Montenegro / Travel

Podgorica: A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Capital You’ve Never Heard Of

Train to Podgorica

When traveling in a new area, we prefer traveling by train or bus. It gives us a chance to see the countryside, observe how people live, and gain insights into their culture – well, and nap.

One thing that we suspected, and in fact have learned while traveling in the Balkans is that arrangements for these trips have to be made on the fly.

Belgrade Train Station

Belgrade, Serbia Train Station

Most Balkan rail lines and bus companies have websites, but for English speakers they aren’t terribly useful. They’re usually in Cyrillic and the browser translation makes a hash of it, or if there’s an English language version, we eventually run into a Cyrillic page and can never complete the process to buy tickets.

Waitin in line at the station

So the need to be “in person at the bus station,” as well as recover from a scenic-but-grueling 11-hour train ride from Belgrade, made a couple of nights in Podgorica sound dee-lightful.

IF

On a TV gameshow, Podgorica (Pod-gor-eats-za)  would probably be the $1000 answer under the category “World Capitals I’ve Never Heard Of.” It will never be called one of the flashiest of capitals, and admittedly, after reading about it we weren’t that enthusiastic about stopping. But as sometimes happens, if we relax and keep an open mind, things turn out fine – and in this case, fun.

Following the 2006 independence referendum, Podgorica became the official capital of Montenegro, one of Europe’s newest countries. Inevitably, capitals become a political magnet and that means that most of Podgorica’s visitors are politicians or business people. It doesn’t have any must-see sights, and consequently, tourists breeze right through on their way to the coast.

Podgorica,_capital_city_of_the_Republic_of_Montenegro

But we didn’t breeze through. For us, it was a travel-chores stop, and we really didn’t have any expectations. But in hindsight, we’re really glad we stopped. Even though it’s the country’s capital it has a relaxed Mediterranean feel, and is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. It’s small and walkable, and everyone we dealt with was pleasant and helpful.

Pod Volat

Pod Volat Meal

We had an excellent meal at Pod Volat, one of the city’s institutions: the best stuffed peppers, shopska salad, and beef goulash either of us have tasted, and of course, a cold Montenegrin beer.

We strolled the Stari Varos, which is a typical old Turkish village left over from the Ottoman days. Its narrow, curvy streets, curious kids, old clock tower, and mosques transported us to another place.

Little girl 1 Little girl 2

In our travels we’ve visited A-list cities that were disappointing, and purportedly mediocre places that truly charmed us. Podgorica was a productive and fun stop that we’ll always remember. And isn’t that what travel is all about?

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

P.S. And check out this great old Zastava we spied on the street. Sweet!

Zastava 1 Zastava 2

46 thoughts on “Podgorica: A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Capital You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. Lovely photos! I think the name (and pronunciation) of Podgorica may have become better known during the Balkan conflict(s). But you’ve captured such a peaceful, colorful and romantic-looking place; it’s nice to know that even these non-touristy towns have a magic about them. And, how comforting to read that, despite the slow homogenization of food around the world, you still managed to taste traditional goodies – like goulash!

    • Thanks Amit. I’m sure that in your travels you’ve stumbled into some nice surprises as well. Sometimes the impression of a place depends a lot on expectations going in. There’s nothing wrong with expectations, but there’s also something to be gained by just going with the flow. The meal we had here was excellent (and cheap as well). One thing that we’ve particularly enjoyed so far are the many uses of peppers. It’s harvest time and peppers are all over the place. In addition to being drying in the sun on every balcony, peppers seem to be in almost every dish. The stuffed peppers we had in Podgorica made each of us converts. And the ajvar in all its varieties is delicious. ~James

    • You’re right Andrew. As I said to Amit, sometimes it’s about one’s expectations going in. In the case of Podgorica, we had to stop anyway, so why not make the best of it. One thing that stood out was how pleasant and helpful the people were. I guess, since they don’t see that many tourists, they go out of their way to be nice. And an excellent meal always makes a good impression. ~James

    • It is a lovely city Ina. As I said to Andrew, one of the things that struck us was how helpful and friendly the people were. We had some business to take care and we had lots of help. We also enjoyed the contrast between the modern city and the old Turkish quarter. Night and day. ~James

  2. Great post. I think sometimes travels don’t live up to expectations and it’s things we don’t expect that are best. Great post.

    • You’re right Suzanne. It’s hard not to get excited about visiting a new place, but if it doesn’t live up to high expectations, it can impact the whole trip. As best we can, we try to keep our expectations reasonable, and keep an open mind for pleasant, unexpected surprises. BTW, are you back in KY and how was your trip? ~James

  3. Always great to hear about a lesser known place. You two always find the best in every place you visit. It´s all about attitude! Happy Canadian Thanksgiving. I´m thankful for all the wonderful blogging friends I have made, including you folks.

