WINTER IN THE ULCINJ SALINAS

Ulcinj salinas1

Ulcinj salinas2Recently I saw a video about the Ulcinj Salinas and I was so enthusiastic that I decided to go and visit this nature reserve that is still rather unknown in Montenegro and beyond as soon as possible. With 250 registered bird species, the Solana is a paradise for birdwatchers: spoonbills, Dalmatian pelicans, flamingos and various birds of prey are regular visitors here. More than a quarter of the bird species in Montenegro are nesting in this Important Bird Area (IBA) on the Adriatic Flyway.

Ulcinj salinas3And so we visited the ‘Ulcinjska Solana’ on a sunny winter day, with the help of Michael Bader from Utjeha/Bar, who intends to organizе guided excursions to this beautiful place (for more detailed information: info@utjeha.me). And although we did not see flamingos – as we expected – we were completely astonished at the natural beauty of this huge area and the numerous birds we could spot.

As the Salina with its 1500 hectares is private property, our visit had to be announced in advance. After a phone call with the manager we could enter the gate, leaving our passports with the guard. We were told that it is prohibited to make photographs of the dilapidated administrative and industrial buildings that once belonged to the salt works, which are now economically unviable and out of use. Indeed, the buildings do not look attractive, but certainly represent an opportunity for future investments, of course, in a controlled way.

Ulcinj salinas5With our small car we could drive along the canal, although some parts of the trail were flooded. Entering the first (educative) trail on our right side, we continued on the grass path that was rather muddy and slippery at some places (photo 3). We passed by the salt basins, the rusty railway and old wagons. Corroded machinery for salt production was just left here and there (photo 2). But of course, we also saw many, many birds.

Cormorants were drying their wings on naked trees in the shallow water (photo 1) and seagulls were resting in large groups in the salt flats (photo 6). A lonely gray heron was flying just above the water surface (photo 5). We saw a buzzard hanging in the sky and even a kingfisher sitting in the reeds.

Ulcinj salinas6The day was sunny, but very windy and after a drive of around 4 kilometers, we arrived at the watch tower (photo 4). Alas! No paddling flamingos, no pelicans. Just the sound of seagulls and the experience of complete silence in a huge open space. What a natural wealth, what a beauty!

I knew that the owner of the company had tried for years to drain the basins and to convert them into a tourist complex with hotels and golf courses. Fortunately, with the support of Birdlife International and other conservation organizations, CZIP (Center for Protection and Research of Birds in Montenegro) has recently succeeded in persuading the government to protect the area from development, at least for the next ten years.

Ulcinj salinas4Nowadays, many activities are underway for the promotion of eco-tourism and birdwatching in the salt pans. The museum will be renovated, birdwatching towers will be built (one of them is already in use), a gift shop will be opened and for the first time in Montenegro, local guides will lead natural walks along ecological and educative trails: signposts and informative boards have already been placed.

Our trip was just an introductory exploration of an area that promises so much for the future! Walking, jogging, biking, birdwatching – the salt pans offer many possibilities! This is the kind of tourism Montenegro should promote. This is the future of Montenegro as tourist destination!

And finally, if you want to see the flamingos, just watch this fantastic video:

WOMEN OF MONTENEGRO

women of montenegro1women in montenegro2I have read quite a lot of books about Montenegro and its history; many of them were written by travel writers visiting Montenegro at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century. For me it was fascinating to learn more about life and traditions of the Montenegrin people, but what interested me most was the position of women in those times; apart from all the admiring words the authors wrote about the Montenegrins and their character, the behavior of men towards women was often the subject of heavy criticism and astonishment that got an important place in their travel books. I’ll give you a few examples:

In 1880, a correspondent of The New York Times wrote: “The Montenegrin woman takes an equal share of labor with the man at field-work, and she does all the carrying. In travel here one engages a horse to ride and a woman for the baggage. Tremendous weights they carry, slung by straps that cross the upper chest and as they go they knit or spin.”

