IS PODGORICA REALLY UGLY AND BORING?

Podgorica1Podgorica2I have been living in Podgorica for almost 40 years. If you have ever thought about visiting this city (or living in it), you will probably be surprised to hear that I really love living here, as many travel guides, web sites and blogs will give you the advice to avoid Podgorica, as it is “ugly and boring“, or in other words “nothing special“.

I must say that “Lonely Planet” has changed its former negative opinion about the capital city of Montenegro. Its website now says: “Podgorica is relaxed and unpretentious. If you can get past the sweltering summer temperatures and concrete apartment blocks, you’ll find a pleasant little city with lots of green space (photo 1) and some excellent galleries and bars.

Podgorica3Daniel Hamilton, a British blogger, also finds Podgorica a pleasant place, although he admits that “nobody would claim Podgorica was in line to win prizes for either its architecture or range of tourist facilities…“. But he likes the setting and the green parks, and he also mentions the trees that line the well-maintained roads and mask some bad examples of communist architecture. He is impressed by its calm and relaxed atmosphere, charming and friendly people and the good bars, restaurants and shops in Hercegovačka and Njegoševa Street.

Podgorica4By far the most negative blog post ever, with the title “Podgorica is a hole!”, was written in 2013 by the well-known Australian travel writer Michael Turtle. He visited Podgorica in August and illustrated his text with depressing pictures showing abandoned houses, overflowing trash bins, graffiti and grey apartment blocks (photo 2) “where each window looks the same and each appears a hollow dead eye that has given up life because there is nothing worth looking at it…”. In his text he describes the deserted streets (no wonder in the holiday period!) and concludes “that even the citizens have lost faith and given up on a city they show no pride in”. The posting got many angry comments, only a few people agreed with his opinion.

Podgorica5 VektraI would invite Mr. Turtle to visit Podgorica on a sunny day in spring, when the surrounding mountains are still covered with snow, while the bars with their open-air terraces are full of charming and relaxed young people; I would recommend him to spend an evening in one of the excellent restaurants in the pedestrian zone downtown and then visit a nightclub with good live music; and I would take him for a walk along the Morača River and explain him that a good travel writer MUST write in a reliable and objective way!

Podgorica6It’s true, we should not close our eyes for the fact that the townscape of Podgorica is characterized by hulking concrete residential blocks that certainly don’t contribute to the attractiveness of the city. By the way, if you are interested in Brutalist architecture, characteristic for communist regimes between the mid-1960s and the late-1980s, you can find astonishing hideous examples in the city: for instance, the building of Radio Television Montenegro (photo 3), the catholic Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus (built in 1969) and the University building (photo 4). Fortunately, things change, and nowadays many new and modern buildings try to give the city a different, more attractive look (photo 5).

But let me give you a few reasons why I love living in Podgorica.

Podgorica6a pedestrian bridgeGEOGRAPHIC POSITION: First of all, Podgorica is a good basis from where you can make trips all over the country. When you want to enjoy nature and silence, you need just half an hour to drive to Piperi, Kučke Planine or Skadar Lake; when it’s too hot in town, you can find refreshment in the mountains of Durmitor or Prokletije; on a sunny day in spring or autumn, it will take you less than one hour to drive to the coast and have a swim and a delicious fish meal or a cup of coffee on the beach. And by the way, the distant mountains and forest-covered hills surrounding the city provide a wonderful backdrop; just lift your eyes above the grey concrete buildings towards the sky …

Podgorica7MEDITERRANEAN ATMOSPHERE: Although situated in the continental part of Montenegro, the atmosphere in Podgorica rather reminds you of a Mediterranean than a Slavic country. Like in other Mediterranean countries, Montenegrins spend most of their leisure time out of their homes, walking along the “corso” or drinking an espresso in the pub. When the weather is nice, they adore basking and chatting on open-air terraces (photo 6). Young people – many of them students – are handsome, well-dressed and always in a good mood.

Podgorica8 Capital PlazaGREEN VEGETATION: The emerald Morača River that runs through the middle of the city is flanked by lush parks, and several bridges (of which three pedestrian) offer a beautiful view of the river and its green banks (photo 7) . Strolling through Podgorica, you come across a public park every few hundred meters. The wide sidewalks along the main boulevards are shaded by tall leafy trees and decorated by flower beds, inviting for a relaxing walk (photo 8).

RESTAURANTS, BARS AND SHOPS: Podgorica is a nice place for eating, drinking and shopping. Most good restaurants and bars can be found in the city center, but the new business quarter on the other side of the Morača River offers a great variety of fancy establishments. Podgorica is the place where you can eat a fantastic pizza or excellent seafood, and have the best espresso and cappuccino. Apart from shopping in downtown, you can also visit the shopping malls of Delta City, Mall of Montenegro and Capital Plaza (photo 9 and 10) – good for a rainy day… Or go to the big market and enjoy the huge offer of fruit, vegetables and all kinds of Montenegrin specialties!

Podgorica9 Capital Plaza2MISCELLANEOUS: When you live in Podgorica, it is good to be in a place where you can find everything you need, all-year round – an interesting cultural life (concerts, exhibitions, theatre), an extensive international community, good medical care, different state institutions, banks, embassies, sports clubs, and even cycle paths (photo 11)….

