Montenegro: The New Monaco? Not exactly…

Montenegro: The New Monaco? Not exactly…

The New Port of Cool

In an article by Claire Wrathall, the March 2015 issue of Boat International Magazine asks, once again, is “Montenegro the New Monaco?” Claire has been writing about Montenegro since as early as November 2004 in The Scotsman, so she is certainly a credible witness to the regional transformation that has occurred over the past decade.

Many others have asked the same question over the years: I think it might have been Jack Grimston, in an April 2009 Sunday Times article, who originally inferred that Montenegro was “the new Monaco” (I could be wrong though). The Financial Times labeled Montenegro the New Port of Cool in their Boating Special in the June 26th 2009 issue of How to Spend ItThe New York Times in August 2010 referred to the same comparisonFrance 24 News also asked the same question back in 2010. The Times pondered the idea (again) on July 9th 2011. The Boat Blog raised the question as recently as August 2014.

Port Hercule

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

I think they all didn’t quite hit the mark.

The reason so many began comparing Montenegro to Monaco originates from when one new local marina began to offer superyacht berths about six years ago. Investors, journalists and others all got on the bandwagon.

However, I believe that, if you limit the comparison of Montenegro to Monaco’s Port Hercule with such a tight lense you grossly diminish what Montenegro really has to offer. Yes, perhaps in very specific locations (like the Port of Kotor) and at certain times of year (August, for example), it might somewhat resemble the main port of Monte Carlo..

So, instead of wondering if Montenegro is the “New Monaco” because of the yachting season alone, I think the intriguing question to explore now should be:

Is Montenegro the 21st Century’s Intersection of Eastern and Western Cultures?

Party at Hôtel de Paris Monaco.

A more precise comparison of Monaco and Montenegro, might instead refer to the principality in the first half of the 20th Century. Actually, it is probably better to compare this region to the entire French Riviera of 50-plus years ago. Monaco, at that time, still wasn’t yet a superyacht destination or on the Mediterranean charter circuit, but it was a principle intersection of Eastern and Western Europe societies.

Great families from the United Kingdom arrived and played with their Russian and Eastern European counterparts. It was a marvelous time of cross-cultural experiences and entertaining. Less than a century earlier the region was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, so the Italian influence was also tangible there, as it is here in Montenegro. Before the turn of the 20th Century, the Casino of Monte Carlo opened, and so did the Hotel de Paris. We still don’t have such iconic institutions here, but you know they are on their way.

Economic development in Monaco was spurred in the late 19th century with a railway link to France, much as it will be in Montenegro with the new Bar-Boljare highway project.

Monaco of that era (the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th), was a land that welcomed cultures from across Europe and beyond, as Montenegro does today. Here on any given day, sitting in a seaside café, you can hear languages from across Europe and beyond. Monaco, at that time, had much more to offer than a simple harbour for yachts, as does this enchanting land that sits on the Adriatic Sea. This is a place full of awe-inspiring mountain parks and lakes; flawless natural reserves; spectacular coastlines, significant UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Venetian and Roman historical references, and so much more.

So, instead of wondering if Montenegro is the “New Monaco” because of the yachting season alone, I think the intriguing question to explore now should be:

Is Montenegro the 21st Century’s Intersection of Eastern and Western Cultures?

I think it just might be.

Yachting and sailing, chartering, culture, art, hospitality, education, economies and so much more will be impacted forever if I am right. But, I will leave it up to sociologists, journalists, investors, writers and bloggers to examine the question further!

Living in Montenegro: Practical Things Beyond the Culture Shock

Living in Montenegro: Practical Things Beyond the Culture Shock

I recently got an email from someone who had read this blog and wanted to know more about day-to-day live here in Montenegro. I thought it might be useful to write a bit more about the practical side of living here.

Some of her questions included: Does the Internet work there? What is the social life like? What about culture? Is it difficult to meeting people there? Do they speak English? Over the years I have had many conversations with international media and people applying for jobs here, so let me try and tackle some of those questions:

1. Does the Internet Work?

Yes, and in urban centers the internet is fast; I think they skipped a generation and installed the latest technology once things opened up after Montenegro independence in 2006.