women in montenegro3One hundred years ago, the Dutch travel writer Henri van der Mandere described the position of women in Montenegro in the following way: “A woman in Montenegro is nothing, she has no rights, she is only suitable to work and carry heavy loads for the man. As a girl, she has to obey her father. As a woman, she has to obey her husband. She is slave and pack animal at the same time; she is not allowed to walk side by side with her husband. In the presence of guests, she will never sit at the table to eat together with the men and if so, nobody will pay attention to her. Montenegrin women are beautiful when they are young; you can see that they belong to a proud race. But this beauty disappears over the years due to child-bearing and a hard life.”

women in montenegro4 Zorka Milich, an American anthropologist of Montenegrin origin, wrote the book: “A Stranger’s Supper” (1995), which contains interviews with centenarian women in Montenegro. The interviews confirm many statements of Van der Mandere and other travel writers from those times, but the approach is much less superficial. The book shows, among others, that a woman’s happiness was mostly determined by repeated throws of the genetic dice: if blessed with many sons, she was widely respected and appreciated by her husband’s family and clan. If she had only daughters, her value was much diminished and her life seen as little more fulfilled than that of the pitiful woman with no children at all. But nevertheless, she was always protected and cared for – by her husband, father and brothers.

women in montenegro5The position of Montenegrin women rapidly changed after World War II. Women in Montenegro became more independent. They got the possibility to study, to get a job and participate in social and political life. However, today’s Montenegro is still a mixture of the traditional and the new. In the generation of middle-aged people is still likely that the woman takes care of the cooking and cleaning up, as well as the education of children – apart from her job. And when you add the fact that they often have to care for their aging parents-in-law (or parents), as there are no old-age homes in Montenegro, you can imagine that their life is not easy at all. It is thus logical that in Montenegro there is still enormous respect today for a “good woman”, one who is virtuous and hardworking, who is a dedicated daughter-in-law and with some luck bears at least one or two sons.

Fortunately, the youngest generations of women, let’s say up to thirty years of age, have reached full gender equality, at least in the urban environment. Young women enjoy their freedom, they are independent and ambitious in their work or study, they like to go out and dress well… But there is one thing that will never change: the extraordinary role that family plays in a woman’s life. And as a matter of fact: Montenegro is nothing but a large family.

women in montenegro6

 

PODGORICA: IMPRESSIONS OF BLOK 5

blok 5 In my opinion, Blok Pet (Blok 5) is one of the most fascinating districts of Podgorica. I like to walk around there and ask myself how could this neighborhood be restored and rehabilitated, painted and decorated, how could it be cleaned up and become a nice place for living again, as it was thirty years ago?

blok 5I still remember when the construction of this district started in the late 1970s – early 1980s. As a typical example of the town-planning policy in that period, it was constructed on the basis of the town-planning project of Vukota Tupa Vukotić and the architectural solution of Mileta Bojović, both famous architects and town planners. It consisted of eight residential buildings (photo 1) and five residential skyscrapers up to 16 floors high – the symbol of this neighborhood – and it disposed of wide streets and avenues, sufficient parking space, pedestrian zones, lots of playgrounds, one elementary school and two kindergartens, a policlinic, supermarkets, sports grounds and lots of greenery.

blok 5Just compare it to the present town-planning solutions in Podgorica! In the city center and also “Preko Morače”, new buildings have been erected in between old residential blocks, in the middle of green courtyards. Public parks and playgrounds have disappeared, trees were cut and parking lots reduced… just to make space for more and more apartments on a limited space. Is this right and appropriate, does this contribute to the protection of the human environment?

I don’t know the population numbers of Blok 5, but it is sure that the conditions of living in this neighborhood have seriously deteriorated over the last decades. Nobody seems to be responsible for the maintenance of residential buildings and green surfaces. The buildings have become derelict and colorless, the walls are covered with graffiti and the parks have become a meeting point for junks and yobs. What a pity!

