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In which SWMBO ponders the region.

Aaaah.  The Balkans.  I had no interest in coming here but in 2006, we were looking for somewhere adventurous to live/work for a year.  After an almost move to Tonga (Polynesia), Montenegro offered us that opportunity.  We knew nothing about the Balkans except what we had seen on the news about the break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war.  Okay, long story short, we came, we saw, we fell in love.  In fact, the picture on the blog homepage is of waves crashing on the 16th century Venetian fortress in our former home, Petrovac Na Moru, Montenegro.

Firstborn, Onlyboy, Paris on the beach in Montenegro, 2006

Firstborn, Onlyboy, Paris on the beach in Montenegro, 2006

I love the way that there are no big Western chains anywhere.  In Montenegro, there was only 1 McDonald’s in the whole country and it was only open in July and August.  No Starbucks.  Not one.  No KFC.  No Tim Hortens.   No malls of any kind.  No Chapters/Indigo/Amazon.  No Kinko’s.  No Staples.  No Home Depot.  No Famous Players.  No AMC.  Podgorica, the largest city in Montenegro has a population of around 150,000.

Fish festival, Montenegro 2006

Fish festival, Montenegro 2006

I love the people.  They will steal your heart.  Slowly but surely.  They are funny, opinionated and down to earth.

2006 people

Pig farmer we met, 2006

I love the landscape.  It is stunning.  There is no better way to describe it.

Montenegro near Skadar Lake

Montenegro 2006 near Skadar Lake – your heart skips a beat when you see this.

I love the fact that most people give you a blank look when you tell them you live in and love Montenegro.  For some reason, most people will think you live in Jamaica.  I love the incredulous look you get when say you love Romania (even from Romanians!).  And that is nothing to the look you get when you say you vacation in Serbia.  And it is beautiful.

Merry cemetery, one of the most fascinating places on earth, Romania (happytraveller.ro)

Merry cemetery, one of the most fascinating places on earth, Romania (happytraveller.ro)

So amazing that the cemetery has spawned a fashion line (?!) (fashion-salad.com)

So amazing that the cemetery has inspired a fashion line… (fashion-salad.com)

I love the complicated nature of the region.  It makes me sad to learn about the violent history of the area going back hundreds of years.  But I wonder if that is not true of most places on earth if you go back far enough.  It is the violent recent history that shocks us and makes us question.  I imagine living here 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago and I see people standing before me who actually did.  I have been privileged to hear first-hand stories from regular civilians about life in the war years and after.  When I was living here, I met young women who had had miscarriages from the stress of the bombings, many of them by NATO.  People around here say that NATO stands for North American Terrorist Organization.  Last time I was here, feelings were still raw.  In 2014, I sense that people just want to get on with life but I’ve only been here a few weeks.  I look forward to reconnecting with old friends in Montenegro and Serbia and seeing what they think.

Sunset in our adopted town of Petrovac Na Moru, Montenegro 2006

Sunset in our adopted town of Petrovac Na Moru, Montenegro 2006

In Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia, the people seem so nice.  Opinionated fer sher.  But nice and kind.  So how to reconcile that with what has gone on?  An event is like a dish-soap bubble.  It is launched into the air and then it wobbles and jiggles and morphs until it breaks.  You learn more with each person you speak to, with each different perspective you allow into your space.  Until for a fleeting second, it all makes sense and you experience a sense of enlightenment.  Then it’s gone and once, again, you’re confused about the chain of events that spiralled into brutality.

Budva harbour, Montenegro

Budva harbour, Montenegro

I love the independent and free thinking.  I love the way you can do whatever you want.  When we first moved here, we went for a hike and I picked some flowers.  A man stopped me and told me that that was the national plant of Montenegro.  I was startled and asked him if it was forbidden to pick them (like Ontario’s trilliums).  He looked at me like I was insane and said, “You’re in Montenegro.  You can do whatever you want.”  That’s why you will see cars parked all over the sidewalk right under the DO NOT PARK sign.

