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Published: December 14th 2015
The next big thing is here, ladies and gents. More precisely, the next big thing has always been there but is still much of a hidden gem. I am talking about Crna Gora, the Black Mountain, one of the world's youngest independent states: the Republic of Montenegro.
When talking about Montenegro, most people in Italy only know the "amaro" drink and the only related memories might be some juvenile (or not so juvenile) hangovers. Then there are the others, people who have heard that Montenegro is somewhere down in "Yugoslavia" and, as such, it must be some landmine-ridden, post-soviet utopia where old men in speedos eat Chevapcici on the beach. Well, I came to see for myself due to a little different reasons than usual.
On my way and in the destination I met several former colleagues and friends from my times working in Amsterdam and, oh boy, is it good to see certain faces again 😊 One of my friends happens to be a Dutch of Montenegrin descent and he organized a long-planned trip to his ancestors' homeland. I took a train from my hometown down south, all along the stunning but never-ending coastline of my beautiful Italy.
Bay of Kotor
Another perfect little town
Arrived in Bari I took an overnight ferry, sleeping on the deck in a one million stars hotel. Now a little phenomenology from my side, I would like to throw out to the world how I am experiencing Montenegro and why I think it will be a major player in the future of Europe's tourist game.
Waking up on the deck of my ferry in the early morning, I could catch an early glimpse of a beautiful pink sunrise over the Mediterranean... And suddenly there it was! Like Captain Hook and Popeye the sailor man before me, I saw land on the horizon! Now, it is not easy to summarize a country in a few words, much less so into a name... But here was Montenegro, black mountains rising out from the sea like the Chevapi out of your pita bread! I was mesmerized as we started coming closer to the port city of Bar, Montenegro's main maritime gateway. Visa and check in procedures went quite smooth and I could finally set foot on this new mysterious land. My first impression of Bar was quite neutral: a reasonably modern, quiet seaside town with decent Italian restaurants and coffee shops.
Bay of Kotor
Church on the bay
This was about to change soon. I figured that there was a "stari grad", an old part of the city (as by now I know, most Montenegrin coastal cities have). In the case of Bar, the old city lies on a hill and was destroyed by the Turks somewhere in the 1700's. This is where the magic of Montenegro really began: Mediterranean cobblestones, Catholic and Orthodox churches, Habsburg fortresses, Ottoman minarets and Venetian lions to round up the picture! I was quite overwhelmed by this mix of cultures and long lasting history of a country I knew nothing about, but I did not know this was only the beginning.
With another friend I went further north the coast to Budva, also knows as Montenegro's "sin city" due to its party scene and beach side developments. After having plenty of good old barley juice we also discovered that Budva has, like Bar before, an old town which blends perfectly in the Mediterranean coast and showcases Roman, Greek and Austrian roots. However, the best was yet to come.
The bay of Kotor, ladies and gents, is as close to a miracle as an atheist like me would acknowledge. Set to
have been a lake in prehistoric times, the humongous bay cuts deep into the mountains and, in a few words, is pretty much a Norwegian fjord thrown into the Mediterranean with all the history you can think about. Austrian fortresses, Turkish invasions and the Venetian lion of San Marco are only a little proof of what really happened here. Russians and Serbs are already flooding the place, effectively contributing a little to the speedo and Chevapcici stereotype... While for the rest of Europe this is still a gem to discover.
However, the coast also faces its own very special challenges: tensions with the more "ottoman" inland of the country, rivalry with neighboring Croatia, Balcanic corruption and lack of infrastructure, as well as being stuck under a former Yugoslavian brand. I am not a fortune teller but I can confidently say that Montenegro will be able to overcome all of this and be able to become a new, more fashionable Croatia in the future. It will take time but hey, if Turkish minarets and Roman ruins still stand on these grounds, what are 10 years of development?
Now I am on the bus to the hated "ottoman" inland of
Old town and bay
the country where minarets take the place of the Venetian arches and then I will proceed to Albania and Kosovo soon. Let me give a shout to all of my former colleagues and friends I met on the road. You are special and you know it, 7 years have done no damage to our relationship. I will see all of you soon if the sultan of Podgorica does not have other plans for me! Keep on moving your behinds and have a nice day!
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