01 May, 2018: I spent a week in Montenegro (or Crna Gora, in Montenegrin), in Bar on the Adriatic coast. Bar is a port city (the main port of the country) and border crossing (by ferry) first and a tourist destination second; it’s really only a tourist spot because the spectacular Belgrade-Bar railway ends there (more on that in the previous post!). I wandered into the port by accident while trying to photograph something interesting and industrial, and got yelled at by the border police. I gave them my best tourist smile and made camera-charades, and they laughed at me, so it all worked out.
I also managed to arrive on a national holiday (this is becoming a habit, after hitting Hungarian National Day my first weekend in Budapest and Easter parts 1 and 2 in both Vienna and Belgrade) — May 1 is Labor Day. Most shops were closed, and the cafes were more crowded than usual. I also got accidentally caught up in yet another parade/procession, this one featuring the mayor(?) and a bunch of fancily-dressed townsfolk waving flags, and ending with news cameras (probably the entire news corps of the town, all two of them).
The beaches are rocky, and there aren’t really proper ocean waves, even though you can see to the horizon. The water is fairly warm and the mountains are absolutely gorgeous.
There were spectacular thunderstorms most of the evenings, and my balcony looked toward the mountains, so rain or shine the view was perfect.
There are lots of rooms to rent in Bar; I stayed in a small apartment above a bodega, rented by the really lovely, friendly owners. It was a little walk (~20 minutes) from the main town, but there’s an oceanfront promenade with cafes along the way.
There’s also a small, weird history museum that was a former royal residence; the lower floor has some archaeological finds and ancient history, and the second floor is a preserved residence with more recent history. A few of the signs are in English (with charmingly-confused translations), but most are not. That’s ok, though — museums that require me to guess at what an artifact might be are almost more engaging than the ones that provide all the information without any effort on my part. It makes me more curious and more inclined to do research on my own to learn more.
Montenegro uses the Euro, even though they aren’t part of the EU. I think they never had their own currency? They’ve only been their own independent country since 2006. In any case, I was surprised about the Euro, and it also makes things a little more expensive than they might be otherwise.
The coffee is terrible, the pastries are a little on the oily side, and the nachos: omg, the nachos. Obviously I wouldn’t expect authentic Mexican food in that part of the world, but it’s very popular in the Balkans, so I ordered nachos in a restaurant one day just to see what I would get. It was a basket of store-bought corn chips, with a little cold shredded cheese sprinkled over the top, a dollop of sour cream, and a dollop of what the menu assured me was “guacamole” but looked and tasted more like green olive tapenade with no discernible sign of avocados.
The architecture is a mixture of expected and surprising. Most buildings are fairly nondescript, but then you’ll come across something like this:
A little later I wandered past what I thought was a strange abandoned miniature version of the shopping center:
But when I walked around to the other side it turned out to be the post office:
I went inside to buy some stamps and take some surreptitious pictures (I assumed I would get in trouble for taking pictures too obviously, hence the low quality).
There’s also a brand new and very shiny church:
The people are nice and hospitable but not overly outgoing. My host, Ivana, was an absolute sweetheart, and she even got her brother to drive me to the train station when I left, as it was pouring rain at the time. When I got off the train in Podgorica a guy my age who was getting off at the same stop took off his headphones to ask me if I needed help with my bag.
Speaking of train stations — in the cities they’re normal, if small, but in the rural areas they’re more like bus stops:
After taking the train to Podgorica I got on a bus to Albania. More on that soon!