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Hiking San Giovanni Fort of Kotor, Montenegro

<< Previous Post: Kotor, A City of Montenegro That Stole My Heart <<

One of the reasons why I recommend to stay at least minimum of 2 nights in Kotor is because you can go for hiking in the early morning. Hiking is one of the top things you should do when in Kotor cause not only it will lead you to Kotor Fortress which known as San Giovanni Fort, but you will be rewarded with the most stunning and breathtaking panoramic view of Kotor Bay. For the past few days, I didn't do any hike throughout my almost 3 weeks trip, except for this one. Like they said, save the best for last. 

Coincidentally, I met a Malaysian lady who also did solo travelling like I do and happen to be staying exactly the same hostel and therefore, we decided to hike up together. Two is better than one, right? We left the hostel right after we had our breakfast and immediately hike up in order to beat the crowd. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 01
#1: Turn right when seeing this signboard which lead to another trek

Normally, visitors who plan to hike up to Kotor Fortress will begin their journey from the Old Town (Stari Grad) of Kotor but we took the different trek. The hostel owner gave us (and also other hostel guests) few important tips and one of it is where we can hike without have to pay the fee of €8 (approx. to RM37) in order to go up the fortress. It used to be free but I think due to overcrowded especially during the peak season (normally during the summer time), then they started to charge who intend to hike up. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 02
#2: Photo stop in the middle of our hike

I personally feel the hike is fairly easy and not that difficult as I thought. I even in a long dress which I just newly bought but of course, the most importantly I wore a comfortable walking shoe. I came across a group of family with small kids and these kids able to hike up without having any issues. Most importantly, do no hike with slippers or even sandals cause the trail consists of plenty of loose rocks and uneven stone paved track where it might be slippery in some way. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 03
#3: Oh, my goats!

Both of my newly met acquaintance and I did stop few times for phototaking and that's the reason why it took some time for us to reach to the top. As recommended by the hostel owner, we dropby a small house in the middle of our hike where the family sell their own handmade cheese and ham. However, none of us bought any of them cause we only brought along a small bag with us. But since we're there and feeling kinda awkward just leave like that, we ended by ordering coke to quench our thirst.  

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 04

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 05
#5: Love this photo with the tiny of Chapel of St. Ivan behind me

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 06
#6: This is the small hole of the wall that lead us to the fortress

When both of us passed through the small hole, quite number of visitors were quite surprise to see what we did. That's because many of them didn't know there's a secret trek which can lead us to the fortress without have to go through of paying the fee. This little hole eventually brought us to something that we didn't expect - a viewpoint overlooking the breathtaking and mind-blowing panoramic view of Kotor Bay with Montenegro's mountain as the background. As the quote goes, the best view comes after the hardest climb. Though the hike wasn't that difficult at all but I have to say this place is the most beautiful place I've ever visited. Kotor, you instantly have becoming one of my most favourite city in Europe. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 07
#7: Breathtaking and mind-blowing  panoramic view of Kotor Bay

#8: Admiring the beauty of Kotor Bay from the top of the hill.

We took nearly two hours to arrive the castle of San Giovanni and slowly, we can see more crowds are coming up as well. I believe most of them are from the enormous cruises and that's explain why I suggest to climb early in the morning. Phototaking and enjoying the view are mostly what we did when reaching the top but there are few visitors who were also enjoying sunbathing. The angmo really love to sunbath, but not me cause I easily get tan when expose to sun, even for few minutes only. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 09
#9: 1,500 years ruins of the castle of San Giovanni

It's time to go back to the ground. This round, we decided to use the other trek which lead us to the old town. It's getting more challenging to descend because not just that there are too many people, but the stairs are too small to fit in two human at the same time. There are few times I need to stop for a while in order for those who are on the way up just to passby. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort 10
#10: This is the viewpoint I've been looking forward before arrive in Kotor. Cause....

Lonely Planet Montenegro Cover Kotor
#11: It's the front cover of Lonely Planet book. Does it looks exactly the same as the photo I took?