I am aware that Podgorica will never be an outstanding tourist attraction or an example of architectural beauty. But in my opinion, for foreigners it is a pleasant and quiet place to live in. What do you think?

Podgorica10

THE “HOUSE OF PEACE” IN ŠĆIT-RAMA LAKE (BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA)

Rama Lake1Rama Lake Scit2One of the places we always return to when traveling the Balkans is the village of Šćit (difficult to pronounce, isn’t it?) on Rama Lake in Bosnia & Herzegovina. It is a hidden gem in a country that is still characterized by a large number of destroyed and abandoned houses – consequence of the last war -, alternated with brand-new big churches and mosques in every settlement.

After the artificial Rama Lake was created by the Rama dam in 1968, Šćit found itself on a small peninsula in the new lake, with its Franciscan monastery and church (photo 1).

Rama Lake Scit3aWhat makes this village so special, apart from the wonderful landscape? Well, so far it has hardly been visited by tourists. The core of the village is the Franciscan Monastery that was probably built in the 15th century, before the arrival of the Turks. During its turbulent history, the monastery was burned down and rebuilt many times. Nowadays, the refurbished monastery accommodates the “House of Peace”, an institution that welcomes all those who seek peace, tranquillity, guidance…

Rama Lake Scit4aWe arrived in Šćit on a sunny day, with the intention to visit our old friends from Konoba “Gaj”. Apart from an nice restaurant and excellent home-made šljivovica, they also offer camping facilities and we were glad to find a place for our camper on their lot, with a fantastic view on the lake and the surrounding green hills.

For us, a walk around the cloister courtyard is always one of the highlights of Šćit, as it houses several beautiful art sculptures, e.g. the Rama Cross made by the sculptor Mile Blažević (photo 2), and the Last Supper by Divo Grabovčev (photo 3).

Scit Rama lake4bThe Church of the Assumption is simple (photo 4), but decorated with an impressive painting, made by Albert de Rhoden, which depicts the angels returning the Our Lady of Sinj to Rama (photo 5). Behind the church is an interesting ethnographic museum that illustrates the life of the local people.

The House of Peace (Kuća mira), part of the monastery, is a place of retreat. It offers all forms of prayer, counseling and meditation, thus helping people in need to find their inner harmony. Honestly speaking, the whole monastery complex and its surroundings always make me happy and calm, as Šćit is an oasis of peace indeed (photo 6)!

But some changes are happening in the village. Walking around, we saw the construction site of a huge building… a hotel? No, fortunately not, it is going to be a nursing home for elderly people, funded by the monastery and the state of Croatia. Another good initiative is the implementation of the “Our Lady of Sinj Route” project.

Rama Lake5Originally, this route is a pilgrimage trail, used for thousands of years from several directions, to walk towards the Marian shrine in Sinj (Croatia) that contains the miraculous painting of Our Miraculous Lady of Sinj. Franciscan monks from Rama took this painting to Sinj, while fleeing from the Ottomans in 1687.

But the newly marked trail is not only meant for pilgrims, as it leads you through picturesque areas full of medieval tombstones, ancient villages, remains of old paths and bridges, lookouts and cafes, all representing checkpoints where you can get a stamp as a memory of this unforgettable hiking tour. Certainly a good idea for all hikers, tourists and nature/culture lovers!

Next morning, we woke up by the sounds of nature and the tapping of a woodpecker. The lake had a deep emerald green color in the morning light (photo 7). Full of new energy, we arrived in Podgorica the same day.

Rama lake6

 

THE ISLAND OF PAG, 1000 KM OF DRY STONE WALLS

Pag1Pag2aApril is always the month when we prepare our camper for new adventures. Exploring the countries of ex-Yugoslavia and other Balkan states, we try to discover hidden secrets, but we also like to return to places, where we have found peace and harmony in the past.

Last week we took advantage of the warm weather and we made a round trip through Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Especially along the Dalmatian Coast there are many places that are much more attractive when they are not overcrowded. And as we like traveling through unspoiled nature, we decided to visit the island of Pag. With 9,000 inhabitants only, Pag is the fifth-largest island of the Croatian coast, and the one with the longest coastline.

Pag3aExcept for the town of Novalja to the north of the island that is becoming famous as a party destination, Pag is not so popular among foreign tourists, as it has very little vegetation due to the strong Bura wind: one reason more for us to visit it.

We entered the island by the 300 m long bridge that connects the southern part of the island to the mainland. The rocky barren soil and the threatening thunderstorm clouds created a spooky and weird atmosphere (photo 1).

Pag4aVisiting the ornithological reserve of Malo Blato, a karst lake in the middle of a stone desert (photo 2), we saw white herons, seagulls and other water birds, obviously the only inhabitants of this abandoned landscape. Fields of asphodels, large plants with white flowers – in Greek mythology connected with the dead and the underworld – were separated by dry stone walls (photo 3).

It is interesting to know that the length of preserved dry stone walls on Pag is about 1000 kilometers! They were built by Pag farmers and shepherds, not for agricultural purposes, but to divide their territory and protect their sheep from the cold Bura wind that blows relentlessly over Pag during the winter. It was not easy to build them: the stones are sometimes 50 to 60 kg heavy and it is a difficult job to fit them together so effectively that they can stand for centuries without falling.

