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Driving

Driving, Europe, Montenegro, Travel

Tips for Driving in Montenegro

September 25, 2017
Tips for Driving in Montenegro

 

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Two lane highways and cliffside drives dominated my driving in Montenegro. Knowing me, it was a good thing I didn’t know that the coast of Montenegro was a series of steep rock faces heading into the Adriatic Sea; otherwise, I might not have rented a car. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother me as much as it usually does! Renting a car is the most efficient way to see the Old Towns of Montenegro. Here are my tips for driving in Montenegro and not going over the cliffs.

The Roads

Almost every road was a two-lane road. The only place I went in Montenegro that had more than two-lanes was Budva and that was only in the central part of town. Many of these roads were narrow, and you share the roads with tour buses and public buses. These narrow roads started just after Herceg Novi and continued to Bar. Since I stuck to the coast of Montenegro, I am not sure if the roads inland are wider or more than two-lanes. The narrow lanes bothered me more than the cliff driving, probably because I couldn’t see the edge or the water in most cases.

Most of the roads I drove on were in decent shape. This is especially true near the towns. However, some of the bridges seemed like they needed some work. Although, none seemed dangerous. Rural roads are not in as good of shape according to the articles I have read.

Due to the narrow roads and the lack of multiple lanes, traffic can be an issue in the towns. I noticed that traffic was very heavy in Kotor when there was a cruise ship in the bay and even worse if there were two cruise ships or if it was a large ship. Getting into Budva was another place I saw traffic. It wasn’t clear why other than Budva is probably one of the more popular places in Montenegro.

The Rules

As in much of Europe, you drive on the right in Montenegro. According to the rules I have looked up, you should drive with low beams on during the day in Montenegro. I only discovered this after I saw people doing it. Obviously, you will want to drive with your regular lights on during the night. I also turned them on when going through the mountain tunnels.

The speed limit varied a lot on the roads and sometimes went down to 30 Kmh in towns. Pay attention to the signs changed quickly and the fines for speeding more than 10 Kmh are steep and can include jail time. My GPS beeped at me when it knew the speed limit was changing and I was going over it. Seatbelts are required. I did see cops pulling people over, but never saw a radar gun. They may have just been pulling people over to check papers. This never happened to me. They also just wave at you to pull over and were not chasing people down in their cars with a siren or lights.

An international drivers license was not required, but I did rent my car in Croatia, check prices here. My advice is to have one if you are planning on driving overseas. They do not cost much, and it is better to be safe than sorry!

The legal drinking limit is very low at .03% so my advice would to just not drink and drive there. It isn’t worth going to jail in any country for a drink.

Parking

Parking in Montenegro was a bit haphazard. My Airbnb advertised free parking, but in reality, it was pullover as close to the wall next to the house as close as possible next to the street. Many areas in Montenegro had paid parking areas. At first, I was reluctant to do that, but then I saw how cheap it was and I immediately started parking in the paid spots. I never paid more than €3 for parking. In some towns, there was free parking, but it was usually full. In Herceg Novi, I couldn’t figure out where to pay. I asked an official-looking man in the parking lot and I had to go to the mini market and pay and then put the ticket on my dashboard. Most of the other parking was take a ticket and pay on the way out or pay an attendant.

Overall, driving in Montenegro was pretty easy. Have you driven in Montenegro? What was your experience?

Europe, Greece, Travel

Why I Didn’t Love Santorini

January 30, 2017

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

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I debated writing this post for a while. I went to Greece in September and almost everything I have to say about it so far as been good. Santorini is the exception to this. I didn’t fall in love with Santorini as so many people, and blog posts promised I would. Let me say this now before everyone tells me I am terrible, it is beautiful and it is romantic. However, it just wasn’t for me, but I am glad that I went.

Crowds

I expected it to be crowded, but this was beyond my expectations! Most of the crowds were in Oia, where I happened to be staying. Since I had never been to Santorini, I want to stay in the heart of it or so I thought. There was a constant stream of people walking past my hotel.

