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

Perast: The Awe Inspiring Beauty in The Bay of Kotor

Perast: The Awe Inspiring Beauty in The Bay of Kotor

The other day we went to Bajova Kula in Drazin Vert, a beautiful beach club in the Bay of Kotor on the road between Perast and Ljuta. On the way there in a boat with friends I could not help but to be hit by the overwhelming by the beauty around me. You know those moments when you stop and realize how incredible life is.

That day, after a few hazy days from the forest fires in the mountains, the sun was bright; the skies were crisp and clear and there was a refreshing breeze in the air. I looked around in awe, and said to myself I cannot believe that this is where I live!

The amateur photos I take of this place and post on Pinterest, Facebook or here never do it justice. All of our visitors comment on the fact that this place is always much more stunning in real life. Hopefully these pictures capture some of the essence of these historic, UNESCO protected, surroundings which are illuminated by the bright summer sun that radiates down over Montenegro for at least 240 days a year.

 

Speeding past Perast

 

Perast is a very special place. Once part of the Republic of Venice, it even became part of the Kingdom of Italy under Mussolini. With less than 400 people living there permanently and over 30 palaces and churches, it is a breathtaking site at any time of year. Stone houses; pedestrian streets, small boats that take visitors to the Island of Saint George or to the iconic Our Lady of the Rock will enchant you. There is also a great little place called “Pirate Bar” at the North end of the town; perfect for an afternoon beer as the sun sets over the mountains across the bay.

 

Perast House

 

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Living in Montenegro: Four Summers later

Living in Montenegro: Four Summers later

Living in Montenegro has been an amazing experience. This month marks a milestone; it is our fourth summer living here in Montenegro. My love affair with this country has only continued to grow since we first landed here on that hot summer August day in 2009.

When we arrived from ultra modern Vancouver, it was like stepping back in time. The 40 stories I have written since then are testimony to the country in transformation and the cultural differences I have experienced and continue to cherish. However, as time went, on I noticed less and less the differences between my old life and this new one.

It is only now though that I realize that I was protected by a team of incredible colleagues who worked through all the idiosyncrasies of living here; they made my life as easy as possible.

I was recently sent back to those early days here… when I went to get my car registered. This was, of course, after I extended my residency permit because I was not able to register it past the expiry date of my work permit. This would have been fine – register and insure the car up until the day my permit expired; you know, pro-rata from now until that day. The only problem is that here you cannot do that. No matter when you register your car, you must pay a full year of registration and insurance. Then when you renew your work permit you have to pay that full amount again. So, whether you are registering or insuring for a month or 12, you pay the same amount.

With residency recently extended through to January 2013, I went to get my car registered. It is a second car, so it had been sitting in the garage since last November. I had to do ten separate payments, payable to various entities and through various offices, ranging in size between 4 and 300 Euros to complete the “transaction”. I had to take off my license plate and give it back. It was an iconic plate, Tivat “007” which perfectly suited the 1999 BMW Z3 which it was attached to. Now the car has Tivat “009”, and it just does not seem as fun. Payments and paperwork completed, I had to wait a full week to get my registration card before I could drive the car.

Anyone back home in British Columbia would have done the whole operation in less than 15 minutes. Nothing happens too quickly here, and that is one of the things I love about it.

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Of course, not everyday am I able to hone my Erkhart Tolle skills and be completely in the “now”. This week I needed to get new mobile phone number; not one of those pre-pay things that you get when you are travelling, but a regular contract where they send you the bill at the end of the month. On Monday morning I went in to the local telecom store and they told me I had to go in to Kotor. It is only 15 minutes away, but I found out immediately after that I really did not need to go to the neighbouring town. So, I went back to the store and was told to come back in 20 minutes as there was someone who spoke better English who was coming in to work. In the end it took 5 trips to the store – an international telecom giant – to get my new SIM card. It was supposed to be activated by 6pm on Tuesday. Well, it took until Friday morning to start working.

There is something beneficial about being forced to slow down. It really did not matter if I got the phone activated on Monday or on Friday; the urgency, of course, was self-fabricated.

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So, as we begin our fourth year here, one must note that some things have not changed at all and a few things have. This past week reminded me of my first posting: “Coffee, Cigarettes and Ink Jet Printers“. There is still lots of instant coffee around, but the “Illy” brand has also arrived on the scene from Italy. Cigarettes are still smoked here more than any other place I have lived, but there are now government sponsored anti-smoking campaigns and laws against smoking inside (not always respected, but we are getting there). I have not seen ink-jet printers in a while, but I did see carbon copy paper getting used the other day at City Hall.

Old and new. The lovely essence of this little country in the centre of the Mediterranean.

There are exciting changes on the horizon. New projects and new challenges ahead as this life in an emerging market proves to be as interesting, exhilarating, rewarding and fascinating as the first days when we arrived.

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Kotor Night Out: Dinner & Dustbusters

Kotor Night Out: Dinner & Dustbusters

We had visitors from Vancouver this weekend. We took them to our usual favourite places: Sveti Stefan, Budva, Perast, Kotor and everywhere in between.

On their last night we took them to, what is considered, one of the best restaurants in the Bay of Kotor. Sitting right over the water, it is a truly stunning location.

Dinner was sublime. Local delicious white wine from the producer Plantaze; fresh grilled fish; risotto with saffron and shrimp; black squid ink risotto; local organic vegetables. The weather was not on our side, but the pitter patter of rain on the glass was relaxing and created a dramatic evening picture-frame for the ancient fortress walls of Kotor.