Pag5aAs Pag is most famous for its production of Paški sir, a distinctive cheese made from the milk of the island’s autochthonous breed of sheep, we were not surprised to see large flocks of sheep on the rocky fields (photo 4).

There was hardly any traffic on the road and soon we passed along huge salt pans (photo 5). Salt production in natural shallow coves within the closed bay called “Valle di Pago” has been practiced here for more than a thousand years and maybe even longer. Around two thirds of the Croatian salt are manufactured in these saltworks.

Pag6aThe origin of Pag Town is thus connected to salt manufacturing. This nice historical town is characterized by a beautiful stone bridge called Katina that was built in 2010 instead of an old bridge from the 15th century (photo 6). A good place for a rest and a cup of coffee, and also for a visit of the 15th-century Church of the Assumption, the Rector’s Palace on the main square and several other historical buildings.

We continued our trip farther north through the rocky fields that were covered, here and there, by Mediterranean shrub and medicinal herbs with a strong and sweetish smell (photo 7).

Pag7aThe vertical lines created by stone walls on the elongated rocky hills along the sea created a geometric pattern (photo 8). A strange landscape indeed!

As we were not interested in the party town of Novalja, we took the same lonely road back to the mainland, deeply impressed by the rough and barren landscape of Pag.

 

Pag8

 

BALI, ISLAND OF THE GODS

Bali1 Lovina beachBali2 Pura Ulun DanuWhen we started our round trip through Indonesia, I was particularly curious about visiting the island of Bali. Why has Bali, with its population of 4 million people, become a world tourism destination with 1,2 million tourists a year? Eighty percent of international visitors to Indonesia visit Bali and Bali alone: are they attracted by the blend of spectacular mountain scenery and beautiful beaches with warm and friendly people? Or is it the non-western Hindu culture combined with typical Balinese architecture?

Bali3And indeed, this relatively small island holds many surprises. After we arrived by ferry from Java, the first thing that struck us was the architecture: Bali is housing thousands of Hindu temples in every nook and cranny. Apart from 20,000 public temples, most homes have their own family temple that often takes more space (and probably more money) than the living quarters themselves.

Although we spent only a few days on Bali, it was enough to get an idea about the magical atmosphere of this “Island of the Gods”. Lovina Beach showed us the commercial part: nice resorts and sandy beaches, boat excursions to watch the dolphins, shady beach bars and picturesque markets (photo 1).

Bali4 paddy fieldsThe real beauty and harmony of the Hindu religion came to expression at the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (photo 2), the most important temple complex for Balinese rice farmers. A part of it, a tower with an 11-roof pagoda, was built on an island and seemed to float on the lake. The gardens and temples were full of flowers and colorful sculptures representing different Hindu gods (photo 3).

But the heart of Bali appeared to be Ubud, a small town in the middle of green rice terraces and valleys serving as backdrop to many art galleries, temples and palaces. We walked around the town center, visited the Monkey Forest, the art market and the beautiful Puri Lukisan Museum with its modern traditional Balinese paintings and wood carvings. Of course, I also used the opportunity to take a relaxing massage in one of the numerous spas.

Bali5 UbudThere were many things to do in and around Ubud… We took a long walk through the lush paddy fields (photo 4) and watched colorful processions of women gracefully balancing baskets with fruit offerings on their way to the temple (photo 5). We also attended a spectacular “Kecak” or “Monkey Dance” at Uluwatu Temple. What a fantastic experience!

Children were playing in the schoolyard, dressed in traditional Balinese dresses (photo 6) and local people were going about their daily offerings. We were astonished that they dedicate such a large part of their lives to rites and ceremonies. Is it true that this is the way to maintain love and harmony in this world?

Bali6 UbudI had the feeling that Balinese people have an extraordinary sense of community. They share their property and the differences between rich and poor are irrelevant. Cooperation seems to be above competition, which doesn’t fit with the Western ideals of individualism.That might be the reason why Bali became a hippie paradise in the 1970s …

What impressed me most were the tiny offerings (photo 7) found in front of every house, shop and restaurant. These leaf trays are made each day and can contain an enormous range of offering items: flowers, rice, cookies, salt, and even cigarettes and coffee! They are set out with burning incense sticks and sprinkled with holy water before every meal. I could not help stepping on such a tray, as the sidewalks were full of them, but a local told me not to worry about it, as at the end of the day they would be swept away anyway. However, as Balinese believe, stepping on an offering on purpose would give you bad luck!

We had to leave Bali and continue our trip to Lombok, but I will always remember the magic of this fairy-tale island. It is true, Bali is a wonderful destination with something for everyone, and it is still easy to find some peace and quiet here, of course, if you avoid the main tourist season.

Bali7 Ubud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JAVA, INDONESIA: CLIMBING MOUNT BROMO

Bromo1Bromo2One of the highlights of our adventurous tour through Indonesia was certainly the climbing of Mount Bromo, a 2,392 m high volcano on the island of Java that has become one of the most iconic mountains in Indonesia for its picturesque, other-worldly beauty.

