The road winded through rolling emerald hills, and the air was crisp after newly fallen rain. I sat in the passenger’s seat, hand out the window, pretending that the narrow country roads didn’t make me feel a little uneasy. Slums, shacks, and toppling fruit stands were juxtaposed with billboards of luxurious resorts. I stared endlessly into this vibrant, tropical chaos, and completely forgot I was still in Europe.

When Domeniko asked me to take a road trip to the Sea Dance Festival in Budva, Montenegro I said, “sure, why not.” I had no idea what I signing up for, zero expectations. I ended up finding adventure in the most unlikely places.

Ferries and dates

Montenegro is situated south of Croatia and is less than 50 kilometers from Dubrovnik. Both countries were formerly a part of Yugoslavia, and taking a day trip to Montenegro is common for many Croatians. Though Budva is less than 100 kilometers from Dubrovnik, they are seemingly two different worlds.

Getting to Budva required roads and boats. We drove for roughly one hour before having to take a ferry, car included, across the bay, and then we drove for another hour.

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More than half of the car ride was spent listening to Domeniko and his friend Marian talk about their obsession with dates. Marian collects dates from all over the world, and we stopped several times until he found just the right kind. The box was finished by the next day.

We finally arrived in our apartment in Budva, a single room with a shared bathroom and kitchen, and what turned out to be my worst Airbnb experience. The view was spectacular, really the only thing that this over priced room had to offer.

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A view looking over Budva, near the city center.

“I’m too old for this shit.”

To my surprise, the Sea Dance Festival was massive, with artists like Skrillex and Hurts.I should have known, because Budva has a vibrant nightlife. The crowd was mainly 18-30 years old, and the place was packed. In contrast to many committed festival-goers wearing rainbow bras and shiny spandex shorts, most people at the Sea Dance Festival were dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

The best part of the festival was being on the beach hearing the crashing waves while listening to Techno and Deep House. Sadly, none of my pictures from my GoPro turned out this night.

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The face you make when you’re ready to go home.

But after three short hours it suddenly felt like I had been doing this for an eternity. I’ve been to more festival than I can count, and unless there’s an artist I really want to see, it gets old. We left covered in mud from the fields. A careless truck driver nearly hit me in the parking lot, while the security guards just looked at me and shrugged. I turned to Domeniko and said, “I’m too old for this shit.”

The Highlight: exploring Sveti Stefan and the Old Town

After an uncomfortable night of sleep using a towel for a blanket, we woke up to Domeniko’s friend Marian at the door. He had been out all night, hadn’t slept, but was still ready to go explore at 9:45am. My head was pounding and all I wanted to do was stay in bed, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to explore this beautiful city.

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A little rain and a terrible night’s sleep didn’t stop us from exploring.

The city center in Budva is bustling with people and scooters. The buildings are all in different shapes, heights, and colors. A high-end hotel is placed next to an apartment complex without windows.

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Apartment in the Budva’s city center.

Slightly outside Budva is another small town called Sveti Stefan: clean-cut and classy, reminding me of Monaco. The sea sparkled despite the overcast weather. There were quaint coffee shops accented by a bright green background. I couldn’t help but feel I was exploring one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

There is a private part of Sveti Stefan, located on a peninsula with wealthy houses and a resort. It is only open to the public through private tours. Locals told me that some residents on the island are involved in organized crime, though I was not able to confirm these claims.However, organized crime throughout Montenegro is one of several obstacles in the way of the country’s hopeful admission to the EU.

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Private peninsula of Sveti Stefan.

We made our way to the Old Town (stari grad) and talked to a few locals, who told us that there are actually many Russians living in Budva. Most people seemed to be from Eastern Europe, and I did not see any American tourists.

Budva’s Old Town is modest but full of life. The streets are extremely narrow and packed with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and clothing stores. A man tried to convince us, in broken English, to come into his pizzeria and grabbed my face and kissed my cheek.

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I left Budva with a new hunger to explore other small towns across Europe. I found that I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to spend money drinking crappy alcohol at music festivals, and would rather spend it exploring new sights.

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Question for the reader:

-Have you been to Budva or can you relate to anything within my post?

-Also, this week I thought I would create a more extensive travel-writing piece with pictures. Do you prefer a longer piece like this, or something shorter? Be honest please!

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