Most of us have to think twice before we can actually calculate where the little country of Montenegro fits into the Balkans. I had planned my escape to Montenegro from the town of Skodra,Albania, less than 30 km from the Montenegrin border. Wondering why a friend had put this place on my must see list,Skodra felt as if it was still hanging between two world. There were few people on the streets,the cafes were dingy,smelling of smoke,and the pastries, mostly sugar and cream, reminded me of the last days of the DDR in East Berlin. Two of the only remnants of the present day were the internet cafe and the price of my hotel room for one night, fifty euro which was probably the weekly salary for most of the people in town. To add to the boredom,it was Sunday,the worst day of the week to arrive in a small town. After exploring the silent streets and being yelled at in the park by a group of elderly Albanian men playing dominoes,I tried to find out what buses were leaving in the morning for the border. This proved difficult as the only foreign language spoken by most people here was Albanian.
As it turned out,there were no buses to the border,only private taxis. So for 20 euros,I negotiated a ride to Ulcinj,a border town with as many Albanians as Montenegrins. My taxi driver promised he could change my Albanian money for euros but convienently when we arrived in Montenegro,he apologetically showed me only a ten euro note so the taxi ride went up to 28 euros. Border towns are never very interesting except during a war so Ulcinj,regardless of it being on the seaside,reminded me of Skodra. One extremely long main street began near the bus station and ran a kilometer up the hill. Lined with cafe bars,filled with brouding men drinking Turkish coffee and smoking,I did not feel the urge to join them. Compared to this town,Tirana was luxurious. I was still examining shoes people were wearing as I traveled up the coast and it appeared that there was not much of an improvement from Albania. I had decided that the shoes people wear are a good indication of their economic position and educational level.
After walking up and down through town several times,I headed to the bus station for my three hour trip to the town of Perast,on the north coast of Montenegro. I had a rendezvous there with some friends from Seattle,who had been driven south from Slovenia because of the bad weather. It was more difficult here than Albania,communicating. Miraculously,with grunts and groans,I found the bus to Perast. The driver was either dumb or did not like my looks,because he dropped me at the top of a hill on the main highway,the only way into town was to climb down one hundred stone steps. After cursing to myself since there was no sign of life,I left my small suitcase at the top of the hill and searched for help. An old woman,sitting in her house,talking on her cell phone,finally yelled for her son,who carried my bags and took me along the highway to the main road into the town. Two elderly women asked if I needed a room and that was how I found my apartment with a 180degree view of the Adriatic. As I sat gazing at the sea from my balcony in Perast,this was the week the stock markets collapsed all over the world, Fortunately I was with friends in an idyllic five hundred year old village on the Adriatic sea to give me moral support. I had rented a sparkling new apartment from a Montengrin family and spent time chatting with them in as many languages as all of us had at our disposal. They had been against Montenegro splitting from Serbia and when I mentioned Milosevic,they were still his big supporters.So I feigned ingnorance and kept my opinion to myself. Since the war in Kosovo ended in 1999,the economy had deteriotated,the main income being tourism. Perast did get the monster tour buses and small sailboats boats stopping for lunch everyday but compared to the famous walled town of Kotor,eighteen km south,it was still exisited on its own merits. The few times we did go into Kotor,I felt as if I was walking through a Disneyworld creation of a medieval town. Outside the walls of the old city,the port was filled with luxurious sailboats from all over the world. This was a smaller Dubrovnik,a city my friends told me I would hate,if I bitched about Kotor being a tourist haven. So after five days of sea gazing in Perast, I took the bus from Herceg Novi,another charming medieval place,an exception to the border town dulldrumbs,leaving Montenegro for Bosnia. Crossing into Croatia for a few kilometers,I got my glimpse of the old part of Dubrovnik,as well as the huge new metropolis,glad I had decided to go directly to Bosnia.