I was very excited to get the opportunity to see this famous tourist attraction, as Mount Bromo had shown signs of increasing activity since early November 2015, when the amount of smoke and ashes coming out of the crater intensified and an exclusion zone of 2.5 km radius was placed around the crater. It was thus a real surprise to hear that the area was reopened to the public exactly on the day when we arrived.

bromo 1aWe were accommodated in the mountain village of Cemoro Lawang; departure to the viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan (2770 m) – the place where visitors from around the world come to see the sunrise over Mount Bromo – was planned next morning at 03.30 AM. The trip in open 4×4 vehicles through the lush environment was an adventure, but a great disappointment expected us when we reached the top: dozens of jeeps were parked on both sides of the road, motor riders were crisscrossing the area offering a ride to lazy tourists and local people were selling souvenirs and drinks – while we were making our way through the dark to the overcrowded platform. Can you imagine it? Hundreds of people with cameras and smartphones waiting for the sunrise? It was a crazy experience, especially because the sunrise was far from spectacular, due to the clouds behind the mountains…

Bromo 3aBut fortunately, Mount Bromo had much more to offer. Jeeps transported us to an eerie moon-like landscape soaked in cotton clouds: the famous “Sea of Sand” around the Bromo crater. While we were walking through the spooky and misty landscape, the contours of a picturesque Hindu temple appeared in front of us. Instead of walking, many tourists accepted the offer of local horse riders who could be seen everywhere around us like ghost riders. It all seemed so unrealistic, so isolated – and so beautiful.

Bromo4No wonder that the Sea of Sand has particular significance for the local Tengger people who believe that this was the site where a brave prince sacrificed his life for his family. That is the reason why they throw, once a year, offerings of vegetables, chickens and money into the Bromo crater.

Once arrived at the base of the volcano, we made the last steep incline by horse. It was a fantastic experience. Fine dust (or was it smoke? fog?) was everywhere. The strong mountain horses took us to the stairs that led to the crater – 249 steps. It was not easy to master all those high steps, but we made it! The views were spectacular.

Bromo7Standing on the narrow edge of the crater, we could look down in the deep smoking hole. There was a kind of wooden fence on the side of the crater, but nothing to stop you from sliding off downhill on the outside, so we soon left this dangerous place and walked back through the eerie sand desert to the jeeps.

Was it a dream? When I see the photographs I made, I can hardly imagine that I really climbed Mount Bromo!

Bromo6

5 HIDDEN MONASTERIES IN MONTENEGRO

Djurdjevi Stupovi monastery1There are dozens of Orthodox monasteries scattered all over Montenegro. I already presented you a selection of 5 monasteries on the coast and another five monastery complexes, which are, in my opinion, the most impressive ones. But … many travelers want to see exactly those monasteries that can be found off the beaten track. Maybe they are hardly accessible or far away from the highway. Maybe they are not so attractive from the outside. Maybe they are hard to find. And that is why I would like to present you another series of monasteries, sacred places where you will find beauty, tranquility and peace. This is my choice:

  1. Djurdjevi Stupovi Monastery: turbulent history

Djurdjevi Stupovi Monastery2You can find Djurdjevi Stupovi near the town of Berane. The beautiful monastery church of St. George (Sveti Djordje) was built by the nephew of the Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja in the 12th century. When you see this quiet place now, you would hardly believe that it has been destroyed by the Turks – and rebuilt – five times. That is the reason why the locals also call it “Monastery of Martyrs”. Can you imagine that the Austro-Hungarian army converted the monastery into a horse stable during World War I? Fortunately, in the beginning of this century it was finally renovated in its present form, preserving fragments of the original frescoes from the 14th century on the church walls.

  1. Piperska ćelija Monastery: a story of miracles

Piperska celija monastery3This is one of my favorite monasteries and I often go there because of its calming and relaxing effect. It is located around 15 km from Podgorica. The convent was built by Sveti Stefan Piperski in 1637 on a rock near the village of Crnci, allowing a wonderful view of the Bjelopavlići Valley. Surrounded by a big wall, the complex reminds you of a medieval fortress. What is so special about this monastery? First of all, the cordial welcome. Whenever we visited the monastery, even when we were there with a group of hikers, the nuns would offer us a seat on the terrace, a glass of water and a cup of coffee. When you are interested, the nuns will not hesitate to show you the relics of Sveti Stefan, which are kept in the church, telling an impressive story about all the miracles that have happened here. (see also http://montenegro-for.me/2013/04/piperi-hiking-and-biking-off-the-beaten-track/

  1. Dajbabe Monastery: located in a cave near Podgorica

Dajbabe Monastery4This small monastery is located in a cave on the Dajbaba hill that raises above the Zeta Valley. It was founded by the monk Simeon Popović at the end of the 19th century. Simeon also painted the interior of the cave that has the form of a cross. Adapting the frescoes to the natural shape of the rock, he worked on it until his death in 1941. The monastery is an interesting place to visit, although the view from the hill is spoiled by the Podgorica Aluminium Works in the immediate surroundings.

  1. Dobrilovina Monastery: picturesque position and tumultuous past

Located at the beginning of the Tara Canyon in the village of Dobrilovina, near the protected primeval black pine forest of Crna Poda, this monastery was mentioned for the first time in 1592, when the Ottoman authorities allowed the locals “to rebuild it”.