2019 Montenegro Kotor Old Town 07
#12: This is where one of the hiking trails starts, which is from the Old Town but visitors need to pay €8 before begin to hike up. 

2019 Montenegro Kotor Gelato
#13: A reward for ourselves after done with the hiking - gelato!

Overall, it took us almost 3 hours to complete the whole hiking trail but it could be speed up if we didn't have our sweet time at the small house which we dropby in the middle of our hike. As the whole place is totally exposed, it will getting hotter especially in the middle of the day, so don't forget to apply sunscreen and bring along hat. I don't recommend umbrella cause it might cause inconveniences as there are certain part of the trails are narrow.

Last but not least, be cautious with your belongings especially the valuable one cause my acquaintance lost her money somewhere at the top of the hills. We didn't know how and when it happened, but we're completely shocked to find out about this when she couldn't find her money to pay for her gelato. Though the amount might seem insignificant, but we still went and lodged police report at the end of the day for insurance purposes. Frankly speaking, pickpocket is pretty common in Europe and therefore, always stay vigilant with your belongings.

Nevertheless, I still in love with Kotor to date and if you would like to plan your trip to the Balkans, you must include Kotor in your itinerary. Plan now, travel later 😜

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Kotor, A City of Montenegro That Stole My Heart

<< Previous Post: Berat, The Town of A Thousand Windows <<

Kotor is my second last city before heading back to Istanbul once again. Kotor is a fortified town sits in the northern part of the Montenegro coast on the Adriatic Sea. And that's mean I have ticked off another new country - Montenegro. While the name of Kotor might seems funny to us as it mean "dirty" in Malay language, but the fact is that it has become one of my favourite cities in Balkans Peninsula. I love this coastal town so much that I stayed here for 4 days and 3 nights without doing any city hopping. 

2019 Bus Tirana To Kotor
#1: Bus from Tirana to Kotor with few stops at Skadar, Podgorica and Budva

Kotor is fairly well connected with neighboring countries by bus. You can get to Kotor from Dubrovnik and Split (Croatia), Sarajevo and Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Skopje (Kosovo), Belgrade (Serbia) and even Tirana (Albania). However, do take note that the bus schedule and frequency varies according to season and there is no accurate source of the varying schedule available online. Hence, the best thing you can do is immediately check out the bus schedule once you arrive at your destination.

As I was from Tirana, I took a local bus from Skanderbeg Square to Tirana Temporary Bus Terminal for international bound lines which is just behind a sport centre (Pallati Sportit Asllan Rusi) for 40 lek (approx. to RM1.50/€0.33). Alternatively, you can walk for about 25 minutes there. A single bus trip to Kotor from Tirana costs €25 (approx. to RM116) and the bus ride is nearly 6 hours, or more depending on the traffic conditions. I purchased the bus ticket on the day itself right after I reach the bus terminal 30 minutes earlier in order to secure myself a seat. In case you have huge luggage with you, you need to pay €2 of storage fee to the bus driver. Oh well, this is quite common practice as it happened during my trip in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia.

2019 Montenegro Kotor Bus Station
#2: Kotor Main Bus Station

Kotor Main Bus Station is not that far away from the Old Town (known as Stari Grad) which is about 10 minutes walk and for the first time in my record, I booked my stay outside of the Old Town. If you read most of my previous posts, you will know that I always love to stay inside or within the Old Town but not this time. I booked the hostel that is facing the seafront of Kotor Bay and guess what, it's the wise choice I ever made and I'm absolutely satisfied with it. Wondering why Wikitravel didn't list this hostel - what a shame! Luckily I put extra effort to search for more.

2019 Montenegro Kotor Hostel Pupa 1
#3: The hostel I stay in Kotor is facing the seafront of Kotor Bay

2019 Montenegro Kotor Hostel Pupa 2
#4: This is how the hostel looks like - clean, chic and pretty cheap too. It's just €9.50 for a night stay.