“Life here seems more focused on what is really important: friends, family, community, health. ”

2. Is Accommodation Comfortable?

Accommodation is a bit more hit and miss. If you are coming to live here permanently – or at least over a period that is longer than 12 months, you need to find somewhere newer that does not have potential water/moisture issues. So much of the construction in the past was holiday related; builders and landlords did not care too much if the places got a bit damp in the winter. If you are living here full time though that really matters! Basically, I would avoid the romantic stone house idea (yes, I live in one; but it is dry), even though it is very appealing. If you are set on something historic (which is hard to resist), just make sure it is nice and dry over the winter months.

Finding a place – for an annual lease – is still harder than in the rest of Europe. There isn’t anything like Craigslist here yet, so you need to rely a lot more on personal connections. Some agencies are popping up and they are usually connected to the local real estate companies. You cannot look past the months of April/May though. This is when landlords are more concerned about summer rentals. Of course, holiday rental is easy and there are a plethora of websites to find great short term accommodation to match any taste and budget.

As for the other comforts of life, things like heating/AC are all fine and modern. You can also find handymen really easily when you need to get things fixed.

Sunset over Budva

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

3. How is the Social Life?

This really depends on your work community and how embracing they are. When we first moved to Montenegro, there was virtually nobody as the rush of 2006-2008 had ended, and the first people at Porto Montenegro created a real community of kindred spirits. That has eroded over the years; many people came for a few years and now have left to pursue other adventures. There is no longer that feeling of “we are all in this together and lets make it work.” New people are coming though, and we are trying to make an effort to be more social; but that feeling of “we are all here making a difference and helping each other” is harder to find. Today new friendships form around the workplace, so it is important to get along with your colleagues if you are new to town.

4. How is the Cultural Life?

Cultural life is very very limited – at least for foreigners like us; for locals there is a lot on offer. If you exclude the small theatre in Kotor, there is only one movie theatre in the country and it is in Podgorica, the capital city. There is some theatre / concerts here (and wonderful things like KotorArt in the summer), but I am afraid the cultural offering is – naturally – much more for the locals (given the language and cultural references). Summer is buzzing with concerts and outdoor parties though, and those are great fun. Generally though life here is about being more laid back (at least for those of us in our 40s): it is more about sports, yoga, boating and swimming; more about healthy local food and such.

5. What about Shopping?

There is definitely no shopping if you are referring to anything like what you would find on London’s Regent or Oxford Streets; there are really no big brands represented here, but there are some great multibrand stores. For food, you need to bring all that you crave from home when you travel (cheddar cheese, Nespresso capsules, salt and vinegar potato chips for example). Here you can find the essentials; great greens and meat markets and pretty well stocked food stores. However, there is nowhere near the variety that you have in big European cities. Simplicity, organic, local are the key ingredients here.

Saturday morning outdoor market in Kotor

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

6. How are the Travel Connections?

Tivat, the airport on the coast, is very seasonal. In the winter there are only flights to Belgrade and Moscow. Belgrade is only 40 minutes away though and that is a big, vibrant, city with decent flight connections and lots to offer.
Podgorica is the airport in the capital and about 1.5 hours drive from Tivat and has flights to many European countries. Driving through Croatia from Italy or Germany has gotten better but there still not a highway all the way yet. I am afraid we are a bit remote, especially in the winter. Driving here and around just takes time and patience.

We are certainly a hot topic for travel – Forbes just said we are one of the top 3 places to visit in 2015. It just takes a bit of planning!

7. Do they Speak English?

English is spoken almost everywhere; especially on the coast and in the capital city Podgorica. That is not a problem at all. It is surprising how many people speak it here. That is a blessing!

8. Is it Easy to Learn the Local Language?

I have never been able to really grasp it. The grammar is very complex, and frankly I have never gotten a teacher or tried – other than a few words (coffee, beer, thank you etc). Even when I have tried, people begin to speak English with me. [Milos: see next story; just told me this sounds very lazy. He is right. I really have not tried. Well into my 6th year here and I should have picked up Montengrin by now. I am a little embarrased by this, but it is certainly hope it does not look like a sign of disrespect.]