Dobrilovina Monastery5The present church of Sveti Djordje (St. George), built in 1609, has been abandoned, devastated by the Turks and renovated many times since its construction. The old frescoes from the early 17th century are faded and in poor condition, but they are very beautiful indeed. I like this monastery first of all for its idyllic setting between the mountains and the Tara River and the wooden bell tower in front of the church. And there is another interesting story about this monastery: it is said that it had its own milk pipeline – a hand-made wooden channel by which fresh milk was transported from the pastures of Sinjajevina.

  1. Podmalinsko Monastery: off the beaten track

Podmalinsko Monastery6Podmalinsko is located near Boan in Sinjajevina. It is not so easy to find, as it is situated in the valley of the Bukovica River, 800 m from the asphalt road. You can park your car along the road and walk down through the forest to the river bank. According to a legend, this monastery was erected by Uros I around 1252, but it was destroyed and rebuilt many times in its history. The church, dedicated to Archangel Michael, was abandoned during World War II. Following its restoration in 1998, monk Lazar Stojanović painted the frescoes; believe me, they are superb! Near the church you can still find ruins of old monastery buildings and a small graveyard (see alsohttp://montenegro-for.me/2012/08/gornja-moraca-along-the-road-mioska-savnik/

Five monasteries in the hinterland of Montenegro. Apart from these five, there are dozens of other interesting monasteries that are worth a visit. Many signposts have been placed in the last few years. I would recommend you: whenever you see the signpost of a monastery, even if it is not in your travel guide, take the risk and visit it. You will not regret it!

Podmalinsko Monastery7

 

5 BEAUTIFUL MONASTERIES ON THE MONTENEGRIN COAST

Rezevici monastery1 Thousands of foreign tourists will visit the Montenegrin Coast this summer. They come to enjoy the sun and the sea, but I am sure that many of them will also be interested in visiting cultural monuments. Apart from beautiful old towns along the Adriatic Sea, they can find more than a dozen Orthodox monasteries along the coastal strip between Petrovac and Herceg Novi, which is quite a memorable fact. What makes the Orthodox monasteries on the coast so beautiful? First of all, the frescoes, not only the medieval ones but also paintings from more recent times. I like the mystic atmosphere of the churches, the simple architecture and the silence in the beautiful courtyards and gardens. Their spectacular terraces offer a fantastic view over the Adriatic. In my opinion, five of these monasteries have “something special” – this is my choice:

  1. Reževići Monastery: turbulent history and beautiful position

Rezevici monastery2You will see this monastery complex along the road when driving from Budva to Petrovac. There is a legend from 1226, which says that the Serbian king Stefan the First-Crowned built a church here, when he got drunk from the local wine traveling through the area of the Paštrovići clan. The old fresco paintings in the small church of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God suggest that he was also buried here. But I also like the more recent frescoes in the larger Church of the Holy Trinity, built in the 18th century. The monastery has always demonstrated traditional hospitality, as a written record testifies that a jug of wine could always be found here for travelers passing by. The view over the Adriatic Sea from the terrace is magnificent!

  1. Praskvica Monastery: the starting point of Jegor’s path

Praskvica monastery3Praskvica is situated just above Sveti Stefan and has always been very important as a spiritual and political center of the Paštrovići clan. It was probably founded in the 11th century and got its name after the nearby spring, whose water smells of peaches, called “praske” by the locals. The churches are certainly worth a visit, but the Praskvica Monastery is especially interesting as the starting point of Jegor’s path. This path that leads from the monastery to the village of Ćelobrdo was built in the beginning of the 19th century by the one-armed Russian friar Jegor Stroganov. Can you imagine that he managed to build a 3 km long footpath by picking stones with only one hand and a hammer? From the top of the path you can enjoy a stunning view of Sveti Stefan and its surroundings. (see also ….)

  1. Rustovo Monastery: a beautiful forest setting

Rustovo monastery4Rustovo is located around 3 km above the Praskvica Monastery, deep in the forest. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God and it has been a convent since 2004. Within the monastery complex, there is a little chapel with magnificent icons, dedicated to St. Benedict of Nursia, as well as a more recent wooden church in Russian style, dedicated to the Romanov family. The 17 nuns in this monastery are always busy with weaving, embroidery and collecting herbs for making various cosmetic and medicinal products.

  1. Podmaine Monastery: cruel frescoes and an interesting story

Podmaine monastery5This monastery was built in the 15th century and looks like a fortress. It is told that the 19th century Montenegrin prince-bishop and writer Petar Petrović Njegoš wrote a large part of his work “Gorski Vijenac” (Mountain Wreath) on the monastery’s terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea. I was really stunned when I saw the new frescoes in the smaller church (painted in 2002). According to some views, one of these frescoes, titled Sinful bishops and emperors, presents Tito and the heads of the uncanonical Montenegrin Orthodox Church with ropes around their necks, while little devils with horns and a long tail are pulling them down into the fire of hell. But also other frescoes act as a deterrent. Big fishes are eating parts of human bodies and even a complete man. What a fantasy of violence! (see also ….)

