“Our little Montenegro is almost like Monte Carlo. It has beautiful mountains, blue sea, casinos and euro. And the customer service is European unlike other Balkan countries.
When you come to a restaurant, a waiter greets you at the door and takes your coat. There is also a fake gold-plated umbrella holder, so you can leave your wet umbrella at the entrance. Very civilised! You have a really fancy dinner and the local wines are superb – they are even better than some of the French.
After you are done with your dinner, you take your coat and are ready to leave. And then you realise that your umbrella was taken while you were dining. And this is Montenegro – almost Monte Carlo, but not quite.”
How I ended up in Montenegro
This was the story my Hungarian host greeted me with in April 2011 while I was eating my first of many plejskavicas in some tiny restaurant in Podgorica. Having lived in Montenegro many years by that time, he knew of course much more about the country than I ever learned, but I will always remember it in an opposite way – as a quite a country!
I landed in Podgorica and called my to-be-boss for the coming three weeks. I came on a grant to work for an NGO in Konik settlement. I could have chosen any NGO in Europe and for some reason I can’t even remember (if there was a reason at all) I was set on working in Podgorica of all places. I think that the NGO I have chosen never understood my reasons either, as they seem quite surprised seeing me turn up for work for the duration of all those tree weeks.
So, she picks up her phone and sounds surprised that I’m already here. The first instructions I receive is to rest and acclimatise a couple of days. And this is what I do, in my own way.
Looking back at this Montenegro life I had it seems a kind of intermezzo. As if in the bigger film of my life someone just pressed a stop button and ran a short commercial break. Actually, it also felt the same during my stay, not only after.
So, what do you do, when you find yourself alone? My host left on a business trip soon after letting me into the flat. I obviously don’t speak the language. I don’t know a single person in the whole country. I logged on Couchsurfing, found some meeting in Podgorica happening the same night and bravely went there.
After that night I got submerged into a wonderworld-underworld of English-speaking boheme of Podgorica and spent those weeks with people I would have never have met otherwise.
- A couple who travelled from France to India and back by bicycles. They left France being just over 18 and were now on their way back to France, almost 10 years older and slightly worried that they changed too much to be able to return into their previous life easily.
- A film director from Cetinje – an ancient capital of Montenegro, which we briefly visited by car and were thrown a stone at by some gang boys.
- And then the director’s mom, who made the best cake I ever tasted in my life. The recipe apparently came directly from a chef, who made it for the king family in Austrian-Hungarian empire and was passed in the family of the director for generations.
- A French young man who left his home, job and family im France to go to Montenegro to build a first cable park in the country. We went by car through the woods by his park to the top of the mountain to see the best view on Kotor Bay and I was so terrified to fall down into the Kotor Bay from that cliff that I did not dare to drink the beer we have brought with us. And for the first time realised I have suddenly acquired a fear of heights, which never showed itself until that day, but pretty much stayed with me ever since.
- A group of EU officials, who explained me how Montenegro could have been transformed into a small version of Switzerland, and even richer, wisely using a combination of euro, offshore and casinos, but now missed that opportunity, because “it got all too close to the European Union.”
There was not too much of it, to put it mildly. I have soon found out that my NGO, like most of the others has working hours from 10 to 15, and an hour lunch break in between. The ministries and other state organisations also didn’t have too long working hours, making it rather difficult for me to plan meetings and manage to actually get some work done.
Here is what Wikipedia says about the language, spoken in Montenegro:
has historically and traditionally been called Serbian. The idea of a Montenegrin standard language separate from Serbian appeared in the 2000s after Serbia and Montenegro broke up, via proponents of Montenegrin independence. Montenegrin became the official language of Montenegro with the ratification of a new constitution on 22 October 2007.
Funnily enough, throughout my whole stay, speaking to many people directly or hearing them speak in public, I never heard them call it Montenegrin. In English it was refered to as “the language of Montenegro”, “our language” or “the language we speak in this country.” I wonder if it says anything about the feeling of the ownership of the language.
…is everywhere. Seems like everyone in this country smokes and they do it constantly: on a train, in the station, in restaurants, shops and at work.
After my first day of work at the NGO, I was video-calling my parents. They asked me:
– Ana, is it going really bad? Do you want to just come home?
And I was all like:
– No, come on, I actually quite like it. What made you think it’s bad?
– Well, your eyes are red as if you have been crying recently.
No, I wasn’t crying, I just spent some 5 hours in a small office with 4 people smoking constantly. Thank God for the short office hours though!
Let’s say the food was in abundance. When on the first day I was feeling really hungry and considered ordering a big portion, my host told me to chose the small. “And if you manage to finish it, I’ll buy you another one.” I thought it was a good deal, as I do eat a lot, but I lost this bet.
The portions are indeed huge, and very cheap, unless you go for very touristic places. For example, the local restaurant in the centre of Podgorica served those small big portions for just over 2 euro. The specialities are all kinds of grilled meat (Plejskavica, Cevapcici and others), occasionally some fish and of vegetables you usually can get Sopska salata – tomato and cottage cheese salad.
All in all
This was a kinda memoir rather than a usual travel blog post with tips and tricks. But the next coming one will present you Montenegro in the best tradition of Google – as a list of top places worth visiting.