It was a pleasure returning to the mild climate and gorgeous scenery of Montenegro. Work took me first to Podgorica, the capital, and on the weekend personal travel took me to Cetinje, Budva and Ostrog Monastery.
Podgorica is modest as European capitals go and at the same time pleasant, relaxed and eminently walkable. Parkland follows the rivers and extends up Gorica, the hill above the city. It was a gift to go walking each day at work’s end to renew energy and work off tasty lunches.
Unfortunately, Podgorica had been bombed by the Allies toward the end of the war and so little of the old city remains. There is a clock tower with a few nearby buildings along and an old fort on the river. Restaurants were plentiful, food and wine excellent. These charms made up for the seeming lack of a thriving arts scene.
Saturday morning, joined by a North Macedonian friend, we took a taxi to Budva and stopped along the way at Cetinje. Cetinje is the old capital from the days of the monarchy. The monastery there was originally built in the 1400s later to be destroyed by the Ottomans and rebuilt in the 1700s. The devout believe both the right hand of John the Baptist and a fragment of the true cross are housed there. There is a hand and there is a fragment of wood, only faith determines their origin.
Budva, like Kotor, has an old, walled city. The history of Budva is the history of the region; founded by Illyria, taken by Greece, conquered by Rome, and so on down the line. After an earthquake in the 1970s the old city was reconstructed. It is now a charming chaos of restaurants, shops, churches, pensiones and bars. The sea is its companion and provides the backdrop for tourism. Nearby Sveti Stefan was a disappointment. While the walled city is there, it is only a photo opportunity. Visitors are limited to twelve-person guided tours held only four times a day at the cost of 25 Euros. From a distance, it looks deserted.
With a 7:20 am departure Monday, we returned to Podgorica via Ostrog Monastery. It is an impressive sight and a feat of engineering, built into the side of a mountain. The Monastery was founded by Vasilije, the Metropolitan Bishop of Herzegovina in the 17th century. He died there in 1671 and some years later he was glorified. His body is enshrined in a reliquary kept in the cave-church dedicated to the Presentation of the Mother of God to the Temple.
After a fire in the 1920s which had destroyed the major part of the complex the current day configuration was built. The two little cave-churches were spared and they are the key areas of the monument. The frescoes in the Church of the Presentation were created towards the end of the 17th century. The other church, dedicated to the Holy Cross, is placed within a cave on the upper level of the monastery and was painted by master Radul, who successfully coped with the natural shapes of the cave and laid the frescoes immediately on the surface of the rock.
Mountains of blankets lay folded in the courtyard. The blankets are for the faithful who remain overnight seeking healing and blessing. Even in October, families remained in the courtyard for an overnight stay.
Unfortunately, the winery in a tunnel was closed on Sundays so we were unable to visit. The story goes that an allied bomber missed the Podgorica airport and hit a vineyard. After that, the vineyard moved its operation to the protection of the tunnel. But missing this winery didn’t stop us from enjoying Montenegrin wine and a fine dinner.