9. Getting over the Culture Shock

If you are new to this part of the Balkans, especially coming from places like Germany, it takes a lot of getting used to; this is my sixth winter here in Montenegro and the first few were really tough. As you can see from my early posts, I have gotten quite used to our new life in the country (I just changed the sub-title of this blog from “A New Life in the Country” to “From Culture Shock to Comfort Zone”). We travel a lot, so that makes for nice balance. If you are accustomed to Europe and all that its cities and towns have to offer, you can feel very stranded here at times. All that being said, it is a very peaceful, healthy place. Summers are wonderful; full of energy, warm water, boating and sailing and sunny skies. I love the fact that it is slower paced. It feels more healthy than the big cities that I travel to often. Life here seems more focused on what is really important: friends, family, community, health.

Kotor Old Town

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

It is a place in transition and changing all the time, but not as fast as I thought it would when we arrived in 2009. It is interesting to observe that and be a part of it. You have to be a bit of an adventurous explorer though.

It feels far away from capitalism and consumerism. Our recent trip to Vancouver reminded me of this. When I was visiting I was overwhelmed by the constant messages about financial stability, retirement savings and the incredible abundance on offer. Here people seem to live much more in the now. I have been told that this is because they had to; the last couple of generations did not know what was happening next. In the recent past there was a lot of instability in the region and this made people more present; living for today and not some future time.

I am sure there are 100 other questions: currencies, human and social rights, driving, dining, children, schools, LGBT, travel, yachting and sailing around Montenegro … the list could go on and on. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I will try to give you some personal insight into this Life in Montenegro!

PS – please see my next blog post. My friend Milos said this one sounded like I did not like living here (but I have edited it a bit now).

PSS – my colleague and good friend Milena said this post sounded a bit negative. That was certainly not my intention. I just wanted to be frank with anyone contemplating a move here from Western European cities. It takes some adjusting, but I love it here!

TRAVEL

The Essential Montenegro

LIVING HERE

The Ultimate Guide to Living in Montenegro

DOING BUSINESS

Business Development in Montenegro

More Transformation: Coming Out in Montenegro

More Transformation: Coming Out in Montenegro

It has been a few months since my last post. As you might know by now I just need a little inspiration to get me going. The other day I got it…

A couple of years ago my partner and I met a Montenegrin man who was in his mid twenties and gay. At the time, that combination seemed like a death sentence to him. He had not come out of the closet to anyone and was suffering for it in so many ways. He was even scared to come to our house for a visit; worried that the receptionist or someone would see him arriving and immediately label him as gay by association (something that happened a lot in the first few years; much less now as the local community has gotten used to us – the “only out gay men in the village”).

In the months that ensued our friendship grew and grew. Many of our conversations with our friend were about trying to empower him.  We had to let him know that there was a different world beyond these borders; a world where he could be open about his orientation and not be living a life in secret.

Jump ahead 24 months.

Just over a year ago our friend moved to Switzerland; met the man of his dreams and is getting married this summer. Last weekend he came home to Montenegro and came out. Firstly to his sister and her husband. She was thrilled for him and only sad that he had suffered for so many years by not being able to tell anyone. Her husband was also very happy for him and extremely loving. He did not expect this as his brother-in-law comes from Niksić, a town which is not known for being open minded. On the contrary; it is a Northern mountain town where the men are known for being very tough. Not the place you can easily walk around it as an open gay man.

When our friend told us about this experience he was in shock. So happy and yet so surprised at the first reactions. He would have been happy with “OK, that’s your life, I don’t want to know anything about it”, but what he got was much greater.

His next meeting was going to be with his best friend. That went extremely well too.

He said that Pieter and I had been incredibly helpful in the process. Once he met us back in 2011, he realized that you could be gay, out and partnered and have a fulfilled life. It is nice to know that we served as role models in a country where he had none.

Since we moved here in 2009 there has been much positive transformation around us. This blog has attempted to document that. We have watched LGBT rights also slowly become more accepted. There is still much to be done. There are countless men and women who are still stuck, just as our friend was two years ago. I hope his story; his wedding and his coming out will be a catalyst for a more open and tolerant society in this little magical kingdom.