  1. Savina Monastery: Baroque architecture and a magnificent panorama

Savina monastery7This monastery is located 2 km away from Herceg Novi in a dense Mediterranean forest. It is situated on a hill with a magnificent view over Luštica and Oštri Rt, but also towards Tivat and Mount Lovćen. It is one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in the Adriatic and consists of three churches and sleeping quarters. The oldest church dates back to the year 1030, while the church of St. Sava, with superb frescoes, was built in the 13th century on a nearby hill. When I visited the monastery, I was particularly impressed by the peaceful atmosphere in the courtyard of the complex, surrounded by high palms and other trees.

I hope I have convinced you to visit these gorgeous monasteries during your holiday on the Montenegrin Coast. They are just a part of the cultural wealth Montenegro has to offer.

Savina monastery8

 

 

5 BRIDGES YOU SHOULD SEE IN MONTENEGRO

Djurdjevica Tara bridge1Is it possible to write a story about bridges? Yes, it certainly is! Although Montenegro is small, there are a lot of important and often turbulent rivers that cannot be passed without a proper bridge. Traveling around the country, I have seen many of them, some of them outstanding by their architecture, or history, or position … or even by the legends that are connected with them.

I’ll present you 5 bridges that have impressed or touched me most, bridges that have captured my imagination or made me enjoy their magical atmosphere and harmony.

1. Đurđevića Tara Bridge: spectacular landscape and turbulent history

Tara2Maybe you can hardly believe it, but this bridge was the biggest vehicular concrete arch bridge in Europe at the time of its completion, just before WWII. And even after all these years, the Đurđevića Tara Bridge is a one of the highlights of Northern Montenegro. From the edge of the roadway, 172 m above the Tara River, you will have a spectacular view of the canyon in all its beauty. For Dutch tourists, the bridge is particularly attractive: it plays an important role in the Dutch novel “Het land achter Gods rug” (The Land behind God’s Back), written by A. den Doolaard in 1956. This novel is based on the true story of engineer Lazar Jauković, who had participated in the construction of the bridge. In 1942, the Partisans decided to blow up the bridge, as they wanted to stop the Italian army. This task was entrusted to Jauković, who destroyed the bridge by placing explosives on the central arch. But when the engineer was eventually captured, Italian soldiers executed him on the very spot. A bust in his honor was placed next to the bridge as a witness of a heart-breaking war story.

2. Danilo’s bridge in Rijeka Crnojevića: a romantic and peaceful place

Rijeka Crnojevica bridge3The bridge over the Crnojević River is an important historical monument, but it has also got a special place in my heart. The bridge was built in 1853 by Prince Danilo, together with a one-storey house next to the bridge, popularly called Mostina (most=bridge). “Mostina” now houses a nice restaurant, where I have spent many beautiful moments and enjoyed excellent meals with family and friends. A romantic and quiet place, where you can sit for hours on the sunny terrace, observing birds and fishing boats on the water (see also http://montenegro-for.me/2013/03/from-cetinje-to-rijeka-crnojevica-the-old-trade-route/).

3.  Millennium Bridge in Podgorica: a landmark of the capital city

Podgorica Millennium bridge4This cable-stayed bridge spans the Morača River and was – how funny! – not opened in 2000, as you would expect, but in 2005. With its length of 173 m and pylon of 57 m above the road surface, it has become one of the most prominent landmarks of Podgorica. Is it beautiful? Opinions are divided. There are a lot of similar bridges in the world, but I must admit that the Millennium Bridge is quite attractive, as it fits well into the urban environment of the capital city (see also http://montenegro-for.me/2012/11/podgorica-walking-tour/).

4.  Adžijin Most (Adžija’s Bridge) near Danilovgrad: a Turkish bridge with a legend

Danilovgrad Adzic bridge5I like Adžija’s Bridge; it is an architectural masterpiece of elegance. This unusual bridge, made of hewn stone, was built by an “Adžija” (Hadzi) during the Ottoman occupation, but exact data about the year of its construction and the hadzi’s name are not known. Once, the bridge was part of the caravan route from Shkodra to Onogošt (Nikšić) – nowadays, it is not used anymore, but you can find it on the right side of the road from Danilovgrad to Glava Zete. And it is not only a beautiful tourist site… According to a legend, nothing can separate a couple that has kissed under the Adžija’s Bridge! (see also http://montenegro-for.me/2015/03/along-the-zeta-river-turkish-bridges-and-a-bronze-age-tombstone/)

5. Moštanica Bridge: Roman bridge in Nikšić

Niksic Mostanica bridge6One of the oldest bridges in Montenegro is the Bridge on Moštanica in Nikšić, also known as the Roman Bridge. It was built by the Romans in the 3rd century AC. Made of hewn stone, it is 2.3 m high and the arch openings are 5.5 m each. Although it was declared as a cultural monument in 1947, the environment looks rather neglected and the former Moštanica River has dried up. Fortunately, conservation works are now in progress, as this is a very interesting site – also due to the fact that there is an medieval graveyard (with “stećci”) in the vicinity.

Moraca canyon suspension bridge7And finally, I would like to show you two more bridges as an addition, as I am fascinated by suspension bridges. One of them is situated in the picturesque setting of the Morača Canyon. Until recently, it has been used by the (76!) inhabitants of the village of Rijeka Piperska, who didn’t have any other connection with Podgorica. Nowadays, a new connecting road is under construction and the bridge is in bad shape. Passing it is extremely dangerous and risky!

