drove through the city looking for the entrance to the Old Town, which turned out to be a long way around. Anxiously checking the fuel gauge, I pulled into the rental car place and thankfully was given the green light to leave. I had been out and about for almost 9 hours so I walked back to my place for a quick nap.
By the time I re-emerged, it was almost 10 PM so I opted for something quick and easy. The woman at the rental car agency had said one of her favorite places was Spaghettiteria Toni’s. I initially blanched at that idea as it seemed to touristy but after looking at the menu online, I thought I’d give it a shot.
The restaurant was fairly dead by this point and I was so hungry that I immediately ordered what I had found online that intrigued me – fussili with 4 types of local mushrooms and truffle sauce. The pasta was decent but oh those wondrous mushrooms – oyster, white, crimini and porcini – and the sauce was superb too.
Still trying to get the bad taste out of my mouth from that terrible Montenegro wine, I walked over to a wine bar I had heard rave things about – D’vino Wine Bar. There were only a few people there but as soon as I saw the very impressive Croatian wine list, divided into regions, I knew I was in the right place. After consultation with the bartender, I opted for the Poshup version of the same Matusko wine I had the previous evening. He explained that it’s the same grape (Pivac Mali) but on the other side of the hill, which was much cooler and therefore a very different wine. Sure enough, it tasted almost nothing like the Dingac version but was also superb.
After chatting a bit with a couple from Manchester, I noticed a chalkboard sign that looked interesting.
This was also a Plavic Mali, but from a local winemaker. Cultivated in a much sunnier/warmer climate, the wine had a pretty high alcohol content – almost 16% ABV – and yes was indeed a monster. By the end of the glass, I was done for the evening so I said my goodbyes and promised to return in the next day or so. Tomorrow’s agenda was up in the air as there was rain in the forecast so I would have to see what the weather gods had in store for me.