Montenegro is decidedly different from Croatia. I spent the first day in a cloud trying to accomplish basics – getting bearings, buying a local SIM, finding food, and determining a loose itinerary for the week. After days of rain, the weather was warm and sunny!
Some tours available in summer aren’t running now, but there’s still plenty to see and learn. I’m checking into boat tours of nearby islands in the Bay of Kotor. Since it’s winter group tours are hard to find and private tours expensive.
Walking Kotor’s Walls to St. John’s Fortress
My first adventure was walking Kotor’s walls and the “seemingly never-ending switchbacks along the ancient ramparts” of St. John Mountain to St. John’s Fortress. The stone steps and loose rocks were challenging but not difficult. The path leads to interesting destinations, depending on how far you go and which turns you take at forks in the path. You can end up at Church of Our Lady of Remedy, Sveti Ivan Fortress, or the partially hidden Church of St. George.
Kotor Old Town – New Location, Different Apartment
Moving between countries causes some disorientation – at least for me. Just when you’re getting comfortable in a location, it’s time to move on and everything changes. Moves keep you on your toes. My Kotor apartment is in Old Town. At first the medieval city with its narrow cobbled streets, stone archways, and dead ends seemed like an impossible maze – especially at night. My landlord gave a good orientation which didn’t make sense at the time but after a day of exploring does.
“Kotor’s history is parallel to the rich culture of the town ruled by many conquerors – Illyrians, Venetians, Austrians, French…”
Every morning at 7:30 am Old Town church bells begin tolling. If you’re staying here and not already awake, it’s your unavoidable alarm clock! Throughout the day the bells ring at predetermined times – noon, 5 pm, 8 pm. Sunday is a day of wild church bells.
Cars are not allowed in Old City. You can hear reverberating conversations from cafés, carts rolling along the cobbled pavement, and people passing in the narrow stone streets below. The last medieval city time I stayed in was Split Croatia. It’s a fun, interesting experience and mini taste of life in a medieval city.
Culture, Poetry, Art
Kotor’s history includes invasions by many would-be conquerors, yet Montenegro maintains a unique culture and national pride. Balkan neighbors from Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia often label relaxed Montenegrins as lazy. Not sure that’s fair. They have a “deep love and respect for family” and clearly are proud of their heritage and country. I still struggle to differentiate between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians.
Poetry is an important part of Montenegro’s history. Gorski Vijenac (The Mountain Wreath) is a “vast epic poem focusing on the coming together (or lack thereof) of Montenegro’s many tribes”. Petar II Petrović Njegoš, Montenegrin ruler, governor, poet, and philosopher wrote the poem. It’s not an easy read but a must if you really want to understand Montenegro.
Montenegro’s most formidable foes were the Venetians and Ottomans. Both cultures left a strong impact on the country.
Njegoš brought “modernization” to Montenegro in the 19th century. Between 1970 and 1974 the Montenegrin people built the highest mausoleum in the world to honor him. It’s on the second highest peak of Lovcen Mountain.
Art is important to Montenegrins. Milo Milunović and Dado Đurić are two notable contemporary artists. If possible, I’ll visit local galleries and see their work. Most major galleries are in Cetinje, Herceg-Novi, Podgorica, Bar, and Budva.
Independence, Politics, Economy
Like Croatians, Montenegrins have a “relentless desire for independence”. Over centuries they’ve fought fierce battles against large invading armies.
Montenegro has been independent since 2006. The President Milo Đukanović is also President of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro. He’s known as a “Balkan political strongman” and has been in power since 1997. I’ve heard that Đukanović is unpopular with younger Montenegrins.
My landlord expressed concern that the current situation in Kosovo might have a negative impact on Montenegro. I don’t know much about it and am educating myself.
There’s considerable poverty in Montenegro. The average monthly salary is between 300 – 600 Euros. Montenegro’s economy is said to be “in transition”. Currently it’s service based and still recovering from the impact of the Yugoslav Wars. Montenegro experienced a real estate boom in 2006 and 2007 when wealthy “Russians, Brits, and others bought property on the Montenegrin coast”.