Another beautiful suspension bridge over the Zeta River was recently reconstructed in Dobro Polje, along the old road between Danilovgrad and Nikšić. The bridge, almost 70 meters long, can be used by small cars and leads to a rural area with several small villages (see also http://montenegro-for.me/2015/03/along-the-zeta-river-turkish-bridges-and-a-bronze-age-tombstone/).

Isaac Newton once said: “We build too many walls and not enough bridges”. Isn’t that a good saying?

suspension bridge Dobro polje

THE ULCINJ SALINAS: A PARADISE FOR FLAMINGOS

  Saline Ulcinj flamingos1aSaline Ulcinj flamingos1More than a year ago, we visited the Salinas in Ulcinj (see my blog post: http://montenegro-for.me/2014/12/winter-ulcinj-salinas/). Yes, we saw many different birds and enjoyed the beautiful nature – but unfortunately, our biggest wish did not come true: we did not see any flamingos. Of course, we could not wait to come back and try our luck once more.

Well, things have changed in the meantime. By the way, did you know that the Ulcinj “Solana”, built in 1934, was once one of the largest salinas in the Mediterrean, with its surface of almost 1,500 hectares?

Saline Ulcinj coots3Unfortunately, the new owner went bankrupt a few years ago and the investors came to the conclusion that the land should be “developed” for their purposes by building hotel complexes and golf courses on it… And thus, salt harvesting stopped and the machines for pumping out fresh and pumping in salt water were switched off. This left the migratory birds, more than 250 species of about 500 registered in Europe (e.g. Eurasian spoonbills, Dalmatian pelicans , various birds of prey and many other water birds and waders) without food. Food that used to be abundant in these wetlands due to the regular flooding and subsequent gradual drying of the evaporation ponds.

Saline Ulcinj brids5As a consequence, the biodiversity of the area was endangered. But soon, activities started to protect the area. International organizations and EU authorities urged the Montenegrin government to save this important nesting ground and fortunately, money was made available for the reparation of pumps.

Nowadays, the Center for Protection and Research of birds in Montenegro (CZIP) is making huge efforts to protect and promote this unique bird reserve. Many volunteers have offered support: regular surveillance increases the pressure on hunters to refrain from shooting birds, birds populations are monitored, groups are guided on bird watching tours…  As expected, the Salinas will soon be listed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, primarily as a bird site. The bird population has grown in the last few years and according to the latest information, ornithologists observed 500 flamingos in the Salinas last week.

Salie Ulcinj6That was good news indeed; time to revisit this bird paradise! We announced our visit in advance and, after registration at the gate, we were allowed to enter with our small car.

Passing dilapidated buildings, corroded machinery, muddy salt basins and old wagons, we followed the grass trail along the canal. Driving slowly, we could observe large groups of birds around us. White and grey herons were quietly standing in the water. Hundreds of coots were resting in the salt flats. Hearing the sound of our car, they started to run across the water surface with much splashing, before taking off. Huge swarms of birds were circling above our heads. We saw a purple heron flying just above the water surface and far away, big white blurs indicated the places where seagulls had gathered.

Saline Ulcinj cowsIt took us about half an hour to arrive at the observation tower where we left our car. And we were lucky: the water level in the basins was low and the grass surface of the trails around the shallow salt basins was not too muddy. The day was sunny and the silence in the extensive lagoon area was absolute – we were the only human beings in this vast area.

Knowing that flamingos could be observed at the outer edge of the salt flats only, we were prepared for a long walk. And indeed, after half an hour, we saw a pinkish-white blur, far away in the distance. Could it be true? So many flamingos at one spot?

saline Ulcinj flamingos7It was a pity that we could not get closer to the flock, as we didn’t have professional photo cameras. But all of a sudden we found a possible solution: a few cows were slowly passing over one of the narrow and muddy earth walls that separate the salt basins. They moved in the direction of the flamingos and we decided to follow them, quietly staying behind their backs. With the grazing cows in front of us, we gradually approached the extensive flock at 50-60 m distance.

Saline Ulcinj flamongos8The view of these elegant birds with their pink legs in the blue water against the background of snow-covered mountains was unforgettable. In the silence of nature, their goose-like honking was simply deafening. Some of them were standing on one leg, the other one tucked beneath the body. Other ones were feeding with their head down in the water. We were standing there for a long, long time, taking photos and listening to their voices. Then they started to become restless, slowly moving to the other side of the basin. That was the sign for us to quietly withdraw, as we didn’t want to disturb them. When we walked back to the grass trail around the salt pans, the honking sounds faded away and the flock of flamingos became invisible behind the reeds…

Ulcinj salinas heron9aIs it true that happiness can sometimes be caught in a single moment? For me, being with the flamingos was such an experience. And I know for sure: the Ulcinj Salinas represent one of those irreplaceable treasures of nature that should be preserved for the generations to come. It should never be spoiled by building tourist facilities. So let’s join our efforts to protect this paradise of nature!

saline Ulcinj9

 

 

 

5 AMAZING MONASTERIES IN MONTENEGRO

Sveta Trojica monastery1I have visited dozens of Orthodox monasteries all over Montenegro. Each one has something special: its architecture and position, beautiful frescoes and icons, a peaceful garden, stories about miracles, a turbulent past… It is difficult to select 5 outstanding monasteries that are typical for Montenegro, its culture and religion, but I’ll give it a try:

