Monday, 21 January 2013

Day 265 – The “I’m calling your bluff, take me to the police station” method. (Montenegro)

Having not crossed the border until after 4pm, it was well after dark as we drove across the majority of the tiny country of Montengro. Yet again, we were impressed by the quality of the roads, and most importantly the extent to which the metre or so of snow had been cleared from them. We reached Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital city with a population of approximately 150,000 and began the search for accommodation, only to be met by the realisation that aside from a couple of expensive hotels, we had no options. After aimlessly searching for a while and thinking that we had potentially come across Europe’s most non-eventful capital, we eventually gave up and decided to grab a meal and head back to the countryside to try some of the roadside type places that we dismissed on the way into town because of their location.
The first place we chose to stop for a bite to eat involved parking 2 metres away from the kerb because of the piles of cleared snow. Despite the classy table settings and extensive menu presented to us on arrival, we discovered that pancakes were the only item on sale, so decided to try elsewhere. A few blocks away we found a humble looking restaurant which turned out to be either run by a church, or in support of a church. Saintly figures looked over us, suspended from the naked brick walls, as we sat at the pews that were used as chairs, and were informed in English by the gentle but friendly waiter that due to the date it was fasting time, so only a limited menu was available. During our hearty meal of non-expensive home-made soup and pizzas, our lovely waiter appeared and anxiously explained that we had parked in a restricted space and must move our car otherwise the police will tow it. (Of course he knew which car was ours – there weren’t that many people hanging around that matched a large Australian 4x4 covered in a collection of international stickers.)
As Tom and Tom had already finished eating they went out to attend to the situation. It appeared that we had inadvertently parked in the spot reserved for the Serbian ambassador, which of course had been the only space available on this busy strip of shops, restaurants and bars. It seemed like a peculiar place for an embassy, not to mention how unusual it is that there only be one car parking spot reserved for the staff, and it be located in front of a busy night club. It made us wonder as to the nature of the embassy, but nevertheless we had evidently missed the parking sign and were therefore in the wrong, which was supposedly fineable for an amount of €70. Denner expertly negotiated with the police man who was ever so understanding of the fact that we’re ignorant tourists and immediately dropped his price to €50. Denner agreed and began asking for directions to the police station, knowing very well that the police man would be even less inclined to waste time doing this officially than we were. Funnily enough the price was dropped again as he was ever so considerate and wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing us with all the paperwork, but Denner persisted with the “I’m calling your bluff, take me to the police station” method. After a few more price droppings and some attempted suggestions of paying cash there and then to avoid difficulties, Denner had wriggled us out of this one. In the mean time Tunkles moved the car to a few spots along, and we hastily finished our meals and left the vicinity.
There was a handful of roadside motels and cheap hotels in the area surrounding the city, but they all cost much more than we were looking to spend, so we kept travelling to Hostel Izvor which we noticed the sign for on the way in, but had thought “pfft, who would ever want to stay in a hostel this far away even from the outskirts of the town?”. Well as it turns out, it is the only budget option in “Podgorica” (I use inverted commas as I struggle to classify it as in the city when the city itself only spans 2 km, and this is 5 km from the outermost point) and certainly the only hostel. It was actually a lovely setting, perched in a valley surrounded by snow capped mountains and a partially frozen river, and as there was nothing that especially took our interest inside the city, it worked out fine for us anyway.

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