There's Something About Montenegro
“I’ve been on the road for six months,” said Denise, an Irishwoman I met in the Czech Republic. “Sure, that last town was pretty, but at this point, for me to say a place is special, it would have to be dipped in gold.” Now, after three months of travel, I know just what Denise meant. Every few days Rich and I haul out the map and start Googling destination options. And I find myself saying things like, “Well, it’s got a 12th century cathedral, an old town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, the miraculously preserved dead body of a saint, opera in a Roman coliseum, and a two-hundred-foot waterfall … but nothing special.”
As it happens, “nothing special” is exactly how most people describe Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital. So when our route included a brief overnight stay there, I didn’t bother to do much research ahead of time. Our train pulled in late on a rainy afternoon, and after checking into our hotel, we took a stroll around the modest neighborhood, which held a few tree-lined streets, a desultory collection of shops and cafés, and a plaza with a fountain. The next morning I asked the desk clerk for a map so we could explore the city.
“There is no map,” she said.
“OK,” I replied. “Can you direct us to the center of the city?”
She looked at me strangely and said, “This is the center of the city.”
Seriously? “OK, then could you recommend anything for us to do?”
She thought for a moment. “You could go to a café and have a coffee.”
Let the good times roll…
After that underwhelming build-up, I was pleasantly surprised by Podgorica’s geography. The city is built around a winding river flanked by lush parks, and distant hills provide a dramatic backdrop. But the urban landscape is crowded with hulking concrete buildings that range from underwhelming to astonishingly hideous examples of the Brutalist style that was such a hot fad among mid-century totalitarian regimes. “The setting is really quite nice,” I said to Rich. “If they ever figure out how to exploit the natural beauty around here, tourists will flock to Montenegro.”
I soon learned the Montenegrins were way ahead of me on this. Arriving at the wonderfully picturesque medieval port of Kotor, Rich and I could hardly squeeze through the town’s gate, so thick were the throngs of sightseers from the massive cruise ship anchored just offshore. “This? This isn’t crowded,” a local boatman told me the next day. “Sometimes we have as many as four big cruise ships, and several smaller ones – they bring maybe 10,000 people a day to the town.” With just 13,510 people living in Kotor, that’s practically a one-to-one tourist-to-resident ratio.
“I think they’ve figured out how to exploit the natural beauty around here,” Rich said.
Overwhelmed by the throngs, we fled Kotor, hopping a local bus to another coastal town, Herceg Novi, the one-time home of blogger friends Ang and Ryan of Jets LIke Taxis, who told us it was a must-see. As we stepped off the bus, we could hear riotous singing from a caffe-bar called Orange adjacent to the station. Someone was playing recordings of Montenegrin folk music, and half a dozen men were raising their glasses and their voices in a haze of patriotic fervor. Rich and I wandered on through the town, admiring the spectacular scenery and stopping at an outdoor café to restore ourselves with grilled fish and a local chardonnay. Arriving back at the bus station, we found the men still singing lustily. “These are hardy folk indeed,” I remarked.
With half an hour to wait, and the bus station lacking such frivolous luxuries as benches or rest rooms, we inevitably wound up at the Orange Caffe-Bar. Within two minutes of our arrival, the party animals bought us a round, and after that it seemed only courteous to buy them a round and join them in singing and pounding out the songs’ rhythm on the bar with our hands and glasses.
“Hoopa! Hoopa!” shouted the impromptu DJ, and somebody jumped on the bar and started dancing.
Eventually our bus arrived, and – it being the last one of the night – we had to tear ourselves away. But not before several of the men shook Rich’s hand and kissed me on the cheek. One fellow asked, “Where you from?” When I told him, he said, “Go and tell them. Tell all the people about what you saw here!”
I am only too happy to comply. Because it may not have been dipped in gold, but to me, Herceg Novi and its people will always be something very special indeed.
I know what she means about special. For me, special has to mean a connection somehow, like my connection with my husband's hometown. It may not seem special to most, but for me it most certainly is. Same goes with Salamanca, where I met him and fall in love, and Toledo, where I first experienced Spain.
10/24/2013 01:39:15 am
Thanks, Kaley, I'm glad you're enjoying the blog posts. It's so true that it's not the dramatic landmarks that make a place special but your sense of connection – the special feeling you get when you walk those particular streets. Even when I'm someplace I'm not wild about, I try to keep in mind that to someone, this is home and the dearest place on earth.
This post really resonated with me. After years of living abroad, many cities seemed to become a "check" to a box. I loved stumbling upon those cities that you felt captivated by and having a sense of yearning to return the moment you left. Beautiful blog piece!
10/24/2013 01:47:23 am
Thanks, Courtney, glad the post resonated with you! Whenever I find myself heading someplace just to check the box, I try to stop and reconsider. Rich and I skipped a lot of major landmarks this trip in favor of spending time in ways that appealed to us more, often just walking the streets, soaking up atmosphere, and creating our own special memories.
brad whitey balles
10/22/2013 10:40:39 am
ITS TIME TO BURN THE CLOTHES AND TIME TO TAKE A LONG WALK.... ALL ALONE!!! WELL DONE KIDS
10/24/2013 01:48:10 am
Thanks, Brad! We're home now, and boy is it nice to know that I don't have to pack up and move on anytime soon!
10/22/2013 10:52:56 am
I have truly enjoyed reading of your adventures on this trip. The writing is both enjoyable and informative. You guyslook great and it obvious to all you have fun. "Bravo Zulu" and thanks for the ride along....Jim
10/25/2013 02:08:53 am
Thanks for coming along with us, Jim! The trip was even more fun knowing that you all were reading the stories and enjoying the adventure with us.
10/22/2013 11:30:47 am
Boy, that hiatus went by quickly. Do you feel that way, or are you simply happy you did it and you're "home" now?
10/25/2013 02:13:30 am
Sitting here at my own desk, it feels like the trip went in the blink of an eye. But at the time it felt like a way of life that would go on forever. It almost feels strange not to be sitting with Rich, pouring over the map, planning our next stop. For the moment we're just enjoying being home, seeing good friends, having coffee in our favorite café, and not packing up and dragging our bags down the street. Life is good ...
10/22/2013 01:23:51 pm
Thank you for sharing this "adventure of a lifetime". Your pictures helped me "be there" for a few minutes. And your gift of descriptions and humor....I awaited your next blog. Thank you, thank you.
10/25/2013 02:16:45 am
I'm so glad you enjoyed the journey along with us, Jeanne! We had so much fun, and it was great to know that you and all our friends were able to "be there" as we went along. You've got to love modern technology for that!
10/22/2013 01:50:15 pm
Dancing in fountains.....dancing on bars......what's next guys?
10/25/2013 02:26:11 am
Glad you liked the stories, Katy. I have tons more that wouldn't fit in the blog, so yes, another book is beginning to percolate ... But for now, I'm just thrilled to be back in familiar surroundings, raising a glass with old pals, wishing you and David were here to be part of the celebration. Cheers!
10/25/2013 02:35:51 am
Letting the trip sink in, reflecting on the highlights ... I love that part of the journey. Right now, I'm struggling with doing laundry in rainy weather; the apartment is festooned with clothes I've worn for three months and never want to see again. But I know that soon everything will be clean, dry, and put away, and with luck my rumpled thoughts will organize themselves into clear ideas for useful and entertaining writing. I expect you'll be hearing lots more from me in the near future!
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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