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Published: October 12th 2010
Once in Montenegro I sat back and let Jon take control of things - he had the Lonely Planet guide to Eastern Europe whereas mine was only a PDF on my lap top so he did the reading and I took a back seat. I had two ambitions upon arriving in Montenegro, first up was getting to a beach and second was to find out about Montenegro, one of the newest countries in Europe. Jon chose wisely on the beach front. We caught a bus up the coast to a place called Sveti Stefan
and what a place! A former fishing village on a island has now been converted into an exclusive hotel - and is now connected by a causeway. It is a beautiful view - but somehow it’s too well restored and the bright orange roof tiles suggest restoration rather than antique.
We found some accommodation in the town overlooking the island, a very nice room, a balcony, two bathrooms, a large television and...a double bed. Jon very quickly solved the issue by taking the sofa bed which meant I had my own room, en suite bathroom, bed and balcony. The view wasn’t terrific - a building site,
but we could see the sea and at 20 Euros a night - a bargain. As a side story, Montenegro (which means Black Mountain) split from Serbia in 2006 and immediately adopted the Euro even though it’s not in the so-called Eurozone.
We then set off for the sea, choosing a spot beside the 5 Star hotel (formerly an island fishing village) and lay on the pebble beach sunbathing. It was no longer peak season so we didn’t have to contend with masses of Serbs, Russians and Ukrainians on the beach - Montenegro being a favourite spot. We made a couple of forays to the floating pontoon where we lay and sunbathed. It was all very relaxing - a perfect antidote to all of this back packing carrying and it was great to have a travel companion in Jon.
In the evening we got the bus back into the town of Budva
and had a wander around inside its fortified walls - basically miniature Dubrovnik
with much less tourists. Its tiny alleyways, houses and churches are so ‘picturesque as to be almost contrived’ - and then you read that it was completely levelled by two earthquakes in 1979
- a restoration job par excellence
. The mercantilism in the old town where every shop is aimed at the Cruise ship tourist; whether it be shops selling clothes, shades or shoes also confuses any historic ambience it might have had. But such is the modern world.
We then had dinner at a recommended fish restaurant and where I had my first Octopus black ink risotto - before some more wandering before having a pint in an Irish pub - called, wait for it...Chest O’Sheas
. The woman serving us was Serbian and an unfriendly, humourless witch and needed a reminder of what constitutes an ‘Irish bar’ - not simply about putting every single football match on the TV screens.
Jon was quiet so I got chatting to the Aussie guy next to me at the bar- he’d bought a property in the hills four years previously - a canny investment he thought but was now selling up - he hadn’t made a profit - Croatia’s property market had exploded but Montenegro’s had not. I was interested in how an Aussie guy ended up in Montenegro - did he have family from here I asked him. No, it was simply
having come through the region here for years running the Contiki bus tours of Europe for Aussie backpackers.
This fella was there to watch Champions League football featuring Chelsea and I would have stayed to watch and chat but Jons silence was deafening and wanted to go after one drink. So we had a jaunt through the narrow alleyways and passed the marina which was chock-full of large yachts from Malta, Gibraltar, Italy and Greece as well as many carrying the Union Jack ensign. There was a gaudy flood lit market selling touristy t-shirts, ice cream stands and junk food and I had a casual look for a replacement wrist watch but they were all shoddy looking fakes and only ended up flirting with the market girls - another activity Jon wasn’t too interested in.
The next day we woke up early and caught a bus to Podgorica
which is probably one of the least well-known capital cities in Europe - even a trivia fuckwit like myself had never heard of it. But there’s a reason why it’s not well known - there’s fuck-all there. Highlights among the concrete apartment blocks were a bookshop which stocked classic English
novels - the first English language books I’d seen in weeks. I was desperate for something to read but I’d found that the novel no longer interests me intellectually - a result of too many disappointing ‘significant’ works of fiction; the great writer Sir V.S. Naipaul has solidified my view:
Conversations with V. S. Naipaul by Feroza F. Jussawalla, p. 130.
I do write imaginative work, but I must say that I hate the word ‘novel.’ I can no longer understand why it is important to write or read invented stories... There is so much reading, so much understanding of the world that I still l have to do. We are living at an extraordinary moment when so much knowledge is available to us that was not available 100 years ago. We can read books about Indian art, Indian history, Southeast Asian cultural history, Chinese art that were simply not available 100 years ago. I don’t see reading as an act of drugging oneself with a narrative. I don’t need that. This other kind of reading is immensely exciting for me and there is so much of it to do. I no longer have time for these new works of commercial fiction that are being produced.
I didn’t have the inclination to pick up a Bronte or a Dickens in case I came across ‘A history of the Serbs’ - which seemed more PRIMARY? Well, relevant to my own NOW at least.