    • Happy Thanksgiving to you Darlene. And we’re thankful for loyal readers and new friends like you. Are you having a traditional meal for the day or some new local favorite? And you’re right about attitude. One of the advantages that we enjoy as travelers is time to enjoy a place. For many vacationers, squeezing in as much as possible in their allotted time can lead to high expectations, and later letdown. We try to keep an open mind, and see how it goes. ~James

  4. The Turkish influence reminds me of Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. I love that you two find spots most travelers have never heard of, much less considered visiting. And you picked a good time to miss the rain in S. Carolina.
    PS – Florence and are are relocating to Greenville in December, not that far from your neck of the woods. – Mike

    • Good point Mike. What we saw here was more like Bosnia than Mostar. I love hearing the call to prayers. It’s a peaceful sound that takes us back to our Sudan days. Good news on your move to Greenville. We lived in Greenville and really enjoyed it. The downtown is fabulous, and anytime we think of the high-water mark for city planning, Greenville is at the top of the list. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it. BTW, we live in Lexington, KY now – much closer to our families. Keep us posted on your move. ~James

    • There’s always something to be said for going with the flow Laura. When we travel, we always try to maintain as much flexibility as possible so we can make changes is things don’t go well. The other side of that coin is taking advantage of good things that were unplanned. Podgorica is a good example. ~James

  5. It is so often true that the unplanned stop or the one with little or no expectations is the most memorable for all the right reasons.
    Your pictures make it look like a beautiful Old World city without the clutter of overt tourism. Perfect!

    … and you’ve now added to my list of world capital trivia. Now if only I can remember how to pronounce it … I’ll have to mentally channel myself back to this post 🙂

    • JoAnne, if you read Ina’s comment you have something else to add to your world capital trivia list. In Tito’s time, Podgorica was called … what else?…Titograd. And “without the clutter of overt tourism” is an understatement for Podgorica. When we walked around the Turkish Quarter, we got lots of strange looks, and the kids acted like we were Martians. They were pretty cute actually, especially the little girl in the photo. ~James

    • I’m not going to lie Susan, we’ve had a couple of uncertain moments thanks to Cyrillic. Mostly it’s been transport stuff, that we eventually figured out, but there’s always that doubt. Some places use both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, but the problem comes when it’s only in Cyrillic. Let me just say, that menus with pictures are our new favorite language aid. ~James

      • The thing that used to make me laugh with cyrrilic letters is that once in a while – just enough to encourage me – I would find myself sounding out an English word ‘spaghetti’ or ‘toilet paper’ from cyrillic letters. Won’t help too much with names of towns, though. Happy and safe travels – Susan

  6. When I was deciding whether or not to stop there, someone told me something alarming about a chemical plant, contamination, that sort of thing. I, as you say, breezed through on my way to the coast, but reading/seeing this, I wish I’d stopped. I’ll just have to go back…

    I gotta stop reading your blog, it always extends my Travel List.

    • Honestly, we only stopped because we needed to. The travel guide write ups aren’t very impressive, and we debated skipping it altogether. But as a logistical matter, we needed to stop. As you know well from your travels, much of our opinion about a place is colored by our expectations. If we go looking for bad, we see bad, and vice versa. As I said, sometimes we just have to make the best of things, and as Podgorica showed us, with the right attitude, it usually turns out fine. ~James

  7. I try to hold myself back form thinking this way, as one should not wish a single day of life away, but I do look forward to a time where we are not working and travel for extended periods. I don’t think we have ever really gone off the planned itinerary. The more the two of you share about hidden finds and pleasant surprises in obscure places it makes me look ahead to different kinds of adventures in future years. Inspire on you two! 🙂

    • Sue, we know how lucky we are to have the opportunity and ability to travel as we do, and we never take it for granted. Terri and I are both planners, so there are parts of our trips that we plan, but whenever possible, we build in some flexibility to take advantage of cool places we stumble into. I wish you luck and good haste in finding your travel dream. It’ll come no doubt. ~James

  8. What? You don’t know Cyrillic??? And you’re right — never heard of Podgorica, so probably wouldn’t do too well on Jeopardy at all! Thanks for terrific pictures, as always. Really love that Zastava at the end. It IS sweet!

    • Rusha, Cyrillic was not too bad when the latin and Cyrillic were both provided. It was a great opportunity to learn new letters. It was when there was only Cyrillic that we have a little tougher time. Terri and I both have our handy cheat sheets which we carry in our wallets at all times. I read up a bit on Cyrillic, and it’s actually an interesting story. Don’t be surprised if you see a post. ~James

    • Ahh … laundry days. No matter where we travel, they’re always a nuisance. We’ve met some interesting characters in US laundromats. And it’s interesting about naps. I’m not normally a big napper, but I could sleep for 24 hours straight, and then get on a bus or train and be asleep in 15 minutes. Terri’s line is: “Why don’t you just take a nap? You’re going to break your neck!” ~James

    • As I’m sure you’ve discovered, on a long trip it’s amazing how pleasant the simple things can sometimes feel. This was Podgorica: a relaxed city, good food, friendly people, and no complications. And an open mind helps find a bit of mystery along the way. ~James

      • ‘The pleasure in the simple things’, words I need to remember as we attempt to narrow our itinerary to a realistic journey, one with a balance between visiting the must-see sites and slow discovery. -Ginette

      • Ginette, we’ve done two RTWs. The first was totally planned with stops, flights, tickets, etc. The second one, we had a good idea of the route and destinations but we decided to make all plans as we went along. Both have advantages and disadvantages. But probably, for new, unplanned discoveries, far and away the second option was best. We’d be glad to tell you about our experiences. If you have any questions send an email to gallivance@gmail.com. ~James

    • Curt, this little girl was an absolute cutie. I suspect that she sees so few outsiders in her neighborhood, that she isn’t wary of strangers. She followed along, goofed around, and had no problems smiling for the camera. And the goulash had your name all over it. Large, fork-tender chunks of beef, and a very rich sauce with just the right amount of pepper-heat. And the beer wasn’t bad either. ~James

  9. Well, the historical buildings and endless tourist sights make some cities, but I guess in other places the people themselves are the highlight. It sounds like a nice, friendly place to spend a few days.

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