 

 

Lunch at Prova in Tivat: a story of Eclipse, Ox and Ulcinj

Lunch at Prova in Tivat: a story of Eclipse, Ox and Ulcinj

The other day I was having lunch on the Tivat waterfront at Prova Restaurant (one of the prettiest places in the town of Tivat to sit and dine or relax by the water). I was with one of my favorite colleagues from Porto Montenegro. He is from the port town of Bar in Southern Montenegro. A man with an incredible memory, attention to detail; full of stories and someone who knows everyone in the country. This was a particularly special lunch because he gave me ideas for two more blog stories:

The First:

Eclipse in Tivat

With Eclipse, the largest yacht in the world, sitting in the Bay of Kotor just beyond the jetties of Porto Montenegro, he thought it would be a good idea to tell the other story of Montenegro; the one of those who live at the other end of the financial spectrum than the owner and guests of Eclipse; those people in the mountains just a few dozen kilometers from the more affluent coast. There, transportation is still dominated by the ox. From immense superyachts to ox-driven carts; it is all part of the story here in Montenegro. He said I should interview them and ask about the US Presidential Election or the European Union to see their perspective; both are probably not on their radar screens. Vast contrast in close proximity (which takes some getting used to). The writing of this story will require another road trip to Niksic, a translator and some interviews. I am very much looking forward to that adventure, and I will post the story and photos as soon as I get there and back…

The Second:

His other idea was to tell the story of Ulcinj and the legends of its history of piracy. When I mentioned to him that my trip to the most south point of Montenegro, near the Ada Bojana (which the NY Times has named one of the best beaches in the world) where the sandy beaches stretch on for kilometers, felt like I had left the Balkans, he could not have agreed more. To me, the area seemed more like Northern Africa than Southern Europe. I could not have told you why that day, when I went exploring, but something was so different than where I had just come from up the coast. He explained that, towards the end of the 14th century, Ulcinj became a centre for piracy and continued to be a dangerous refuge until the 18th century. Populated by North Africans, Maltese, Turks and others for centuries, it is for this reason, that this place feels so different than the Montenegrin coast or the mountains. This new post will also require another road trip (less invigorating than the mountain drive to Niksic and Ostrog Monastery), a translator and some interviews too… but I think it will be worth it!

Stay tuned.

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Tivat: A Tale of Two Cities

Tivat: A Tale of Two Cities

It was a late August evening in Tivat, around 9pm. I ventured out to have dinner with a friend (the same one I wrote about in my post “Two Years Later and Back to School“; who, has made great positive changes since that post) at a local pizzeria called Recoleta in the new Magnolia Square, a new commercial and residential complex in the center of Tivat. He pried me out of my habit of always staying in the Porto Montenegro Village. I had because so lazy over the summer, barely venturing more than a couple hundred meters from home for food, drink, fun, my friends and entertainment.

Porto Montenegro Village

To my surprise (or naivety), Tivat was absolutely packed with people, families and lots of children. It seemed like everyone was out enjoying the warm evening; perhaps savouring the last days of their vacation or the final days before going back to school. The stores were still open; people were getting haircuts and outdoor patios were full of people having coffee, drinks or dinner. It could have been the middle of the day. In the summer, this place, like every other coastal town from Budva to Bar, comes to life, especially after the sun goes down.

Someone said to me the other day that Tivat is like a Tale of Two Cities; one brand new (Porto Montenegro) and the other historic. I think he might be right about that. Another testimony of how all things old and new in this country are (hopefully) woven through my stories in this blog.

What is so fascinating to observe is how the two worlds. co-exist. The historic town blends with the brand new superyacht marina village which occupies the ex naval base that had dominated Tivat’s geography and economy since 1889. Thousands of people wandering the streets; animating the locales; strolling the old promenade and now through the new village at Porto Montenegro which – until so recently a Yugoslav naval base –  full of yachts, shops, restaurants and new apartments.

Life and a country in transformation before our eyes!

The Marina at Porto Montenegro

Jetty One at Porto Montenegro