We usually check Hostelbookers or Hostelworld online to find a room when we travel. They list inexpensive hotels and hostels, but hostels these days aren’t like in the old days.

Before setting off for Europe, I thought of hostels as places with bunk beds in communal rooms, no sheets, and where the guests had to help with the chores as part of their stay. But many hostels now have private rooms, often with bathrooms en suite, linens (although usually not towels), and there are no chores to do except to clean up after yourself if you use the kitchen. Also, because the websites let guests rate the hostels, we can weed out the bad ones, and find those that best suit us (high cleanliness rating, low fun rating). Hostels are usually the cheapest options, and in all our travels we’ve enjoyed our hostel stays the most because of the conversation with the other guests in the common room.

But not every town has hostels, or at least hostels that are listed online, and there weren’t many anywhere in Montenegro. We had read, though, that as we left the bus station in Budva or Zabljak we would be greeted by a host of hosts wanting us to stay in rooms in their home, and it would be cheap. Homey and cheap describes us to a tee so we thought we’d give it a try.

At Budva about 10 older women and one man greeted us as we left the station. They all cried out that they had a room to rent, and we asked if anyone spoke English (the local language is officially Montenegrin, but most people speak Serbian, and the languages are apparently almost identical in everyday use). Heads shook no, and the man asked, “Sprechen zie Deutsch?” and I regretfully replied “Nein.” Because of the language barrier, we were having some difficulty figuring out prices but there was one younger woman who spoke English quite well and she acted as a kind of agent, so we followed her and one of the older women out of the station.

The older woman’s name sounded like Drah-geet-sah, and after we dumped our bags in the bedroom we sat with her on the balcony getting a lesson in Serbian. She would point to something and say the name, and once we repeated it correctly she would grin broadly and pat Amy on the leg.

This was fun, and cheap (€24 per night total), but it was also a bit odd. When we arrived at the apartment, there was another woman asleep on the couch (it was about 6:45 in the morning), and another empty bed in the living room. We realized we were taking the one bedroom, but also that Dragitsa was happy to have gotten us and taking in guests seemed to be her livelihood.

A smaller group of potential hosts greeted us in Zabljak, mostly a bunch of young girls and one older woman dressed in black. Rooms here were even cheaper (€5 per person per night), so we followed the woman in black to her house, with the young girls following along hoping we wouldn’t like it and would decide to follow them.

The house looked basic on the outside, and inside it was a bit like a treehouse. It was all wood, there were posters on the wall in the entryway (Michael Jordan, the Spurs, and some rock band from the ‘80s, amongst others), and nothing quite lined up. The steps up to our room were of different heights and widths, and we had to duck under the ceiling as the stairs did a U-turn. But it was clean and felt comfortable, so we stayed.

The house in Zabljak was bigger than Dragitsa’s apartment in Budva, so we didn’t feel quite so much like we were intruding, but it’s still not quite as private as most hotels would be. On our second day there, we were in bed and we heard loud footsteps and a man’s voice outside the door as he showed the second upstairs bedroom. We heard him explain (in accented English) that the “other room” (ours) would be available the next day and was “much bigger room, much bigger.” Without knocking, he opened our door, said a few more words, closed the door, said a bit more, then opened our door again to say, “Excuse me. Excuse me.”

We moved to a hotel for our anniversary, then back into a private home, this one a bit nicer and more expensive (€20 total per night). As Amy explained in the last post, our hostess Milena did feed us crepes one morning, and gave us plenty of juice and Turkish coffee, but this still isn’t a B & B experience. If we ever come back to Zabljak, though, we’ll stay with Milena.

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