Hostel Pupa
Date Stayed: 21 April - 24 April 2019 (3 nights)
Room Rate: €28.50 for a bunk bed in mixed dormitory room for 3 nights (Booked from Booking.com)

2019 Montenegro Kotor Idea Supermarket
#5: The best part is that the grocery store is just behind the hostel.

Kotor might seems small in size, but I would recommend to spend at least 2 minimum nights here. Though in some part where I might find this city has almost similar features as Dubrovnik especially where both cities are walled and close to each other, Kotor tends to be more cheaper than the latter.

2019 Montenegro Kotor 01-1
#6: Similar to Dubrovnik, Kotor is also a walled city but then I found it's more cheaper than Dubrovnik.

2019 Montenegro Kotor 02
#7: Sea Gate of 1555, the main entrance of Old Town

Obviously, Stari Grad (Old Town) is the place where you shouldn't miss when in Kotor as this is where its history, culture and tradition are being preserved until today. It consists a handful of interesting and fascinating monuments of the medieval architecture: from churches and cathedrals to palaces and even the museums. Besides that, you will find yourself walking through multitude of narrow streets, squares and markets within the walls. You might get lost while wandering through the old town which it's like a maze but trust me, it's really fun and full of adventures.

Below are few photos I took while wandering through the Old Town:

2019 Montenegro Kotor Old Town Clock
#8: Old Town Clock

2019 Montenegro Kotor St Tryphon's Cathedral
#9: St Tryphon's Cathedral

2019 Montenegro Kotor Maritime Museum
#10: Maritime Museum (Entrance fee: €4)

2019 Montenegro Kotor St Nicolas Church
#11: Serbian orthodox church of St Nicolas

2019 Montenegro Kotor Old Town 04
#12: Laundry hanging on a washing line

2019 Montenegro Kotor Old Town 05
#13: Most of these stone buildings with green painted windows

2019 Montenegro Kotor 03
#14: Venetian fortifications of Kotor

2019 Montenegro Kotor 04
#15: Kotor is one of the destination for major cruise ship

During my days in Kotor, I saw at least two enormous cruise ships docked in Kotor Bay. Therefore, Kotor tends to be more happening and crowded with a group of tourists from the cruises during the daytime. However when the sun was about to set, the city immediately turned into a quiet and less happening zone. Most of the restaurants and shops within the Old Town close as early as 6pm.

2019 Montenegro Kotor 05

2019 Montenegro Kotor Postcards & Magnets
#17: Postcards (€0.30 per piece) and magnets (the cheapest I found €2 per piece)

2019 Montenegro Kotor Oil
#18: Anyone interested with this oil for erotic massage?

I almost forgot! The official currency for Montenegro is Euro (€). Hence, you don't have to bother to exchange any local currency, unless you don't have any Euros with you.

Apart from Stari Grad, actually there are more things to do and see in Kotor itself, like climbing up the Upper Walls and hop to the Island Gospa od Skrpjela. I will blog more about these soon.

2019 Montenegro Kotor San Giovanni Fort
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Berat, The Town of A Thousand Windows

<< Previous Post: Tirana, The Beating Heart of Albania <<

I have to admit that my 3rd Solo Europe trip is like city hopping. I had been constantly hopped on and off from one city to another almost everyday, without a miss. Some said it's might seems pretty exhausted which I can't deny the fact but I guess this is part of the travel adventure. 

I arrived in Tirana, the capital city of Albania yesterday and I based at there for two nights. Hence, on the following day right after I woke up, I was thinking should I proceed to do another short day trip out from the main city. After considering that since I already in Albania, I should grab the chance despite I was slightly tired. I chosen to visit Berat, a town which is nearly 2 and a half hours from Tirana by bus. 

I know I know - that the name of the town might seems funny to some of you cause in Malay language, it indicates for "heavy" or "weight" but this town is listed as one of the most beautiful cities in Balkan Peninsula. It also listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, don't play play! 

Tirana bus stations are quite confusing cause not they have one or two, but they seem like have more than 3 bus stations. Luckily, the owner of the hostel I was staying has printed all the directions and stick on the wall. This absolutely makes it's so convenient for traveller like us to gather information.