blok 5 graffitiBut let’s hear the opinion of Paul Wennekes from the Netherlands, who has been living and working in Podgorica for the last four years: ‘People warned me that Podgorica would be a boring city that does not have anything to offer. A city without spirit, filled with concrete dwelling blocks. Of course, I liked the wide boulevards with huge trees and spacious sidewalks. And Njegoševa street with its cafes and terraces, and the green banks of the Morača river… But that was all, I thought… Until the moment I entered Blok Pet. That moment I discovered another world. A world of architecture that really touched me. Oh yes, I know that you will say that it is grey and dreary. That is true. But look at the playfulness of the buildings, the almost Gaudi-like quarter-circles that serve as balconies (photo 2). I was fascinated by the large protruding parts, here and there, from the side walls of the skyscrapers (photo 3). They reminded me of my first box of bricks I got for my fifth birthday. A playful way of building that fills your eyes with admiration – when you succeed in looking through the grey concrete mass – for the men who had the courage to design this district.

blok 5Blok Pet is a miracle in itself. Including the graffiti on the walls, they just belong to it (photo 4). The wide avenues (photo 5), the big trees and the buildings with green lawns which are – at several places – well-maintained, which means that some people really want to pay attention to their environment. The shops in the ground floors that guarantee social contacts among the people. Blok Pet is beautiful! But can it be better? Yes, Capital City of Podgorica, do something with these fascinating buildings! Make them colorful. Paint them! Blok Pet deserves it, as it is one of the most interesting districts of Podgorica!”

Blok 5&BerlinIn other cities, Berlin for instance (photo 6), such and similar districts are rehabilitated and renovated. They are painted in various colors and covered with huge decorative murals. Another example is given by the Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn who create community art by painting entire neighborhoods, involving those who live there – from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the streets of North Philadelphia.

I am convinced that the rehabilitation of Blok Pet is a must for Podgorica. Blok Pet should be proclaimed and protected as a new cultural heritage of Montenegro. It would give a strong impetus to the image of Podgorica!

blok 5

 

 

RESTAURANT RAPSODIA: AN AMAZING CULINARY EXPERIENCE IN ALBANIA

Restaurant Rapsodia Shengjin Alfred Marku RapsodiaThere is a place in Albania I visit very frequently. And that is Hotel Restaurant Rapsodia in Shengjin, municipality of Lezhë (2 km from the highway Shkodra-Tirana when you pass Lezhë). Why would we travel more than 100 km from Podgorica for just a dinner? Why would we take all our friends and relatives to this place? Why would we recommend it to everybody we know?

There is a good reason: Restaurant Rapsodia is one of the best restaurants I know. And there is more: chef and owner Alfred Marku and his wife Mira (photo 2) run the family business in an exceptional manner. The restaurant is cozy in a classical way, with a hand-carved wooden ceiling and lace curtains. The food is delicious, the service is pleasant and everything is homemade and fresh (in my opinion, this is a typical slow food restaurant!).

Restaurant RapsodiaRecently, we had dinner at Restaurant Rapsodia with our relatives and friends from the Netherlands. Of course, we ordered the unique menu “Kilometri Zero” that consists of multiple small courses (you can eat as many plates as you wish; I was told that the record is 37!!). You can choose seafood, meat, mixed or vegetarian – it is all delicious and you never get the same. Moreover, you will be surprised by a wealth of diverse flavors that you have never experienced before. And each time the waiter will explain every dish.

It was amazing to eat home-made cheese with acacia sauce, shrimps with a sweet sauce of pine needles and veal with blackberry sauce. The mussels were exceptional, the home-made ice-cream delicious. And so was the excellent domestic wine.

Restaurant RapsodiaChef Alfred is one of the most creative and popular “chefs” in Albania. Many important personalities have visited his restaurant, as you can see on the photos covering the walls. Alfred left Albania in 1995, and started to work in Italy as a dish washer. Already in 2003, he cooked in a Michelin signed restaurant and a year later he managed a restaurant in the valley of Bondo, where he could free his passion and imagination, working with new flavors and mixing his Italian experience with the memory of Albania’s cooking traditions. As a matter of fact, he mixes the past and the present and calls it Commixture. His philosophy is: “Always believe in what you’re doing and do it the best as you can”.

Restaurant RapsodiaOur dinner took almost three hours (so don’t go there, when you are in a hurry; you can always hire a room in the hotel when it is getting too late!). We had to quit after 11 courses … It was great and our company could not stop talking about all the different flavors they had tasted. I am sure that this was an unforgettable experience for them (and for us). And the price for this delicious dinner? You would be pleasantly surprised, I am sure!