Popular pastime of jumping from bridge, Mostar, Bosnia (en.wikipedia.org)

Popular pastime of jumping from bridge, Mostar, Bosnia (en.wikipedia.org)

I love the language.  Another wonderful puzzle to challenge me.  Hvala!  I love the cyrillic alphabet inland.  Now I am totally lost!

Cyrillic sign (croatiaweek.com)

Cyrillic sign (croatiaweek.com)

I love the dark skies, the stars, the good water, the beaches, the churches and monasteries.

Church, Montenegro

Church 2006, Montenegro

I love the change from Mediterranean to Slavic – from olives and lemons to cabbage rolls.

Olives 2006 - we cured them ourselves from the olive trees in our yard

Olives 2006 – we cured them ourselves from the olive trees in our yard

So now that I have convinced you to hop on the next plane over, let me point out a few of the not so fantastic things.

First of all, it’s pretty hard to get to.  Try finding a flight from Canada.  Most of the region is a big no-go zone for Western airlines.  Try driving.  Good luck.  When we lived here, the drive from Petrovac to Belgrade took 12-13 hours.  The distance?  473 kilometres.  Seriously.  Let’s just say that you need to traverse the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon.  Yes, some new tunnels have been built and roads improved but it still takes a really long time on mountain roads around here.  Try a ferry.  Expensive and limited routes (all from Italy).  And you’re not going to get inland on a ferry.  Just saying.

Moraca Canyon (trekearth.com)

Moraca Canyon (trekearth.com)

Balkans – Did thee not get the memo about drinking and driving?  Or did thee get the memo with the “DON’T” blacked out?  I feel that I have to say – as soon as we crossed from Austria into Slovenia, the slavic vibe was palpable and the drinking and driving commenced (not in our car).  It is more a question of which drivers aren’t drinking rather than which ones are.  Seriously.  Women don’t drink very much around here but neither do they drive very much.  Hmmm.

ferry drink driving

2014 Croatia.  The driver in the car next to us. Waiting to get on the ferry, he enjoys a drink. What is it?

ferry drink driving2

Oh yes, it is the beer that his passenger just ran out to buy…

Why no screens?  I know you are part of Europe – the continent that shuns screens in favour of 50 million mosquito bites but Balkans – you have always thumbed your nose at authority.  Embrace the screen already and I predict a huge surge in North American tourism.

wild beauty

Give a hoot, don’t pollute.  Don’t be a litterbug.  We don’t really think about litter in North America because we are so conditioned to not create it.  It is hard to remember that when I was a little girl there was an actual public service campaign to get people to stop littering.  Guess what?  It really worked.  Methinks the Balkans need the same thing.  The area is trying to promote its wild beauty (That is the actual tag line for Montenegro – Wild Beauty – but it is something the whole area is trying to capitilize on).  Guess what?  Western outdoorsmen aren’t really interested in hiking in unspoiled wilderness spoiled by trash.  Ditto for rock climbing.  Ditto for white water rafting.  Ditto for spelunking.

Dark skies, Balkans

Dark skies, Balkans

Credit cards.  I know they charge businesses a lot of money but please start accepting them.  It would make things a lot easier for Western tourists.  North Americans aren’t used to wiring money into a hotel’s bank account via Western Union to reserve a room.

What about the memo that “SMOKING KILLS”?  Maybe there was a word pencilled in after – GERMS.  Everyone here smokes.  Young, old, male, female.  When we moved here, we were surprised that all the local cafés and bars had “No Smoking” signs posted everywhere.  At that time you could still smoke pretty much anywhere you wanted in Europe.  Then we noticed that everyone was smoking right in front of the signs.  A bartender explained to us that Montenegro wanted to join the EU so the country was doing all these things to look good.  Interesting.

Lest you think I am being too hard on poor old Balkie – let’s end with a sign from Wales.  One of my favourites.  Check the hours closely.

We're here to help you.  But our hours are strangely underwhelming.

We’re here to help you. But our hours are underwhelming.

Okay. Okay.  Since you insist.  I’ll throw in another goody from Malaysia.

non muslim drinks