The second highlight of Podgorica was eating - something I look forward to more and more on these repetitive days of wearing sunglasses and shorts, gaping and photo taking. And it was a rustic affair, something recommended in Jon’s Lonely Planet guidebook; dark, the walls covered in old farming equipment and pottery - but the Montenegrins love Italian cuisine so we had a pizza and linguine.
We left Podgorica on another bus to nearby Cetinje
the former capital of Montenegro and from a time when Montenegro last had a monarch, king Nicolas Pterovic I. Cetinje therefore has 12 former foreign embassies from the
late 19th and early 20th centuries some of which are like school houses such as Bulgarians, but Russia’s is grand and imposing and now the Fine Arts School and Britain’s now houses the music school. This place has atmosphere
and the tree lined avenues, squares, churches and monasteries made it a really fascinating place to stroll around which we did with leisure; stopping at a cafe to have yet another shite cappuccino. You could say that Cetinje ‘singed’ itself into my memory and was therefore an absolute highlight of my trip to the Balkans so far.
We returned to Sveti Stefan by bus catching terrific sunset views of the mountains and countryside along the way- but because we were on a bus we didn’t have the opportunity to take any photographs. Back in SS Jon and I agreed that we wanted to extend our stay for a further day, spending the day at the beach and chilling out - the weather was again great.
Out next journey was the short bus drive along the dramatic coast to the walled town of Kotor. Set deep inside southern Europe’s deepest fjord (but really a canyon) Kotor was once an important
naval power in the region (new to me). So as soon as we got a hostel room in the old town (Stari Grad) we went wandering the labyrinthine cobbled alleyways looking at old churches and former aristocratic mansions.
The place was brimming with day trippers from a docked cruise ship and to be honest it felt like walking around Venice for large parts of the day. We stopped for lunch at a local place just outside the city walls and in between waiting an absolute age for Jon’s food to arrive I got talking to a well-spoken Englishman and his wife have a bit of banter with a local about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ driving sides of the road. I inevitably chipped in and they told me that they’d been coming to Montenegro for years and they described it as a ‘bolt hole’ from their lives in south London. There were more English accents from behind me and curious, I looked around and a brown coloured man was sorting out big pots and a corpulent middle aged man was chopping up vegetables in a sort of outdoor kitchen. After paying the bill I approached and they told me that they
were running a curry evening for all of the expats who were living in the town - of which there were quite a few and who were nostalgic for the tastes of home. They were expecting around seventy guests that night but despite stating they would see me the cost of 30 Euros was prohibitive and I wasn’t missing curries just yet.
We worked off our late lunch by making the steep climb to the fortress overlooking the town which rewarded us with terrific views. Our last evening was spent looking for some bar action; however the cruise ship had sailed away and it was no longer peak tourist season so we couldn’t find anything that didn’t have 4 waiters sat at a table smoking cigarettes. We then walked for an hour or so looking for somewhere interesting to eat but we eventually gave up and settled for a restaurant in one of the piazzas. Thankfully the pizza was great although the sound from four kids playing football noisily next to us in the piazza wasn’t.
We walked back to the hostel through the now deserted yet atmospheric alleyways when we spotted our German dormitory companion sat alone at
a table in another piazza. He looked lonely so we joined him to sulk about the lack of ‘action’ and then proceeded to have a number of beers ourselves. We then decided to walk to the curry night but by the time we had arrived it was over and there were only a few remaining merry Englishman before we too headed off. Back inside the old town we wandered a bit more in between the dark alleyways and as we turned a corner came across a miraculous sight; that of a bar which was pumping full of music and people. We hastily joined in and ordered some beers and although the music was strange turbo Balkan shite and the patrons being mainly locals there was enough pretty girls gathered in groups to keep our attention.
The next morning I finally got rid of my Albanian currency by selling it to our German companion from Berlin; since arriving in Montenegro I had been unable to exchange it at any banks or offices; a strange situation for countries who neighboured each other - so I was somewhat relieved. We then walked out through the city walls and onto yet another bus
going further along the coast this time to Perast
- 18 kilometres away Perast lies on a cape that separates the bay of Risan from the bay of Kotor. All I can say is that this is honeymoon heaven - a delightful waterside village that between 1420 adn 1997 was part of the Venetian naval empire. The village has sixteen Baroque palaces, seventeen Catholic churches and two Orthodox churches as well as piazzas and beautiful old style terraced houses. Jon and I were sort of spellbound by it all - particularly as we were simply killing time until the next bus arrived which would take us to Herceg Novi
- our last destination in Montenegro.
I found that upon arrival in Montenegro, the world’s newest country, I knew very little about the country. But what I did find out is that the coast line is incredibly scenic, the walled towns almost too picturesque and the history still esoteric as ever. I can’t really say there have been many places on my trip where I might return to but Montenegro is certainly one of them.
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