The first night I was there, I headed to watch the sunset like everyone else. It was crowded, but not too much as I had been told to head there early. The captain of my boat advised me to walk further down from the fort where everyone gathers to watch. I trudged down a set of steep donkey crap covered stairs and claimed my spot.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

After watching the sunset, I started the walk back to my car. I think it took 30 minutes when it should have taken 10! At some points along the way, I was stuck at a standstill because it was so crowded. The streets of Oia are just too narrow to handle the crowds.

Traffic and Driving

Santorini is a large island, larger than I expected. I had read up about getting around the island and decided that renting a car was the best way. Best decision in terms of time I could have made. However, the traffic on Santorini is terrible. Getting from the port to the main road was a winding road, and if you got stuck behind any bus or delivery truck, you could be stuck for a while. This was one of the main reasons I left my hotel two hours before my ferry was to depart.

Getting around was made easier by the car, but all the roads are winding! It makes getting around take much longer than expected. As a result, I didn’t get to see all the things I wanted to.

The roads in Oia were so narrow in some places; cars had to go one at a time. Granted, I probably should not have been driving in Oia, but I was suffering from land sickness and walking in the heat was not a good idea. The narrow roads led to the long waiting area, and you had no idea if the traffic was moving or if there had been an accident. Only at night did I see police out directing traffic. It also didn’t help that my hotel was right at the start of the really bad traffic spot.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

Parking in Oia can be done, but you have to find a parking space. The best spot I found was down the hill from the bus station parking lot. I was able to park my car along a wall that offered some shade.

Touristy

I am sure you are thinking, Tiffany it’s one of the most popular places on the planet to go and you didn’t expect it to be touristy!? I expected it to some degree, but some parts of it were over the top touristy. One of those places was Fira. Fira is the capital city of Santorini. I stopped here to buy an SD card for my camera and it was just one souvenir shop after another. It was also quite dirty. That is probably due to the overcrowding of Santorini during the season. It also one the cheaper areas to stay on Santorini, which probably contributes to the crowds.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

Oia had its touristy sections as well. Lots of shops along the walk to the sunset. Many of these shops offering souvenir and over priced designer beach wear. Slightly ironic since all the beaches are located elsewhere on the island.

The Heat

I live in Qatar, and I am from Texas, but the heat on Santorini was something I hadn’t experienced. The combination of the heat the white washed walls created an oven effect. There is no offer of shade because all the trees have been removed out to build hotels! I had on sunscreen and still felt a bit burned after only an hour in the sun. Hats and umbrellas are needed!

Let me say you will be hard pressed to find too many blog posts saying someone didn’t like Santorini. I tried! I managed to find a few. One is Suitcases and Sandcastles, and you can read about how she didn’t think it was worth the hype. The other is from Hannah Rose and how traveling there as a backpacker may not have been the best plan. Christina of Santorini Plus, who is also a Santorini tour guide, tells you want not to do on a visit to Santorini.

Of course, tons of people love Santorini. Here are some of the posts I have found about loving Santorini! Radha and Brook from On Flight Mode think Santorini should be at the top of your bucket list and give some great tips on what to see and do! Angela from the Sunday Chapter gives us 7 reasons to visit Santorini.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

How to Make Your Experience Better Than Mine

  • Go in the off-season, like October or April. The crowds will be less, and the weather will be cooler. Some hotels and restaurants will be open, but now that Greece is going to limit the amount of tourists that can arrive by cruise ship more places might stay open.
  • Give yourself more time. I was only there for two days. You probably need 3 to 5 days depending on what all you want to see.
  • Stay outside of Fira and Oia. Those places can be visited by car, and you can still have a great view of the caldera. If you really want to have a caldera view, stay in Oia one night for the experience and spend the rest of the time elsewhere.
  • Walk through Oia in the early morning to beat the heat and the crowds.

Maybe one day I will go back, and I will love it, but for now, I will visit the quieter Greek islands.

Have you been to Santorini? What did you think?