So Freddy, we will be back soon!

Restaurant Rapsodia

ALBANIA, TAMARË: THE NEW KELMEND ROAD

 

Kelmend valley The area around the Cijevna river (in Albanian: Cem river) has always attracted me, so the information that a Joint action plan for its ecological defense and the sustainable environmental development of the cross-border area was started this year made me quite curious. A draft feasibility study on eco-tourism development in the surrounding villages of this river has already been prepared. As you can often find us in the Kučka krajina or in the Cijevna canyon, we know how the situation looks like in Montenegro. But what has happened in Albania in the meantime?

Panorama point KelmendThis weekend we decided to pass the Montenegrin-Albanian border and follow the 65 km long SH20 road from Hani i Hotit to Vermosh, which is now under reconstruction. The newly built asphalt road has reached the village of Tamarë in the Kelmend region. Until recently, this road was mentioned by the website www.dangerousroads.org as one of the most dangerous roads in Eastern Europe. It was a dirt road without any protection rails, very steep and very winding. Two years ago we succeeded in driving the complete route with our camper (see blog post: Discover Kelmend Valley in Albania), but this time we could only reach Tamarë with our small car.

road to TamareThe first sign of change we saw was the huge white cross on the slopes of the mountain, a clear sign that this area is predominantly inhabited by Catholic Malissores. It was very quiet on the new asphalt road. Driving uphill, we left the Skadar Lake plain behind us and at the top we arrived at a magnificent panorama point, where we had a great view of the Cijevna canyon and the surrounding mountains (photo 1). We were surprised to find a new glass panorama terrace near the parking lot (photo 2) and standing on it we had the feeling as if we were on the top of the world.

Then we slowly continued downhill along breath-taking serpentines to the valley of the Cijevna/Cem river and finally we arrived in the village of Tamarë, where the asphalt road stopped. The reconstruction will continue next year and in 2016 the asphalt road should reach the village of Vermosh and the Albanian-Montenegrin border near Gusinje. In this way, it will be possible to make a round trip from Podgorica through Kelmend valley and the Prokletije mountains and back through Montenegro (Plav-Kolašin-Podgorica). A great nature tour!

TamareTamarë (photo 4) is the administrative center of the Kelmend region. The name of the village comes from Tamara, the name of the wife of the Shkodra Vizier who ordered the construction of the Vukli bridge on the Cem river in the second half of the 18th century. The bridge was given her name and the village was called the same. Tamarë has around 500 inhabitants. There is a secondary school, a hotel, policlinic, shops, bar-restaurants, etc. Everything is connected with the green river (photo 5). Wild pomegranates can be seen everywhere.

springs CijevnaWe passed the bridge and made a walking tour along the river, where we discovered many springs coming from the mountains. Concrete canals and hoses lead the current water to the houses and agricultural properties. The irrigation systems are used for agriculture, but also for fish farming. The Kelmend region is famous for its so-called “trout with red points” (trofta me pika te kuqe), which has its entire body covered by small red points and can have a size of up to 50 cm. This trout has become a tourist attraction for visitors of the Kelmend valley, particularly if it is prepared as tave peshku (fish casserole), where the trout is baked in the oven together with onions, peppers and potatoes. The wild fish is sweeter than the farm-raised versions, but I am sure that the products of the big fish farm we visited are excellent as well. What do you think of the giant trout the owner of the place showed us (photo 6)?

trout TamareUnfortunately, Tamarë is already losing its authenticity. Big modern houses are under construction. Are the inhabitants expecting tourism development? Do they want to create accommodation facilities or are they building for their own families? I really hope that Albania has the power and the will to prevent uncontrolled development of this magnificent environment, particularly after finishing the asphalt road to Vermosh.

Tamare irrigation system

REQUIEM FOR YUGOSLAVIA

I feel offended when someone says something bad about Yugoslavia. I feel like we, the people who were born and lived in Yugoslavia are a special endangered species going to be extinguished in the next couple of years. So, don’t offend us. Don’t throw a stone on our already ruined home.

r2I try so hard to transfer my knowledge, which is much more of an emotion, about Yugoslavia to my kids, to younger people around me, so that the word and the memory do not get lost. And I know that the feeling, the panic, and that sorrow about the past times and a country which doesn’t exist anymore, is like being sick, and the disease is called Yugo-nostalgia.