2019 Albania Berat By Bus Direction
#1: Direction to get to Berat by bus

2019 Albania Tirana Southern Bus Station (Dogana)
#2: This is how the bus to Berat looks like at Tirana Southern Bus Station (Dogana)

2019 Albania Berat City Bus
#3: Berat City Bus to the town. Just wait for the bus in front of the shop of the bus statation

Countries like Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania seem to be less of tourists and they are known to be the less beaten visited countries. When I was in Berat, I was the only Asian traveller and I did feel awkward because most of the locals were looking at me. But sooner, I felt comfortable cause the local were quite friendly and helpful in helping me get to the center of the town from Berat bus station.

2019 Albania Berat Town 1
#4: Stone houses on the hillsides are the reason that attract visitors to there.

Known as the Town of a Thousand Windows, Berat is one rare example of the well-preserved and finest Ottoman-era architecture. When I was inside the city bus, I was not sure where's the exactly place to stop but once I saw these stone houses on the steep hillsides, I knew this is exactly where I want to drop-off immediately from the bus. Forget about museum and any other interesting sights cause my main reason to Berat is solely for this enchanting sight.

Apparently, there are plenty of things to do and see in Berat but because I arrived around the noon time, I tried to take things slowly without getting rush here and there. I decided just to leisurely walk around the town, enjoy the view and scenery and lastly, finding a cafe to sit down and relax. I was absolutely lost track the number of days on the road cause the length of this trip of mine was almost 3 weeks. That's explain why I was so tired and exhausted, especially being too long away from home.

2019 Albania Berat Town 3
#5: Modern bridge over the Osum River

2019 Albania Berat Town 2
#6: Magnificent snow-capped mountain view from the bridge

#7: View of Mangalem from Gorica

One fun fact about Berat is that it has two distinctive old towns area; Mangalem on the north of the river whereas Gorica on the south of the river. The previous is a traditionally Muslim area and consists with ancient white Ottoman houses and as for the latter is a traditionally Orthodox Christian area with lovely byzantine churches.

Because the last bus depart to Tirana from Berat was scheduled to be at 4pm, I tried not to walk further away but end my trip by walking to the pedestrian street of Berat along Osumi River for a cup of hot coffee at a random cafe. Guess this is the travelling way I always want it to be lately cause I'm not as young and energetic as I used to be.

2019 Albania Berat Town 5
#8: Sitting at random cafe for a cup of hot coffee and writing postcards

And that's how I spent my day in Berat - simple, short and relax. Might not as fruitful and insightful cause I skip from visiting any interesting attractions but then, this is my trip. I plan and I decide all by myself - that's the benefit of solo travelling.

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Tirana, The Beating Heart of Albania

<< Previous Post: A Day Trip From Pristina To Prizren <<

It's time to bid goodbye to Kosovo and travel to the southwest border which is Albania. Albania is a small country in the Balkans Peninsula on the Adriatic and Ionian Sea within the Mediterranean Sea. The capital city, Tirana is the city I'm intend heading to from Pristina. There is no rail connection to Tirana and hence, the ideal option is by taking bus. 

2019 Bus Pristina To Tirana
#1: Bus from Pristina to Tirana

From Pristina Bus Station, search for the bus with the sign to Tirana. The bus ticket can be bought from the ticket counter on the same day of your departure time. If you like to know more about the bus schedule between Pristina and Tirana, you can check out here but it's in Albanian. A single journey costs €10.50 and the ride takes nearly 4.5 hours. 

