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