This morning we said goodbye to Podgorica and collected our hire car. After a swift 6.5km trip in a taxi to the airport to collect the motor (for only 6EUR) we stopped off at a local supermarket to gather provisions for the day ahead.
Our plan was to drive the 80km with an estimated journey time of just over an hour. Me being me decided to take the scenic route, and boy was it ever...
Before we left Podgorica though we drove right past its Cathedral. I can't think of any of other city I've been too where you could just pull up, park (for free!) and wander into the inside without paying a cent. This country has no tourists and that's its single best trait so far.
The inside of the Cathedral was absolutely stunning. We were alone for at least 5 minutes inside except for one nun in a corner praying. Absolutely gorgeous place.
Finally, I stopped taking pictures long enough that we found our way on the main road E80 heading North towards Kolašin. The first 20km of our route followed the main road through an incredible gorge fighting with very little floor space against a river which had carved a deep ravine and the railway. Yes, this is same railway we took from Belgrade two days ago and this was the bit that was too dark to photograph.
I was lucky that just at the moment we pulled in for one of my (many) photo stops for the day a freight train was headed South towards Podgorica. It provides scale against the enormity of nature and highlights the engineering achievement that this line represents.
This section of the line runs through Boiče, the scene of a tragic accident in 2006. The line has seen significant investment since then but it's an ongoing project with line speed reduced to as little as 30km/h in places.
33% of the route between Bar (at the Montenegrin coastal end of the line) and the border with Serbia relies upon external structures such as tunnels and bridges.
The Mala Rijeka Viaduct. The entire reason I wanted to take this route over the mountains was to get a picture of this thing. It is (like everything else seemingly) a triumph of engineering. 198m above ground level and 498m long it is the largest and most well known bridge on the route. Opened in 1973 it held the record for being the highest rail bridge in the world until 2001, when those pesky Chinese went and beat it.
I'd taken the picture we came this way for, but I hate turning around. The road just kept going up for kilometre after kilometre. Nothing like as steep as Hard Knott pass in the Lake District (always my measure of steepness) but relentless. There were a few moments my vertigo told me to turn around but we kept going finally reaching just over 1200m above sea level.
That's 3937ft which is higher than Snowdon! The view above is back down to Podgorica, the picture doesn't do it justice but a full res version is here.
The road was the highlight of the day. A twisting and turning piece of tarmac draped across the side of a mountain. It looked like at any moment it might drop us over a precipice to our deaths. Large boulders, as big as a cement truck's wheel lying in the middle of the road were common place. We noted an abundance of said cement lorries and couldn't figure out who needed all that concrete.
Turns out, they're putting a big honking road through the middle of the inhospitable landscape. Part of me thinks "progress!" and the other part is concerned that what Cat and I experienced will be forever lost upon completion. I suspect that is the same thing that happened across Western Europe in the last century with the coming of the trains, planes and automobiles.
We actually passed a concrete factory in the middle of this wilderness. The Chinese are coming (they really are, it's them building the road). They have built little villages all along the route for the workers, looks like they really know what they're doing.
I was driving rather cautiously and therefore was in the way of the locals fairly often. Simply pull in to the side and let them past and you'll be rewarded with a cheery wave and a honk. Friendly bunch here.
For me this one image summed up the many dwellings we saw along the road today, most people appear to live a simple life. Houses appeared to be constructed from a range of materials ranging from straw to wood to concrete.
We finally made it back to a two lane road and tripped over the railway again. Of course, it was a bridge flanked by two tunnels at either end. The railway had disappeared beneath us long ago to go into its longest tunnel.
Our hire car is a VW Polo 1.0 Petrol. It hasn't got much poke but coped admirably with the workload requested of it today. 9000km on the odometer! Cripes, glad I took out the extended damage waiver!
To end the days travels we arrived in Kolašin and headed for the high point in town, the railway station. The view was spectacular. This place sits at 1000m and rivals any Austrian alpine town in my book. Looking forward to the clouds lifting tomorrow for some properly jaw dropping views.