Greece: Captain Ben

The seas around Paros are crystal blue and what better way to explore them out on a boat. Captain Ben was our day cruise of choice, we were deciding between Ben and Yianni but when we got through to Yianni it sounded like he was in a hurricane and said his boat would not be ready for ten days.

Morning

We don’t like mornings, I think we have made that clear. And so even when a fun day is ahead of us we still struggle to get out of bed. Especially when sleeping off the amazing meal at Siparos (see yesterdays blog for that). We had to get to the south of the island by ten where we huddled with other tourists until a big red boat with “Captain Ben” emblazoned on the side turned up.

Snorkeling

The main feature of the day is jumping in the water and attractive spots along the way. The Captain (Ben) drove very close to the cliffs to allow us all to take beautiful photos of the scenery around Paros and Antiparos.

There were some really nice stops and we both got to do a fair bit of snorkelling in the crystal clear waters. Of course there are always lots of other people and so you don’t see many fish. But it’s still very pretty.

BBQ

After a few chances to swim in the ocean we end up at a cove accessible only by boat ⛵ where we stop a while to relax on the beach. I think this is mainly to give Ben’s heart a break since he spends half the time in the water demanding people don’t swim too far or stay away from the rocks.

They loaded us up with a snack of octopus, calamari and sausage (yum!). And then request we wash it down with a pint of Ouzo (yuck!) We left our glass full minus a little sip.

I even got to practise my Baywatch running, dig a couple holes and top up my sunburn. The equipment is quite good quality and the staff are very helpful, serving drinks and putting out a load of beach toys for the time on land.

When we got back to the boat they served up lunch which was delicious and good portions too. Some Greek salad, pasta salad, pork and chicken skewers and some potatoes. Later they brought round some whole fish as well!

Slide

One exciting feature of the boat was that it had a slide off the back which went straight into the sea. We got some videos which I will put up later. Ben and the other staff were very good at making sure the slide was wet and the exit was clear. And it was a good novelty to slide down into the sea. I even jumped off the top of the boat.

Archway

One of the most exciting features of the day is an archway that you can swim through and people climb up to the top to jump off. Given the recent issue my brother had from a similar exercise I decided to not jump myself, but instead watch others do so. Unfortunately neither of us got a good picture of the archway so here is a nice one from the Captain Ben website.

Wind down

After such a long day in the sun we were both very sunburnt, tired but very relaxed. We headed home and cooked some supermarket pizzas before wandering into town so I could live out my childhood with a big bunch of candy floss. There was even a bit of traditional Greek dancing and music going on in the centre of town.

We finished up with some “icecream rolls” where they make the icecream in front of you on a really cold plate. It’s quite fun, but at 7 EUR a bowl it was a bit pricey!

Anyway that’s it for today. We have another early morning tomorrow (groan) to go diving so these blogs are going to be a little late.

See you tomorrow

R&J

Xxx

Greece: oh how relaxing you are Paros

Now three days into our trip to Paros, relaxing really is the theme of this trip. We hoped to go diving but waking up too late and not being able to get through on the phone we resigned ourselves to reading our books and watching the boats sail past.

Time to move

After a few hours of increasing our chances of skin cancer we got going to a fish restaurant recommended by our good friend Chris. So we made the long drive of 15 mins over to the east side of the island.

Christiana looks like an average beach bar/restaurant but the staff were really lovely and the view across to Naxos was completely charming. You even got to choose your fish from a drawer in the counter.

Road trip

Refreshed and having walked the front, we set off once more. Jenny again at the helm. Becoming quite the driving pro. We decided to cruise around all four corners of the island of Paros to get a feel for the place. We lucked out and came across a nice little town called Piso Livadi, which had a lovely beach with calm warm water and friendly people. We stayed a while and soaked in the water.

Due South

Having been unable to dial through on the phone we decided it was best to head to the dive center directly. Eurodivers shop is a standard beachy chilled out place with pleasant staff. We booked on to two dives on Monday which we are really looking forward to. The drive to get to the dive shop was spectacular and compares to those in Montenegro, see our other blogs about that.

Moriatis Winery

We finished off our relaxing day with a 12 wine flight of tasting at the Moriatis Winery. This is the biggest winery on the island of Paros and the staff here were absolutely charming. They really made the experience. (Un)Fortunately we got a little bit tipsy and had a bit of a wandering route home in the dark.

We managed to inhale our taco leftovers which were still super tasty and tried to drink our free bottle of wine (a treat for our anniversary) which was not as tasty before hitting the hay and calling it a night.