2019 Albania Tirana Bus Station
#2: Tirana Temporary Bus Terminal for international bound lines - Behind a sport centre (Pallati Sportit Asllan Rusi)

Before reaching Tirana, I did my research from Wikitravel (the site I always rely on for almost all my trips), it stated that Tirana doesn't have any permanent bus stations like the rest of the cities and the bus driver might simply drop the passengers at various location. Too be honest, I was quite worry and anxious as I was all alone by myself. Thankfully, the bus stopped behind a sport centre (Pallati Sportit Asllan Rusi) which is about 25 minutes of walking to the hostel I booked in Tirana and it's near Skanderbeg Square. It's just a temporary bus terminal for international bound lines cause there are other bus terminals for the domestic line. Sounds confusing right? Therefore always be prepared with offline map which can be downloaded from Google Map. 

2019 Albania Currency - Lek
#3: Banknotes and coin of Albania

The official currency of Albania is lek, though Euro is widely accepted. However, I would recommend to exchange to lek as you'll get better deal. Albanian is a closed currency, which means it can't be exchanged outside the country. It's wise to exchange them, or spend them before exit the country. 

€1 = 123 lek

2019 Albania Tirana Hostel Taipei 101
#4: Love the way they decorate the wall - filled with postcards from the countries that the owners been. 

2019 Albania Tirana Hostel Taipei 101 - Dorm
#5: A female dormitory room with 6 bunk beds

Hostel Taipei 101 Tirana
Date Stayed: 19 April - 21 April 2019 (2 nights)
Room Rate: €16 for a bed in 6-bed female dormitory room for 2 nights (Booked from Booking.com)

The hostel I stayed in Tirana is kinda special and unique to me cause it was owned and managed by a Taiwanese couple. Hence, they named their hostel as Taipei 101 - which it's pretty obvious. The lady owner is significantly attentive and friendly and you can't imagine how happy I was that time cause finally I can communicate with someone for more than an hour, especially in Mandarin language and also exchanged our almost similar culture. Both of the owners are also world travellers and they have been to more than 70 countries before decide to settle down in Albania. One of the reasons is because the living expenses in Albania is pretty cheap compare to the rest of European countries. What an interesting life they have but for me, I still prefer to live in Malaysia. No matter how many countries I've been, no matter which country that capture my heart, still Malaysia is always the place I want to live and stay forever. 

2019 Albania Tirana Mural Art
#6: Fascinating mural art of Tirana

Tirana is relatively small enough to be explored by walking. However, be cautious while walking around Tirana because the pathway is not well maintained and some have large holes due to the heavy construction and development.  

From my hostel, I walked to the one of the oldest and most historical residential neighborhood in the city which locally known as Pazari i Ri and it takes approximately of 15 minutes walking. My intention of visiting here is to catch a glimpse of the local market where there are more than 300 farmers selling various of items; from fresh fruits, local vegetables, daily products, seafood and even spices. Besides being a marketplace, there are countless of bars and restaurants too. Probably because it's was weekday by the time I was there, it was quiet and not busy as I thought. Maybe it's best to come and visit during the weekend. 

2019 Albania Tirana Fish & Meat Market
#7: Pazari i Ri - a marketplace in Tirana 

2019 Albania Tirana Fridge Magnets
#8: Look! I found magnets here.

Skanderbeg Square
You might have come across the name of this square before from my Pristina post but Skanderbeg Square of Tirana is the nerve centre and symbolic site for the country. Locally known as Sheshi Skenderbej, the square is the ideal place to start witnessing Tirana's daily goings-on. The square is named after the Albanian national hero and his statue is built in the middle of the square.

2019 Albania Tirana Skanderbeg Square 1
#9: A statue of Albanian hero Skanderbeg stands in the square with the Albanian flag on the side.

2019 Albania Tirana Skanderbeg Square 2
#10: Government building featuring Italian architecture

2019 Albania Tirana Skanderbeg Square 3
#11: National History Museum

Actually there are more attractions in Tirana where you can include in your itinerary such as BUNK'ART, an underground anti atomic place but it's located in the outskirt of Tirana which you might need to spare few days in Tirana. Though I stayed in Tirana for 2 nights, I didn't manage to visit BUNK'ART cause I have other plan in my mind. And if you are into mountain scenery, you can consider heading to Mount Dajti National Park and riding on the cable car.

#12: Tirana is where the old and new Albania meet

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