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 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.

Two Years Later and Back to School

Two Years Later and Back to School

It has been two years, almost to the day, since I arrived here in Montenegro. While many things have changed, the daily life of those around me remains the same for much of the local population and the transition I continue to observe can be slow for many. I know that for much of the population, getting by is still a lot of hard work.

This week a local friend reminded of the challenges that have confronted this region in the not-so-distant past, and how the benefits of our work at Porto Montenegro and the that of the government are slow to trickle through to everyone.

This week he came to me for some advice about going back to school. He is fearful of it as it is not common here to go back to school once you have chosen a specific skill or path. Even if you are still young, there is really no support structure for adult education, retraining or career advancement. With a wife and child to feed, he wonders if education is a way to secure a better future or if it is just a waste of his time.

It made me think of how fortunate we are in places like Canada where education and mobility are deemed almost a right. A multitude of programs, scholarships and possibilities are often a click or a phone call away. He told me of the challenges of growing up during a war and how, since high school, the only possibility for him was to work as hard as possible, no matter what the job. It made me feel extremely grateful, humbled and gave me the desire to somehow help.

Today he is at a crossroads. Witness to a new world order in this former Yugoslav naval base. Having never really traveled beyond the borders of these Balkan states, he is unsure of what all these changes might bring.

He is the sole bread winner for his young family and takes home 400 Euros a month. That is less than 600 Canadian dollars a month. Yes, he is not far below the current national average income, but the cost of living here on the coast is higher than inland, so I can only imagine how difficult life must be.

I encouraged him to look into going back to school. There is a new university program in Tivat designed around nautical tourism – surely an industry that will flourish here in the years to come. One simply has to look at Mediterranean marinas which have been developed in the last 30 years to see how several hundred yachts in a harbour can change the local economy forever.

I pledged to help however I could, even if it was just to have another coffee this week and tell him not to be fearful any longer. He seemed to go away determined.

These are the types of personal life experiences that contribute to making my life here truly amazing. Connecting with humans whose lives have been so different than mine is perhaps the best schooling one can have in life. So, I guess my friend is not the only one going back to school!

The Power of Foresight

The other day we received an inspired letter from a recent Canadian visitor to Porto Montenegro. The fresh perspective reminded me of the work at hand and how much has already happened in the last two years. I thought I would share a paragraph of that letter with you:

“…I am not sure what any of us anticipated when we arrived at the marina but what we saw was truly an awesome place.  We all concluded that it must be very satisfying for you that your dreams do not exceed your grasp.  The project is extraordinary.  The site is perfect.  The entire layout is going to make your marina one of the great marinas in the world.  The people you have working for you are wonderful.  They took us around the entire place.   We were not surprised to know that your vision would be as grand as it is but, nonetheless, we just cannot say enough about what you are creating in Montenegro.

You have to be very proud of what you have accomplished. The foresightedness you have shown will, undoubtedly, make this marina one of the great places to go in the world…”

That foresight which Mr. Peter Munk had has laid the groundwork for developers like the Orascom Group, the Quatari Diar Group and others like the Aman and Banyon Tree Resorts to plan and build visions of their own in this beautiful secret garden we now call home.

No Logo, No Ceasar…

No Logo, No Ceasar…

Ceasar Salad

One of the most refreshing aspects of living and working in Montenegro is that the country has not been overrun by international corporations and brands. There are no Starbucks Coffee shops ensuring you get the same latte here that you find back at home; there are no fast food chains that guarantee you will get the same super sized meal here that you would find back at home in anywhere USA or Canada; retail chains like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, The Body Shop, Tim Hortons, Boots Drug Stores and so on are non-existent here.

Organic, local, family retailers and national brands are more the vibe here. Finding things you need often becomes a bit of a hunt, but that is half the fun.

Sometimes though, I get a ping for something familiar, so when I saw Ceasar Salad on a restaurant menu a while back, I had to have it, but I was left disappointed as it was not at all what I was expecting, or I should say, craving. Unfortunately for me, as I subsequently explored this menu item around the country, I realized that only the name was familiar. All of the ingredients you think you are going to find in a traditional Ceasar Salad are, here, open to very wide interpretation… from basic (yet fresh and lovely) vegetable platters to chopped up green leaf lettuce with a soupy mayonnaise dressing topped with a couple large pieces of bacon.

365 days and Counting!

When I first started this journal it was called “365 Days of Culture Shock – a New Life in a New Country”. Well, the original title seems out of date now. We have been in Montenegro since August of 2009 so the 365 days have come and gone. The “new” country is now in its 5th year, and growing up quickly. In November it became the first Balkan state in that many years to become an official European Union candidate.

Tatler Travel Guide

The change in the last year and a half has been amazing to watch. There is a brand new round-about at one of the busiest intersections on the coast; communist apartments have been painted bright new colors and given a new lease on life; new bars and restaurants have opened and there are more on their way. While I still cannot buy soy milk at the biggest supermarket, the other day I found lactose-free milk, so you know more selection is coming soon. You can quite literally see the market opening up one baby step at a time.
The evolution of Porto Montenegro set the pace of the changes in the country. When we arrived, the project had 85 berths which it was giving away for free for the first season and we were selling some off plan apartments. Today, we have created the new Porto Montenegro Yacht Club, a Sports Club for crew, built a fuel bunkering facility and become an official port of entry, so you just pull up to the marina in your boat and clear customs on the jetties. This summer we will be opening our 65 meter over-water Lido Mar pool and our maritime museum as well as handing over the next 45 apartments in two buildings. In the fall another 9 will be available. This means that by the end of the year we will have almost 80 waterfront properties finished with 20 retail stores and services on the pedestrian walks. The reassuring part is that most of the apartments are already sold and the commercial spaces leased out! Now we also have 200 berths open to paying customers. You should join Montenegro Yachting on Facebook to see all the latest events and photos from in and around the marina.
The first month of the new year has flow by with the team out and about at the London and Dusseldorf Boat Shows. Stay tuned for more chronicles of life at Porto Montenegro!