 

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Driving, Europe, Travel

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

May 6, 2016

 

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Dropped into a Fairy Tale in SloveniaThere is only one way to describe Slovenia, like a fairy tale! From the minute I stepped out of the airport and was presented with an amazing view of a snowcapped mountain to the fields of dandelions along the highway, Slovenia never disappointed. Even though I was there for a work conference, I would have been happy just to stare at Slovenia if I didn’t get time to sightsee. Lucky me, though, as I had one day to do some sightseeing outside of the conference.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

The conference was in a small town called Radenci. Radenci is a spa town located on the eastern side of Slovenia near the Austrian border. While the hotel was not great, the surrounding area was beautiful. There is a park outside the hotel, which I am still not 100% on the official name of, but if you google Radenci Park, it comes up. The park seems to be the old town center with the old spa hotels located in the park. In the summer, there are restaurants in the park and a waterpark. Winter had just left Slovenia, and the flowers and trees in the park knew it!

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

I have really come to love driving in a foreign country. I see small towns and get a feel for how the locals drive. Unfortunately, on this trip, I didn’t have a data connection so I couldn’t take any side trips. Each adorable town had at least one tall church steeple that I could see from the highway that made me want to exit every few minutes. Many of these towns were on the tops of hills and mountains. Slovenia was dotted with small farms and cows throughout. Next time I go to Slovenia, I will be taking a road trip with GPS!

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

After spending two days in Radenci at the conference and walking most of the small town, I started my drive back across the country towards Ljubljana, the country’s capital to make my way to Lake Bled. Lake Bled is the country’s most well-known sightseeing spot and is highly photogenic as is the surrounding countryside. The lake itself is a stunning shade of green turquoise with a bright green forest surrounding it. The day I was there it was sunny with a slight breeze, and it was perfect.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

There is an island in the lake that houses a church, The Church of the Assumption of Mary. Due to several earthquakes, it has been rebuilt several times, and the current church was built in the 17th century. There is also a bell tower on the island that you can climb to the top of to see the inner workings of the bell and to get a higher view of the surrounding area. First, though, you have to get out there! To get to Bled Island, you can either row yourself out in a rented rowboat or take a traditional plenta rowboat to the island. The plenta is a small shallow boat that is rowed by one person and could hold about 20 people. The plenta oarsman is a coveted position in Bled and is handed down in generations in families. The boat seemed a bit unstable as I got in, but once we were under weigh it was more stable. The ride over took about 15 minutes and the boats wait for you for 50 minutes, which is plenty of time to see everything on the island and have coffee at the shop. Of course, you have to climb 99 steps to get to the church, but it is worth every stair.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

The church is very small and unfortunately, was undergoing some restoration work when I was there, so I could not see the frescos that it is known for. However, I did ring the wishing bell! Legend has it that if you ring the bell three times, you will receive your wish. The sound was so beautiful; I wanted to keep ringing it. It was even better when I went outside and heard others ring it. Right outside the church is the bell tower, in which you will have to climb another set of stairs to reach the top. After all, that stair climbing you can have a rest in the coffee shop or wander around the island to take photos of the surrounding Julian Alps.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

A short drive around the lake takes you to Bled Castle, which was built in 1011! The castle now showcases the history of Slovenia in the museum, print works, forge, chapel and a restaurant. There is a replica of a Gutenberg printing press and a copy of the first book ever printed in Slovenian. The location of the castle on a steep cliff gives you excellent views of the lake and valley. The museum is simple but gives you a thorough understanding of the history of Slovenia. The highlights for me were a visit to the chapel and the restaurant. I don’t think I have ever seen a chapel with painted frescos in this salmon hue. The walls were also painted in this color. The restaurant also offered an outstanding view of the lake from its full glass window in the dining room. I know Slovenia has excellent wine, so I ordered a Slovenian wine and stuffed chicken in a king prawn sauce that was melt in your mouth good. All of it was very simple but had great flavor. I owe this to the fact that it was all probably grown within 50 miles or less of Bled.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Sadly, I didn’t have time for much else at this point and decided to drive to my hotel for the night. Since my flight was early the next morning, I opted to stay close to the airport instead of in Ljubljana. While the evening was quiet, the scenery was worth it. The tiny village that the hotel was located in was basically a large farm. The house across the street had a barn with cows in it that I could hear. The view from my room was of the breathtaking Julian Alps and even had a small balcony. I spent the evening walking through the town to admire the views and enjoying the fresh air.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Getting there: Flights to Slovenia will fly into the Ljubljana airport, which is outside the city by about 25 miles. If you want to go to Lake Bled, there is a shuttle from the airport that can also take you into Ljubljana. If you want to go to the eastern side of the country, you can take a train, but I recommend renting a car as the timings are your own and you can see more.