  1. Holy Trinity Monastery (Sveta Trojica) in Pljevlja

Sveta Trojica monastery2What is so amazing about this monastery? First of all, the impressive architecture of this well-preserved complex, built in the 16th century (photo 1). I was really surprised to see that it totally differs from that of other monasteries in the region; it reminded me of some stunning monasteries I visited in Bulgaria. Situated among the hills surrounding Pljevlja, above the source of the Breznica river, the monastery is immersed in the lush greenery of a vast and quiet park. But the courtyard and internal buildings are very interesting as well (photo 2): the Holy Trinity Church and its narthex show beautiful frescoes, painted by Priest Strahinja from Budimlje around 1600. The monastery is also famous for its scriptorial school and treasury with a wonderful collection of icons, while the library holds several copies of valuable illuminated manuscripts and rare copies of printed books.

  1. Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog monastery3If you believe in miracles, you should visit the famous monastery of Ostrog, one of the most frequently visited pilgrimage sites of the Balkans (photo 3). Carved in steep cliffs (900 m above sea level) between Danilovgrad and Nikšić, it is dedicated to Saint Basil (Sveti Vasilije), who lived in the 17th century and whose body is enshrined in a reliquary kept in one of the two small cave-chapels. According to the legend, Saint Basil’s body was found seven years after his death, and had not decomposed at all. Ostrog is visited by pilgrims of all confessions: Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims. A lot of people have told stories about the spiritual changes that happened in their lives after visiting the monastery. Yet many more claim that they were healed of physical diseases. They like to tell the story that, once upon a time, there was a mother who left a wooden cradle on top of a wall near the monastery. The baby moved in the cradle so that it fell off the wall from about 70 meters high. The baby remained unharmed – a real miracle! Near the Monastery is a large “konak” that offers overnight possibilities for visitors. Around the complex, souvenir shops are selling religious souvenirs. Although these activities spoil the mystic atmosphere of this beautiful place, I suppose that there are no alternatives for satisfying the needs of both pilgrims and tourists… (see also: http://montenegro-for.me/2013/08/round-trip-with-visit-to-the-ostrog-monastery/)

  1. Piva Monastery

Piva monastery4aIt’s true, the Piva monastery is not particularly attractive, but it has a very interesting history: it was originally built between 1573 and 1586 at the source of the Piva River, but when a dam and storage lake had to be built for the needs of the Piva Hydroelectric Plant, it was relocated to another site, 9 km from Plužine. The church building was carefully taken apart and then rebuilt, stone by stone, along with its 1,260 square meters of frescoes that were removed from the church walls and transferred to the new location. The works lasted for over a decade, from 1970 to 1982.

Piva monastery5When I visited the monastery, I could not stop admiring the beautiful frescoes, painted by priest Strahinja from Budimlje (photo 4) and the gilded, richly carved iconostasis with icons painted by the famous painted Kozma in 1626. I was deeply impressed by the mystic atmosphere in this “rebuilt” church (photo 5).

 

  1. Cetinje Monastery

Cetinje monastery6The monastery of Cetinje was first erected by the Crnojevići family in 1482, but this building was destroyed by the Ottomans. The present monastery was built in 1701 by Prince Danilo, founder of the Petrović- Njegoš dynasty (photo 6). In the centre of the complex there is a church dedicated to Virgin Mary’s Nativity, with a reliquary of St. Peter of Cetinje. Apart from the original architecture of this monastery, I find this monastery particularly interesting for its treasury-museum, which contains an outstanding collection of manuscripts and old printed books from the 13th to 18th century and two important relics, the hand of Saint John the Baptist and a fragment of the Holy Cross. Since the Cetinje monastery was the residence of Montenegrin rulers, numerous valuable items related to their spiritual rites were also preserved: panhagios, robes, miters, scepters, etc. This is certainly one of the most beautiful treasuries in Montenegro!

  1. Morača Monastery

Moraca monastery7aThe Morača Monastery, built in 1252 by Stefan Nemanja in typical Byzantine style, is situated at a distance of 46 km from Podgorica. The architecture of the monastery complex is quite simple (photo 7). It consists of the church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, the small church of St. Nicholas and the sleeping quarters. When I entered the beautiful garden courtyard for the first time, I got the feeling as if I stepped back into the 13th century. That was also the time when the frescoes were painted; the most famous one is “The Raven feeds the Prophet Elijah”. What impressed me most was the iconostasis. No wonder that the icons in this Monastery belong to the most famous medieval icons of the world; they are mentioned in many foreign books about medieval art. But also the small St. Nicholas church contains frescoes of an astonishing quality and beauty (photo 6). (see also: http://montenegro-for.me/2015/01/monasteries-moraca-canyon/)

Nowadays, it is difficult for me to show you the beauties of frescoes and icons displayed in the interiors of churches and monasteries. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take photos without the written permission of the Serbian-Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije. This is a practice we already knew from our visits to Macedonia and Serbia, but for instance in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria you can buy a photo permit, often at a price that is much higher than the entrance ticket. Wouldn’t that be a good possibility for the Orthodox Church in Montenegro to obtain some additional money for restoration purposes?

moraca monastery8