When I was in the third grade of elementary school we were to swear in by the Tito’s vow, which would make us Tito’s pioneers. When I think about that today it is all about on how to live with respect to the people around you, everything everybody should be teaching their kids. How do we call that today? How do we teach our kids respect to the elder people? And I remember how strongly everybody promoted fraternity, unity and equality. It was not just about the words we like to use today like the famous and worn out word “democracy”. It was a real feeling. I didn’t know if some of my friends were Muslims or Catholics and I did not care either. I still don’t care. And I am sure that this feeling was implanted in me by the Yugoslav values. And how funny and sad it is that the country’s breakdown commenced by national inequalities.

pionier3I am sure all the wars happened because of personal interest of a couple of people and some people who were not part of Yugoslavia. We, who were raised in real Yugoslavia didn’t think about different nationalities. The breakup of Yugoslavia happened, I would say, to the surprise of all of us, we knew something was happening but we never ever dreamed it would happen. Not even when we were standing in front of the town hall to change the leading party in 1988.

My revelation and ability to go back in time, right directly to that year 1988 happened when I drove from Belgrade to Podgorica, a couple of weeks ago, and I was somewhere close to the border when I heard this song. The song written and played by one of the most renown Yugoslav songwriters, which speaks about the decomposition of Yugoslavia, and I haven’t heard it for more than 20 years. The song was written in 1988. We didn’t know and we didn’t understand that it was the prophecy of what would happen in the next three years. The name of the song is “Requiem”, a dedication to the time when we in Yugoslavia were all equal. The lyrics said:
“Ostaće u knjigama i priča o nama:
Balkan krajem jednog veka.
Svako pleme crta granicu.
Svi bi hteli svoju stranicu…”
(The story about us will remain written in the books, about the Balkans at the end of a century, every tribe draws its own border, everybody would like to have his own page...)

r3The song is dedicated to a better time in Yugoslav history back in the seventies, when the same singer sang “Racunajte na nas!” – Count on us! The singer speaks directly to the commander (Tito) expressing his regret about the good old times when we were proud people of Yugoslavia. And he said it all in 1988. There were more prophecies. In 1990, the famous Sarajevo TV Show “Lista nadrealista” had a New Year’s Eve sketch when they played a typical Sarajevo family in which everybody there had different nationalities, and they all had different passports and had to cross the border in the middle of the city, the UN forces establishing peace. We laughed. We said how true it could be. But we never believed it. And then everything broke apart. Just a couple of years later.

There were no differences if you were a woman either. Women worked, and succeeded to be in higher positions, and raised kids, man were involved in their families and raising kids. Education and health care were free.

So, the feeling, the disease of Yugo-nostalgia will never go away. It hurts when younger people make fun of us when we say it was the best place to live in, and raise kids, we didn’t lock the doors, there was no crime, we traveled all around the world and needed no visa, where we all had everything we needed to have. You will say that I idealize that time and that country. You will say that there were so many wrong and bad things too. What happened with opponents, with corruption, with the national debt… But aren’t there so many of these wrong things even today in
every country, here too, and there are no good things from that era to make the balance.

r4I still feel tears swelling when I hear the Yugoslav national anthem. I think I will never feel the Montenegrin anthem the same way. It seems that I am still a Yugoslav.

I’ll end this mourning with the refrain of the song:
“And where are we, the naive ones,
who were standing by the “hej Sloveni” (national anthem)
like we were invented throught that story
and cheated..”

(A gde smo mi, naivni, što smo se dizali na “Hej Sloveni”? Kao da smo uz tu priču izmišljeni…  i prevareni…”)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_5iO8cakYg&noredirect=1

Tito

 

AN UNKNOWN WILD FRUIT: CORNELIAN CHERRIES (CORNUS MAS)

d1 d3Have you ever seen or tasted cornelian cherries? In Montenegro they are called “drenjine”. Many foreigners probably do not know these wild berries that usually ripen in September, as they are consumed in Eastern Europe and Iran only. In Western Europe the tree is also grown as an ornamental plant for its late winter flowers, which appear well before the leaves (photo 1). For me it is a real pleasure to see the tiny yellow flowers of the wild Cornus trees in Montenegro, as they are the first sign that the winter is over, even when the mountains are still covered with snow (photo 2).

