Driving around the Balkans during the height of summer is rarely fun. Apart from the intense heat, there is a huge increase in both traffic and border crossing waiting times. Tempers are short, and it can be quite easy to forget you are supposed to be on holiday. Add to the mix the realities of being an islander and the chances of missing the ferry due to too many other cars, and the incentives to go anywhere need to be considerable, for some people at least.
My latest planned trip to Montenegro should have happened a couple of weeks ago, but it felt like a million degrees, those ferry lines were long and just the thought of being stuck in traffic rather than relaxing waterfront beer meant that delay was inevitable. But the time came when I could delay no more.
And so I arose at 04:30 to prepare for my first meeting in Bar in southern Montenegro, not far from the border with Albania. One peak season ferry tip I can share after all my years on Hvar is that no matter how busy the ferries are (and people do have considerable waits), the very first ferries of the day are rarely full. And so, as I departed Jelsa at 05:00 for the one hour drive to Sucuraj and its small eastern port, I calculated that I could be inside Montenegro as easy as 10:00. Sure enough, the ferry was not quite full and there was no wait, and I was on the mainland by 07:00.
Rather than hug the coast and the two Neum border crossings and the main one to Montenegro after Dubrovnik, I headed inland at Ploce and continued by journey via Republika Srpska. Number of cars in the queue crossing into Bosnia - zero. Number of cars crossing into Montenegro from Srpska - zero. I stopped for some pork kebabs and a beer to celebrate sometime around 10:30 at a nice little isolated restaurant I have found. A hearty meal which cost just over 5 euro. After a summer on Hvar, refreshing pricing indeed.
I knew that traffic problems lay ahead. Peak season Kotor is incredibly popular. And yet, despite seeing a cruise ship in the harbour, I slowed down a little, but was through with about two minutes delay. Perhaps I was lucky - I certainly felt lucky - but this journey was a breeze so far. Still, I had to negotiate Budva, which sometimes provides its own bottleneck challenges. And yet down the hill I came, even managing to get through the traffic lights without changing gear or slowing down. This peak season travel was not so bad after all!
Apart from driving through the remnants of the small forest fire near Sveti Stefan, getting to Bar was a breeze, and I arrived a full three hours earlier than I had planned. A perfect traffic day.
It was only on the way back that I began to have some problems, but not problems as I would have with a similar volume of cars in Croatia, but problems due to pedestrians.
I first noticed it when I was frustratingly stuck behind truck near Sutomore, as he kept on stopping when he came to pedestrian crossings. There had not been so many pedestrians there in the middle of the day as they were at the beach. And now that they were returning from their apartments after their daily sun worship, the pedestrian crossings were getting busier. And so traffic came to a halt.
Four people crossed and so the truck came to a stop. Just as he was about to go, another crossed from the other side. And then two more. At one point, we were there for a full two minutes waiting for these beach lovers to saunter across the road at a relaxed pace. It happened at every crossing and considerably slowed down progress. It never happens like this in Croatia, I thought to myself - and then I realised why. Although there were pedestrian crossings, there were no traffic control measures such as traffic lights, which would have allowed the traffic to flow until the lights went red and the pedestrians to cross. Instead it was a free-for-all, where the pedestrian had right of way over the busy road traffic. If there had been 50,000 pedestrians, we could have been there for a week...
It was the same when I came to Budva for my next meeting. This time I was a pedestrian, and so I didn't mind at all, but how much smoother would traffic be around that very busy town with just a few traffic control measures. For sure, there is a cost to installing traffic lights and so on at pedestrian crossings, but surely the value would be quickly shown in the improved traffic flow, not to mention the holidaymakers' mood?