I’d stressed excessively about whether or not we would be able to get tickets for the once-a-day direct bus from Budva to Žabljak. Arriving in Budva we’d bought the tickets but this morning they were nowhere to be found and we ended up having to pay another 30 euros for the bus ride for a new set of tickets.
Donald Sutherland drove us to Durmitor
When the minibus drove into the bus station, it looked like something that had seen the birth of Tito. Our driver at the same time looked like Donald Sutherland.
We were lucky to get the front seats offering proper space in this tiny bus, though also a firtsthand experience with the front window in case of an accident since seatbelts is an exotic commodity in Montenegro.
But our driver was a professional and a multitasker. He could smoke, text, talk and drink a Red Bull all while he took us up into the Montenegrin inlands past the Bay of Kotor and the mountains behind.
While our driver was amazing, the minibus was falling apart. I don’t know if it was overheating or the road increase up the mountainside, but for long parts of the journey the bus moved around 35 to 40 km/h. I felt like I was riding that small train which takes tourists up the hill of Montmartre.
For hours we snaked our way up the mountain side, while other vehicles zoomed past us. We were the annoying tractor on the road I imagine. Our driver, however, took it calmly while lighting one cigarette after the other..
With front seat rows we got to enjoy this bus ride which had become a small adventure all on its own through the mountainous roads of Montenegro, while we could see as the speedometer slowed down to only 20 km/h.
In Nikšić the bus got full and some people had to stand up for the last leg of the journey. I really needn’t have been that worried about getting tickets.
We finally made it to Žabljak, where an unfortunate backpacker was impatient and opened the wrong side of the luggage storage. The bus almost came apart and the driver, the unlucky backpacker and a strong guy amongst the passengers had to fight to close the lid again.
After spending double on our bus ride by buying two sets of tickets we decided to tip our driver. Partly for his battle with strenuous mountain roads and stupid backpackers and partly for allowing us to stay up front all the way.
Žabljak is the regional capital of Žabljak Municipality and according to what I’ve read before coming it is nothing special. However, after spending our afternoon here and figuring out how to see Durmitor National Park in the next two days, I have to say I rather like this quirky place.
Žabljak can boast close to 2000 inhabitants. It is also the highest placed city in the Balkans at an altitude of 1456 metres. Most of the city is new as it was nearly completely destroyed during the Balkan Wars and then burnt to the ground during WW2.
Today the city caters to winter sport as well as mountain activities in the summer as it is the gate way to Durmitor National Park.
All the houses seem to be built in stone, old wood and tin, in various combinations. Most houses have tin roofs which are anything from orange to blue or green. Many are old and rusted giving the city a unique look.
In the centre lies the very beautiful Žabljak Hotel, which stands as a mountain itself. Behind it we found an odd area consisting of two streets with houses which seemed to have burned out some time ago. Derelict and desolate with graffiti and weeds everywhere, this small area close to the centre is a ghost town.
Walking through it we only met an old woman with blue hair and her grandchild a long with a massive cow grassing by one of the houses.
In so many ways Montenegro is developing fast and furiously, and also in Žabljak you find new hotels being built. And then you come across such an odd scene as this and all you can think is that here is proof that we are still in the Balkans.