On my bus ride to Sarajevo, I had a 9-hour layover in the capital of Montenegro, PODGORICA.
Now, Montenegro is a country with so many beautiful places to visit with postcard-perfect, medieval, walled villages (Svetog Stefan, Kotor), bleach-white monasteries dramatically clinging on to the sides of mountain walls (Ostrog Monastery), and stunning natural scenery (Lake Skadar, Durmitor). However, the capital city has notoriously, very little to offer. Lonely Planet’s introduction to this city opens with “Podgorica is never going to be one of Europe’s most happening capitals” and another publication went as far to say “If you have found yourself in Podgorica, chances are, you are there for business.”
I took this as a challenge.
I had roughly 6 hours to find an adventure in this obscure capitol city I had never heard of before. I made my way to the town center and I plotted my strategy with my GPS and marked every site I might want to see within a 2 km radius. Then I just started walking.
It didn’t take long for an adventure to begin.
First stop was a heavily wooded hillside just outside of town. If I could climb this hill, I might get some awesome panoramic shots of the city. As I entered the remote hillside though, all of the coffee I had been consuming started to kick in. I found a cafe on my GPS and went running, off-trail through the woods, to get to the cafe as soon as possible.
This cafe in the woods seemed to be quite a popular retreat for many people, and it was quite busy. As I was waiting my turn to enter the facilities, a MASSIVE explosion occurred. It was strong enough that the ground convulsed like a minor earthquake, and every single person in the cafe jumped out of their seats. Ten seconds later though, everyone had resumed their conversations and nobody seemed too concerned, so I just let it go.
Next scene, I’m in this claustrophobic restroom and I am in the process of doing my business there when there’s another explosion… then another, and another, every 20 seconds. Did a new Balkan war just begin?
My mind was racing. Is this how it all ends? How many people will find some kind of morbid joy when they learn that Forrest Mallard died in an explosion while taking a poo in a forested hillside in Montenegro? I think both friends and enemies will actually get a kick out of that one. Even more stressful were the fast decisions I had to make. Should I just pull up my pants and run? Or should I risk death and make sure I have given myself a good wipe first? (It turns out, I’m more concerned about having a clean bum than dying in artillery fire.) The only thing that kept me from going into complete panic mode, was the fact that outside the bathroom door, I could still hear conversations at the tables, and there was a noticeable lack of screaming and pandemonium.
When I exited the tiny, coffin-sized bathroom, I asked the waitress “What is happening?”. She said in broken English “Oh, they are trying something.” To which I replied, “Yes, I should say they are!”
(After doing some research later, I learned that May 9 is the day that Montenegro celebrates the ‘Victory over Fascism in World War II’. This is the day that Germany signed the documents admitting their defeat.)
As I continue to stumble through the woods, climbing to the top of the mountain, looking for the best point to take my panoramic photo of the city, I stumbled right into the cause of all of these explosions. The Montenegro Army was just celebrating this historic day and I had the chance to meet a few of them, watch them work and take a few photos.
Now that I’d had my adventure, I could get to the task of seeing the rest of the sites in the city. Among these were the clock tower, Millennium Bridge, castle ruins, old chapels, and various monuments.
For a final treat, while I was walking through the castle ruins near the river, I heard some beautiful choir music, so I followed the sound. As part of the End of Fascism celebrations, the children’s choir was doing a sound check on the steps of a government building for a concert later that night. They sounded amazing and I have decided that if I ever make a travel video about Montenegro, I’ll be using some of the recordings of these children as the background music.
PODGORICA seems like it is not really expecting any tourists. There were no tourist shops that I could find so I left without finding a single souvenir, and I could not identify any other tourists as I walked through the city center. However, this should be proof to anyone that an adventure is always there waiting for you if you make yourself open to it.
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