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Published: December 16th 2015
Here I am, with another tale of two cities, or better - 2 countries. Contrary to the suggestion of the Montenegrin coast-dwellers, I have adventured myself inland to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. From there I left to the country's eastern neighbor, the Republic of Albania, where I stranded in the westernmost city Shkodër.
Leaving the Mediterranean coastline of Montenegro behind, I took a 2 hour bus inland to the capital... This is also when I left my Montenegrin friend behind and started the lonely part of my trip.
Shortly referring to the title of this entry, I want to talk about a concept I noticed in this stage of travel and on how this particular feeling makes my travels worth it.
What I am talking about are the transits, the shifts, the slow going. What do I mean with that? Well, not really the feeling of sitting on a smelly bus to nowhere, but rather the feeling of change: of entering a zone and leaving another. Often this is a linguistic zone, often a cultural one, often it is just a border. The nice thing about experiencing these shifts for me is that they are gradual and the world
literally unfolds under your eyes in all its diversity. This is one major reason why I dislike flying, as it literally throws you from one cultural context into another without the feeling of how things have slowly changed around you. In the case of the Balkans, this feeling is crazier than ever and I will shortly explain to you why it has been so.
On my trip inland, as soon as one leaves the coast of Montenegro, one can notice a change in architecture. The Venetian style stone buildings are substituted by grey, blocky houses and apartments. Any sign of Mediterranean culture slowly morphs into a Slavic, slightly more communist landscape. And it could not be more so, than the capital Podgorica, the ultimate contrast to the Montenegrin coastline.
Podgorica is far from a megalopolis, hosting approximately 200.000 of Montenegro's 600.000 citizens. Previously under Ottoman rule, the city used to have a Turkish-style old quarter which was bombed in WW2 and of which not much more than a watch tower and a stone bridge survive. Under Yugoslavia's rule, Podgorica was named Titograd (the city of Tito) and its rebuilding after the war definitely followed this line. Ugly, grey
block buildings line the central streets and only recently a newer, more modern area has sprung up in the west of the city, hosting the Balkan's very first Hard Rock Cafe!
I spent a couple of days in Podgorica, one of which I adventured myself to Shkoder Lake, the Balkan's biggest lake, historically dividing the Slavs and Albanians. Grey weather and bad planning made the lake trip a little of a miss, but this did not hinder my progress much.
On the next day I finally waved goodbye to Montenegro, a country that will stay right in my heart, and took a minibus to Shkodër, Albania's most western and second-biggest city. About an hour or so from departure I fell asleep and woke up on the border, having soldiers and policemen shouting without even thoroughly checking anything. As soon as we entered Albania there was it again. Goosebumps, the shift, the transit, the beautiful change that makes my life worth living. Geographically, the southern coast of Albania is far greener, flatter and less rocky than it's Montenegrin counterpart. Ottoman style mosques take the places of Orthodox churches and brightly painted houses substitute the classical stone and concrete. And
there it was, a feeling all too familiar! The sounds, the chaos, the bikes, the smell... A hint of Asia!
Albania has a long and turbulent history with the Ottomans, fighting and struggling with them for centuries before eventually beating them: not without a price! Arrived in Shkodër, the cobble stone streets of the old city were lined with men of all ages drinking coffee (unlike Montenegro there are hardly any women in bars), bazaar street vendors and minarets adorning the skyline. If this would not be enough, I figured that Italian is the official second language of Albania and that everybody can understand me here!
What a beauty there is in all this, when you think you know it all the world surprises you again. In an age of fast consumption and mass tourism, less and less attention is paid to the subtleties, the shifts, the slow changes. On this trip I figured anyhow that they are what really makes it worth it for me, the travels, the experiences, the feeling of being alive and part of this big, overwhelming mosaic! I know people are different but more I travel, I feel that a travel experience is
Main mosque close-up
truly individual and hard to capture as a general concept. In a fantastic way, a trip brings out who we really are, who we want to be and how we want to experience the world. I believe that for me, coming from a historically messed up region, identity and a change in identity have always been of interest. These changes across borders and cities are a phenomenon that still captures me and I hope, my dear readers, that I am not the only one 😊
From Shkodër this is it, GorepartY signs over and out! Have a nice day folks!
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