What a lovely day of just relaxing. Oh and we even managed to book onto Ben’s sailing tour for Sunday! Very excited!

R&J

Xxx

To Podgorica and beyond – Montenegro

Podgorica – Area below a little hill

Following an amazing few days of skiing in the mountains of North East Montenegro it was time for us to move on to a City. Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and is situated close to the centre of the country.

View across Podgorica towards the mountains
View across Podgorica towards the mountains

According to Wikipedia Podgorica means “area below little hill”, which is an apt name since apart from the river running straight through it, the city is completely flat. After having been in some extremely rugged and steep sided terrain it was quite unusual to be met with a wide expanse of nothingness and with a population of only around 150,000, the city itself offered only a little more than nothingness.

Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge

Sights

Most research on Podgorica turned up very little in the way of sightseeing opportunities, A bridge, a couple statues, an old (read derelict) town and a few short streets in differing parts of town, So we didn’t really know what to expect.

Our hotel as mentioned before was cold and very smelly, but very cheap and located in Stara Varoš. This meant we immediately ticked off one of the items to see (the old town). Also within 500 metres walk was the Most na Ribnici; apparently the oldest bridge (from Roman Times) in the city. Although it turns out it was rebuilt in the 18th century. Unfortunately there was rubbish everywhere around it.

Most na Ribnici (Roman Bridge)
Most na Ribnici (Roman Bridge)

The Millennium Bridge, shown above, is a relatively impressive suspension bridge crossing the river at a good height but it was a bit dirty and could do with a lick of paint. The statues weren’t particularly impressive and many of the streets had falling down, boarded up or derelict houses.

Upsides

The above few paragraphs have been particularly negative, but there are some positive aspects to Podgorica. It is extremely small, and so we were easily able to wander from our hotel, into the city centre, around a few run down parks, over a few bridges and eventually even found a row of cafe-bars. These were quite chilled out and three were from the same company “Culture Club”.

Portion size in Montenegro is particularly large, which is remarkable given the generally low prices. A plate stacked high with sausages and potatoes and corn bread and onions was meant to be a late brunch snack, but it went down a treat with a mojito and a coffee. This was the standard fare in Montenegro (meat and potatoes) and so we tended to crave fruit and vegetables quite a lot.

Culture Club Tarantino Food
Culture Club Tarantino Food

There are many stray dogs around Podgorica, and Montenegro in general, but they were all friendly and didn’t seem to be rabid or diseased. Jenny in particular is a huge animal lover and so made a few friends along our travels, the favourite being “Patch” (we named him) who followed us walking around the City for many hours following us and asking for strokes behind the ear at any opportunity.

"Patch" with a very happy Jenny Watts
“Patch” with a very happy Jenny Watts

Finally, the people of Podgorica are lovely, they are always up for a chat and will help you to find your way. This is really the star of the city; you never feel in danger and always feel able to get about and have a good time.

Conclusion on Podgorica

Personally, unlike the rest of Montenegro we would not recommend you spend any time in Podgorica. Although it is cheap and easily walkable, there is very little to do or see and it is mainly just a working city, trying to build a viable capital in a new country. I have no doubt it will get there, and there is a lot of building work going on, but it currently lacks any identity to define itself by.

Next blog we will take you through the joys of coastal Montenegro, which are more famous and really beautiful once more.


Bonus details

We ate in a restaurant called Hemera (part of the Astoria hotel chain) and it was probably the most expensive place we ate in the whole of Montenegro (about EUR 60 a head, including a cocktail, starter and main). The starters were very good and there was a lot more fresh vegetables than you have to get used to in Montenegro. However for what you got it was overpriced and we preferred the food in the Gyros Grill we went to in the early hours of the following day.

Enjoying a lovely meal in Hemera Hotel restaurant - Fancy food, but not as good as the cost would suggest
Enjoying a lovely meal in Hemera Hotel restaurant – Fancy food, but not as good as the cost would suggest

We also managed a trip out of the city to “Niagara Falls”. Which is a waterfall on the river of Cijevna, a little way out of town. Although we haven’t been to the real Niagara Falls in North America, it is probably more impressive in scale than the Montenegrin version. It was however quite cool to be walking over the rocks right next to a torrent of water and a lot of other people seemed to think so too as it was one of the most busy areas near Podgorica that we went to.

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Finances

We lost track of our costs a little by this point so much of the below is merely an estimate.

