When someone has food and drink, sit closer. When they are working, move away. It is best not to disturb them. – One of the 10 commandments printed on a postcard of Montenegro
It is rather mind-blowing to enter a country that is a mere 3 years old but has a history that stretches over millennia. Montenegro – bordered by the Adriatic sea in the southwest and Croatia in the west – severed its ties with Serbia in June 2006 and declared its independence. It is an enticing region of monuments (and their ruins), beaches and great weather, situated in the allure of sparkling sea that continues as far as the eye can see.
The group I chose to do the tour with had thankfully, a small bus with a group of 14 persons, which meant nipping around more quickly. I was impressed by everyone’s punctuality and amused by the degree to which sunblock was revered by most of them; in fact, people were even early for the scheduled meeting times despite turning red in the face and hurrying around in the heat. I braved the sun, thinking that my skin must somehow be used to it, and managed to get an uneven browning instead. A crazy woman in the group kept asking for the beach, and wore clothes that were aimed solely for removal at first sight of water and shingle/sand.
We drove through 2 checkpoints, and soon reached Herceg Novi, a town whose industrial Soviet-era architecture sharply contrasts its picturesque setting – the La Dolce Vita standard that Dubrovnik has striven so hard to attain with its villas and available luxury – is still the missing factor in Montenegro’s package.
The bay of Kotor lies further southwards, and winds inland so much that it is an area touted as Europe’s southernmost fjord, inhabited by the Illyrians in Classical Antiquity, overrun by the Romans, changed hands again and for a short time, belonged to Napoleon and the Austro-Hungarians. A city-guide met us in Kotor’s incredibly crowded old town, pointing out the number of aristocratic houses and churches crammed into a rather small square, rattling off way too many dates that flew just over my head. The guided tour meant however, that there wasn’t any time left to climb the 4km surrounding ramparts that provide a dramatic look down onto the city. A step out of the old town brings the local life into greater focus, and the daily market that lines up outside the town’s walls is probably the daily marketing congregational point of the Montenegrin natives.
The number of stray cats abound. It was after a time, difficult to get around the curious stares of shopkeepers and the slow-trudging of the tourists who arrive by the busload fanning themselves.
Montenegrin beach tourism comes into full swing along the Budva Rivijera (Riviera), which supposedly rivals the south of France’s Riviera with kilometres worth of beach madness to explore. The Budva town itself is over 2 millenia years old and appeals to many because of pulsing nightlife and its beach bum status. Money rules the place: A staggering number of millionaires made their fortunes selling off lands to Russian development companies poured their new found wealth back into real estate in the surrounding towns of Podgorica and Herceg Novi.
The Dubrovnik Gastro festival in the Stradun was gearing up for full swing at 7pm when I returned, going for an unbelievable 10 Kuna per ticket that I snapped up after some hesitation. The shoving that resulted once the gates opened was inevitable and annoying, and by the time I actually got to the food or what was left of it, all that was left really some black seafood risotto and a bit of dessert for dinner, a pity considering that Croatian specialities were up for grabs.