On this short trip of four days, I took over 200 photos. I will post more of them on my Instagram account. Please go have a look for more Slovenia pictures that I have already started to share! 

This park was located right outside my hotel in Radenci, Slovenia. Such a quiet beautiful place! #slovenia

A photo posted by Tiffany (@agirlandherpassport) on

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Driving, Europe, Italy

Driving in Italy

July 29, 2015

Italy is now the third foreign country I have driven in! The plan for my trip to Italy was to see friends near Rome and then go to Venice. I knew there were towns along the way I wanted to see and getting to my friend’s house seemed easier by car. After talking to lots of people, I was assured that driving in Italy would be easy compared to driving in Qatar.  This also made it possible for me to make several stops along the way to Venice.

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Once I decided to rent a car, I was faced with how to rent a car in Italy. Most major US car rental companies have branches in Italy, but they weren’t always the cheapest option. After I had booked my hotel in Venice using Hotels.com*, I saw that they also did car rental brokering. Essentially, you tell them what you need and they negotiate a price for you. It is all done instantaneously and then you receive a confirmation email with a voucher to present to the car rental agency. Renting the car through Hotels.com was the cheapest option I found.

The other issue was that I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission and the Italians love a manual! Most of the rental cars were manuals and finding the automatic transmission section was hard. Originally, I thought I would drive from Venice to Rome and Venice didn’t have many automatic options. Rome had many more. The Hotels.com car rental process for finding an automatic was easier than the European car rental company sites. You should also be aware that the automatic transmissions were also more expensive than the manuals.

Knowing that towns are old and parking could be an issue, I opted for the smallest car they offered. It ended up being the Fiat 500 you see above.  This was a real benefit when I had to maneuver through the tiny parking garage at my hotel in Verona. It was also good when parking the car in my friends’ small village.  Small cars are very common for these reasons and there seemed to be plenty of them in the rental car garage.

The actual driving!  Here are my tips for driving in Italy both on the highway and in the country. This includes guides to the driving rules.

  1. Italians drive fast! If you don’t want to drive fast, stay out of the far left-hand lane. If driving fast makes you nervous, drive in the far right-hand lane.
  2. People cut in and out of lanes quickly and closely. Don’t worry about it as this is common and the Italians know what they are doing. A few Italians flashed their lights at me telling me they were coming and to get out of their way.  Get over if you can, but if you can’t just use your signal to indicate that you will get over when able.
  3. Tolls! All the highways have tolls and they are expensive. I spent almost €40 on tolls. Some toll booths are automated and some have a person. Be sure you go in the lane that is marked for cash and not the Telepass, which is like a toll tag. A few seemed to take credit cards as well.
  4. Gas is expensive too.  I spent over €100 on gas for a week’s worth of driving. I did pay for the serviced option because I wasn’t sure which gas to put in the car and I didn’t need to screw that up! There were plenty of service stations all along my routes, even in the villages. The ones in the villages might be self-service at some times of the day and you will have to pay in cash.
  5. Turn your lights even during the day in the country. This is the law.
  6. Going fast in a small car isn’t as scary especially when everyone else is in a small car. However, my car took its time getting up to speed on the highway. The usual speed limit on the highway is 130 KPH, which is about 81 MPH and everyone was speeding!
  7. Speed cameras are everywhere. The GPS I rented warned me of them, but the ones in the small towns were not always detected. I have been back for less than a week, so I have no idea if I got any tickets yet! Google “speed camera Italy” to see what they look like. Some were very obvious and some were not.
  8. Get a GPS. Get it from the rental car company as it will be the most up-to-date with maps and speed cameras. It was more accurate than my Google maps app on my phone.

Overall, I really enjoyed driving in Italy and am now determined to do more driving in other countries. Have you driven in a foreign country? Tell us your tips for driving in that country in the comments

*This post was not sponsored by Hotels.com.