Cornelian cherries (also called cornels) are not really cherries. They look like deep red olives (photo 3). In ancient Greek literature, they were primarily considered food for pigs, but the Armenians, Greeks, Romans and Persians must have liked them in spite of this, because the cherries are often mentioned as edible fruits in their manuscripts.

d2The Cornus tree was also used for other purposes. Its berries have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, and its wood was used from the 7th century BC onward by Greek craftsmen to construct spears and bows. Red dye for clothes was produced from its bark and tannin from its leaves.

But also today, cornelian cherries are used in several ways. In Armenia, the fruit is used for distilling vodka and in Albania it serves for making raki. In Turkey and Iran it is eaten with salt as a snack in summer, and traditionally drunk in a cold drink called kizicik serbeti. As the berries are very high in vitamin C, they are also used to fight colds and flues.

Cornels are highly appreciated in the villages of central Montenegro. That is why I was very glad to get a bucket full of “drenjine” from our friend Mladen. Of course, I did not know how to prepare them, but his instructions for making delicious syrup were simple enough. And the result was excellent!

d4That is why I want to share this experience with you and give you his recipe:

Ingredients: 5 kg Cornelian cherries, 4 kg sugar, 4 Limuntus

Wash and drain the berries (photo 4); Add enough water to cover the berries; Boil for about 40 minutes; Strain through a small-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth, mashing the cooked berries; Discard the solids and wait until the juice has cooled to room temperature; Add the sugar and stir to dissolve it; Boil the syrup 30-40 minutes at medium heat; Pour into sterile jars or plastic bottles (you can store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to one week). For use: just add water or sparkling mineral water to the syrup to suit your taste.

Maybe it’s difficult to get the berries, but sometimes you can find them on the market, in September. Give it a try: it is a really refreshing and, above all, healthy drink! (photo 5)

d5

REVISITING KUČKA KORITA: A LESSON IN HOSPITALITY

kk1kk2 I don’t know why I am so fond of Kučka Krajina. Is it the extraordinary karst landscape, the picturesque road, the immense space of the rocky pastures or the magnificent view of the Cijevna canyon? Or is it just the feeling that you are far away from the crowds in Podgorica, alone with nature and life in its purest form?

We wanted to show this beautiful region to our friends from the Netherlands and so we climbed along the winding road (see my blog post: Grlo Sokolovo) to the vast plateau of Kučka Korita. Once a „katun“ with summer pastures, today this is more of a weekend resort. It is almost impossible to see the difference between the low stone walls, made by men, and the karst rocks scattered all over the plateau (photo 1).

kk3Most cottages were abandoned, only some of them were surrounded by flocks of sheep with a lonely shepherd. We followed the former patrol path of the border guard, which appeared to be well-marked now. That was a pleasant surprise! After half an hour of hiking, following the trail across meadows and through the woods (photo 2), we arrived at Grlo Sokolovo (Falcon’s Throat), one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Montenegro. Through a bluish haze, we saw the mighty Cijevna canyon and the endless mountain peaks of the Albanian Alps (photo 3).

kk4The path led us through dense forests and over a steep hill – all the marks were freshly painted in red and white – and finally we got back to the plateau where we sat down for a rest. After a while, an old shepherd came to see us. He explained us that he and his wife had just come back from the high mountains near Rikavačko jezero, where they had spent the summer with their sheep, manufacturing “Kučki sir”, the famous cheese from the Kuči region. He invited us for a cup of coffee with his family, in his cottage nearby.

kk5We followed him, admired his flock of sheep (photo 4) – the first lamb was already born – and entered the home of the Malissore family Nikprelević (photo 5). It was nice and cosy, a fire was lighted in the fire place and the family members – two sons and a daughter with their families – were really glad to see us. The table was immediately covered with all sorts of beverages. “Priganice” were served, followed by different kinds of delicious home-made cheese, bread and tomatoes. Gradually, more and more people entered the house: neighbors, relatives and other guests, who came to see the “foreign tourists”, as a visit of foreigners to their village is an absolute rarity! It appeared to be impossible to leave … as grandmother wanted to make a specialty for us: “vareni sir” or a kind of cooked cheese – rather heavy for our Western stomachs, but incredibly tasty (photo 6).

