Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lovćen National Park and the rest of Montenegro

Lovćen National Park is beautiful. It is also a very big climb. I wasn't sure if Davida and I would be sticking together through that part. Neither was he. He was worried about how much climbing there was. I was worried about how far I needed to go. It all ended up working out.

Lovćen National Park

We left Kotor quicker than expected because it just didn't offer us what we were looking for. As we left town, we quickly found ourselves climbing. There were supposed to be only 25 switchbacks over 17km, but that depends where you start counting from. At the beginning, each one provided a better view than the last. In the middle, they offered another chance to found blackberries. At the end, each one offered another chance to keep on hurting as we climbed to the top. When we got up there we sat down on the padio of an abandoned inn to have a great lunch and look out over the bays.

A statue at Njegos Mausoleum.

Two giantesses guard the Njegos Mausoleum.

Afterward, I wanted to head into the the national park. I don't think I communicated this to Davida earlier because he gave me a surprised look and asked if I really intended to bike all the way to the top. I did. Though, I didn't realize what all the way to the top meant. Davida and I decided to split up. I would leave immediatley and climb up to the mausoleum and then come back down the hill to meet him at the T. He would have a cafe break and start for the T later. Unfortunately for Davida, the biggest part of the climbing was getting to the T. I almost turned around to tell him we were splitting up for good because I knew he was over the climbing. Instead, I just pressed on to the Njegos Mausoleum at 1749m. We had started at sea level that day and there weren't really any extended flat sections. I have climbed more in one day, but never so much without a flat stretch. I was tuckered out, but the views were worth it.

The tomb at the Njegos Mausoleum.

The amazing view from the Njegos Mausoleum.

The mausoleum was finished in the 1970s and the remains of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš were moved there. He turned Montenegro from a theocracy into a secular state and is the country's most famous poet. This moved created a lot of controversy because his last will asked that he be buried in a small chapel that he built in nearby Cetinje. The communist propoganda machine wanted to move him and create the highest mausoleum in the world, so they did. I don't know if there is much controversy about it anymore. I do know it is a very peaceful place. After climbing forever on the road, you continue to ascend on the 461 steps to the mausoleum entrance. The tomb is guarded by two lady giants. I expected to amazed by the views, but the mausoleum was also great.

Mausoleum of Njegoš, Lovcen National Park, Montenegro

After a long visit, I descended the mountain to meet Davida. Surpisingly, he had rolled up just about two minutes before I got there. He had considered turning back and taking the easy way down to Cetinje. He had even considered just telling me to move on, but we hung together for one more night.

Descending through Lovćen National Park.

This road repair in Lovćen National Park might be one of my favorite memories in Montenegro.

We barreled down the mountains to Cetinje, the old royal capital. It was a cute little town that we both had wanted to spend a little more time in. I am not sure why we didn't. I know I had my schedule. I think Davida wanted to catch a train from the Podogorica to the north. After stocking up for dinner, we pressed on. The shortest way was on a very busy highway. It did not make for good riding even if we were making great time. During this stretch, we encountered Montenegro's big danger for bikers, unlit tunnels. There are a lot of tunnels in mountainous Montenegro. They are not a problem for cars, but makes things interesting for bikers. Some are so long that you should wait for a car's headlights to guide you through. Luckily, ours was pretty short.

Montengro's biggest danger to bikers, unlit tunnels.

Guerilla advertising for towing. I love that they use the word slep (think schlep) for towing.

The main highway makes for bad riding and even worse camping. We found some terraced land about 20m off the road, but took a pass on in. Eventually, we found two side roads. One descended into a valley that looked like it was cultivated by one farmer. We were hesitant to go down because it was very steep and if the farmer said no, that would be a lot of work to get back up. We settled with the other side road, which turned out to be a big hill. We could not find anything in the brush ridden rocky terrain. Just as we were about to give up, Davida found a decent where they had been clearing the land. Near that spot, he then found an even better spot that was grass covered. I was happy for softer ground, but didn't care too much. I was tired. When I am getting in late and leaving early, I usually don't care. I just want sleep. He believes that since he spends most of his time each day there (even if asleep) that it should be a good one. I admire Davida's committment to finding great campsites.

The concrete apartment blocks of Podogorica, Montenegro.

The next morning, we were off to the capital of Montenegro, Podogorica. Davida was considering joining me all the way to Greece, but he decided to stick with his original plans so we split up once we got there. I really wanted to join him in northern Montenegro at the Tara Canyon (deepest in Europe, second in the world only to the Grand Canyon by 200m), but just didn't have the time. I was really bummed out about it. One day, I will go back.

Just off the main square in Podogorica, Montenegro.

The captial didn't have much to offer. It wasn't terribly eye pleasing and the tourist information folks were the rudest peope we encountered in the entire country. However, the random locals were brilliant. One woman took us under her wing, found us a bike shop, Internet, and anything else we needed. She was over the top friendly and is just the kind of person that makes me want to head back to Montenegro. It is small, but deserves a longer visit.

The main square in Podogorica, Montenegro.

Davida strikes his favorite pose as we part ways. He will be missed.

After we split up, I was off to Albania. Getting directions to Albania was a bit challenging. The woman at the tourist office wasn't a help and a few other people seemed just weren't sure even though it is only 50km away. When I started asking for a town on the way to Albania, they were spot on and got me there easily. As I got closer to the border, I was riding beside Lake Shkodër National Park. A few guide books had said to visit, but I had decided to skip it and that decision was reinforced as I saw that it was a giant wetland. Yes, wetlands can be beautiful, but I find them a muggy, mosquito filled, and unpleasant more often that not. I was happy to see it from my bike, but not be stopping there.

Lake Shkodër National Park

Montenegran countryside.

One other curious thing was that when I was riding closer to the border, the road got worse. It suggested something about how little these two countries have people crossing back and forth. It wasn't the worst road (that is in Albania), but it definitely wasn't a good one. One last tidbit, the cars in Montenegro have license plates designed after the EU license plate. If they had the ring of stars, it would be the exact same. They are also using the Euro. I assume they are just getting themselves ready for a successful bid into the EU. Anyway, on to Albania, a very, very different ball of wax.

A police vehicle on the way to Albania with the almost EU license plate.

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