On my bus ride to Sarajevo, I had a 9-hour layover in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica.
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.
1) My first objective was to make my way to the town center to find more information about the city.
2) With whatever information I can find, I will plot the most interesting locations on my GPS, giving myself a 2km radius to work within.
3) Just start walking.
Gorica Hill – The biggest hill in Podgorica and, at the same time, Podgorica got its name from it. Podgorica literally means “under Gorica.” Not just because of this, for the citizens of Podgorica, Gorica is one of their favorite places. It is a true green oasis in the middle of the city. The temperature here is always lower during summer, and the air is much fresher. Here you can find people walking, jogging, doing exercise, cycling or just chilling out on one of the benches.
Finally, there is a monument for the partisans that were killed here during WWII. If you want to act as a true Podgorica local, buy popcorn from the man outside of the gate, and munch on it as you follow the winding pathways up the wooded hill.
This was to be my first stop. 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 this hill on my GPS and took off running, off-trail through the woods, to get to there 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!”
(Much later, after doing some research, 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, Depedogen fortress ruins, old chapels, and various monuments.
Millennium Bridge (Мост Миленијум) – designed by the Slovenian company Ponting and Mladen Ulićević, a professor at Faculty of Civil Engineering in Podgorica. It was built by the Slovenian company Primorje, and opened on July 13, 2005, Montenegro’s National Day. It quickly became one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. The bridge is 173 meters long, and soars to a height of 57 meters over the asphalt which is already quite a distance from the riverbed below. Twelve cables support the roadway deck, while twenty-four more are attached to the counterweights, creating a very modern, breathtaking and beautiful scene in this otherwise unassuming city. The construction of the bridge began in 2005, and the building cost was approximately 7 million euros.
Nemanjica Grad (Рибница/Ribnica) – located in the Stara Varoš neighborhood of Podgorica. The fortress was built in late 15th century (around 1477), during the period of Ottoman reign. The location is beautiful, right at the junction of Ribnica and Morača rivers, and was one of 2 fortresses surrounding Stara Varoš. For a long time, the site was used as an ammunition warehouse. It was severely damaged in 1878, when a thunder strike triggered an explosion which ended up destroying a large part of the fortress’s interior and exterior. —- A legend commonly told by the Serbian Orthodox Church leaders says that the fortress stems from the 12th century, and that it’s the birthplace of Stefan Nemanja – the founding father of the Nemanjić dynasty. Therefore, a lot of people call the fortress Nemanjin Grad or Nemanjića Grad (Nemanja’s Town in Serbian), and Orthodox ceremonies are often held at the location.
The Clock Tower (Sahat kula, Сат кула) – is located at Bećir Beg Osmanagić square, in the Stara Varoš neighborhood. It is one of the very few Ottoman landmarks that survived the bombing of Podgorica in World War II. Built in 1667, by Hadži-paša Osmanagić, a prominent citizen of Podgorica. It is a freestanding 19m tall stone clock tower. Its current turret clock mechanism was made in 1890 by Pietro Colbachini foundry in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, after Podgorica was incorporated into Montenegro (original mechanism was made in Austria). Around the same time, a metal cross was installed at the top of the tower, symbolizing transfer of the city from the Ottomans into the hands of Christian Montenegrins. The cross was made by Stevan Radović, Lazar Radović’s grandfather. Today, Sahat kula is an important cultural monument of Montenegro, protected by law. The clock was renovated in January 2012, when new electric mechanism was installed, as old one is kept for historic significance only.
King Nikola Monument – The first monument in the Capital dedicated to Prince and King Nikola I Petrovic Njegos, the seventh and last state ruler from Montenegrin dynasty Petrovic-Njegos. It was erected in 2005, on occasion of celebrating the Day of Liberation of Podgorica in WWII, and it is located on a plateau across the road from the Parliament of Montenegro.
St. George’s Church – This is an Orthodox church in the foothill of the Gorica hill, built between the 9th and 11th centuries, and it is part of a group of pre-Romanesque monuments. This is also the oldest preserved building in Podgorica. Beneath the altar there is a small subterranean passage, which was believed to have led to Duklja.
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.
Remember, I had confined my sight-seeing to a small radious of only 2km from the town center, so that I could see everything in the short time I had in the city, but there is a whole lot more to offer here if you have the time to venture further.
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