kk6It was obvious that these people are very proud of their land, their tribe and family, but also of their achievements. It reminded me of the books of Edith Durham, who described this region in her book “High Albania” in 1909, writing about the warm welcome she was accorded by Malissores and Montenegrins. The same hospitality and openness, the same old customs and traditions … The oldest son, Deda, a successful businessman, told me a lot about their way of living, the beauties of the Kučke Planine mountains and his wish to show all this to nature lovers and to develop tourism. I promised him to promote Kučka Korita and to give his address to all people who want to explore this region – by jeep or hiking.

Impressed by this lesson in hospitality, we finally succeeded in leaving this cordial family and continuing our hiking tour over the rocky pastures – back to our starting point near the old military barracks.

kk7

 

 

PODGORICA WALKING TOUR II: TRANSFORMERS DEFENDING PODGORICA

 p1a p1Some people say that Podgorica is boring and unattractive. I don’t agree! But it‘s true: Podgorica got a new face last summer, which makes it much more interesting, not only for tourists but also for local inhabitants! In July, an environmental exhibition of sculptures made by Danilo Baletić (22)​ was set up, within the “Podgorica Summer 2014” event. The sculptor calls it “Transformers Defending Podgorica”.

Over the past two years, Danilo has created seven realistic sculptures of Transformers, using scrap metal out of the scrap yard owned by his father. The idea to create these characters was born in his childhood. Like many other children, he grew up with the popular cartoon series from the 1980s. With the exhibition, he wants to catch people’s attention and send a message that waste can be “transformed” and used for better purposes!

p1cDanilo’s fearsome robots can now be found on seven different locations around the center of Podgorica. They have been placed on street corners, in parks, pedestrian zones and on the city’s main square where you can find his biggest Transformer: a 25-ton Megatron, around 14 meters high. No need to say that the exhibition has also been covered by the international press. Many foreign tourists are now interested in seeing these monsters. But how can they find them? That is the reason why I have designed another Podgorica Walking Tour, which enables you to see all seven Transformers and also make a walk in the beautiful forest park “Gorica”. Follow the red line on the map: the Transformers are marked with a purple circle (photo 1). The tour can be made in one hour and a half or less, but you can also use the opportunity to walk to the top of the Gorica hill (130 m), from where you have a magnificent view of Montenegro’s capital (yellow line).

p1bThe walking tour starts in front of the old Crna Gora Hotel (red cross), once a symbol of the city, which was unfortunately dismantled to make space for the new Hilton Hotel (now under construction). The first Transformer is proudly standing opposite to the hotel, at the entrance of the shady King’s Park, renewed by the government of Azerbaijan.

Enter the main street, Slobode, which is closed for traffic from 5 PM to 5 AM, as it is used as a promenade by the inhabitants of Podgorica. You will soon reach the vast central square, Trg Republike, which is dominated by a 14 m high Transformer (photo 2). Continue in the direction of the city stadium: on the first big intersection you will see the third Transformer on the right side, in front of a new office building.

p2Cross the street, keep the stadium on your left side and you will soon arrive in the green zone of Forest Park “Gorica” (Podgorica means “under Gorica”). Don’t miss the little Orthodox church of St. George on your right side! This old church dates back to the 10th century and is hidden behind castle-like walls. Inside are the remains of centuries-old frescoes with very interesting scenes (photo 3). There is also a creepy overgrown cemetery behind the enclosure of the church. Spooky!

