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.
Last weekend we ventured out for another Montenegro Weekend Road Trip like the one we did a few weeks ago. This time the destination was Kolašin. To get there we drove down the coast to Budva, over the mountains through Centinje (previously the Royal Capital) and past the current capital city of Podgorica.
The trip through the Tara Canyon was familiar to me. At least up to Kolašin, as I had done this route once before last winter on a previous Montenegro weekend road trip. This time, the roads were dry and free of snow, but it can be pretty nerve-wracking along the steep canyon which is reminiscent of driving through narrow Rocky Mountain gorges.
Within a couple hours we arrived at Kolašin 1450 Ski Resort. The off season is lovely there. Families are stocking up on firewood for the winter, and there a scent of wood burning fireplaces and stoves in the air. The town is very quiet. It really does come to life when the ski season starts. We had drinks in an old pub style bar that was full of tributes to Tito and dined on traditional foods at a local restaurant. Both “Konoba” (traditional national restaurants) we wanted to go to were closed for pre-season renovations. Bianca Hotel & Spa was warm and welcoming, with a huge fireplace in the lobby. Again, the scent of burning wood warmed the surroundings.
After a night at Bianca, the next morning we drove about an hour up the valley to Tara Canyon Bridge. The bridge is an incredible 172 metres (that is 577 feet) above the river below. A dramatic sight by any standard.
Tara Canyon Bridge
We continued our drive to Žabljak Ski Resort. This was my first time. The scenery was completely different than the canyon. The wide open flat plains with rolling hills and wandering cows were beautiful. It was Sunday which was also election day. There were over 1,000 polling stations open and we saw many along the route from the bridge to the ski resort. Some where just small huts in remote communities.
Cow in Zabljak
The road from Žabljak down to the Bay of Kotor has been recently re-done, so the trip only takes about an hour and a half. The rains from the night before brought down a rock slide just above Risan which left just enough room to squeeze by in the car. Luckily nobody was hurt.
The Bay of Kotor
A must do for anyone wanting to see the stunning variety in the geography of Montenenegro: the superyachts of Tivat – the old town of Budva – the capital of Podgorica – the quiet mountain town of Kolašin – breathtaking Durmitor National Park – beautiful Žabljak – Nikšić and its beer factory – Risan tucked away at the end of the bay – World Heritage site of Kotor.
In just a few hours on the road, you will see so much and feel like you have traveled through many diverse lands.
You can certainly see a lot in a day-long road trip through this relatively small country.
Yesterday we decided to visit Ostrog Monestary near Niksic. Google Maps made it appear like a nice, one and a half hour, drive. The first part, getting to Niksic from Tivat, was relatively easy. The rest of the trip turned out to be a real adventure!
The drive from Tivat to Niksic was effortless. The highway is new and the trip is quick. Signs are easy and you really cannot get lost. Several small forest fires brought on by the summer heat, made the air hazy and the horizon almost undetectable, but the scenery was breathtaking. The scenery so different than the coast.
In Niksic we felt like we were driving through a movie set. The surroundings looked like we had traveled much farther into Eastern Europe than just a couple hours from the Adriatic Coast. The Communist era architecture was quite austere and this inland town had a “rough around the edges” feel to it.
Niksic Apartment Building
Our good friend who was born and raised in the city of 75’000 gave us a restaurant suggestion for lunch. The challenge was finding it. Nobody we tried to speak with knew where it was. We knew roughly the neighbourhood, so we decided to park the car and explore on foot. By pure coincidence we happened to park only a few meters from the restaurant which was hidden away down a small lane. We found it by pure fluke.
The restaurant was called Portum. Rustic, local and incredibly good. The enormous proportions were slow cooked in an iron pot. After lunch we continued our quest to find Ostrog Monastery. It was an adventure. Google Maps, or our lack of ability to use it, lead us to a rock quarry; through impoverished Roma people dwellings, past an old prison, abandoned factories and a military graveyard.
Hay Truck in Niksic
The road to Ostrog was windy and one lane. I am sure we must missed the main road.
Our trip home from Ostrog was unbelievable. I thought we would take the scenic route which would end up, at sunset, high above the Bay of Kotor. Potentially stunning. Well, we ended up on a single lane windy mountain road. Our two hour trip included wild horses; cows; wood choppers and even a flipped car off the side of the road.
Wild Horse on Road
When we got close to home, it was hours after we had anticipated returning. I wanted to show my guests the sunset above the Bay of Kotor. From the top of the mountain you can see Kotor; Tivat; Herzeg Novi and beyond to the Adriatic, but we arrived too late. The sun had set a couple of hours earlier and now all you could see were distant lights framing the bay.
On the switchback road above Kotor which takes you down 1’400 meters even the local police were staked out. They stopped us and checked our documents. They were looking for drunk drivers trying to avoid the main roads. Luckily I had been only drinking water since lunch time (I did sneak in a Nik Gold Beer – produced in Niksic – with lunch).
The day ended with a light meal at Mitzu in the village with a local group of singers covering ABBA’s Dancing Queen with on the accordion across from us on Venice Square. A slightly surreal end to a day of adventure in the windy mountain roads of Montenegro!
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