Ken had just remarked on how “Western” he found the establishment. The menu, place settings, linens, wine list and so forth all seemed much more “international” than he had expected. Certainly, there are lots of other venues that are considerably more Montenegrin, but we thought this might be a nice last supper. Next time they come we can explore the 300-year old mill house restaurants and all the local other culinary offerings. However, moments after Ken’s remark, the server arrived to ask us if we wanted coffee or dessert which we all declined. Not only did he have the menus in hand, but a hand-held vacuum cleaner. At first I thought someone on the next table had dropped something and made a mess of themselves, or he was on his way to tidy up some small mess.

Before we knew it, our server was vacuuming our table. You know that tradition when the server brushes away your bread crumbs with a small purpose-made blade? Well, this was the local interpretation of that tradition.

Our dear guests quickly realized that our “new life in the country” was still full of these kinds of stories that make you smile and appreciate this secret garden and its amazing hospitality, hand-held vacuums at the dining table and all.

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The Search

We just returned from an incredible 4000 kilometer road trip through Italy, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia. Throughout the journey we got to enjoy not only the breathtaking historical sites, but also the gourmet foods, vast selection and variety that fine provisioners like Globus in Zurich have to offer. The culinary possibilities were endless and we ate as much Sushi, Mexican and anything foreign as you could. I felt like a kid in a candy store on more than one occasion. I think at every stop along the way, we filled the car trunk with all those comestibles we miss and cannot find on the shelves of groceries here in Montenegro.

Returning home to our friends meant a dinner was in order and we thought we would treat the gang to something that you cannot find on any menu in the country; a fondue dinner. We had picked some up in Switzerland. It is the perfect cold weather food to share with friends, and given winter here lasts only about two weeks, we better use this opportunity before it turns 15 or 20 degrees again soon.

The only challenge was that we needed to find another fondue set. And here begins the oddysey. We searched, what felt like, the entire country for a fondue pot. It was nowhere to be found. Some time ago we had seen them at Kips, the only Home Depot stye store on the coast, so that was the first stop of the day. No luck. Not only were none in stock, but they had no idea what we were talking about even with the assistance of photographs (yes, my language skills have not progressed at all). Next stop was Voli, one of the two large supermarket chains and our only source of the brand of food our cats eat. Again, out of luck. No fondue pots in the homewares section and no cat food in stock either. Pickled onions were also on our shopping list, but those were equally impossible to find.

Our luck was diminishing rapidly, patience was dwindling and that “poor me I am in a foreign land” anxiety was on the rise. A shot of local Rakia was in order! Being away for a few weeks in cities of infinite abundance had re-spoiled me. Now I must get re-accustomed to what is here and what’s not. A mini-culture shock ala 2009 was happening all over again.

Good friends (all of whom live with these same little daily expat challenges), a few more shots of local Rakia and fondue improvised on hot plates made it all better. So begins 2012 in Montenegro. More transformation, internal and external, to observe and record. A couple days ago we announced the doubling of the marina, the construction of a 5-star hotel and a superyacht refit and maintenance facility. No doubt there will be lots to talk about again this year.

The Third Autumn in Montenegro

The Third Autumn in Montenegro

Sitting outside in the sun this morning having brunch, it feels more like mid-September then the middle of November – it is a very warm 20 degrees with a fresh autumn breeze. The weather here is one of those great surprises that have made this life experience such a pleasure. Coming from Vancouver – known more for it’s Pacific Northwest rain than it’s blue skies – I didn’t know how much the sun and heat were good for me before moving to Montenegro. It’s true what “they” say: sunshine is healthy for your spirits. Here there is no need for those desktop light machines they used to sell at Whole Foods to help the rain-and-grey-cloud-bound-crowd with their Seasonal Affected Disorder.

We are entering our third Autumn of a new life in the country of Montenegro and have grown to appreciate many of the customs that were so different from home; so foreign to our past lives; many of which I tried to describe in my previous blog posts which were intended to be a running commentary for friends and family on the cultural differences of the West Coast of Canada and the Central Mediterranean to give everyone some flavour about this experience.

You may be surprised to hear that many things have changed over the past two-plus years. This year, my residential permit renewal is automatic. No more travelling to the smoke-filled attic of the Kotor City Hall for the rubber stamp ritual. Last year I had my fingerprints digitally recorded in Tivat. Progress for sure! Signs on public spaces still say “no guns, no dogs and no ice cream”, but now they also say “no smoking”. When we arrived in 2009 you could not avoid smoky-filled lobbies, bars and restaurants. Now, you are only allowed to smoke outside. A refreshing change for sure, especially because the air here is so nice and clean, free of big city pollution.

Other things, like banking, have not changed at all. It is still very much a “shared” experience with everyone crowded around you when you go to your bank. Line ups are almost unheard of and, at peak times, the experience of waiting and vying for a teller still taxes my patience. I still have not found the perfect Ceasar Salad, but maybe that is because I have stopped looking for it. I have, on the other hand, found the perfect pizza — wood burning oven, crisy crust and right here in Porto Montenegro — simply addictive, and I only have to walk over to the next building. In other areas like recycling you are just starting to see the birth of the movement.

It is an interesting time to be living in Europe. The financial and political turmoil is putting everyone on edge and Montenegro — as an official EU candidate for a year now — is not immune to the roller coaster political and economic drama happening between Greece (just to the south of us), Italy (across the Adriatic) and the power houses of Germany and France. The local court judge’s are on strike right now, and the opposing political parties are in daily power plays. Our development of Porto Montenegro gets caught in the journalistic crossfire between the newspapers depending on the party they are supporting.

December is almost upon us; we are planning a road trip to Switzerland, Prague and Budapest. It should be a great addition to the life experiences we have had thus far in our new life in the country. Travelling farther eastward than ever before.