Pass the stone gate and you will enter the forest park. Uphill is Podgorica’s most impressive war memorial that is certainly worth a visit. It is an impressive white mausoleum flanked by fierce-looking Partizan fighters and it was made in 1957 (photo 4).

p5Walk then back to the intersection and turn right in the direction of the Millennium Bridge, the new symbol of Podgorica. Take the first street left, called Njegoševa, where a red Transformer is watching the passers-by. Turn then right into the pedestrian shopping zone, called Hercegovačka, which is also defended by a yellow transformer (photo 5). Cross the street – on your right is the new UN eco-building – and cross the pedestrian Moscow Bridge over the Morača river that was built in 2009 as a present of the city of Moscow. Turn left on the other side of the river and walk back over the Gazela Hanging Bridge, another pedestrian bridge that leads through the shady Podgorica parks (you can also avoid the bridges by turning left when you leave Hercegovačka, walking directly to the National Theatre – follow the yellow line on the map). Opposite to the National Theatre, on the corner of the park, is Transformer no. 6.

When you come from the park, continue your walk through Vučedolska, turn a few meters left and in front of the town hall you will see the last robot (photo 6). Walk back through Njegoševa and don’t forget to drink a cup of coffee in one of the nice pubs. Being Dutch, I like the Rembrandt café, decorated with paintings of the famous painter. You will now arrive in the main Boulevard Sveti Petar Cetinjski – turn left and walk through the shady avenue (photo 7) along the Central Bank to the starting point. I hope you enjoyed the tour!

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ALBANIA, SHKODRA: A BIKING TOUR TO URA E MESIT (MES BRIDGE)

um1 um2Enjoying the Indian summer, we spent a relaxed weekend in Lake Shkodra Resort (a perfect place to spend a few days and only 55 km or one hour driving from Podgorica!) with our friends from the Netherlands. The weather was sunny and it was a good opportunity to hire bicycles and make a biking tour to the famous Ottoman bridge Ura e Mesit, which is situated eight kilometers northeast from Shkodra – or 15 km from the Resort (photo 1).

At the reception we got a map and so we took off along the main road to Shkodra, passed the bridge and at the first roundabout, around 7 km north from Shkodra, we turned left (leaving the new Catholic church on our right side) in the direction of Gruemirë. The narrow asphalt road led us through small villages scattered in a fertile plain. After a while, we turned left and crossed the dry river bed of the Kir river (photo 2).There were no signposts at all, but passers-by were happy to show us the right direction. Many of them spoke a few words English and a young woman really touched us by her kind words: „Thank you for visiting our country!“

um3Although it was the first day of Kurban Bajram, some women were working on the land, collecting corn cobs. Sheep and goats were roaming around, which contributed to the picturesque atmosphere of the landscape. Accompanied by the voice of the imam from the village mosque uphill, we enjoyed the ride, encountering many people, women and children in festive clothing, who greeted us cordially. They were obviously in a good mood and happy to see foreign tourists in their village. Motorbikes were packed with complete families on it – in many cases two adults and two children – everybody was going somewhere to celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice.

um4After a biking tour of 15 km we reached the village of Mes. The famous Ottoman bridge – Ura e Mesit means „bridge in the middle“ – spans the Kir river and was built in around 1770 by Kara Mahmud Bushati, the local Ottoman pasha. Ura e Mesit is 108 m long, 3 m wide and it has 13 arches, of which the main span measures 22 m. It represents one of the longest and best preserved Ottoman bridges in the region. Ura e Mesit was built along the ancient trade road from Shkodra to Kosovo, which dates back to pre-Roman times. Much of the original route disappeared below the waters of the Drini valley dams, but here in Mes you can still see how important this bridge has been, although the route was only a few meters wide (photo 3).

um5If you want to make photos, cross the modern bridge that bypasses Ura e Mesit, so that you can admire the old bridge from all sides. The Kir river has always been clean, blue and transparent, but unfortunately, the solid waste problem is causing a lot of harm to the tourism value of this area. There is rubbish everywhere along the road, even near the bridge (photo 4).

If you are not a biking fan, you can also easily reach the Mes bridge from Shkodra. Although there are no regular furgons, you can rent a taxi for an hour or so, which will be sufficient to visit the bridge. But I believe that a biking tour is much more interesting, as it enables you to learn more about this part of  Albania, where you can still admire beautiful traditional costumes (photo 5), especially on holidays. And the fact that you are welcomed and greeted in such a cordial way by the population of this area will certainly compensate the piles of litter you can not avoid seeing along the route… Biking is so good for you! (photo 6)

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