Carried forward: £2,045

Lunch x2: c. £75
Dinner (Hemera): £100
Dinner (Gyros): £5
Drinks (two days/evenings): c. £120
Petrol: c. £45
Supermarket: c. £15
Running Total: £2,405

First few days: Kolasin: 1450

Location

Most people don’t seem to know where Montenegro is, or confuse it with Moldova, Monaco or other countries starting with an “m”. Indeed Montenegro is a relatively new country, gaining independence from Serbia for the first time since World War I. Bordering Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania; it is located in the Balkans and looks across the Mediterranean to the east coast of Italy.

LON>PODGORICA flight map

The flight is relatively painless, except for the price and flying with RyanAir and takes just over two hours which conveniently leaves enough time for us to watch a movie on our tablet. The airport itself is small but clean and seems quite new. A man with an Alamo sign greeted us and took us to our car in the car park. It turns out that Alamo don’ have an office or desk in the building, but the system works relatively well.

Arriving in Kolasin

The roads in Montenegro are generally only one lane, which is not an issue as there are very few cars on them and the signage is very easy to follow, that we didn’t need to make use of any satellite navigation. The route itself to Kolasin is amazing, and we immediately knew we ewre going to love being in Montenegro, one lane winding up the steep gorge with a sheer drop on one side and a steep cliff on the other. The weather was leaving a little to be desired, but this added to the experience, as we plunged in and out of tunnels carved out of the rock with no lights or concrete covering where water poured down in waterfalls onto the road below.

We arrived just as it got dark and pulled up to Chalet Kolasin. This is an absolutely lovely building, which seems to be relatively newly built, the owner is a lovely man who met us at the front of the building and showed us to our chalet style room, gave us some recommendations for restaurants and told us how to get around.

Skiing in Kolasin: 1450

The drive to the ski-area is very straightforward and you follow one road the whole way meeting very few other drivers on the way. The conditions on the first day were not that good, it was snowing and icy and there had been little cleared off to the sides but as the days went on the road was very clear and easily passable, though the car park was quite muddy and icy so I am glad I had a 4WD.

The system to hire equipment and buy ski passes was a little confusing, we approached two desks each time being told it was the wrong one, but not saying which was the correct one, but eventually we got ourselves sorted. This is the only negative about the ski-area, the equipment is in very bad condition. My boots had no insoles and the skis were very damaged on the surfaces with a large amount of material having been scraped away, but the whole affair was cheap coming in at around EUR150 or £130.

The ski-area itself is a little limited. They claim to have 7 lifts, but in reality there are only 3 proper lifts other than the ones used to learn to ski. One of these lifts was closed the whole time we were there and one was extremely slow and uncomfortable, this really only left one viable lift. Therefore we just pottered up and down a few times, choosing slightly different routes each time, trying out by the end of the week every different run at least once. Three days skiing at this resort is absolutely plenty, until the new lift opens next year.

Eating in Kolasin

Food at the resort for lunch was more expensive than the surrounding area, but we managed to each burger and chips or pork and potatoes with a few drinks each for less than £25 a day.

Food options in the town of Kolasin were fairly limited and seemed to be predominantly focused on traditional Montenegrin food of potatoes, cream and cheese in a big dish – Kačamak. Also no restaurant ever had more than one table of service in addition to ourselves, which was unusual.

The restaurant “Konoba” on the main square of Kolasin is decorated in a very quaint and charming way, and the food was ok but we wouldn’t recommend the wine. On the completely other end of the wine and food scale was the main recommendation from our hotellier – Vodenica. It was only around the corner from our hotel in an Old mill house with beautiful old fashioned decor and a pleasant atmosphere. As always the portions were huge but extremely tasty and the wine was also delicious. This was all perfect for us as we celebrated 6 months of being married.

 

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All these meals added up to around £250, which wasn’t too bad. And we ate breakfast in our hotel room, so the supermarket bills were only around EUR35.

 Relaxation

Not as common in Europe as it is in the USA is a post ski jacuzzi dip and relaxation, so we hunted out and found that the four seasons hotel allows external persons to come and use the spa for EUR10. It was just around the corner and Jenny even additionally had a massage for an additional EUR 25.

Also there is Nordic skiing available in Kolasin:1450 and snowmobile hire too, though we did not try any of this ourselves.


Costs so far

Carried forward: £1520Ski hire and passes: £130
Lunch at the ski-resort: £75
Dinner X2: £250
Spa experience: £40
Supermarket supplies:£30

Running Total: £2045